Rosh Hashanah 5780 has just finished in Australia, and we are now in the thick of the Yamim Noraim — the Days of Awe or 10 Days of Repentance.
In service of this period of inspection I have been deeply considering how I can best serve my community and how I can work on growing Jewishly over the coming year and beyond.
As a feminist historian, my training is in finding and analysing texts, writing engaging history and, most of all, elevating the stories of women, which are so often forgotten, ignored or maligned.
And so, in 5780 I’ve decided to take on a project that does just that. I’m calling it Feminist Yomi, of course a homage to the Daf Yomi (page a day) Talmud reading cycle. My goal is to read (or watch, or listen to) something by a Jewish woman each day. Sometimes this might be an article or podcast, other times I might be working through a book, or Torah commentary. At this stage I’ll be keeping it fairly open as my goal is to explore a wide array of authors and topics.
While I am committed to reading each day, blogging will likely be less regular than that, although I will aim for as often as possible. This is primarily a project for myself — I want to read more Jewish women and contribute to a strong Jewish feminist tradition.
Today I am reading commentaries on the story of Hannah, which features in the Haftarah for Rosh Hashanah morning. Hannah is one of two wives of Elkanah, along with Penina. While Penina had given birth to many children, Hannah had none. Penina would torment Hannah, who would become depressed and stop eating in response.
One day after a meal Hannah went to the temple to pray for a son. She whispered her prayers so that the high priest thought she was drunk and chastised her. Hannah, understandably offended, explains to the priest that she is in fact praying, and the priest blesses her. Hannah conceives soon after and gives birth to the prophet Samuel.
Dalit Kaplan writes that while it is troubling that a Jewish heroine must be seen through her reproductive capacities, the raw representation of her experience of infertility is of some comfort to women struggling with those issues today.
Hannah’s grief over her infertility was no doubt compounded by a society that emphasised motherhood as the ultimate goal for women, not to mention Penina’s cruel jibes at her childless status. But even so, it is clear that the grief was real and deep. Hannah, too, takes matters in to her own hands and crafts an innovative solution to her problem, praying in a way that was apparently so unique that she was mistaken for a drunk by the high priest! Writing in Alma, Rishe Groner argues that Hannah’s story ‘is a lesson for silenced women’ and how men can be supportive allies to them (hint: stop talking over them and listen).
The role of prayer in Hannah’s story is especially powerful, particularly given the traditional interpretation that women are not obligated to pray three times a day. This Twitter thread from Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg also has some great reflections on what the story of Hannah can teach us about prayer, something else I am trying to work on this year. Rabbi Ruttenberg’s insight that Hannah had to make an active choice and go out of her way to pray, and used it as a powerful way to work through her most difficult feelings — but only once she was able to fully face them.
As I hone my own prayer practice it’s empowering to know that women such as Hannah have shaped Jewish prayer and gained so much out of it. It’s worth it go out of your way and whisper those ancient words.
.שנה טובה ומתוקה — שנה טובה היא שנה פמיניסטית