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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘minyanim’

Guests Or Residents? Women In Our Shuls

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

A few weeks ago I was completing the silent amidah at the morning minyan I attend in my local shul. Suddenly, a cold breeze shot through the room. I headed back to the door of the bet midrash where we pray and saw that a young observant woman I know had propped the door slightly ajar in order to hear the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei and the reading of the Torah.

The women’s section right next to the door was being used by several men. One man who had come late was putting on his tefillin while another man was taking his off; one man was praying intensely while another was wandering around, possibly looking for a sefer on the shelves in the back.

The young woman, too shy or intimated to ask them to leave the area, simply stood in the cold drafty hall, bundled up against the elements, trying to hear the chazzan and the tefillah. The door to the women’s section has a sign politely asking men not to pray in or walk through the women’s section as it is reserved for women. But like so many other rules of etiquette in shul, this one was being ignored. I quickly motioned to the men to exit the women’s section; after they noticed my gesticulations they slowly did.

The phenomenon of men praying or simply donning their tefillin in the women’s section is one we have all seen repeated countless times in our shuls and batei midrash here and in Israel. It is a practice that needs to stop, the sooner the better.

Men praying or passing through the women’s section, even if there are no women there at the moment, bespeaks (not explicitly, of course) an attitude that devalues the place of women in the synagogue. It subtly indicates the sense (again not deliberately) that women have no real place or space in the synagogue. They are there, the message resounds, at the indulgence of men.

Whatever one’s views on the hot button issues of the role of women and ritual in the shul, it should be a sine qua non that a space be always set aside for the women who attend shul during the week and that this space should be sacrosanct. Women should feel they have their very own space. No woman should have to ask a man to move out of the women’s section or wait for a sympathetic soul to notice her discomfort and push the men to leave.

A person seeking to connect with God should never be made to feel like a guest in the house of God, especially in her own shul.

This attitude is also reflected in the context of some of the Mincha minyanim that take place in offices in the midtown and financial districts of large cities. Many of these ubiquitous minaynim resist making accommodations for the small but growing number of observant women who would also like to pray with a minyan either on a daily or occasional basis. In some there is resistance to set up a mechitza, while in others, even ones that meet in shuls with women’s sections, many men, especially the latecomers, simply appropriate for themselves the space of the women’s section to spread out as they engage in prayer.

This issue is not the most urgent one on our communal plate at the moment, but it is so easy to rectify.

Our history reflects the reality that men, even those steeped in piety, often failed to appreciate women’s desire to experience and engage in tefillah.

We need look no further than the high priest Eli, who spoke harshly to Hannah, mother of Samuel the prophet, because he initially misunderstood what she was doing when he saw her engaged in prayer. But ultimately, as the Talmud teaches us, Hannah came to be considered the mother of prayer.

It is from Hannah’s sincere desire to pray and from her deeply felt prayers that we derive many of the laws of tefillah found in our halachic texts. It behooves us to ensure that all our shuls and minyanim are truly batei knesset where all of Knesset Yisrael – the Jewish people – can feel at home and at peace.

Changing Families

Wednesday, January 18th, 2006

Dear Mordechai,

My wife has read your articles and books. It sounds so nice to be able to put one’s marriage first. But let’s be real. I have a job, kids, minyanim to catch and daf yomi shiurim to attend. My wife and I are stressed over money. Who isn’t? Don’t you think you’re causing unrealistic expectations for marriages when you say, “put your marriage first?” How much can I work at my marriage when everything else is going on? Shouldn’t the work in my life be what I’m supposed to be doing, namely to make my marriage financially viable? Maybe there are times in a marriage that you shouldn’t expect to be so “in love.” My marriage won’t be happy if I’m broke.

Answer:

I’m happy that your wife has had the time to read my work. It’s a good thing she has a lighter schedule than you. Hopefully, you’ll have enough time to review my limited answer.

The number one myth of marriage is that after you fall in love, you don’t have to work at it anymore. Countless couples have told me, “If it takes so much energy, we must not be made for each other.” Somewhere, we have been improperly taught that true love is supposed to come easily. Once we’ve committed to each other through marriage, our love will take care of itself while we get on with life. We can now focus on jobs, kids and acquiring things like a house, cars and appropriate furniture. We see our spouse less as an individual and more as an ex tension of ourselves — a team dedicated to keeping the physical plant of our lives hearty. We begin to figure that whatever we’re doing is understood as serving the greater good of both of us. This should be enough to keep us madly in love, sexually attracted to each other and wanting to be together forever.

There isn’t one obvious theory that keeps this unfortunate pattern believable, but I think many desperately want to hold onto it to resist having to work so hard at love. It takes enormous energy to create and maintain a wonderful marriage. Great marriages are about “absorption”, a kind of fully-engaged connection that requires constant attention, a deep, soul-searching understanding of yourself and how it affects your ability to love. Giving it everything you’ve got sounds exhausting and disquieting.

We may say we want that wonderful marriage, but deep down we recognize that being sensitive to another human being is harder than most things we do. If all you are giving to your spouse is the energy left over from balancing work and family, you’re cheating your marriage.

Think back to when you fell in love. Do you remember what you talked about? Do you remember loving conversations you had about whether you had enough money to pay the full balance on your credit cards or if you should carry the debt further, or how you needed to spend less money so that you could pay the bills this month? And can you recall any romantic moments at dinner when you each interrupted your conversation at least six times to answer your cell phones, send off a quick e-mail on your Blackberry and discuss important business? You never had those conversations back then, because if you had, you wouldn’t have fallen in love. In fact, you would have run away from each other as fast as possible. Yet, this is life today, and you’re expecting to be happy and in love.

Putting your marriage first is about a state of mind. It’s believing that everything else that you consider important is dramatically impacted by your marriage. Whether you feel in love or lonely will affect every decision and action you make today. Marriage is a foundation for your world. With love in your heart and a sense of someone who cares deeply for you as your partner, you have greater energy and greater abilities to handle all of life’s tasks. Aren’t you a better parent on the day you feel close to your spouse than when you’ve just had a fight? Aren’t you more focused and energized at work the day after a romantic, loving evening with your spouse? Don’t you want to live more passionately when you feel loved and are able to give love? You should and you can. For every ounce of effort you put into your marriage, you will benefit tenfold; not only from the direct love you feel, but from the energy and focus you’ll have for everything else in your life.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/marriage-relationships/changing-families/2006/01/18/

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