Here comes Lag B’Omer with its rich ritual trail of thousands of weddings all across the Jewish world. I love nothing more than a full-on blow-out ancient ecstatic ritual chuppah. Love the ambient singing, the symbolism, the circles and rings and shtick and glam.
But I love it less than one thing. One crucial thing. — I love it less than I detest the silencing of women.
In fact, I wanted to name this post: “Let’s have a Lag B’Omer Boycott of Male-Only-Officiated Weddings”. Or, “I Love Jewish Weddings So Much That They Are Currently Making Me Sick.”
But I’m really trying to stay positive here, friends. I’m trying.
I’m trying so hard…as I stand there at another glorious chuppah and watch my heart drop heavy every time I see a missed opportunity for a woman to jump in. As male after male after male is called up to the mic. I am just weary of the status-quo-ness of it all. By the time of the breaking of the glass I am inevitably weeping less over Jerusalem and more over the absence of women from the scene.
And I am weeping because there is just no good reason for it.
There are ample halachically-permissible opportunities for women to have voice aplenty at a 100% kosher Jewish wedding. Hear that? We’re talking UTTERLY HALACHICALLY PERMISSIBLE. And yet, most of the time – even in my female-empowered progressive circles – it just simply isn’t done. For no good reason other than ‘it isn’t done’.
Well I’m done.
Done being contained about it.
Because all we have to do is want it. Change it. Get ‘vocal’ about it. Just invite women to speak it. It’s that simple and that permissible.
And I’ll go one crucial step further. For not only is it permissible…it is nothing less than a spiritual imperative. It is pressing and necessary and a way-too-long-delayed tide change in the Orthodox velt. Women’s voices at weddings is nothing less than our next urgent step of spiritual evolution.
AND HERE’S THE TORAH TO BACK IT UP:
Don’t just take it from me. Take it from the Alter Rebbe. The incontestable Alter Rebbe himself instructed us in this in the early 1800’s. He goes straight to the heart of the last of the Sheva Brachot recited under the chuppah.
The final blessing reads: “…God, our God, let there soon be heard in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem the sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the VOICE OF THE GROOM AND THE VOICE OF THE BRIDE, the sound of the grooms’ jubilance from their canopies and of the youths from their song-filled feasts. Blessed are You Who causes the groom to rejoice WITH his bride.”
The Alter Rebbe does a deep textual analysis to point out several key Kabbalistic (& highly feminist) ideas. First, there is the enigmatic repetition of “the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride”. He claims that this redundancy comes to emphatically express that the ideal state – the Messianic state – is characterized by women having full and equal voice. What’s more, he says that the wording “SOON let it be heard” expresses the urgency and eagerness of this destined transformation! And finally, the end blessing shows “the groom rejoicing WITH the bride”. The Alter Rebbe explains this to mean that the bride will bring the groom along WITH her. She will be his mashpiah, his teacher. No longer the silenced partner, but rather the one who guides and gifts the male with enlightened consciousness.
For the Alter Rebbe, the current state of reality (our woeful status-quo) is a broken one in which the bride most regrettably has no voice. In his own words: “The time is approaching when woman will return to her root…as ‘a crown to her husband’ and she will be drawing down and passing on to him the lights of consciousness. The bride coming into her voice symbolizes woman expressing and projecting herself out into the world as an independent agent.” This, my friends, is our highest spiritual/religious aspiration!
The Alter Rebbe is handing to us on a silver platter a most poignant and desperately needed invitation straight from the belly of our most pristine tradition. It is a wedding invitation – and gift – to give full voice to the feminine. We are the privileged ones, more than 200 years after his call, who are finally able to act on and manifest this age-old Messianic dream.
Lucky are we who have seen this light and who are activating this new consciousness through our courageous acts of change, refinement and advancement of our precious tradition.
(Thank you to Sara Yehudit Schneider for her full-voiced translation and rendering of this teaching in her important book, “Kabbalistic Writings on the Nature of Masculine and Feminine.”)
The How To:
Here are a few opportunities to bring women’s voices under the chuppah (so halachically permissible it should be flat-out-parve):
– Have a woman lead the bedeckin ritual
– Have a woman read the ketubah (My learned friend Stephanie did it and it was awesome.)
– Have male/female couples do each of the Sheva Brachot. The man can say the bracha, the woman can say whateva’ else she wants to say!
– Have the kallah – or her sister or her mother or teacher – share a poem or blessing or a whatever-is-in-her-heart expression at ANY other point in the ceremony.
Yes, it’s that easy. It is only an issue of our doing it! – Women’s voices at Orthodox Jewish weddings – LET’S DO IT!!
And now for saying the same thing in the (highly-feminine) voice of poetry…
Toeing the shoreline of another chuppah
at its high tide, with wet eyes
tied to witness a ritual
so ancient & exquisite
that I usually forgive
my tradition all over again
for her old-fashioned ways
as I celebrate
the cloth over the bride’s face.
velvet – conducting nothing
it stores all secrets of the universe
in a white lace encasement.
But – I
I am still chasing
So forgive me please,
for I need more than a Torah
to tease me forward.
I need a full-on pull-out of the feminine
from the corner seat
to where the moon tows
her to the tide pool of the
Because it is our destiny.
This dance step nexus of ‘Nextness’
I know, it feels epic and treacherous
but we got this
– just like our Rebbes instructed.
We are ready for something so
much more concrete
than the silence and mystery
of the sheathed
Our task – to nurture expression
opulent and flowing
from the infinite opening
known as woman.
Our gifts have been well-
wrapped for eons
and finally we are the
Ripping off the satin ribbon
unwrapping the hidden
package that has been laid
open, though the box be labeled
‘Careful, fragile content’
YES – women are breakable
– Just like atoms
of nuclear proportions
if you split us open
we just might explode
But harness us
and you will energize
a hundred thousand titans
of tight-knit communities
and Messianic dreams.
Our lips are the flip-switch of nuclear fission
and vision – we are forces of creation.
Let us partake of the
escort of the Queen.
No more silence
but rather make a science
the treasures in her cheeks.
For with all due honor
she is already pregnant
May we be the lucky ones
to usher in this crowning
pinnacle of history
– hear her SPEAK