Monday, March 11, 2013

Why Tomorrow I'll Wear a Tallit for the First Time

Last night my dad and I were discussing, via g-chat, tomorrow's NYC solidarity minyan in support of Women of the Wall, which we are both planning to attend. I told him that I was thinking of borrowing my husband's tallit to wear to the minyan. I've never worn a tallit before in my life. He was, needless to say, surprised.

What, you might ask? You don't wear a tallit and yet you attend an egalitarian synagogue, send your kids to an egalitarian Jewish day school, and believe very strongly in the rights of all Jews, male and female, to pray outwardly as they wish, in any and all locales, especially the most holy one? Here's why:

Growing up entrenched in the NY Conservative movement of the 80s, I had no role models of women who participated equally with men in Jewish prayer and leadership. There were no women rabbis. There were no women in my Schechter school who put on tallit or tefillin or even a kippah. At my bat mitzvah, I did not learn to read torah or haftorah. It's really no wonder that these rituals never became a part of my personal practice. When and where would I have picked them up? My personal spiritual journey took a backseat in my twenties as I was trying to figure out who to be and what to do (while suffering through graduate school). I did a lot of yoga. Probably more om-ing than davening, to be honest. I did come into my own opinions about women's role in the world, and also in Judaism. For my and Josh's aufruf, I decided to learn to read haftorah. That was a big step. The service was held in my parents' back yard because their shul does not allow women to participate.

Then motherhood took over. I discovered a different kind of spiritual practice: the kind with pushed-beyond-exhausted visions of godliness in my baby's smile.

I have three daughters, and I've already begun thinking about how my example will affect them in their spiritual practice. I want them to feel like equal members of the minyanim that they take part in, and I want them to feel comfortable wearing tallit and tefillin. So I've been thinking, for some time, that I should try it. Even though it feels about as comfortable to me as putting on my husband's suit and tie. Perhaps this minyan is just the right time to give it a go. It can't hurt. And it could be, like the minyan itself, a powerful message to my daughters.

My father's views don't always jive with mine, but he and I both believe in religious pluralism. Which means that even if you don't subscribe to a practice yourself, you respect other people for their beliefs. I can't tell you how proud I am of my dad for coming with me tomorrow, and for teaching me that tolerance and compassion are central tenets to leading a Jewish life.


  1. Good for you! I too never wore a tallit, well, growing up Orthodox, Haredi school and all.. But after a while with WOW it just felt right. And it's a chance to say an extra blessing. My advice: practice the blessing a bit first cuz you are going to tear up. And don't forget to the say the Shehechianu blessing too!

    1. Thank you for this beautiful advice.

    2. Good for you, Rachel. I first put on a tallit a few years ago, at T and V. Then I bought one. I hope you find it meaningful, and I'm sure you were. Your daughters will thank you for the example you set.

      By the way, I didn't have a Bat Mitzvah at all until college, when I had my aliya during Yom Kippur services, which came during Orientation Week. Some Orientation! My first haftarah came some years after that and my first Torah reading was at T and V; I wanted to learn because I wanted to read at my son's Bar Mitzvah, which I did. Fortunately, we have a home at T and V where such learning and growing is actively encouraged. I'll never forget Rabbi Sebert's face when he noticed my tallit, brand new then.

      Great advice, not to forget the shecheyanu, both for new clothes and the momentous practice your are embarking on. Yishar Kocheich! See you tomorrow!

  2. I have always struggled a bit, well, more than a bit trying to find my comfortable place. I read Torah at North Shore when I became a Bat Mitzvah, My heart is connected to the traditional conservative movement, but after marrying a Russian Jew and having two daughters I felt like I needed to try a reform congregation. I still don't feel that it is my perfect place and am most at home where I send Laila to camp- a pluralistic Jewish environmental community. Here in the suburbs there are fewer options and I feel like I will be searching for some time, I wish I had study partners to explore this with!

  3. To me the best part is your Dad is beside you on this journey!

  4. What a wonderful story! As I sat behind you in Shul yesterday and watched you put on your tallit for the first time, I didn't know I was witnessing an enormous personal experience. It's a good reminder that each person that takes a seat in our lives has a story.


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