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Friday, November 13, 2015





or tallit, or tallis
[Ashkenazic Hebrew, English tah-lis; Sephardic Hebrew tah-leet]
noun, plural tallithim, tallitim, tallisim
[Ashkenazic Hebrew, English tah-lee-sim, -ley-, tah-luh-sim; Sephardic Hebrew tah-lee-teem] (Show IPA).
a shawllike garment of wool, silk, or the like, with fringes, or zizith, at the four corners, worn around the shoulders by Orthodox and Conservative (sometimes also Reform) Jews, as during the morning service.
It's been worn by Jewish men for centuries, to honor the Biblical commandment to wear fringes on one's garment.  A man would don the tallit to say morning prayers, on weekdays as well as on the Sabbath.  It's powerful imagery, to see a man in his tallit, to see him wrap himself in the shawl as he begins his prayers.  He is literally wrapping himself in one of G-d's commandments.  At times he will pull the tallit over his head, to create a quiet cocoon for his prayers.  At other times, he might put his arm around his wife and children, wrapping them in the same spiritual embrace as he draws them under the folds of cloth. Eventually he will be buried with a tallit wrapped around his shoulders.
Traditionally women did not wear a tallit.
But then again, women did not sit with men in the synagogue.  They sat in a separate section, often the balcony, and prayed quietly among themselves, careful that their voices not overpower the voices of the men.  No honors were bestowed upon women during the service.
When I was a child and a teenager, in the early 1970's, feminism was the "new thing", women were shouting for equality with men.  Conservative and Reform synagogues began to expand the role of women, to allow them to participate more fully in the synagogue rituals.  I went to Hebrew school, I learned to read Hebrew and how to recite prayers.  But I was told that women did not count in the minyan (the quorum needed for prayer). 
And the big difference came when we all turned 13.  A boy would celebrate his bar mitzvah on a Saturday morning.  He would don a tallit, he would read from the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) and also the Haftarah (another Biblical passage, from the Prophets). 
A girl, however, would celebrate her bat mitzvah on Friday night.  She would not be called to the Torah, but would read only Haftarah.  No need for a tallit on Friday night. 
I suppose it was a compromise, to give women some, but not all, of the same rights and obligations as men.
The world my daughters found themselves in was very different.  Most Conservative and Reform congregations had become egalitarian.  Women count in the minyan, men and women receive the same honors during the service.  Women are ordained as Rabbis and Cantors. 
Boys and girls received the same education, with the same expectation of reading Torah during the service celebrating their bar/bat mitzvah.
And so, when Jen turned 13 and we celebrated her bat mitzvah, I bought her a tallit.  And I had the pleasure of hearing her read her Torah portion, all about three men who visit Abraham and predict that Sarah will have a son.
And I was so proud to see her wear it.
Two years later, Becca read from the Torah -- her portion involved Moses giving instruction to the Hebrews  as they were about to enter the land of Israel.  And I bought a tallit for her.
But I did not buy a tallit for myself.  For all my feminist ideals, some part of me was still linked to the past...and I wasn't comfortable with the idea of wearing one.  It was great for other women, but for me...
And then I found myself in the synagogue on an almost-daily basis.
And I did not want to be the only one at morning minyan  with no fringe...
I've worn shawls before, for warmth, for fashion.  But this is different.

I was hesitant.  I was uncertain.

I bought one that is decidedly feminine. White with a pink stripe, and a matching yarmulke to cover my head.
I put the shawl on and I am wrapped in tradition.  I am wrapped in continuity, l'dor vador, from generation to generation.
It is empowering.
Prayer is keeping me centered, and the wearing the tallit is keeping me focused.

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