From the Fringe

In my childhood, every weekday morning began the recitation of morning prayers, a kind of lengthy assembly for a pledge of allegiance to God. On winter dawns such as this one, gathering inside for prayer was a relief from the Siberian cold of the schoolyard where the wind lacerated our thinly stockinged thighs under our obligatory skirts.

Things have changed since my schoolgirl days and on this bitter cold morning every woman attending the morning minyan is snug inside of her woolen trousers. I have not recited the week-day prayers for more than forty years, but on the anniversary of my mother’s death, I have come to say the kaddish.

I am ill at ease; in this setting it does not take much. An old man shuffles in front of me and drops a talis or fringed prayer shawl in my lap. It seems I will be honored with the dressing of the Torah and to handle the sacred scrolls I must wrap myself in the talis..

This is my father’s cloak – of righteousness, of daily devotion, of otherness. This is the canopy of my father. This is his shroud.

Surely in my time away – three decades – I have missed much. Other women, more committed and pure-hearted than I, have already debated this. The pedigreed, authoritative Jewish feminists have long-ago come to their conclusions. I know little about their reasoning, the legalistic nuance. I only know what I feel. I do not belong inside this fabric, I do not want to be enveloped by this faint masculine scent, veiled in the life story of another.

While I was in other part of the world, American Jewish women won a rightful place beside their men in an exclusionary ancient tradition. Does this presume a blurring of gender boundaries, an assumption that our totem rituals, ceremonial garb and spiritual needs are the same?

In my sacred dance practice when I move slowly, suggestively in taksim stye, I wrap myself in silk veils in the manner of Salome. The veils have a certain play – the yards of pliable silk or chiffon allow for concealment and revelation. Veiled women are not unknown in the rabbinical tradition, but often they are associated with the cult prostitute of pagan shrines or women who have chosen disguise for treacherous ends. I wonder if I might have substituted my veil for the talis on this day. When the prayers end, I mindfully fold the talis into smaller and smaller squares and make sure it is safely tucked away.

About susanrtorn

writer, life coach
This entry was posted in A Synagogue We call B.J., Fathers and Daughters, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to From the Fringe

  1. Toni Siegel says:

    and for me, the it is a wonderful statement of equality, freedom, belonging, protection to wear that shawl which I never saw a woman wear.

    the fringes fascinate me. I twist and play with them to look at them closely. never really having seen them up close until I began to try to discover what was so passionately held on to by my ancestors.

    my daughter tied her own and made her own tallit for her bat mitzvah. sometimes I wear that tallit as a reminder of who we are, we jewish women.

    it slips off, sometimes I shrug it off, but it is always back. and although I pay little attention to what I wear mostly, I do check to make sure that my tallit “goes” at least marginally with what I am wearing that day. I have several tallitot. One for my parents yahrzeit; one purchased in Isreal; a couple purchased at Isreali fairs when no tourists were going during the seond intifada — my way of contributing to the economy; one, the white one, for the high holidays; one is light to carry around on a shabbat afternoon when I haven’t been home; one is warm for the winter; one is a bright color when I am in the mood. they are delightful garments that signal my admission to a club I could never join.

  2. susanrtorn says:

    t is so enriching/ fascinating to have such a different response to a ritual object. They say that our response to ritual is a good indicator of our stage of personal development. Ritual is acknowledged as a powerful means of triggering changes we would like to make in outlook, emotional response and capacity to experience. I do think I am stuck in a kind of refusal of a certain Jewish experience I stubbornly identify as male and have issues of my own about crossing that boundary ( even as I admit it is partly self-constructed, it is also a deep imprint of my upbringing.) So I delight, even if for the moment vicariously, in the pleasure you take in making the tallis your own and admire the creativity as well as the freedom in your choice.

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