On the roof of the Aish center looking down at the Western Wall with Chevra & Davai in 2011

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Women of The Wall, Mother’s Day & Gender Roles in Our Society

In my house, honey nut cheerios is our favorite cereal.  I typically eat it with vanilla soy milk.  My wife likes it with skim milk and my son likes it with 1% regular milk.  No matter how one likes it the first thing a Jew must ask himself before eating is… What’s more important, the cereal or the milk?

This question determines what blessing we make before eating.  If I love cereal and prefer not to eat it dry, I say a blessing (bracha) for the cereal itself (borei minei mazonos).  If my wife really wants the milk and only eats a little cereal to get some carbohydrates, she may very well say the blessing (shehakol).  It’s a very subjective thing.  In Jewish law, we ask, what’s the most important thing or in Hebrew, what’s the ikar?

Even though this question, “what’s the ikar?” applies mainly to food and what blessing we say, it can also be used for many other areas of life.

In stereotypical American family life, the husband was traditionally the breadwinner and the wife was traditionally the homemaker, taking care of the needs of the household and raising the children.  This model has clearly changed a lot over the past generation.  Now you find all sorts of different family situations, but I believe that this model still shapes the way we think of gender roles in both American society and with in Judaism. 

This conjures up all kinds of questions… Should women be allowed to wear a tallis?  Or tefillan?  If not, why not?  Why should the husband get top have a career while the wives are stuck home?  Are the women of the wall right?  Is Judaism sexist?

In Judaism, we’re taught to question everything?  If so, we certainly can’t avoid this one.

Before, I attempt my version of the answer; I think that an important question needs to be asked first…. What’s the ikar in raising a family?

Is the ikar that we should have strive to have a fancy house, a nice car, prestige and money or is it raising children who are ba’al middos (have good & sensitive personality traits)?  Who’s more successful…. The doctor or the big donor in shul who may have kids that he doesn’t have a great relationship with or only 1 child… or the family with many children, who don’t have fortune or prestige, but whose kids are good, sweet Jews?

Unfortunately, my Dad’s father died when my Dad was young child.  Ever since I can remember, we spent every fathers day going to the cemetery.  We also went several other times throughout the year.  Some of my most meaningful memories growing up was walking through the cemetery with my father and older brothers talking about the family. 

In all those times, I’ve never seen a tombstone that listed how much money someone had, or how big of a house they lived in, or what profession they were in.  When we leave this world, we leave all those titles behind and just take the most important ones with us… Father, Mother, Grand Parent, Bubby, Zaidy, etc.

So, what’s the ikar of our lives?  What’s the ikar of raising a family?

Do we have a house so that when I get home from work I have a place to go or so I go to work so that I can have a place to raise my family?

Do I have a child, because that’s what I’m supposed to do and after all, I need someone to take care of me when I get old or is having children and raising them with Jewish values the highest and most important job one can have?

The answer is clear… having and raising proper Jewish children is the ikar of life.  In fact, if one had to ask one of the greatest questions of Jewish history, what one thing has allowed to the Jewish people to not only survive, but thrive after so many hardships, I think that one consistent answer is love and devotion of Jewish parents, particularly mothers to their children.  In our screwed up society, we forget that.  We’re focused so much on money or prestige or even equal rights, when we need to focus more on our children.  The Lubavitcher Rebbe once said that every Jew is commanded to think about and take steps towards proper education for Jewish children every day for at least 30 minutes and this applies to both those of us who have children and those of us who don’t even have children.

Keeping all this in mind, if I were to pose the question, what’s the most important career that one can have, what would the answer be?

I would submit that the most important career that one can have is being a Mommy… or a Daddy or a teacher.

I’m not suggesting the woman of the wall or any other woman or women’s group is right or wrong.  I am suggesting is that we all need to take a step back and think about the most important thing in life… children.  

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