Be Happy its Adar! Happy Rosh Hodesh Adar!
This month is considered one of the happiest months of the Hebrew Calendar. It is said: Those who welcome Adar increase joy and happiness in the world! For it is in this month we celebrate the survival of Judaism despite another attempt by someone, this case Haman (may his name be erased) to annihilate us. Fortunately, Haman did not succeed and we are here to celebrate and boo his name when we hear it during the reading of the Book of Esther on Purim, which this year we celebrate on February 23 & 24. When I read the Book of Esther I try to remember how amazing it is that we have a whole book of the Hebrew Bible named for and featuring one woman, a rare but not exclusive situation. Ruth exists as well. It is easy to look at this book and dismiss Esther’s role in the story as that of a patriarchal stereotypic view of a woman especially because it was her physical attributes that got her to a place where the males in her life directed her behavior. I personally was always more drawn to Vashti than Esther because it seemed that Vashti had more spunk, drive and courage. I have always been amused that the authors of this text saw Vashti’s refusal to do what she was told as a threat to the very structure of their society and their place in it. They worried that other women would hear of her refusal and would make “their husbands contemptible in their eyes” Esther 1:13-22. But Esther can be viewed in another way, the ultimate insider who could have ignored all issues around her while living her life in the relative ease she has obtained. But instead Esther risked it all to do what she had to do. She recognized the power she possessed and used it to save her people. We can admire her resolve and especially her patience in getting the King warmed up before she pressed for his support in saving her people. Her story gives us much to admire, her book gives us great insight into the workings of the minds of our ancient authors and yes, it gives us a fun wondrous holiday to celebrate. But I know that we cannot always use her methodology to press for things we believe in today.
As I write this post today nine women were detained for committing the crime of trying to pray as a group covered in their prayer shawls at the Western Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. There are many who think that their act of civil disobedience is distracting from more major issues confronting Israeli society. There are those who think that they are involved in a struggle that does not resonate with Israeli society because the Kotel is just not so important. There are those who think that this is only a “Diaspora” issue, not a “real” Jewish issue. There are those who don’t want to be identified with these “fringe” women because they want to stay solidly in the mainstream. But those who wish to belittle this struggle are missing the point that it is not just a struggle about a place to pray, rather it is a struggle about the strength of women’s voices and presence in Israeli and Western society. This is a struggle about whether the world will truly support a woman’s right to be an equal participant in society. This is a struggle about a woman’s right to express a strong opinion and not be labeled as “confrontational” or “bitchy”. This is a struggle for all people who are on the fringes of society having a right to still express themselves in the mainstream. Yes women could pray as a group in other less public sections of the Old City of Jerusalem by why should they have to? Why should only one type of religious authority be recognized? Why is it that accommodations can only be made for the religious extremists of one type? Today the Israeli police waited until men (including members of the paratroopers who liberated the Kotel in 1967) who were supporting the Women of the Kotel left before they grabbed nine women and detained them. In prior confrontations the police were physically rough with the women they detained. This action against the Women of the Kotel is an affront to women and is an attack on women’s rights and not only at the Kotel. If this struggle for a woman’s right to pray with her peers at the Kotel is lost, it will be easier to chip away at other women’s rights issues. It will be easier for religious authorities to continue to control marriage laws in Israel. It will be easier for religious authorities to pressure women to conform to stricter religious standards of dress, where they should sit on buses, the number s of children they must have, the streets they can walk on and they marriages they must stay in. It will be easier for people outside of Israel to reverse decades of progress for women in other areas as well. This “small” issue has big ramifications for the status of women in society as a whole.
As we rejoice in this month of Adar, may we remember all of our sisters and brothers who are crying out to have an equal voice in our world and may we help give voice to their struggle. May the month of Adar bring joy and gladness and peace to us and to our world.