(This is a re-blog of one that turned out to be different than I expected it to be. Maybe it will be the same for you. I was doing research on why people were so upset by Caitlin Jenner’s desire to become Caitlin and “come down” from her previous position of privilege as a man. This doesn’t answer that but it tells me that all is not lost when it comes to following our soul’s urgings.)


Rabbi, Co-founder, Uri L’Tzedek: Orthodox Social Justice

Should I Thank God for Not Making Me a Woman?

Posted: 05/02/2013 3:00 pm EDT Updated: 07/02/2013 5:12 am EDT

  • "Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has not made me a woman." — Morning Blessings, Artscroll Siddur, p. 12.
  • I’m supposed to say that each morning. If I were a woman, I would recite this instead: "Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has made me according to Your will."

    These difficult, even painful blessings are a part of a series of otherwise beautiful meditations thanking God for the everyday gifts of sight, clothes and freedom. Those other blessings roll easily off my tongue, the praise genuine and sincere. But for years I’ve struggled with praising God for not making me a woman. And I’m not the only Orthodox rabbi who struggles with it.

    As a committed Orthodox Jew, I have accepted the entirety of halacha — the Jewish path of law and tradition — upon myself. This includes guidelines on rituals, holidays, charity, legal matters, sex and, yes, prayers. Not only do I accept it on myself, but as a rabbi, I teach it to others.

    There are parts of halacha that I love, and parts that I struggle with. This blessing though, this blessing is really tough. Written by male rabbis nearly 2,000 years ago, these words evoke for me the sexism too prevalent in the Orthodox world and beyond. These words have echoes of the religious misogynists who throw chairs at a woman for praying at the Western Wall or force women to sit at the back of Israeli buses. This blessing helps enable the religious sexism that silences women’s voices, keeps them from positions of communal leadership, and denies them study of our sacred texts.

    Do I want any part of that sexism? No.

    So do I say the blessing? Yes.

    Here’s why:

    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.

    Saying this blessing every day challenges me to face these and other difficult facts about men and women in today’s world. It forces me to remember that work as a spiritual leader in the Orthodox community would not be possible if I were a woman (though that is changing thanks to the pioneering work of Yeshivat Maharat, but not without a fight).

    This blessing calls me to recommit to building a world where inequality and oppression do not exist. It calls me to recommit each day to building a world where saying "thank you God for not making me a woman" will disappear, not because it is offensive, but because it is meaningless.

    Positions of Privilege

    I’ve been thinking, mostly on the back burner of my mind, but pretty consistently, all the same, about Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal. They’ve been in the news quite a bit lately, mostly in derogatory ways.

    Why is that?

    It’s not as if what they’ve done has not been done before. In the case of Caitlyn, a man feels more like a woman and so does things to make that feeling a reality by the clothing she wears, the hair styles she prefers, and taking the required hormones, and more.

    In the case of Dolezal a woman chooses to pass as a different “race” than she was born; in this case, she identifies as black even though she was born to very white parents.

    Why have their actions made them newsworthy? I beg your indulgence here as I’m doing my thinking while I’m typing. I don’t always type so “bare.”

    Why the derogatory and demeaning reactions to their decisions? Why would people who are following the calls of their souls make so many people angry?

    I think it’s, among other things, because both of them made the conscious decision to give up what could be seen by many as positions of privilege. I suspect, however, that most people wouldn’t want to admit that. After all, this is a country of “equal opportunity.”

    In the case of Jenner, a man, a very manly man once said to be the ultiBruce Jenner,G4 Royalty Free Stock Photographymate athlete, chose to give up that position of “white man” to become “white woman” and for many, especially other men, that’s inexplicable. Even though many of those men who castigate her would disclaim any sense of privilege for themselves due to lack of money or position realize at some level that becoming a woman is a comedown in this society. I mean, transgender people have always been around and often have been beaten or even murdered, but they rarely make the news, especially if they’re women who choose to be men. That’s understandable to many people even if they make fun of them. Wanting to be a man, that’s OK.

    (I remember many, many years ago, when I was a kid, wishing that I were a boy. I didn’t want the physical attributes of being a boy, though; I wanted to be able to be allowed to do what boys could do, as well as the status of being male. For most of my life I felt “less than” because I was the first born, the eldest, and I was a girl. Society taught me that I should have been a boy in order to be in that position.)

    Due to her financial status and color of her skin Jenner still holds a position of some privilege. But wanting to be a woman, that’s not OK. Why not? Privilege. She hasn’t given up all privilege but she has repudiated what many think is the most important one. Still, financial and skin color privilege gives her a voice that most transgenders lack.

    Dolezal did mSmiling Portrait Attrative Light Skinned Black Woman Royalty Free Stock Imagesuch the same thing as Jenner in many people’s eyes. She chose to give up a position of privilege – being white – because she felt some identity with black people. I know people of all colors have been up in arms about her choice and I can only speak from the position of being white myself. (Actually, I’m sort of a pinky tan. I’ve never felt that “white” should be given any privilege, including that of being attractive. I’ve generally thought that very white skin looked like a slug and I’ve long been drawn to darker skin of any shade intensity.)

    So now it gets a bit dicey. Dolezal was castigated for wrongly “appropriating” a sense of identity with black culture she could never have experienced. As well she equally angered people who thought she’d “betrayed” her naturally white skin. Read “privilege.” In other words, she made everybody investigate their prejudices or at least they should have been investigated. African Americans as well as white people were angry.

    It has never been unusual for a black person of light skin and Caucasian features to try to “pass” for white (and obtain the privilege that comes with being white) but when the opposite occurs it causes a huge uproar. Why is that?

    I think it’s because, again, a position of privilege has been deliberately given up and for some reason those who automatically hold such a position feel that they’ve been rejected. They take it personally. What does that say about said privilege? That it’s not as set in stone as many would believe? That it shouldn’t exist? I  mean, if you’re happy and secure in your sense of self, why should what anyone else says or does reflect on that to your detriment?

    For a certain type of white heterosexual man that’s a terrifying thought. Without the accident of birth, how will I know where I stand? I might have to become something or somebody on my own! And it’s been the white male heterosexual who has been most vociferous though white, blonde females on certain TV news stations have had their say as well about both people.

    While there has been some heartening response, like Jenner’s choice for the Arthur Ashe award for courage, most often people who negatively sound off about the choices these two have made have fail to see the kind of courage it takes to go against the (unsaid) standard belief in White Male Privilege.

    It takes a kind of courage many people cannot understand to follow the calling of your soul. It’s always difficult to be who you are, whoever that might be, but to be who you are in the way that these two did requires more courage than most people will have or can imagine.

    So there you have my very unfinished thoughts on these two people, these two conscious actions. I’m open to any civil discussion about their choices, my thoughts, and any thoughts you might have.

    A Half Century

    Today is/would be my fiftieth wedding anniversary if I hadn’t been divorced after the “standard” seven years of marriage.

    Still, that divorce was probably the most painful and devastating thing that ever occurred in my young life. Well, it’s “young” from my vantage point now. I wasDivorce Decree Royalty Free Stock Images twenty-nine at the time and my former husband was killed the next year when he was thirty. All in all, such young people, we were, he, forever young, me, not so much.

    The thing is, for most of the years in between that divorce and this anniversary I couldn’t release all of the pain and anguish it cause me. It felt like if I did, it would tear me apart in such a horrendous way that I’d never recover, if I didn’t actually die. Suicide was not an option but if some careless driver took me out, it sounded fine to me. Of course, when something like that is buried it festers and any “explosions” have a chance to grow in something even huger than they seemed at first.

    And so, over the years I stuffed and pushed and couldn’t rise to the level Blood drips oozing Stock Photoneeded to let whatever was to happen, happen. But when I crashed and burned about twenty years ago, now, I began to journal and to write personal essays and such. That turned out to be a way to sort of “lance the boil” of pain so that it could drain out without exploding. Even so, it took most of that twenty years to ooze its way out in various forms. If you’ve read some of my previous posts you might have read some of that pain.

    Then this anniversary came around yet again, as it hasHeartache Royalty Free Stock Photo every year, and I discovered that I still have the memories but I no longer have the pain. It’s not as if there’s no residual scarring or leftover deformity, but the acute pain that was there for most of my life is now just an occasional ache of sadness. Not a pleasant ache but not such a pain that I feel the need to ameliorate it by writing about it. Now it’s just a reminder of what once was that is long gone and with it – finally – the agonizing pain. Now the ache signifies a healing process and for that I’m grateful.

    So, on this anniversary I finally say good-bye to the unfaithful husband and Thank you Stock Photographywelcome the special man who has stood by me for over thirty-seven years – without the “requirements” of marriage – who has accepted me for who and what I am, a flawed person but someone who’s loveable. For many, many years, for most of my life, for that matter, and long before the divorce slammed home what I’d long accepted as the truth, I’d believed that I was unlovable.

    He proved my belief wrong.

    Thank you, babe.

    I’ve been doing a lot of thinking for the past weeks. Am I a racist or not? I’ve long believed (for over 50 years) that I’m not, although I might have a leaning toward “my own kind” just a bit. I suppose that’s normal for someone who never met or even (except on TV) saw a person of African-American descent until I was nearly twenty years old.

    Then I came across this test put out by Harvard University. It’s called the Implicit Association Test (IAT). It assesses associations between concepts associated in memory by measuring how quickly a person associates certain words with White faces and Black faces. I don’t know how accurate this test is but, if nothing else, it helps to reassure me that my concept of myself is not too far off target.

    It stated, “Your data suggest a slight automatic preference [from choices of slight, moderate, strong, or little to no preference] for European American compared to African American.” It emphasizes that “how implicit associations affect our judgments and behaviors is not well understood and may be influenced by a number of variables. As such, the score should serve as an opportunity for self-reflection, not as a definitive assessment of your implicit thoughts and feelings.”

    Since I’ve been doing some self-reflection, indeed, had been, which is how this subject came up in the first place, I don’t intend to agonize over whether or not I truly am a racist in the worst sense of the word. No more agonizing, not any more.

    I’m not.

    I’m A Racist – 2

    I don’t often make posts this close together but I have something I need help with.

    My last post offended some people because they saw it as humorous while the subject was not something to be taken even light heartedly. I agree that it’s not a humorous subject. I wasn’t trying to be humorous.

    I’m assuming my writing style or choice of words was somehow at fault. If any of you that haven’t commented or responded were also offended, my deepest apologies. I’d appreciate it if you would be willing to point out the specifics of style or usage that made my post appear other than it was meant.

    I was trying to get across my horror at discovering that I might be a closet racist, though that’s rather a misnomer since being in the closet about anything is usually a matter of choice.

    I’m not given to florid writing but perhaps I tend to be too much understated instead. There is nothing worse for a writer than to not be understood or to be misunderstood. Any insight you could provide that would help me become a better writer would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you.

    I’m A Racist

    “Let’s be honest: For a lot of well-meaning, open-minded white people, the sight of a young black man in a hoodie still evokes a twinge of fear. And news reports about poverty and crime and discrimination evoke sympathy, even empathy, but too rarely do they spur us to action or prompt us to question our own assumptions and privilege.” – Hillary Clinton

    I came to the realism of my racism quite some time ago. I thought I’d gotten past whatever might be involved in that racism, whether it was the color of skin, the sound of an accent, whatever made “the other” different than I was. Actually, I’d never thought much about it except to be curious.

    I was always more interested in what made the other “other” than in trying to find what made them the same as I. I grew up in a small northern “white bread” town, with everyone having the same color skin, the same basic hair color, and even predominant eye color. It was boring. Even now, I prefer whole grain bread to white bread.

    I loved it when I went away to the city to go to college, knowing I’d finally meet people with a different upbringing, a different way of seeing the world, a different way of being. And I had no bad experiences that made me feel that being different than I was a bad thing, it was just exciting. At least for me.

    The only people that caused me great pain were just like me, white skin, brownish hair, hazel/green/blue eyes. Getting divorced was the cruelest thing that ever happened to me. And yet, I didn’t blame all white people. I didn’t even blame all men.

    And then one day, many, many years later, after I’d lived with my beloved SO for 30 years or so, I suddenly became aware that when I saw a group of unruly young “others” on the street, with black skin and features, it made me uneasy. Shock! I’m a racist! And this after the requisite “having black friends,” etc.

    Well, it took me a while to get over the shock of that realization and actually think about it. Eventually I realized that a group of brown skinned young people speaking a different language could also make me uneasy. After 30 years with my Spanish-speaking SO, of all things. Oh, God! I was a racist!

    But then an unexpected thing occurred at some point. If there were a group of white youngsters with loud radios or skateboards and behaving rowdily were to appear, I felt the same uneasiness. OK, was I a racist against my own “kind?”

    Maybe I was just an ageist – in reverse, of course.

    I’m working on that. It’s more difficult for me to understand teenagers of any color than it is for me to understand the sorts of things “others” are discriminated against for. (Bad sentence but you get it.)

    One other thing, I’m a woman. By virtue of my genitalia I experience much the same things as others do by virtue of their skin color or accented speech. Only it’s couched much more slyly, as “protection” or some such thing. It’s still discrimination.

    So now I have to figure out a lot of things. I don’t think I’m a racist basing things only on skin color and such. I’m still more interested in “others’” experience than I am frightened or turned off by any appearance or speech. Maybe I don’t understand teenagers or teenage behavior or speech because it’s been a long, long time since I’ve been one and since I never had kids I never had much experience of them.

    But am I a racist?

    This might not be a very satisfactory blog, at least considering the stage I’m at right now. I hope, though, that I might start come questions, for myself as well as readers, if I just go ahead and blog without trying to arrive at answers right now.

    In the last blog I wrote about how I came to identify myself as I am now, or at least how I came to the conclusion that the identity I was eventually given was more acceptable to me than those I’d previously been given. In any event, no matter how I came to this identity, I have been satisfied that it pretty well represented me.

    And since I wrote that blog more stories have cropped about how peopleGender and relationship issues Royalty Free Stock Images identify themselves. First, an erstwhile 1976 Olympic Decathlon winner, a man often described as “the world’s greatest athlete,” has declared himself to be a transgender woman. Even in today’s world of growing greater acceptance of LGBT people that was a surprise for most. Still, after the initial uproar, it’s just pretty much accepted that it’s his choice. People may not like it or understand it, they may even deride it, but they can accept that it’s his choice.

    Then, more receAfrican American Woman Businesswoman Writing Stock Imagently, a woman who has been considered African-American or black for at least the last decade has been shown to have two very definitely Caucasian parents. The story around that is still being developed so I won’t make any guesses as to her reasons. Her background seems to be based in a family raised as extreme creationists as well as other claims by her that are still to be determined.

    The thing that struck me – eventually – about all of this is that suddenly identity and how it’s determined seems to be a big story, both personally and otherwise. When similar items like this “gang up” it seems to me that I need to pay attention, to delve deeper.

    One thing that struck me about both of the above cases is that the individuals Businessman VIP Royalty Free Stock Photoschose to identify as other than their skin color or gender that might give them some sort of privilege. I mean, a man choosing to become a woman and a white person choosing to be seen and accepted as black could be seen as a sort of slap in the face of “white privilege” and gender privilege. People who have that do not seem to take kindly to having it repudiated.

    Why is that?

    Is white male privilege so puny that it can be damaged by these two persons? One might hope so. The reactions to their choices seem to suggest so. However, those reactions don’t suggest any answers.

    Since this blog is about the search for soul, might there be some answers in that? Since we all are souls and not just the bodies and skin colors that we as souls don, could these actions be about soul expressions? Not that mistakes were made when thoseThe soul Royalty Free Stock Image skins and bodies were donned, but that the choices at the soul level were deliberate in order for the choices to be differently expressed later in life to draw attention to the fact that the soul has no color or gender and therefore, we should not judge based on those? And what would be the purpose in that?

    Maybe what you see is not really what you get.

    At this point my strongest belief is that, whatever their reasons, the fact that they chose to be other than a socially higher class than they originally were seems to cause more anger and vituperation than anything. It seems to me that there’s where any questions should be aimed. Why should the fact that anyone might choose to be a “second class citizen (female and/or black),” instead of the “ruling class (white/male)” one might be, be so offensive to those who are not at all affected by those choices?

    So, I have much thinking to do. The thing that’s most important, I think, is that what these people did is not so important as what emotions their actions call up in others.


    Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

    Join 195 other followers

    %d bloggers like this: