Tuesday, February 05, 2008

620. Engendering prayer, part 1

As I've mentioned before, I'm in a monthly discussion group about the book Engendering Judaism, which imagines a religious practice that equally embraces the concepts of male and female. Chapter 3 considers liturgy, and suggests that inclusion of the matriarchs in the Amidah "fetishizes" (author Rachel Adler's word) the concept by assuming this one addition will solve all other gender-related prayer issues. The chapter is packed with ideas, but I was struck by one in particular on this first read: how to draw the line between keva (the fixed rules, tradition) and kavannah (intention) when reconfiguring prayer to be more inclusive?

I should preface this by saying that the idea of a feminist approach to Judaism is challenging to me in some ways. This sounds a little ridiculous, because my observance now embodies that approach. And I grew up in a synagogue where women had no roles relating to public prayer, so by rights I should be doubly conscious of my freedom these days. But I never felt marginalized, neither then then nor now in retrospect, because I didn't really care. The synagogue was equally uninspiring to all genders.

When I re-entered the Jewish world, it took me awhile to get used to the idea of women on the bima. I was also less bothered by this scenario than by my reaction, which made no sense in light of everything else I believed and lived. Eventually I understood that my discomfort was of the keva/kavannah variety: I had never seen it before, so it seemed wrong. I only knew a "liturgical field" (as Rachel Adler explains) that omitted women, so this version didn't seem like prayer at all. Over time, as I grew more accustomed to the concept, I was able to see past keva to kavannah--and as I moved from the congregation to the bima itself, couldn't imagine a more natural way to pray.

I also rarely thought about the words I was saying. Perhaps if I had understood more nuances of the language during those first times I truly experienced prayer, I might have been bothered enough to seek out a feminist response like Engendering Judaism.

(Continued here.)

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