Washington was the city of storms last winter. Drifting white avalanches
flattened the accumulated cynicisms of the capital, a wordless prophetic
One Shabbat morning, we looked out and saw the snow had fallen
higher than a woman’s thigh. I would have wrapped myself one fold tighter into
my eiderdown and dreamed a day of rest. But my daughter Meira and I had made a
promise in full knowledge of the blizzard, to rise and make ready for our
On a clear day, Segulah is an easy halfhour walk from
our home through major Washington thoroughfares. That Shabbat, the earth was new
again and unformed; we forged our own paths, feet sinking deep into the great
If we had merely been zealous about communal prayer,
we could have attended the local synagogue which is not three minutes from our
home and seven with the snow. This is where our menfolk worship, but we cannot
abide it. It is a soulless place, where the songs were long ago forgotten,
replaced with announcements which run neck and neck with the kiddush club as the
most venerated parts of the service. Meira and I prefer to spend our Shabbat
mornings wandering through Brookside Gardens.
Meira received her
religious initiation with kollel wives at the county cloister.
singular ambition was to convert girls into Torah-true wives and mothers. Bible
and commentaries were mere preludes for discourses on the proper tafkid
of the woman – to be at home serving her husband and children. Meanwhile, in the
toilets, girls were stripping for Facebook uploads. Meira felt safe neither in
the classrooms nor the bathroom, so she left.
It wasn’t soon enough to
prevent a crisis of faith. In the wake of those pious kollel rants, my daughter
stopped praying, lost her belief in God and ended fealty to Jewish law. Ritual
particularly chafed at her, and she refused to join in any kind of religious
service. Being the exceptional person she is, everything was done with the
utmost respect to our family’s faith and observance. So instead of hearing
shofar on Rosh Hashana, she baby-sat for a parent who would not otherwise have
arrived in time for the blasts.
While I accepted Meira’s religious
upheaval as I do everything about her, her father Aaron took it hard. For him,
Judaism is constituted by two things: Talmud and Halacha. The Lord’s earth and
anything in it are dismissed as rubbish unless they can be caught within the
lattice of learning and law.
As Meira traveled through faithlessness to
throwing over her Jewish identity, becoming citizen of the world, Aaron realized
that what she chose to dispense with in her journey might be connected with the
abundant Jewish harvest he had tossed into his rubbish bin. Indeed, those things
might have value for someone who found Talmud and the law rancid and
They might be better than nothing.
About a year ago,
Segulah sprang up in our neighborhood: a full-liturgy, songful, egalitarian
davening within a warm, welcoming community. It would never have occurred to me
to go. All my life I have attended Orthodox services, and consider myself loyal
to Halacha. Segulah offered equal opportunity to women and men.
I, in good conscience, attend? But Aaron, the Brisker scholar, urged me to go
and to take Meira. He apparently thought it was better that she participate in
an egalitarian service than be lost to our people. So we came, and we prayed:
both of us. We refused honors – to read the Torah or lead prayers. For our
separate reasons, we were both willing members and conscientious objectors. But
we attended, religiously.
The week the blizzard was forecast for
Washington, I had promised to come early to set up at Segulah. Now, it should be
known that my teenage daughter does not naturally set out for shul at 7:30 on a
Saturday morning. Some might have considered it a cruelty to have asked her to
leave her feather-down bed while a mad blanket of snow fell outside.
that morning she left the warmth of our home and forged a path with me to shul.
We arrived before the building was open; we moved furniture and transported
books when it was unlocked. We were the ninth and 10th in the
Leaving services, Meira uttered a confession.
first time, she felt she had counted, and one day she might take an aliya, learn
to chant the Torah.
Women miss out on the choicest rewards in traditional
Judaism, because they are exempt from the choicest commandments.
peculiarly, we learn about s’char p’siot – the reward for walking to shul – from
a widow who daily traversed from one end of town to the other to attend services
). The reward accrued to the widow even though women are not obligated
to pray with the community. That stormy Shabbat, arriving before the janitor
after a forging a new path, my daughter received her s’char p’siot. Flowing
naturally from the obligation fulfilled, she envisaged her coming obligations –
learning, reading, leading.
Abraham battled with God to save Sodom if
there were 50, then 45, then 30, then 20, then 10 righteous persons. God
conceded each time. And if women had been among the last 10 righteous souls,
should the city not have been saved? The writer is a Washington lawyer. vhammer@