PRAYER-NEUTRAL LANGUAGE BACKFIRES
I am writing to add my two cents’ worth to Rabbi Schnur’s discussion about names for God [“What’s this about God being female?” Fall 2002].
There is a felicitous phrase used in our liturgy which captures the androgynous nature of God, and which slips by unnoticed, for the most part: av ha-rakhamim, usually translated as “merciful father.”
In fact, the word rakhamim comes from the same root that Rabbi Schnur cited, rekhem, which means “womb.” So the real meaning of the phrase is “wombful father”…an an-drogynous image if ever there was one!
In its rush to render liturgical language gender-neutral, recent prayerbooks of the Reform movement have changed the Hebrew to eliminate the “father” reference, making the phrase eyi ha-rakhamim, “merciful God,” thereby reducing the image to something quite common. While I generally endorse gender-neutral prayer language, in this case I think more is lost than is gained. “Wombful father” tells us a lot about the God to whom we pray, [and] to whom we turn in times of tsuris.
Rabbi Carla Freedman, South Salem, NY
LILITH in China
From Hong Kong, I asked if you could send a clean copy of an article I was hoping to use in a Rosh Hodesh group I facilitated. I had the article but it was tattered beyond legibility. You graciously sent me a new copy as well as several cards discussing [a new Passover ritual using] Miriam’s Cup. I thank you very much for that. The Jewish women of Hong Kong also thank you as it added greatly to our understanding and our seders.
Gifts For Grownups
I just have to write to you. I picked up a copy of your magazine in my bookstore today and have just read [about] bat mitzvah presents [Editorial, Summer 2002] and cannot go further without telling you how you have touched a real issue for me. What is it about the way we bring girls up that they are unable to either say what they would really like or even imagine [it]? I am blessed with a loving family, I am heavily into embroidery and other craft works and very active in my community. But what do I get for presents? Bath stuff, etc. (Perhaps I smell and don’t realize it!) Oh for a book to feed the soul or a wonderful piece of fabric to excite the senses or a packet of needles or some beads, a staple gun or set squares!
Even Out the Field
I was moved to write by your editorial on the different messages people send through their bar and bat mitzvah gifts [Summer 2002]. I have been disturbed for some time by rampant sexism in the treatment my teenage sons and daughters receive from our temple congregation. It’s not so much what people give my daughters as what they do not give them.
One son and two daughters are away at school. My son will have his religious school materials mailed to him monthly so he can be complete his studies because, it was explained to him, if he doesn’t complete his religious school lessons he will not be eligible for temple-financed trips and scholarships. My daughters will not receive such mailings. When I asked, I was told that this offer was available only to my son. No mention was ever made to me about the fact that my daughters will subsequently be disqualified for many benefits available to temple youth members.
It’s time women organized to provide mentoring and support for our daughters and invite them to participate in adult female activities. We need to use our new positions of influence and power to help young women in the way [older] men help young men.
Let’s even the playing field for the girls.
Joye R. Swain
Mean Girls, Redux
Girls have probably always had a tendency towards “meanness” [“The Mean Scene,” Fall 2002]. As the Victorians were shocked that women were capable of murder and other horrific behavior, the societal denial of all extremes of feminine “norms” didn’t penetrate the credibility. Maybe not all girls are “sugar and spice and everything nice” all of the time.
Diana Swan, Portland, Oregon