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Readers Respond

Riffing on Tradition or. . . . . .Wedded to Tradition

Before Virgin White

Forty-six years ago, I objected to the ketubah, the Jewish wedding contract, and questioned why a Jewish woman who was fluent in Hebrew and Jewish texts would sign a document she couldn’t understand [Aramaic]. Rabbi Solomon Sharfman said I was right but that this was tradition. My husband, an attorney, never let me, or anyone else, sign anything that they did not understand. Why had no one decided to do a modern Hebrew translation? A rewrite or something! The only thing done was having artwork embellish the same text. There are some brave souls who write their own; however, the “kosherness” of the contract becomes questioned, since it was not officially sanctioned.

As a textile person, I also want to tell you about the funny white wedding dress craze. Before WWI, brides wore gorgeous silks in every pastel color, beaded, embroidered, etc. For the returning war heroes, it was decided that white dresses would assure them that they were marrying virgins. What has pained me is that our many rich Jewish marriage traditions have been tossed aside. In Israel, seeing a Yemenite, Moroccan or Bukharan bride in a ridiculous white dress is very sad but, thankfully, changing back. Maybe we should take this up seriously and present some old/new ideas to our Jewish communities: The Ashkenazic tradition of the bruttuke—pearls, pearl headdress and shawl with gorgeous blouse and skirt—is not bad.

by Ita Aber, New York, NY

Ahead of the Law

As a calligrapher who has lettered many ketubot over the years, I have seen a grassroots response to the content of the traditional text. Couples appreciate having a written document for their wedding, and many are writing their own text or making use of others they have found. These texts are egalitarian and speak of values, of working to maintain the relationship, and about the kind of home the couple hopes to have. Many rabbis are happy to use these in the ceremonies they conduct, but the impetus in many cases is from the couples themselves, who don’t wait for Jewish law to take the lead.

In the same vein, non-traditional couples, be they same-sex, secular Jews or of different backgrounds, are creating a text that has meaning for them. Rather than discarding Jewish traditions which don’t fit, Jews are continuing to expand them.

by Peggy Davis, Colrain, MA

Our Vulnerable Kin

I enjoyed reading the different aspects of weddings in a feminist era. What would have truly rounded out the issue, however, is an article on gay marriages. Given the national attack on gays and lesbians, same sex weddings have become particularly poignant and of particular importance. At the end of every Jewish wedding, no matter what kind of flavor, and no matter what everybody is wearing, a glass is smashed to remind us of the destruction of the First and Second Temples. This simple act reminds us of the fragility of life and the connection that we have to one another from generation to generation. How appropriate it would have been, and what an opportunity was lost, to remember and offer our love and celebration to the most vulnerable segment of our community.

by Tracy Salkowitz, San Francisco, CA

Editor’s note: We call our readers attention to the front-page news that the Reform movement now recognizes same-sex marriages. Well before this milestone, LILITH published several lesbian wedding ceremonies. To order, call 888-254-5484.

Wedding Funds

Congratulations to Lilith on “Weddings in a Feminist Age,” which inspires readers to create wedding ceremonies reflective of their values. The Jewish Fund for Justice now offers couples a unique way to do just that. Through our Wedding Fund program, couples have the opportunity to mark the blessing of marriage by beginning to participate as a Jewish couple in the mitzvah of tzedakah.

A JFJ Wedding Fund may be established by the couple themselves, or by their family and friends. Couples direct financial support to grassroots organizations combating poverty in America.

In the Jewish tradition, a wedding is a simcha, a joyous event. But even during our happiest moments, we are required to remember the sorrow that plagues our world. The symbolic breaking of the glass during the marriage ceremony recalls not only the destruction of the Temple, but also the despair in contemporary life. Marriage itself is seen as an act of tikkun, repair, for all that is broken in our world.

Anyone who is interested in finding out more about the Wedding Fund program can contact Julie Weill at (212) 213-2113, ext. 41, or julie@jfjustice.org.

by Marlene Provizer Executive Director, Jewish Fund for Justice, New York, NY

■ Boy, I feel sorry for Daniel.

■ I feel very sorry for people like Sarah who feel the need to rant about the negativity of Judaism and its role towards women without having a clue. Sarah apparently feels that to enable herself to feel good about her own controlling nature, she needs to hide behind the word “feminist” and deride the Jewish institut[ion] of marriage….It’s a shame that feminism has such a woman hiding behind their [sic] ideas. Stubbornness and control don’t necessarily make for feminism. What it does make is a selfish person looking to justify her own negatives instead of trying to work on them to be a better person.

■ Blustain is shivering with feminist resentment….It does not wash for her to disparage “marriage” and pay lip service to “commitment” at the same time. Jewish World Review readers were not born yesterday. Blustain is committed indeed, primarily to herself and her own interests.

■ Daniel: Statistically, any marriage has a 50/50 chance of survival. In your particular situation, the odds are much worse. If feminism has taught us anything, it is to watch what feminists do, not what they say. My advice to you is to cut and run at the earliest opportunity

■ Sarah: Give the guy a break and drop him. Permit him to find someone that is his equal. You have different value systems and his are superior to your’s.

■ Hhhhmmmm, I wonder why Daniel bothered to ask. After all, why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

■ Your self-centeredness is absolutely nauseating. Beyond that, the rest of your article just demonstrates once more what a sick society this is: one in which the only couples actually committing to marriage are those both of whom are the same sex.

■ After feminism’s (non) response to Clinton’s behavior, what person is their right [sic] would want to be called a feminist? What sensible person would think that feminists have much to offer in the way of answers.

From a father with two daughters:

■ First, not one word about children. The implications that has and the ramifications regarding that itself could result in as lengthy a paper. Second, never mind.

■ Ms. Blustain’s boyfriend should take back his ring and his offer and thank his lucky stars that he learned about her before it was too late….

I don’t even want to think too much about what would happen to her children. Surely she’d never abnegate herself to provide her children with her own attentions all day. What a humiliating way to spend one’s time. I’m sure she and David [sic] would get the best nanny money could buy and Ms. Blustain would arrange to see the children in short bursts, given back to their primary caretaker in short order. After all, in order for today’s woman to have it all, someone’s gotta sacrifice. And the children can’t complain about it; they’re too young. As a former teacher and former divorce lawyer I can assure Ms. Blustain that the children will work out their sense of abandonment— which they will have—in other ways. She won’t like them. And she’ll never come close to getting any idea as to what happened. “We gave them everything.”…

David [sic]—drop the lady and get someone who actually wants to be married. You deserve better. She deserves what she asks for.

■ Poor Daniel, He must be a wimp or he’ll become one soon. Please don’t plan motherhood— the child will be a sad, depressed, and truly joyless person like her mother.

■ The current feminist movement…seems selfish to me. Did you ever stop to think that since marriage has been around for millennia, your “whatever” maybe doesn’t want to be called a “whatever” anymore, but wants to be a husband.

■ Your confusion seems to be based primarily over a fear of subjugation to your spouse or the appearance of hypocrisy on your part given your strident feminist views. I fear that you suffer from a copious need for self-validation or recognition and a large amount of self-absorption….

One last pontification. Children ideally need a mother and father married. Period. It is not by chance that the most successful cultures in the history of this planet have been nuclear family oriented.

■ Sarah: How can I put this nicely? Get over it and get married! This is an institution created by God at the beginning of time….This is not some MANmade invention of torture for women. If you have a complaint about the institution of marriage go complain to the Creator of the Earth, if you have the hutspa (sp?).

Women Rabbis Win

In the last year, I’ve had the opportunity to do some work at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Each time I go there, I think of LILITH. I’ve always been proud to have written an article for the premiere issue in 1976. I vividly remember when Amy Stone, one of the founding editors, published an extraordinarily important piece in the Spring/Summer 1977 issue, “Gentlemen’s Agreement at the Seminary.” Amy’s powerful, groundbreaking investigation examined the controversy at JTS and within the Conservative movement regarding the Seminary’s refusal to ordain women as rabbis. When read today, the article is a sharp reminder of how difficult the fight was in 1977.

At the time, there were many who wondered if the doors of the rabbinic school would ever open for women. However, I now commonly meet women who are or will soon be rabbinic students. On recent visits, I met a woman who is head of the rabbinic student association, and a woman from the first JTS rabbinical school class who is now a faculty member and administrator at the Seminary.

I know the struggle for full equality and justice for women is definitely not over. But when I walk around JTS, I think of Amy Stone, Susan Weidman Schneider, and many others from LILITH and elsewhere who I hope remain proud of their role in a great victory. If anyone ever asks why LILITH is important, just have them take a walk through the halls of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

by Bob Lamm, New York, NY

Lilith on Tape

I was delighted to receive my first edition of LILITH on audio-cassette format, marvelously produced by the Jewish Braille Institute of America. I have never read such a marvelous publication! Thirty years ago, I graduated from Stern College for Women of Yeshiva University, where I gained secular and non-secular superb education. Women have come a long way since 1970. I was a teacher and lost my vision in 1988; however, my spiritual faith increased. Reading your publication in audio form was refreshing. I am very proud to be a Jewish woman.

by Cynthia Groopman, Long Island, NY

Passover Feasts, Starving Women

It often amazes me just how well someone else’s voice can sound the words of a mind they do not even know. Although I am nervous to admit it, Ilana Kurshan’s article, “All Who Are Hungry” (Spring 2000), spoke very clearly to me. I can empathize, having both suffered from an eating disorder, still being in the process of recovery, and having Passover serve as an important time in my struggle. I have always found Passover a significant time to recognize our freedoms. However, for the past few years, Passover has also been a time to recognize the pain and enslavement I have with myself and my body. I feel very fortunate that this year Passover will also include reflections of my accomplishments, discoveries and comforts. Ilana, I want to thank you for having the courage to share your story.

by Mira Oreck