Thursday, May 2, 2013

But I'm Saying This Misogynistic Blessing Ironically!

Rabbi Ari Hart, one of the co-founders of Uri L'Tzedek, published an op-ed over at HuffPo explaining why, despite his misgivings about gender inequality within Orthodox Judaism, he continues to recite daily the blessing which thanks God "for not making me a woman." Women, of course, say no such thing. Instead we're supposed to thank God for making us "according to His desire."

Hart recognizes that his blessing is problematic and that the attitudes it conveys part and parcel of the oppression Jewish women have experienced for generations. Yet he won't change it as many Jews committed to both halacha and egalitarian principles have done. The reason--he's an Orthodox rabbi and must accept the entirety of halacha, even the parts that don't really jive with his values.

A lot of people do things they are not entirely comfortable with. Change is difficult especially if it means changing a system and a lifestyle that mostly works for you, one that you're comfortable inhabiting. I don't fault the Orthodox men who continue to say the blessing despite their misgivings. If Hart had written a post about how problematic he finds the phrase, "she lo asani isha" and then explained why he can't bring himself to change the liturgy,  I wouldn't have been offended. A liberal Orthodox rabbi admitting that he can't seem to bring himself to make a change because of his affinity for a certain practice, label, and community--that would've been a human and honest reaction. After all, few of us can live perfectly according to our values.

But he didn't do that. Instead he tries to have it both ways. He continues to say the blessing as it has been said for generations but tries to glibly re-contextualize the blessing into something "progressive" because he thinks about his privilege while saying it instead:


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.

Oh--so now the meaning of the phrase is entirely transformed by the privileged group!

The problem is this--if you're a member of the privileged group you don't get to transform words and phrases that have been used to oppress and marginalize the less powerful group. Straight people couldn't decide to re-define "queer" and then tell LGBTQ folk that saying it made them aware of their privilege. It was up to the LGBTQ to decide what they wanted to do with a term that had (and still is) been used an insult. A male Orthodox rabbi may continue saying the blessing if he so chooses but he cannot decide to divorce it from its history and context and declare that his utterance of the offensive phrase is actually not negative but actually progressive. Also, he doesn't take responsibility for what people who aren't privy to his private thoughts are hearing when he says the prayer.

What he's actually suggesting is the equivalent of printing an offensive term on your t-shirt and then sticking up for your right to say it because you don't mean it that way. It's ironic misogyny brought to prayer.

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