June 17, 2012
Pearls From A Shabbat Lecture in Jerusalem Women’s Rituals Are Older Than You Think
One of the pleasures of Shabbat in Jerusalem is the availability of many incredibly interesting classes some of which I make plans to attend others I catch by happenstance.
The latter was last Shabbat after tefillot at Shira Chadashaa known around the world as the first partnership minyan
The lecturer was Aliza Lavie author of two books Tefillot Nashim (translated into English as A Jewish Woman’s Prayer Book and Minhag Nashim (women’s customs) the latter book contains maps showing the presence of these customs dating back centuries throughout the full spectrum of Jewish communities around the world. Both books were bestsellers in Israel. In fact Professor Lavie told us that even though the book was not made officially permissible in the haredi community, many charedi women, purchased the book and then photocopied sections so as to have the material without owning the book.
Particularly interesting is that what is old becomes new again. Several ceremonies which are considered 20th century innovations have existed for centruries.
She has found prayers and rabbinical texts associated with bat mitzvah in Italy, Germany, and Libya from the mid 19th centrury
She was also pleasantly surprised that when she celebrated a simchat bat commemorating the birth of her daughter, her caregiver exclaimed that she remembered such ceremonies in that dated back for centuries in her Middle Eastern communities. Ceremonies associated with the birth of a daughter date back at least as far as the mid 19th century throughout the Jewish communities in the Middle East, Italy and Ashkenazic communities including traditions among chassidim for such ceremonies.
Women’s rosh chodesh celebrations, now extremely popular across the spectrum of American Jewry and a an innovation of the last few decades also have roots going back centruies. Various forms of specifically female commemorations of Rosh Chodehs across communities in the land of Israel, Tunisia, Morocco, Kurdistan also date back centuries and are. in fact mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud. There is mention of rosh chodesh as a “Shabbat” without work for womens but not for men. A tradition kept in many communities for centuries. Women in the middle ages wore special clothes on rosh chodesh . In the land of Israel centuries ago women had a large celebratory meal and on erev rosh chodesh there was a particularly large presence of women praying at the kotel and Rachel’s Tomb .
During the lecture and in her book she presents many moving prayers marking important lifecycle events in a woman’s life including the beginnings of pregnancy as well as prayers associated with specific mitvot associated with women such as mikva and separating challah when baking challa (although of course nothing prevents men from baking challa ?) She also presented lost customs with prayers such as women preparing the candles lit for Yom Kippur.
The English translation of the book won the National Jewish Book Award Dr. Lavie has lectured widely in the United States and is available for lectures.