You Shall Pursue

August 1, 2013

Will We Need Torah in Olam HaBa?

Filed under: D'var Torah — Tags: , , — marleyweiner @ 2:27 pm

Some of my most interesting moral quandaries start as arguments on the internet. About a week and a half ago, I was discussing the Torah on a feminist website that I frequent. The woman I was talking with was not of a Jewish background, and was asking sincerely whether it is possible to redeem the patriarchal source material in the Bible, and whether or not it is in everyone’s best interest to just shed “Abrahamic religion” all together. Naturally, I think that there is much in Torah that can be redeemed and much that is life affirming. Mostly, because I believe that Torah is an accurate reflection of how we as a people are able to struggle toward the Divine and the just in an imperfect, shattered world. But this leads me to a hypothetical; if the world were not imperfect and shattered, if the vision of the prophets was fulfilled and people came to treat each other with dignity and mutual regard, what place would our deeply flawed scripture have in that world?

Our Torah paints a picture of humanity that is reflective of how it is now: flawed, sometimes misogynistic, often classist, violent, and xenophobic. And yet, even within the confines of humanity’s flaws, our patriarchs, prophets, kings (notice how many are men) struggle to define and refine a vision of a society that is just and equitable. There is beauty in standing up and saying that we as people can and must do better. That our ancestors did not use their flaws as an excuse to drop out of the work, and neither should we. That is a profound and radical statement.

But the ultimate goal is a world in which so much that the Bible takes for granted is unthinkable. Already, notions of purchasing your wife, owning slaves, are shocking to modern audiences. At what point do we transition from the Bible presenting a vision of a redeemed world within a flawed context to just presenting humanity’s flaws? In other words, if our world were indeed free of racism, xenophobia, classism, sexism, homophobia, etc. what would the place of scripture be?

I can’t imagine the Bible as purely an exercise in literature, divorced of its Divine demands. At the same time, I am aware that I disavow other works in the Western cannon that I do not consider holy because the morals within them disturb me. I don’t think we are at a place where we do not need scripture as a guide book for religious Christians, Muslims, and Jews. But what if, some day, we get to a point where our relationship with God no longer matches the path set forth in scripture? What does that look like?

I’m not sure of the answers for this. And I’m not sure what it says about my relationship with scripture today, and where I hope to see it evolve. But the questions have been bothering me, and I wanted to raise them.

April 5, 2013

Lipstick and Pearls and Tefillin, Part 2

Filed under: Spirituality — Tags: , , , , — marleyweiner @ 12:30 pm

Issues of gender and dress, especially around ritual garments, have been coming up a lot for me lately. The first time I wrapped tefilin, I felt like I was in “Orthodox man drag” (I’m recovering from this gut reaction, but slowly). I still don’t like wearing kippot because I feel like it’s a very masculine garment that doesn’t jibe with my gender presentation. I’d rather wrap my hair to cover it during prayer, but that carries a whole other set of assumptions about my level of religiosity (and relationship status). Yesterday, I wore a headscarf to shul, and I felt like I was in “Orthodox woman drag.” And I’m also trying to decide whether or not to start wearing tzitzit.

tefillin are the wrappy arm things

tefillin are the wrappy arm things



I wonder what it means that so many ritual garments are coded “male” in my mind, and about the huge internal barrier that makes me feel conflicted about taking on certain rituals, especially wrapping tefilin. Breaking gender boundaries, even if they are internal, is a challenging thing. Especially when you are so closely aligned with a more traditional gender presentation in other ways.

And also part of it is about my hesitancy around looking “Orthodox” or “religious.” Clothing is a powerful marker of group identification, and  I’m still struggling to figure out where I sit between my secular/Reform roots, and the more religious life that I feel myself drawn towards.

Long story short, I never thought so many of my internal struggles around my Jewish identity and practice would come out in my clothing choices!

May 30, 2012


Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 10:38 pm

I went out to Fort Tryon for Shavuot this year. For those of you not in the know, Shavuot started out as a holiday celebrating the end of the harvest in ancient Israel, and was an opportunity for all sorts of ritual sacrifices. Today (since there’s no longer a Temple to sacrifice things in), the holiday marks the giving of the Torah at Sinai. It is celebrated by eating dairy foods and staying up all night studying Torah. Fort Tryon is full of cool cats in their 2os and 30s who learn like nobody’s business, and are almost always frummer than me (I was the only girl there in pants). I got the marvelous opportunity to do Judaism with good friends from college, and just generally to delve back into the sort of learning that I haven’t gotten to experience in far too long.


May 25, 2012

Morality and the Talmud

I spend a lot of time in the feminist blogosphere, and many mainstream feminist blogs are run by atheists, or at least by people who reject the value of organized religion. This means reading a lot of posts like this one from Pandagon, which are often challenging to read, usually because atheists who reject all religion out of hand get my hackles up. However, I do think that this post raises a valid and interesting point. Namely, what is the relationship between textual interpretation and the moral claims of a broader society?

There is no denying that Judaism has long been in the habit of offering multiple, sometimes contradictory, interpretations of the Law (see: Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai). There is also no denying that our tradition contains many examples of halakhic interpretation and re-interpretation to fit a particular sage’s view of morality (see: Maimonides’ views on abortion or post-Expulsion responsa in North Africa). My question is, how does that fit in with the idea of text as moral authority? How can an ever-changing text be considered a moral authority?

I think the problem is that our society sees immutability and authoritativeness as one and the same. We like to ignore the fact that we interpret and re-interpret all major texts to suit the morals of the day. Look, for example, at the Constitution. It has 27 Amendments. In the first version, most black people were 3/5 of a person and women couldn’t vote, and now neither of those things are true. But there exist in America “strict constructionists” who claim that their interpretation of the Constitution is not only right, it is not an interpretation at all. You see the same thing with Orthodox Judaism, which claims that it is “Torah true” (oh, except the Torah says nothing about patrilineal descent or sheitels. oops!).

On the other hand, I don’t think it necessarily follows that one can say that everything is an interpretation, and therefore there is no authority the text. I think the Torah presents us with the lump sum of human behavior in all its richness, and asks us to pick the way that is life-affirming, or the way that is life-destroying, and the attendant consequences. The interpretation comes in as each generation decides how best to affirm life and relationship with God (for the sake of this argument, I am counting atheism in its current form as a form of engagement with the Divine). Part of that may be adherence to ritual, or a commitment to social justice, or to asceticism, or neo-Platonism, all of which have emerged as part of the Jewish view of “life affirming” at one point or another.

For me, Judaism at its deepest core is that commitment to feeling deeply, living right up at the edge where everything is real, often heartbreaking, and always complicated. It is, I think, why the Jewish culture is so committed both to scholarship and to social justice. Our theology does not rest on the World to Come, so we make our time in the World that Is. Perhaps that is the moral authority, that we are tasked with engaging with the world of the here and now, and within it, staking our claim on morality and goodness.

May 7, 2012

Rabbis are People Too.

Filed under: Jewish Communitty, Rabbinical School — Tags: , , — marleyweiner @ 7:00 pm

Clicking around the internet as I begin my journey towards school, this post really resonated with me. The rabbi writing the piece, who is in charge of PunkTorah, lays out a contrast that lies at the heart of my future rabbinate; how do I, or any clergy person, serve God and the Jewish people while retaining my own humanity?


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