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Should I Thank God for Not Making Me a Woman?

Posted: 05/02/2013 2:55 pm

"Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has not made me a woman." -- Morning Blessings, Artscroll Siddur, p. 12.

I'm supposed to say that each morning. If I were a woman, I would recite this instead: "Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has made me according to Your will."

These difficult, even painful blessings are a part of a series of otherwise beautiful meditations thanking God for the everyday gifts of sight, clothes and freedom. Those other blessings roll easily off my tongue, the praise genuine and sincere. But for years I've struggled with praising God for not making me a woman. And I'm not the only Orthodox rabbi who struggles with it.

As a committed Orthodox Jew, I have accepted the entirety of halacha -- the Jewish path of law and tradition -- upon myself. This includes guidelines on rituals, holidays, charity, legal matters, sex and, yes, prayers. Not only do I accept it on myself, but as a rabbi, I teach it to others.

There are parts of halacha that I love, and parts that I struggle with. This blessing though, this blessing is really tough. Written by male rabbis nearly 2,000 years ago, these words evoke for me the sexism too prevalent in the Orthodox world and beyond. These words have echoes of the religious misogynists who throw chairs at a woman for praying at the Western Wall or force women to sit at the back of Israeli buses. This blessing helps enable the religious sexism that silences women's voices, keeps them from positions of communal leadership, and denies them study of our sacred texts.

Do I want any part of that sexism? No.

So do I say the blessing? Yes.

Here's why:

Sadly, there are some excellent reasons to be grateful for not being a woman in this world. For example:

  • As a man, I will most likely make more money working at a job than if I were a woman. And as an Orthodox rabbi, I couldn't have my job if I were woman.

  • So long as I stay out of jail, the odds that I will be raped are very low.

  • If I were raped, I probably wouldn't be blamed for it.

  • I can be ambitious professionally and no one will question my gender.

  • Most political, religious and cultural leaders are guys, just like me!

  • In most prayerbooks and Bibles, God and I share a gender.

  • There aren't billions of dollars spent every year trying to make me feel bad about how I look and selling me things to change my appearance.

  • I get to be a hero if I change a diaper or spend time with my kids, and most people won't look down on me if I don't.

Saying this blessing every day challenges me to face these and other difficult facts about men and women in today's world. It forces me to remember that work as a spiritual leader in the Orthodox community would not be possible if I were a woman (though that is changing thanks to the pioneering work of Yeshivat Maharat, but not without a fight).

This blessing calls me to recommit to building a world where inequality and oppression do not exist. It calls me to recommit each day to building a world where saying "thank you God for not making me a woman" will disappear, not because it is offensive, but because it is meaningless.

 

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