Monday, January 27, 2014

Why I Won't Wear Tefillin

It is always with amusement that I listen to someone describe the fashion industry as "frivolous." There is a degree of frivolity, to be sure, as with most creative pursuits, but fashion permeates the lives of even the most oblivious among us. Everyone thinks about what they wear. No one would dream of going to an interview in sweat pants, regardless of how solid their resume is. On Purim or Halloween, costumes and characters are identifiable either due to a specific moment in fashion history or because of the self-expression that fashion makes possible. 

The Torah holds clothing in the same high regard, as the Written dictates every detail of what the High Priest will wear, and the Oral specifies how to fulfill the commandment of laying tefillin. Tradition tells us that the Israelites were on the lowest possible spiritual level when they were freed from bondage. One of the things that preserved their identity and prevented them from being a lost cause altogether was maintaining a difference in dress from the Egyptians. This is why many groups of Orthodox Jews choose to dress in a very distinctive manner today. Beyond appearances, however, I think Judaism requires a different approach to what we wear, and it is the reason I see no need to wear tefillin.

In the secular world, there is a lot of imitation in terms of fashion that goes on. Confusing style with status, people buy designer "knockoffs." When women began entering the work force in the 70s and 80s, they did so in "power suits" to prove they were up to the task. Rather than explore and express one's own unique potential, an individual mistakenly equates fashion with expensive, or success with masculinity, and seeks a quick, external fix to what they want to be. 

The Jewish people are commanded to be a nation of priests. It would be a mistake to think that this is accomplished simply by dressing like the Kohen Gadol, whose role is undoubtedly important. One of the many groundbreaking advances of Judaism was the idea that each person could have a relationship with G-d without an intermediary. In short, the role of priest is not reduced to a garment. Clothing in Judaism is rife with meaning, and on many occasions, it points to something bigger than the tangible element. In other words, performing a ritual such as tefillin provides a way to capture the essence of inscribing the Torah on one's mind and heart, much like a picture book helps a child to follow a story. 

I do not say this to emasculate men. I adore men. But it is no secret in Judaism that women are considered spiritually superior. Therefore, any mitzvah that men are held to must be understood as a step they are taking in an attempt to reach women's level. For women to imitate that step is not only superfluous, it diminishes our power. 

I did not come to the decision to be Modern Orthodox lightly. I knew that I would face more temptation and have to constantly be on guard against secular influences. This is where the different approach to clothing comes in: Contrary to what the outside world says, in Judaism, what we don't wear is just as significant as what we do. I don't begrudge men their tzitzit, tefillin, kippot, or anything else that sort of beats them over the head with "Please TRY to behave more like the women and less like the animals, mmmk?" My exemption from wearing any of these speaks to my ability to just get it naturally. When, that is, I fully own my strengths as a woman and take my cues from Jewish tradition, not secularism. 

In Judaism, we don't imitate; we innovate. If you are looking to grow as a Jewish woman, use the gift of your binah to love the Lord your G-d in everything you do, and lead the Jewish people--and the world--forward. 

cbg

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Map

Once upon a time, there was a Map. It was given long ago to a group of people who promised to guard it and to follow it, and it was copied meticulously many times over the centuries. The people understood that no matter how much time passed or where they were in the world, they were to be guided by the Map.

From the Map shone a golden city, a promise to all who kept to the map. "Someday," the people said, "we will see that place of light." And they believed it with all their hearts.

For generations, it was accepted that more than one route led to the golden city. When he looked into the Map, each man saw all possibilities, though one in particular might stand out to him. Great scholars met to debate the merits of each route. Entire schools were born. On one point they were all in agreement: Even if their own eyes never beheld the sight of the golden city, living by the Map was its own reward.

And then it came to pass, a group claimed to have no need of the Map. They had lived in the land for so long, they knew it as well as the faces of their wives. The land could be navigated without the Map. Perhaps, the most rebellious ones said, the golden city did not even exist.

So they left, their arguments hanging in the air like dust. The Map had never been threatened by their own kind before. The elders agreed that more than ever, it must be preserved and protected. Mixed with their determination was fear.

Suddenly, the Map looked different to many of the people. Where once he had seen multiple routes, only one appeared in each man's sight. The possibility of another way seemed like a threat. Neighbor turned against neighbor. Scholars accused one another of not following the Map, and the schools divided. All revered the Map. All believed that only they knew the true way to the golden city.

One day, a young boy, just on the cusp of manhood, was exploring outside as young boys do. He had been told of the Map since he was born. He knew that when he became a man, he would be responsible for following the Map toward the golden city. That morning, he stumbled across two scholars, both highly esteemed by their respective schools. The boy paused to listen to the wisdom they would have to impart.

But the two men were angry. Their words were coated in vitriol. Accusations flew with their spittle. Each accused the other of betraying the Map. His adversary would surely not merit the golden city, both said.

The boy ducked out of sight and leaned against a tree, his mind whirling. If neither of these great men could believe each other, then the entire Map must be a lie. The golden city was undoubtedly a myth. After all, who had seen it? What fools these people were, he thought. He would never be like them and believe in something that wasn't true.

When the scholars had parted ways and gone back to their Maps, for once they saw the same thing: The golden city was farther away than it had ever been.

The End

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Once, Twice, Three Times a LadyMama

Why did I ever think I could give up blogging? Especially when it means I have the honor of another (my third!) guest post on LadyMama. My friend Mimi makes being a Jewish woman look good, you guys. She has a rock star husband, two of the cutest kids I've ever seen, her own convention-shattering clothing line MIMU MAXI, and incredible style to boot. Topped off, of course, with a gorgeous sheitel. I'm so grateful to her for allowing me to share about my sheitel envy and one of the many reasons I'm looking forward to being a married woman. Check it out!

xo cbg

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Say It Ain't So!


Last week, a headline caught my eye: "Meryl Streep calls Walt Disney Anti-Semitic."

WHAT.

Listen, I can live without Wagner; I've always been partial to Mozart anyway. And I couldn't find any concrete proof that Disney expressed or supported antipathy toward Jews. But the fact remains that we do often face choices involving companies with Nazi connections or people who made no secret of their anti-Semitism. So where do we draw the line? Should a Jew drive a Benz? Is buying Chanel wrong? If Disney actually was a bigot, would that make his movies off-limits for me and my children?

It's a question, I think, that each Jew must answer for him/herself. However an individual feels about it, one thing holds true: We're still here to make such choices. Amalek, in all his forms, comes and goes with the tide of history, but the Jewish people carry on.

cbg

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project

Last year I wrote a piece for JUF on coming to terms with the Holocaust as a convert. It's a subject I have studied for over 20 years, but it became much more personal as I learned just what it meant to be a Jew and met children and grandchildren of, and the survivors themselves. It seems that one of the dangerous trends in the years since the Shoah is the attempt to whitewash history and absolve everyone but the highest-ranking Nazis of any guilt. Perhaps the best defense against such excuses, then, are the stories of Righteous Gentiles who refused to sit idly by while their fellow citizens were murdered. In the face of unimaginable evil, they risked their lives to choose good.

I recently stumbled across the story of Irena Sendler, a Polish woman who helped to save the lives of over 2,000 Jewish children. Going door-to-door in the Warsaw Ghetto, Irena convinced parents that their children would only survive if she smuggled them out and placed them with Polish families, convents, and orphanages. At one point, she was captured by the Nazis and brutally beaten, after which she went underground and resumed her brave efforts.

Were it not for a history assignment half a world away and decades later, Irena's name and courage may have been forgotten. But in 1999, three students in Kansas entered their project on Irena Sendler into a National History Day challenge, inspired by their classroom motto, "He who changes one person, changes the world entire." Those familiar with the Talmud will recognize the similarity to, "Whoever saves a single life, it is as if he has saved the whole world." It's a coincidence that is perfectly fitting for a woman who courageously saved many lives.

You can visit IrenaSendler.com to learn more about her incredible story and upcoming events, and discover other unsung heroes in history via Twitter and Facebook.

cbg

Monday, January 6, 2014

Are You Happy Now?

I am officially Over. This. Winter. When you're wondering if you should take that trip to London a couple of months earlier than planned because it's currently a balmy 48 degrees there, you might live in Chicago. Actually, forget London--is it too early for me to join the Jewish community in Boca Raton? I play (miniature) golf!

This is what I do. When faced with an uncomfortable situation, I start mentally hitting the 'Escape' button. In some cases, e.g. nasty weather, it's very easy and socially acceptable to do so. There is a sort-of consensus on being able to have one mood in winter and another when it's lovely out. As a Jew, however, I would be remiss if I didn't dig a little deeper and see if I can do a little better. Whatever the scenario, the question is: Will I allow myself to be governed by the whims of chance and circumstance, or will I choose to be the person I want to be in every moment, regardless of whether it's a blessing or a challenge? I didn't phrase it that way by accident: Even at the root, there is a choice.

As I mentioned in my New Year's post, I am striving to be more grateful. Part of gratitude is staying in the present, focusing on what I have rather than jumping ahead to what I want instead. I have a warm home. I have all the proper accoutrements should I venture outside. What may seem standard to me, what is easy to take for granted, are in actuality blessings, and they are really all I need. I want to be a person who is content with what I have and where I am every day, who will be in a good mood and resist kvetching whatever the weather.

I think people often misconstrue happiness as an absence of any pain or discomfort, but that's not what it is at all. Happiness that depends on outside factors is happiness that fades fast. I believe that true happiness is a combination of acceptance of what is, trust in G-d, and working on myself in the meantime. These things cannot be shaken by a little Arctic blast.

To everything there is a season. If not for the dark and cold parts, there wouldn't be any new growth.

Stay warm,
cbg