I love tzitzis and glitter and skateboard helmets, I love them especially all at once

“Where are my presents?”
“You got your present.”
“What present?”
“That the Hanukkah Man gave you.”
“That thing from last year?”
“Yeah.”
“I’ve been gypped by the Hanukkah Man!”

So, I came across this picture:

poo

Those were good times, yet terrible times. They were the best of times and the worst of times.

I look at myself and think: “Why didn’t they ship me to hadar immediately?” Then I think: “How did I get to a place like w&m?” Then I think: “How did w&m get someone like me?”

Want to know what those pins say? They say: “Moshiach, we want moshiach now” and “Tzitzis, we want moshiach now.” They were a gift, OK? (Once, a guy in Prospect Heights saw one of my pins and said, “So, you want moshiach, huh?”)

I don’t try to be eccentric, you know? I am a walking collection. For instance, my mom got me a skateboard helmet for my birthday and so I was sitting there like derp listening to Matisyahu wearing my skateboard helmet. And now I have glitter because the “hanukkah man” aka my mom gave it to me aka she re-gifted it from when I didn’t want it last hanukkah. Also, I collect stickers on the back of my computer. Look closely and you can see a real live leopard.

DSCF0152

DSCF0154

I don’t want tzitzis to be a fashion accessory. I don’t want it to just be a part of my collection of things I seem to acquire. But I know from experience that–unless you’re a halachically jewish orthodox man–there’s absolutely no threshold you can cross where you won’t still be questioning your motives. (I say orthodox cause it’s not really expected so much outside of orthodoxy.)

Honestly, I have no way of knowing whether I’m just trying to have a fashion accessory, and I don’t think anyone else does, either. When I look at a woman with tzitzis I don’t think: “She just wants a fashion accessory.” I think she must be really dedicated to put herself out there like that. I look at that picture of me and I think “Why was I so hard on myself?!” If it were someone else in my situation, I would have judged them favorably. If they showed that kind of dedication, I wouldn’t have done all that, like, pilpul. I wouldn’t care what their lineage was, either.

I’ve had friends who consider themselves gentiles converting to judaism, and I’ve had friends who consider themselves jews converting to judaism. I think the way you see yourself makes you see your conversion quite differently. Maybe it was being in new york, but I don’t think you can dismiss subjective experience so easily anymore. There’s no “official answer,” which I was in denial about for a long time. Of course, though, not having a right answer doesn’t mean there are no wrong answers. I’ve known people who wanted to convert–who believed they had jewish lineage, even–but whose resolve and tenacity I doubted. Oh, don’t think I don’t still judge people! If someone told me they wanted to wear tzitzis and then in the next breath told me they’ve decided to follow Jesus/the Buddha/whoever, I will probably doubt their dedication.

But I also have friends who are converting, whom I wouldn’t doubt for one second, and whom I treat as jewish.

This, so far, is working better for me in everyday life than my outdated system of judging people solely by halachic standards as if I were their conversion rabbi. A conversion rabbi, of course, is concerned with the integrity of the system, but this is sometimes to the detriment of a person’s psychological well-being. I know this well. I can’t know which way of looking at people is the right one. Maybe I really am compromising the integrity of the system. But if God isn’t about to come down and tell us, all we can do is guess. And if God isn’t about to come down and tell us, we can’t exactly feel bad about making a best guess. That goes for anything, really.

And that’s all well and good.

I don’t know what all this means for me, though. I don’t know my own motivations most of the time, but I tend to believe that I should (like most of us, I presume?) And so I analyze it to death, a sound and fury signifying nothing. If I wanted to wear my tzitzis again, it’d have to go beyond “which mitzvos a non-jew can do” and “what does patrilineal mean philosophically.” It would have to go deeper. I’d have to enter a whole new system. I know I can’t be orthodox, and I know I can’t be conservative, reform, or recon either. It’s kind of an open field right now. Everything is free for the taking. I could be anything. I could be renewal (I’m not). I wish I didn’t have to convert (and therefore pick one…currently it’s RCA and currently I don’t want to change that). I wish I could just be. You know, in the margins. Like I do. I don’t feel like a convert. I don’t want to continue acting like I’m converting. I don’t want to be a gentile. I don’t want to be a righteous gentile. I davened like a jew. I learned gemara like a jew. I went off the derech like a jew. I came back like a jew.

Something has to change here.

Hello Tzitzis Double Feature Sunday

[6/9/2012 11:58:19 PM] proteinprotection: wtf is ‘ultra orthodox’ exactly
[6/9/2012 11:58:28 PM] max elstein keisler: the ppl around you
[6/9/2012 11:58:35 PM] proteinprotection: people just say that word blithely like it’s nbd
[6/9/2012 11:58:40 PM] proteinprotection: they don’t seem ultra
[6/9/2012 11:58:45 PM] max elstein keisler: chassidish and yeshivish
[6/9/2012 11:58:45 PM] proteinprotection: like i know they’re who people are talking about
[6/9/2012 11:58:51 PM] proteinprotection: but they can’t be ultra, they can’t be!
[6/9/2012 11:58:57 PM] max elstein keisler: well youve frummed out
[6/9/2012 11:58:58 PM] proteinprotection: they’re so innocuous!
[6/9/2012 11:59:05 PM] proteinprotection: BUT I LOVE THEM
[6/9/2012 11:59:08 PM] proteinprotection: how can they be ultra
[6/9/2012 11:59:15 PM] max elstein keisler: i think yeshivish is a bit less crazy than chassidish also
[6/9/2012 11:59:25 PM] proteinprotection: i saw a fur hat earlier 2day
[6/9/2012 11:59:30 PM] proteinprotection: just one though
[6/9/2012 11:59:45 PM] proteinprotection: I can’t believe my people are ultra

First, let me outline the reasons why women don’t wear tzitzis, i.e. why they haven’t caught on, particularly in Brooklyn. Particularly in Flatbush. Some of these guys are pretty open about the fact that they’re wearing a wool TK, evidenced by the fact that they are wearing it on the outside of their clothes. Others have one that’s longer than their actual shirt, so the whole piece of fabric seeps out from the bottom. Others have tzitzis that they obviously haven’t changed in like 30 years, and still others have tzitzis down to their ankles. I think all of this is rather endearing. Still, I could see how many upstanding women wouldn’t think it so. I don’t think the reason it didn’t catch on with women is because of the halacha (women still sit in a sukkah), or because it would interfere with everyday tasks (you can easily tuck that crap in). I think it’s because it “doesn’t look nice.” This, I suppose, is why some men even here don’t wear them out, and why lots of others put them in their belt loops. I also happen to suspect that another reason they didn’t catch on is because getting them out of the way to go to the can would be a whole ordeal for women.

Men seem a lot more freewheeling about these kinds of things; about whether it “looks nice” or not. And anyway, when you can’t just wear a button-down shirt every day, the fashions make it almost impossible. How are you going to wear a bunch of wool/cotton under a tight-fitting shirt? Under two other layers? Women would have to change their whole wardrobe.

Next, let me outline the reasons why women shouldn’t wear tzitzis, particularly in Brooklyn. Particularly in Flatbush. You might get killed. I see why they haven’t caught on, but I also see why they won’t be catching on for a while. I mean, death is quite a threat. I don’t even want to think about the consequences. It’s too bad too; one of the mysteries of life, why that’s a bigger deal than women not covering their hair, for instance. There are lots of non-observances that are handled pretty well by everyone else, but extra observances! Extra! There must be an ulterior motive. So basically, my advice is women shouldn’t wear tzitzis, particularly in Brooklyn, particularly in Flatbush, not because it’s morally indefensible (indeed, people have tried to prove it is, to the extent that women are allegedly “doubly exempt” and things like that), but because you might get killed.

“But,” you say, “what about Manhattan? Surely people are more accepting there.” I suppose people would be more accepting, but only because the ratio of gentiles is higher there. And truly, the threat of death can follow a person through different boroughs. Nonetheless, there are also Orthodox Jews there, and they, I suspect, will give you a death glare. Sometimes they walk in pairs, so double death glare. Nothing could be worse. Moreover, what if you get on the subway train? Starting in Lower Manhattan, you never know who might get on that train! It could be a guy reading tehillim. It could be a pack of seminary girls. It could be a guy with a “Lubavitch Headquarters” gym bag.

You definitely have to be a certain type of person to assuage the overwhelming fear for your life that could come from such encounters! Many women are not this type of person. And why do all that for something that “doesn’t look nice”?

Tzitzis sighting in: COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG, VA!

I was just in the bookstore, minding my own business, looking for some new headphones, when all of a sudden I see this guy with a white shirt and black pants and the first thing I think is “that must be an employee. Maybe he can help me find some headphones.” Then I see crazy strings hanging out the sides of his shirt, so obviously I think to myself “Must be some kind of employee’s apron.” So I went on my way.

Back downstairs, near the register, I spotted the same guy! It couldn’t be! But then I got closer. He looked a bit like Rabbi Ham, the Orthodox rabbi/possible Aish rep, so I got in closer (I know you think this sounds creepy but I’m good like that). No! It wasn’t Rabbi Ham! It was just some tourist! And behold, I spotted kippa! And behold, I looked closer and I confirmed, his employee’s apron was tzitzis.

Now, this is exciting to me because remember where I live. Recall that our rabbi once told me “You are the only person in Williamsburg wearing tzitzit.” Here! Here! I thought to myself: Why would orthos choose Williamsburg, VA? Why would anyone? Moreover, why did I put my Rashi sefer away? We needed to bond! I wanted to “accidentally” drop it and be like “oh, b”h it didn’t fall into a puddle,” then the guy would be like, “Oh let me help you” and that would be the beginning~

But alas, I just walked away speedily hoping he would see my WE WANT MOSHIACH NOW pin and then he would feel at ease knowing that others exist. Here. In Williamsburg, VA.

Then I glanced at his friend/wife/lady companion pushing a stroller, and naturally, my delight turned to anguish. Because I can’t just have a happy moment. Because I am a feminist. And being me, I wasn’t depressed about the normal thing. I wasn’t depressed over the stroller. I was mostly depressed because that lady looked so utterly plain that I was quite disappointed in the fact that had that guy not been there, I would have taken her for a regular lady. But seriously, it was so regular. That guy had like a cool uniform. But obviously ladies are too “spiritual” to “need” to wear a white shirt and black pants and tzitzis and the employee’s uniform etc. Just wearin’ a plain grey pencil skirt, no big deal. Men always get to look like they’re a part of something. (I also hate ladies’ business fashions.) Even ladies’ sheitels, the most interesting part, makes hair look SO NORMAL?!?! (Or as my sister would say, “Caucasian.”)

Maybe it was exacerbated by the fact that I’d spent the morning before class ruminating on why ladies are so regular all the time. Like, even in science, they say that psychologically men are more likely to be “at the extremes,” so that’s why there are more men with autism than women, and likewise more geniuses who are men than who are women. They’re just there to take care of babies and people. It’s like when you put my stupid cat somewhere she’ll just lay in whatever position you put her in. A lady’s just like “oh a baby, let me just whip out my maternal instinct.” But men have varying reactions to things like babies. You can never tell. But with ladies, you always know you’re going to get a reaction out of the following things: Dogs, babies, and marriage. It’s just…regular.

And then, cause I’m kind of an asshole just in general, I thought to myself, “I wonder if that lady would even be fun to hang out with. I bet if I was a man I’d hang out with that guy and talk about stuff like the sugya and our bright futures, but if I hung out with that lady, it’d probably be all about lending me some recipes and I’d be like “let’s go daven” and she’d be all “oh, I don’t daven,” and I’d be all “so the daf today, man” (LOL @ me reading the daf) and she’d be all “oh I don’t read the daf” and I’d be like “You are just a regular lady! I can’t relate to you.” I can’t relate to most women, anyway.

But anyway, the whole spotting left me feeling violated. It was kind of horrible seeing actual Orthodox people knowing I was just playing the game. Man or not, I know we wouldn’t have actually bonded over anything. I’d start stuttering and then he’d be like “Are you OK, little Reform girl?” And then they’d go home and have real Passover and I’d go home and try to learn that thing where you remove the chametz with a candle and try not to feel totally lame but do it anyway.

Mitzvah as protest

So, some people say that women shouldn’t wear a tallit because it’s a “sign of haughtiness.” In modern times, I think this translates to “they’re doing it for feminism!!!” This need to be doing it for the “right reasons” stems of course from women’s exemption, because no one asks men what their reasons are, so long as they do it.

I don’t know enough to know whether exemption always requires a “good reason” in order to start taking it up voluntarily; I don’t know why it suddenly applies to tzitzit only. But a certain rabbi I know said that tzitzit is a mitzvah “incumbent on the person” that is “activated when wearing the garment.” So that rules out my idea that the mitzvah is in the garment, which would make it not time-based and thus not-exempt. Too easy.

I wonder how it is that “not doing it for the right reasons” make a woman-exempted mitzvah like tzitzit null and void. What are the right reasons? Why does there have to be a “right reason” to do a mitzvah? (And can you do one accidentally?) And, is “feminism” the only “wrong reason”? What if, say, you were protesting Israel Apartheid Week? That seems pretty righteous.

I’m protesting, by the way. I’m protesting that, but I’m also protesting something my rabbi said. We were walking down the street a couple of days ago (we’re cool like dat), and he was like “people keep looking at my kippah!!” (so cute. love the rabbi) and I was like “wow, that’s weird, no one looked at my tzitzit when I used to wear them!” And he said “why’d you stop wearing them?” and I said “it felt like I was appropriating.” And he said “you know, sometimes things like that are better in theory than in practice.” Then he talked about how he only wears his kippah “on the job” because the idea of wearing it everyday “doesn’t always work in reality” and he may or may not have said “you’ll learn as you get older…” He said he doesn’t always want to be the token Jewish guy when he’s just chilling in public. Then I said “isn’t that when it’s most important to be Jewish?” or something to that extent. Then I forgot the rest because we crossed a street.

It made me wonder though: Is this really one of those things? Like, it was getting pretty inconvenient I’m not going to lie. Is the world even ready for such a thing? But I don’t want to think of mitzvot that way: “better in theory than in practice.” So I brought back the tzitzit in protest of this idea. It’s like saying to myself “this simply can’t be true and I will prove it false.” I think it’s quite righteous. It’s like when your mom is all “I bet you can’t eat that broccoli” and you’re all “oh no you don’t, I will eat that broccoli like you don’t even know.”

I’ve always had a problem conflating “what people think” with “what is right.” I really don’t know if what I’m doing is “right” or really just “appropriating” something that doesn’t belong to me, but really the fact is that no one–no one–around me is worried about my patrilinealness. Like, even the Orthodox rabbi here probably wouldn’t say anything about it, even though I’ve told him. Aish even accepted me into their Jerusalem Online University program (yes, W&M has Aish reps on campus?!?!) I’m looking for conflicts that seriously aren’t there right now. So I’m not appropriating. And I’m protesting that too.

I’ve started getting back on the derech, but I’m trying to do it right this time. It was getting really muddled last semester with “what people thought” and “omg what’s more important, community or halacha” and “omg am I doing this for the right reasons” and “omg am I appropriating” and “omg denominations” and “omg conversion” but all that is not even important and I just have to realize. I feel like plain old reading the תרי”ג מצות and going to Torah study helps me and everyone around me more than my navel-gazing does. As Matisyahu says, “Fear nobody but His Majesty. My spirit, you retrieved. For you I wait silently, it seems that you believe in me.”

One of these things is not like the others / One of these things doesn’t belong

Crossposted at New Voices

Did you know? Hillel elections are coming up, and as per planned, I’m running. They’re a mess, as far as clubs are concerned. I even talked to our rabbi a few days ago (under the guise of interviewing him for our newspaper), and he confirmed that our Hillel is a “Jewish affinity club” and that I should run etc. It made me feel pretty validated. I called my friend and we came up with a game plan—her idea being to get enough friends to run to corner the market and overturn Hillel leadership and make it great. It’s all very cloak-and-dagger.

But then I started worrying about our current Hillel president and her possible dislike of me. Why? Oh, I know. She hates my tzitzis. I notice these things. Every time we go to a Hillel event, she tends to stare at them like they’re snakes and I’m not really sure if she’s aware of her utter distaste or what, but my friend suggested that possibly she—and other “Hillel Jews,” as I’ve taken to calling them—can’t handle someone who’s both religious and not a crazy Haredi, i.e. it’s outside her sphere of knowledge. To them, you must either be secular or, well, crazy. I did indeed overhear a Hillel member explaining to a non-Jew, “Reform and Orthodoxy are basically two separate religions.” Reform, of course, being the normal one…and Orthodox being the unexplainable one, possibly involving witchcraft.

This explanation makes some sense to me, since the culture here is chiefly secular and I might even venture plainly anti-religious—”We can’t do that; that’s too Jewish!”—the same Hillel president who said that “We’re not like the religious groups on campus. We’re a different sort of group.” It doesn’t get plainer than that. Anyone who is “too Jewish” is either Haredi or insane, and in any case just not someone to be reckoned with.

I remember at the beginning of this year I was worried that my appearance would bar me from making friends. I mean you enter a college in the middle of the summer when everyone’s wearing shorty shorts and you’re wearing tzitzis, you start to become aware of things. But anyway, I’m realizing this is probably a longer-lasting struggle than how Hillel feels about tzitzis. The same friend and I went to some fancy restaurant a couple of days ago, and for this scenario just assume the fact that I’m unaccustomed to fanciness in the first place, so I was wearing jeans etc. and gawked at all the people who actually put the napkins on their freaking laps, but anyhow, behold.

I usually say my brachas and stuff and not feel self-conscious, because I don’t really hang out in fancy joints anyway, and I’m not too worried about what tourists in the coffee shop think of me, because they all love W&M students and I feel like we’re part of the scenery naturally anyway. But when you’re in a fancy place you kind of feel like you’re on display. You have to be decorous. You have to wear your napkin right and order right and so on and so forth. And it seems as if anything out of the ordinary should warrant a big spotlight, so yes when you whip out that bentcher the whole world is watching. Same for asher yatzar which I will never stop saying. It’s just not decorous. It’s like, save that stuff for home, you know? Oh, and tuck in your tzitzis because it might hit someone in the eye.

It’s odd, but I can see, even in 2011, how the striving for decorous reform in the 19th century easily led to a patterning of Protestant forms of worship and behavior. Where religion is inward and seemly and, well, no cause for fuss. It’s so easy to be like, “Oh no. Not here. It’s time to be dignified.”

Pirate at shul today

Before I begin, can anyone fill me in on what the following person is wearing?

Looks like shoestrings. What are you trying to pull? (I otherwise feel really strangely attached to this cover.)

Anyway, so like this morning at approximately 9:35 AM this scraggly old man with a white beard and an eyepatch walked in through the rabbi’s special door into the sanctuary. He sat down near the front, and took out his yellowed tallis which seemed rather special but I couldn’t tell why. The rabbi apparently was a little intrigued as well and went over to talk to him, and I could hear the occasional “ken, ken” from the pirate so I thought maybe he’s just from Israel.

But it only just began. He was very enthusiastic. His “amen”s were the loudest, his bowing was the lowest, and more importantly he started shouting “emet!” after every aliyah. Oh, he was given two, by the way—the kohen and the levite’s. He hobbled to the Torah which made me suspect he might have a pegleg, which I couldn’t see but you know I looked for it. His bracha was distinctly American and with a great gusto—boy, was he glad to be there. The rabbi said something else to him and he said “ken, ken” again…but everything else, if I heard correctly, was in English. So I thought maybe he was just trying to practice his Hebrew.

And then when he got back to his seat, one guy shook his hand, as people usually do after an aliyah, but then the pirate turned to face the congregation and waved, as if to say “Thank you, thank you all”! So I thought maybe he’s just Renewal or something.

When they did hagbah, he held out his tzitzit string, which was incredibly worn-out-looking, and I looked closer and realized just what was so different about it. He had a techelet! I’d never seen it before, not in the flesh! He had this strange fancy knotting system which consisted of three rotations of bands of knots and bands of just string…it seemed really unusual. But I thought maybe he’s just Sephardic or something.

Oh! Oh! I’ve found it:

Karaite strings. Karaite?

But this is where it gets interesting. We started reading those English readings, like “Prayer for the Country”, “Prayer for the Congregation”, and other readings I don’t particularly like, but I looked over at the guy and he had one hand out all crazy like Christians sometimes like to do. (And I would never have thought someone could be so inclined during something as dry as Prayer For Our Congregation.)

“He’s a Jew for Jesus!” I thought suddenly. “We let a Jew for Jesus have an aliyah! Twice!! I wonder if the rabbi knows!! This is insane! Unprecedented! Exciting! Right here in our own synagogue! The enemy within! Hiding among us!!” I just read this article where some Jew for Jesus was saying “he’s just like us“, and now here’s one; a real one! They wear techelet, don’t they? That’s what I heard!

He was so eccentric otherwise, though. Whenever he shook someone’s hand he would kiss his own hand afterwards, for example. Does it add up? Tell me who this guy was!

Fabu-louse

So I said in June:

I kind of like being the only one who knows that I’m wearing it, but I’m not going to attribute that to “women being inside, private souls and men being public souls”…I’m just going to attribute it to my not being quite ready to worry about other people’s reactions at the moment.

Ready to worry about other people’s reactions now.

Because seriously keeping this junk bottled up is ridiculous, and it’s not doing its job if I’m forgetting it’s there and I mean really. I was going to keep it concealed for one week, just for my own compulsive impulses, to make sure I wasn’t just trying to be all flamboyant; but by day four I was done with that nonsense.

So now that I’ve been doing this for two weeks or however long it’s been, I can now be free to not worry about my own aim, which is true.

I have three feelings most of the time:

1.) I hope the rabbi doesn’t pop out from someplace because I kind of want to avoid that conversation. Luckily, he’s already on that.

2.) I feel like kind of a freewheeling spirit because I tend to wear big Woodstock Revival skirts with those things so they can hide in the crevices, and so thusly I always feel like I’m ready to go catch a freaking butterfly or have an adventure or something.

3.) As much as I always hated the internet, I have to admit that if it weren’t for internet people I would never have the audacity to do this thing. Or anything. I’d probably still be waiting around for my rabbi to approve of me, and trying to convince myself that the warped logic of sexist bochurim actually makes sense, and thinking there must be something inherently wrong with me because I don’t enjoy being in shul with a bunch of people who aren’t my age and would rather not be told when to sit or stand or to be boxed into a two-minute silent Amidah, and thinking that I’m not a whole person—since I can’t be a real womyn if I don’t love making challah and babies.

So, that being said, hello tzitzis.

What, you mean it’s not supposed to look like that?

Dreaded questions

It’s that old problem again. I intellectualize things to the point of incomprehension, then at the time of truth I’m at a loss. Yesterday I went to the Catholic church with my friend. Afterwards, we went to my house so I could change my clothes, and while I was unbuttoning the top layer, she exclaimed, “No wonder you’re so hot; you’ve got on a hundred layers!” It’s true. Just to get the whole conversation out of the way, I pulled out my tzitzit strings, going, “Do you know what this is?” (Usually people, when pressed, do recognize them from those crazy Hareidi men—they never show the women’s side nor do they show normal people, in case you didn’t notice that—at the Kotel on TV, which is the only Jewish thing people see around here, probably.) She was shocked a little bit, going “Whoa! What’s that?” And I was like, “It’s a Jewish thing.” I explained that it’s supposed to like remind you of the commandments and so on, and she said, “Why can’t you just put it on a keychain? Why do the strings have to be so long?” etc.

I’m not good at answering these questions, frankly, so I showed her the passage in Numbers where it talks about it, and she said “This isn’t in the Bible, though, is it?” And I was like “Yeah, Christians don’t usually read this part.”

Anyway, she was rather accepting, and she didn’t mention it again. But it was still awkward and I don’t know why. Maybe because I do this sort of thing all the time, and if it’s not this, it’s cutting all my hair off or wearing glitter or whatever else I did in high school (back when you can actually get away with that stuff!) It just felt really stupid. I mean, she’s right, it is a weird thing to do. Especially here. Especially for a womyn. Especially when you have to hide it from your rabbi and your mother (who might have a heart attack because she thinks this is weird enough already).

I can argue all I want about the halacha of it, but once I’m out in the real world, I’m at a loss. I want to hide them most of the time, but then it makes me wonder why I’m doing it a little bit.

She also asked the dreaded Question™, which for the record is worse than my mom’s “Do you like boys?” interrogations all the time in high school. “Do you believe in God?” Just like last time she asked me, I said I don’t want to talk about it.

It makes me really uncomfortable.

My adventures in tzitzit: a long time coming, right?

“The birds and the bees are singing to me / But I never heard a word they’re saying”

This post is dedicated to those who say it’s forbidden for women to wear tzitzit.

WELL, this roll in the woods I’ve been taking for the past two days has been an interesting one. A few things I didn’t expect:

1.) This thing gets sweaty especially since it’s 90 degrees outside everyday.

2.) This is enhanced by the fact that I have to wear another layer under it to keep IT from getting too sweaty, and by the fact that if you keep it tucked the sweat pools around your waist because it’s not getting aired out or whatever. It’s all very, er, cumbersome.

3.) Despite this, I pretty much forget that I’m wearing the thing until I’ve been at Starbucks for six hours and decide to visit the ‘office’ to do ‘paperwork’, where I am reminded that I am wearing seven feet long strings that have to be kept off the gross floor and other surfaces that probably have herpes on them.

I’m not sure yet if it’s good that I forget about it or not. Like I’ve been using my tzitzit for the Shema in the morning, which is glorious because I was always jealous of that part, but then that’s their only job for the rest of the day. I kind of like being the only one who knows that I’m wearing it, but I’m not going to attribute that to “women being inside, private souls and men being public souls”…I’m just going to attribute it to my not being quite ready to worry about other people’s reactions at the moment.

4.) I noticed something about myself, that I really love mitzvot that linger. Like Havdala lingers because it has the lasting effect of that dumb grape juice stain on your siddur forever. Tefillin lingers because of strap marks (did I mention I’m kind of masochistic and would probably be prone to really long-lasting strap marks?). Shabbat candles linger when you light at like 8:30 and it’s still going when you’re trying to go to sleep. And tzitzit lingers because you always have to watch to see if you’ve got strings hanging out from under your skirt or whatever, and you’re always reminded of how this big hot piece of fabric is there permanently. It’s kind of awesome to me frankly; I’m not one for convenience. I like when a mitzvah “crosses over” and affects you in wholly secular ways.

5.) I can’t stop thinking about the women who say that the first and only time they wore a tallit, they were uncomfortable, and then they make the conclusion that “women aren’t supposed to wear a tallit”. This isn’t a very cogent conclusion, you know, but luckily (unluckily?) I was raised to believe that girls can do anything so I don’t really have the “OMG this is too masculine” baggage; and even though it’s a little awkward, without that baggage I can attribute it to the normal awkwardness of wearing seven feet long strings and that’s where it ends. (I was also raised in about twelve different houses and eight different schools not counting my three colleges, so it’s no wonder I don’t want to settle with one denomination or community or whatever. It makes me restless.)

6.) I thought I was going to want to wear the strings out just for kicks, but then I thought I wouldn’t because I’d be embarrassed, but now it just seems ridiculous not to and I have to stop myself from pulling them out for pragmatic reasons (see #2). I’ve decided to wait at least a week or so before I pull them out just to make sure I’m not doing it just for kicks or attention or whatever (even though I’m glad I found that weird flaw in Rema’s “women are being haughty” argument), but I think I can avoid the “OMG that’s a MAN’S garment” problem if I just wear a big seminary skirt so people won’t think I’m just being rebellious, which I wear all the time anyway (however don’t get me wrong, I actually love transgender and other gender-defying people). Also, I still have hang ups about doing it in public while not being “halachically Jewish”, as much as it makes me want to throw up to even have to think about this.

7.) I’ve noticed at least one useful effect. I knew this would happen. Lots of times—enough so my Torah study partner scolded me for it—I consider dropping out of Judaism because I get so upset about this or that or conversion standards or all the arguing or whatever. I know I’m not actually going to drop out, but that doesn’t help when I’m so depressed to be stuck in this situation.

Even today I was in the midst of another online Orthodox “those stupid Reform so-called ‘Jews’ and their Gentile ‘patrilineal’ anti-Torah people ruining the bloodline with all their goyish nonsense” blog comment flame war, and I huddled on my bed, wondering how I got sucked into this if people really think this about me personally. And I always knew that I could easily just give up, I mean nothing would really change—I’d just start eating that cake or chicken or whatever and no one would barely notice—but for some reason this changes all that.

I don’t give up a mitzvah unless I really, really can’t handle and really, really know I don’t currently have the capacity for it, and I know that I’m not going to give this one up, either. It’s such a physical outward big deal mitzvah that I can’t help but be reminded that—now that I’ve gone through with it—I’m shackled to it even when it’s inconvenient, and so too am I shackled to this monotheism thing when it would be so much easier to accept what some mass of internet people want me to do instead (like stay in my house or stop learning Torah or convert to Christianity or whatever they think I should do). I mean, even my praying three times a day I can hide quite easily actually, but this is always there. Taunting me.

8.) This is especially true since I have this weird dissonance, because my automatic feeling is that I’m this “stupid Reform so-called ‘Jew’ with my Gentile patrilineal anti-Torah nonsense” doing some show-off thing like wearing big strings just for the novelty of it, and I get embarrassed. But then I remember it’s a real mitzvah and I remember I did actually do a lot of soul searching and text searching for this, so I might as well roll with it.

I have these doubts quite often, and as I usually want to immediately want to quit, so too is my initial reaction to tear off my tallis ASAP, but I know that I can’t really because it’s only like 2:00, so I keep it on and it makes me have to reconsider my impulsive instincts all the time.

9.) Speaking of interesting effects, it also serves to remind me of this massive transformation I’ve had mainly took place in the confines of my room and school and Starbucks and stuff. It all happened in my teeny 25,000 people town and this really can’t go on. It’s like I’m being crushed. Like a freaking butterfly in a cocoon. Or a flower that’s growing inside a sewage pipe and hits the ceiling and withers until someone comes in and find it and replants it in New York City where it flourishes and finally can eat kosher fertilizer and grows into a beautiful sunflower. Instead of being stuck in the sewage pipe, where it’s gawked at until it drowns.

The Mitzvah of Tzitzit Celebratory Post

We left Friday afternoon for Williamsburg to go see my new home. We totally left really a heck of a lot later than I thought we would, and I was slightly worried we wouldn’t make it in time for the kabbalat Shabbat thing at the Williamsburg synagogue, because then I’d have to go to the Saturday service, and that’s just a hassle to do to my family. But ho! behold we made it to the synagogue literally five minutes before it started. Then my mom and sister drove off to find us a hotel.

As soon as I walked in, this lady was like “SHABBAT SHALOM GUEST” and I sat next to this guy who started talking to me immediately. He said he “used to be Orthodox” until his “enlightenment” and he kept leaning over during the singy parts to ask me if I was “observant”, if I kept kashrut, which shul I went to back home, if I was good at reading Hebrew, and so on and so forth. He was quite a character. I’d like to know more about this “enlightenment”. I have a feeling it has something to do with the fact that this synagogue was really singy and less “yeshiva-style speed-mumbling”. I think he was just happy that there was another person who knew about Orthodoxy in there. We talked about how they included melodies from Reform and Conservative (it is “unaffiliated”). He asked me how I liked it and I said it was really way more singy and slow than I’m used to.

It was also a Bat Mitzvah so I had to listen to “We will now turn to page 31 for Psalm 92 and sing the first line together. Then we will turn the page and say the last line in English and then sing it together. If you are not comfortable with Hebrew, there is transliteration on the other side of the page. You will find it on page 30. Let’s begin.” throughout the whole thing, which irritates me because I have a feeling it’s really not necessary, but whatever.

But that enlightened guy said something really interested and unexpected. Suddenly, he leaned over and told me that he didn’t like the Orthodox way of not counting patrilineal Jews, “Because look at Abraham! His mother wasn’t Jewish! It’s in the Torah!” and I was like I KNOW! I was about to tell him my life story, but some other guy came over and they started saying hello to each other and stuff. Anyway, it was the first conversation I had in a long time that had the words “shul”, “kashrut”, and “Talmud” in it.

Before we left for Williamsburg, I’d asked the Reform rabbi to help me tie my tzitzit, but she insisted that I not tie the first knot too close to the fabric, so ah…I had to retie it at home the way I prefer aesthetically. Then I helped my friend tie hers, but I didn’t have a chance to tie mine until we came back home from our trip at 7:30 PM Saturday night. I started at 9:30 and finished at about 1:00 AM. WELL, when your stupid coils become either 10,11, or 12 depending on which angle you look at it, and then everything starts spinning from sleep deprivation, and then you see that your knot about three knots up looks dumb, you’ve got to undo it a LOT!! It was really annoying at about 12:30 when the room started spinning and I couldn’t tell what was up or down. But I finally finished it!

I decided to say the bracha because I realized this morning that my tying it was “tied to!” my obligatory status in wearing it, so just the fact of insisting on tying it is saying that I have obligation, and even if that’s not true, I’m also following Rabbenu Tam (I think) in that I’m going to say “asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav” because “we” ARE obligated, even if I, Laura, am not. If, of course.

So thusly I feel like I have it all covered and when I first wore it this morning, I felt like a cloud had been lifted. I have an interesting trait that is I can’t forget about certain things until they are accomplished. It’s like with Ma’ariv. I knew I had to start saying it when my soul started feeling crushed every night I didn’t say it. My soul started feeling crushed again, and I put tzitzit on the problem, and now I’m better again. I think it’s all very scientific.

Obligatory afterthought: I don’t mind LEGAL arguments against women doing certain mitzvot, but I can’t STAND “personal” or “psychological” reasons, like this one from a post on You’re Not Crazy:

And as a soon-to-be lawyer…I don’t feel that my self-empowerment is harmed in any way in orthodox Judaism, but that I am more fully “myself” and that I am more able to cultivate my strengths through the mitzvot required of women. In fact, from a psychology standpoint, I think it’s harmful for women to wear tzitzit, tefilin, and tallis. We are such physical creatures with pretty objects, and I was so jealous in my conservative congregation because I wanted my tallis to be the prettiest of them all! That’s when I realized that something was wrong, and that that’s probably why I wasn’t commanded to don a tallis.

On a slightly tangential note, it’s interesting to me that women are so upset by the physical mitzvot required of men. However, people forget that ALL Jews (even the Reform movement holds this) are bound by the ethical halacha. We all have to avoid gossip, be honest in business dealings, judge others positively, etc. There are more than enough mitzvot to keep me busy without worrying about what men “wear” in public!

I know that this is only her opinion, and I already know that I get way more upset about internet things than about things that happen in real life (I know that’s weird), but this is so annoying that I think I even commented on this post way back when. It’s like: “I’m jealous of other women’s tallitot. I feel like I’m doing it for the wrong reasons. Therefore, all women are doing it for the wrong reasons. I’m distracted by it, so ALL women are distracted by it.” And if you wanted your tallis to “be the prettiest”, that’s your fault, not halacha or other women who actually dare to study the laws and want to do it for “the right reasons”, whatever those are. (Also…physical creatures with pretty objects…? Have you ever seen a man with a fancy car?!)

And…harmful? Is it really harmful for someone to do a mitzvah that they WERE originally obligated in, and then slowly but surely exempt and then prohibited from, for no good reason might I add?

Newsflash: YOU WERE COMMANDED. THE RABBIS EXEMPTED YOU NOT GOD. Of course you’re not COMMANDED to don a tallis either, but no one has to go out and buy a tallis!

This is why I prefer facts to feelings. Lawyers should know better, by the way. This is the second lawyer, FYI, that I’ve heard “It’s just not good for women to do these mitzvot” from. What’s that all about?

I won’t let this ruin my buzz though. This is what tzitzit is for. Who cares what other people’s personal opinions are? Let them talk! I know what I’m doing! “Man looks at outward appearance, but God sees into the heart” (I Samuel 16:7).

Why Tzitzit? Why Now?: The Final Showdown Part II

Part I: The Legal Why

The Personal Why

If you couldn’t tell by my first post, I’ve decided to wear tzitzit for one reason: Because it’s a mitzvah.

SCANDALOUS!

I hold the inconvenient belief that women ought not allow themselves to be exempted, and even if they are, I feel that I personally need this allegedly “exempt” mitzvah. Why?

1.) Because it’s like accepting all of the mitzvot at once. This is a pretty big deal to me. And it’s quite symbolic, being that I started becoming serious about Judaism about a year ago. I started this blog a year ago. It’s no surprise that this decision happened at the same time I found myself agreeing to, and trying to make sense of, this Bat Mitzvah ceremony. They both sort of represent the final “Yes, I’m doing this” for me—The Final Showdown, if you will.

2a.) Because I’m a rebellious little tadpole. I was a pretty gigantic atheist in high school, which doesn’t make you rebellious in itself of course, but I learned that when left to my own devices, I generally end up sleeping from 5:00 AM to 2:00 PM, and start making problem friends, and making really dumb decisions (*cough* moving to Chicago *cough*). I’m like a rebel without a cause. This would be like a grounding for me, I should hope. I would “look upon it” and see that I’ve got to use this, er, passionate impulse for good. Because sometimes I really don’t want to do the right thing, especially when it comes to ethics and being cheery and sympathetic to people who cry and other junk that I don’t do. But anyway, it’s important that I use this yetzer hara for good use and this may help, I think.

2b.) I can see how this could get vague, however. And believe me, it’s already becoming a problem. I don’t know how to act in certain delicate situations. For example, someone asks me to say Kaddish for their relative I’ve never met—I don’t want to and I think it’s an example of magical thinking to think that the more Kaddish the merrier—what should I do? Am I a bad person for wanting to save my prayers for things I actually find important? Or this: some Christian starts going off about Judaism. What should I do? What is the kiddush Hashem here? Should I defend myself, and if so, should I be gentle or forceful? Should I walk away?

3.) Speaking of which, this would make me pretty outwardly noticeable, and since I’m so self-conscious already they probably won’t be flailing around a lot despite not being able to “look upon them”. But on the occasion that I do wear them out, naturally I’m going to suspect that everyone around me knows exactly what those strange strings are, and is going to judge me accordingly. This frightens me (see 2b). But I guess it’s a good thing because I guess I need to be nicer to store personnel and other things that I don’t want to do. (It’s the cheeriness and politeness that I’m going to have trouble with. It’s one of those things that you’re not sure how it’s actually a mitzvah, but you know if you don’t do it you’ll feel like you did something wrong. I always look angry, so I don’t know how I’m going to get through this one. Especially since I tend to attract middle-aged men and now I have to feel like I have to be nice to them when they hit on me while I’m reading or something.)

4.) I’m going to say right now that this isn’t my primary motivation (I’ve TOLD you my primary motivation), but I know we’re all thinking it, so fine—I might hope that at least one woman sees me and sees that it’s not a “man’s mitzvah”. That is such a lie and I think it’s too darn bad that women who might want to do it feel like they can’t because of lies or just plain misunderstandings. Someone’s got to do it. Don’t think I haven’t thought of this. Don’t think I enjoy it either, though. I don’t particularly want to stand out as a flaming feminist (see 3), but since I’m going to anyway I might as well be doing a good thing.

5.) It’s like a uniform. You’re constantly reminded to Whom you answer. This is especially so with my Geraldine’s Blanket T.K. which is a type of fabric that I don’t think I could forget about under there. High schoolers staring disapprovingly at me? So what? There are bigger things to worry about. I don’t know how many time I can mention the “outward signs” thing until my privilege runs out, but when people in the in-crowd see tzitzit, they think you’re pretty serious. When a girl is wearing it, I wonder what people think, but I suspect it’s a mixture of “What a stupid feminist” and “Man, she must be pretty intense”. (Oh no. Does this mean those middle-aged men have yet another conversation starter? Crap.)

6.) It’s “surrounding yourself with mitzvot”. Granted, I don’t have tefillin or a mezuzah or a circumcision, but one out of four is OK. That means I’ll always be reminded that this great inconvenience is for the sake of a mitzvah, which is like #5 in that it reminds you of the important things. It’s like paying $4.50 for the only right grape juice for Havdala. Hopefully it will remind me that sometimes I have to spare my own feelings for the sake of a mitzvah, just like that time that crazy Christian lady showed me that I have to spare my personal qualms with Judaism for the sake of defending its whole.

7.) Without the techelet, this is metaphorical, but also looking upon the tzitzit one is reminded of Hashem’s presence—like the ocean, which is like the sky, which is like the heavens—and that He is One. I as also reminded of this because of my new love for religious Jewish hip hop, which reminded me of what has been in the siddur all this time, the importance of unity, and the importance of not idolizing subtler things such as the group or even like halacha or tradition itself. Hashem is One—the only one, in the end and all. Which leads me to #8.

8.) I feel like this is the “next thing I ought to do”, for whatever reason, and I think it’s fairly certain it’s not a decision totally of my own doing, because I know exactly how inconvenient this is going to be. (“A secret! You’ve got to keep it a secret! Women can wear tzitzit, but it’s just not tznius!“) SO, despite the fact that I could easily decide I’m “exempt”, nay instead I studied all this, even when I didn’t want to, and pulled deeper into Judaism, even when I was scared out of my gourd to do it. I’m not going to say “Let go and let God” or anything, but seriously this is basically saying “You want me to do this I think, I said you can do whatever you want with me, so here I am, can’t go back on my word.” For me, at least. That means I’ve got to do it even if “the group” or “the majority” doesn’t like it, because I know it’s right.

Well, there you are. These are all the reasons I am going to wear tzitzit. I hope it goes well, because this is pretty serious business.* I am quite aware.

*Especially since I am also operating on my own definition of my own obligation on top of this—that patrilineal Jews ought to be classified and function like ba’alei teshuva who however can’t release others from obligations: Wherein once you pick a mitzvah you’re metaphysically (and, hypothetically, legally) stuck with it forever, but that doesn’t mean you get any group privileges or anything.

Why Tzitzit? Why Now?: The Final Showdown Part I

The fact that the impossible happened—I found a friend who wants to wear tzitzit—and the fact that we’ve made an appointment with the Reform rabbi to help us tie them, has led me to write this post: Why Tzitzit? Why Now? The Final Showdown.

I’m going to do it in two parts: The legal why and the personal why. OK, so it was really awkward having my first taste of Judaism be the sometimes upsetting role of women, and that the way I got my first look at Talmud was by writing my Honors paper on women’s exemptions; but now I’m glad I got that out of the way because now I have a better basis for arguing my side.

The Legal Why

Well-natured comments extremely welcome.

There are a couple of reasons why women don’t wear tzitzit:

1.) It’s a “man’s garment”.

2.) It’s a “man’s mitzvah”.

3.) Women are prohibited because it would be a sign of haughtiness. (Rema OH 17:2)

4.) It’s “time-based”. (Men. 43a)

#1 would prohibit women, but I throw it out immediately because tzitzit isn’t a garment; it’s attached to a garment. I think that’s pretty simple. A tallit need not be a man’s garment—how do you get over this? You wear one that is made for a woman. This is the solution of Moshe Feinstein, who goes even further to remind us to “remember that we are exempt” as we wear this ladies’ shiny sparkly tallit. I also think that this reason is no good because in the days when this commandment was given, men and women wore four-cornered garments, so you can’t very well say that the Torah forbids it on those grounds.

#2 would exempt women, though I don’t really buy this reason either. The idea that this is a “man’s mitzvah”, of course, stems from the idea that there are necessarily separate mitzvot for men and women (that aren’t biological) and that women’s mitzvot are “Shabbat candles, challah, and mikveh”, and men’s mitzvot are tallit, tefillin, and fixed prayer. This argument starts from any axiom from the kabbalistic “Women are more spiritual” to the more psychological “Men have the communal mitzvot, because they need to be around others”. This doesn’t make sense because these mitzvot aren’t given to each sex by the Torah—further, the Mishnah (Berachot 3:3)  only exempts women from tefillin out of those latter three; and women are expressly obligated in tefillah (fixed prayer).

How do I know tefillah means fixed prayer? Because my version says 3:3: “Women and slaves and minors are exempt from reciting the Shema and from wearing phylacteries, but they are not exempt from saying the Tefillah, from the law of the Mezuzah or from saying the Benediction after meals.” 3:5: “If he was standing during the Tefillah and then remembered…” 4:1 “The morning Tefillah [may be said at any time] until midday.” and so on and so forth. It’s obvious that Tefillah refers to the same Tefillah in each instance.

Next, tzitzit isn’t a “man’s mitzvah” because it isn’t a communal mitzvah, nor could someone reasonably say that women are “so spiritual” that they don’t need this reminder to remember the commandments (and consequently, remember not to sin). Think twice before you put all women on that gigantic pedestal.

Also, the plain old fact remains that the Zohar isn’t my posek, so no matter how many times you tell me “women are more spiritual because Chava’s name is numerically closer to Hashem’s name”, I’m not giving that argument any legal weight.

#3 requires some preliminary explanation. There are two views on the tallit.

Rambam’s view (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Tzitzit) is that the mitzvah is incumbent on the person himself, not in the garment. So, since we don’t normally wear four-cornered garments anymore, we are all exempt. It’s not right, he elaborates, to exempt yourself from this mitzvah—even though technically we don’t have to go buy a tallit just to have one. Also, if you have a four-cornered garment in the closet but you’re not wearing it, you don’t need to attach tzitzit, because you aren’t wearing it.

The Shulchan Aruch differs in that the mitzvah is in the garment. So if you have four corners, you have to attach tzitzit. I suppose in this instance you wouldn’t have to go buy a tallit, but since there’s no exemption here, it’s not especially necessary to attempt to do the mitzvah, since the mitzvah isn’t incumbent on you.

Now then. Remember that Rema is a gloss on Shulchan Aruch, and when he writes that “Women may [wear a tallit] if they wish to do so, but it will appear as a sign of haughtiness or excessive pride, since the mitzvah is incumbent on the garment, not the wearer,” we can only conclude that it is a sign of excessive pride in women if we first agree that the mitzvah is incumbent only on the garment.

I happen to believe we are following Rambam here, otherwise there wouldn’t be much of an emphasis on the tallit at all—for men or women, because it’s not a mitzvah inherent in the person. That is, we’re not “missing out on a mitzvah” by not doing it, according to Shulchan Aruch. Since we say a blessing each time we put on a garment with tzitzit, and since we are calling it time-based on the basis of when we wear it rather than when we attach the tzitzit to the garment, I am assuming we are following Rambam in that the mitzvah is incumbent on us, and it is “not fitting for someone to exempt himself”.

I also suspect that it would be a sign of excessive pride for a man to wear a tallit if the mitzvah is incumbent on the garment too, though.

#4 is the most basic of the basic arguments. Here’s the interesting thing. I tend to side with Shulchan Aruch, just because I’ve read Numbers and the commandment to “attach fringes to your garments” does sound like it is something incumbent on the garment, as in: “Attach fringes”, not “Wear fringes”. Of course, this isn’t the way history turned out, but in my world the mitzvah would be attaching the tzitzit, not actually wearing it. And if this were the case, tzitzit wouldn’t be time-based at all.

If the mitzvah is incumbent on the garment—if the mitzvah is that the garment have tzitzit and not that we are wearing tzitzit—how could it be time-based?

So, true, it might appear “haughty” to try to do a mitzvah that isn’t really a mitzvah, but if that rests on the assumption that women are “doubly” exempt with its being time-based, it’s a false assumption!

So here I reveal that I don’t think tzitzit is actually time-based (R. Judah agrees. R. Shimon doesn’t. Naturally, men want tzitzit for themselves, and decided to follow R. Shimon). Even if the mitzvah is wearing the tzitzit (which I could also accept), the phrase “that you may look upon it” doesn’t make it time-based. This doesn’t mean we must look upon it by day; it only means that we can’t wear it at night. You can wear tzitzit during the day (we’re all exempt, remember), but if you wear it at night, you don’t say a blessing. Further, you can wear it into the night anyway, and the Mishnah Berurah actually recommends that you wear a tallit katan to sleep at night!

It’s not time-based; and if it is, it’s an extremely weak correlation. And that’s if you believe that “look upon it” means “during the light of the sun”, in which case what if we lived in a windowless prison? What about the people who keep their tzitzit tucked in all day long? What about someone who only wears a tallit for Shahait, but does it in the minyan room in the basement, which would also be artificially lit?

The reasons for removing women from time-based mitzvot aren’t convincing to me, since we’re talking about this, because no one’s really come up with a reason that covers all the exemptions and provides explanations for all the time-based obligations. Remember too that the Mishnah only originally exempt women from TWO things, and I suspect that later on did the rabbis decide that these things were time-based, and then worked from there.

There are just more questions than answers there. For example, why are women obligated in Shabbat candles? That’s very time-based. Why mikveh at night? That’s time-based too. Even for the exemption of the Shema, the Talmud explains that women actually are obligated, because of the acceptance of the yoke of heaven is required of women. Then Michal bat Shaul wore tefillin and the “rabbis didn’t protest”, leading to the conclusion that that must not be time-based either, because if it were, she’d be “adding to the Torah”, but she wasn’t.

Oh no, there goes ALL the so-called “time-based” mitzvot from the Mishnah.

Part II: The Personal Why

Thanks to Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg—your famous blog posts found me when I was just about beaten down.

I’m an artist and everything relates back to tzitzit

So remember that tallit katan? Well, it’s all coming full circle. First, I see that I am a great T-shirt artist. I will Puffy Paint my way to the top.

And furthermore, whenever I go shopping, I think about what I could put tzitzit on. It’s really getting to be insane. This is just like Ma’ariv. I’m wary about doing it for good…but I can’t stop thinking about it. I remember (it was Adar) before I started saying Ma’ariv, I would start thinking about it right around 8:00 PM…

And now I say it and everything’s great.

But this is different. This is gigantic (to me, at least. Especially since more than one person has said to me that I’ll have to “keep it a secret” if I intend to hang out in Orthodox circles. I like secrets and everything, but I don’t like lifelong secrets). But I know that unless I suddenly start to love making challah and feeling an aversion to “men’s mitzvot”, and start saying things seriously like “men’s mitzvot”, then I know eventually I’m going to have to do this thing. Especially since I have the inconvenient belief that there is no reason that women ought not to be obligated as well.

Which leads me to something else, a third thing. Just like challah is basically a conditional mitzvah wherein you only need to take challah iff you happen to bake bread, you only need to attach tzitzit to a garment iff it happens to have four corners. No one needs to wear tzitzit. So, you ask, why not just go with the tallit gadol? That’s much more acceptable, and besides you’re going to have to have one anyway for your Bat Mitzvah thing coming up in 68 days.

Ah! That’s where I bring up the thing I read recently. It was rather innocuous in context, but it really made me consider. It said that it was interesting that most people only wear a tallit during prayer, which is probably the least likely time you’ll actually need to look at the tzitzit and remember to do the commandments. No, the time you need it most is when you’re out in the world facing sin and the stock market. So really, the tallit gadol sort of serves to take the spirit out of the tzitzit, at least when you only wear it during Shaharit and then don’t think about it for the rest of the day.

I love the historical basis of tzitzit. Apparently, everyone in Biblical times wore fringes, and sometimes they had different colors in them or something, to denote rank or tribe and so on. The techelet—”a deep blue, similar to that worn of royalty” as the book says—was a sign that the wearer was like special royal property of Hashem. (I wonder how well this went over in Biblical times, actually.) If it’s not true, I like to think it is anyway. Still today, without the techelet, it seems to me to serve as a uniform (also Jonathan Sacks thinks this). Everyone wears a uniform. A brand name follower, a working class thrift store shopper, an art school hipster, a sailor; or if you’re like me, you’re a walking billboard for your favorite bands (see above). Tzitzit is the uniform that shows, and reminds you of, just to whom you answer.

Therefore, I think that wearing a tallit katan throughout the day would best serve the spirit of this purpose.

I’d also probably have to wear it out to serve this purpose, and seriously the more I think about the more annoyed I am at how natural it seems to people that women need to “keep it a secret”. Nonsense. There’s no good reason to do so; it’s just nonsense. Still, I’ll have to balance my righteous indignation with my aversion to actually, seriously offending people.

Anyway, I used to not really get this idea of the uniform until just recently. I got it in theory, but not how it’d actually apply to me. “I don’t do that much bad stuff,” I thought, “in fact I have to look for opportunities to do mitzvot and avoid bad stuff, because I really spend most of my time in my room.” I don’t really have the opportunity to have to see tzitzit to remind me to like not cheat that customer or something.

But, did you know? Tzitzit serves to reminds you of three things (among many others, I presume). One, of the 613 commandments. Pretty self-explanatory. Like, “be good”. I’m not really wallowing in sin at the moment so I’m not really considering this life-freaking-long commitment just to remind me of that. Two, that Hashem is One. Well, I’m not in danger of becoming a polytheist either, although this also has the implication that if He is One than so are we, and we ought to get along and not let our divisions ruin us. And I do, of course, tend to insult things that I don’t understand, like Reform and Debbie Friedman songs and jazz. But third is the reminders of the Shema, including my favorite line, the first line, to love Hashem with all your heart, which means, I just learned, with your “good and evil inclinations”. I think I wrote about this before. I think I wrote that it’s the most fabulous thing I’ve ever heard. It’s why I originally thought Judaism would probably be good for me. It’d be a good outlet for my…er, passionate nature (read: complains a lot).

Did you know? It’s not just about avoiding sin; it’s about actively doing good. Even if you don’t want to. Even if you don’t know how.

I also enjoy being a walking billboard; why not be a walking billboard for the ideals of Judaism? Of course, I’ll probably also unintentionally be a walking billboard for feminism, but don’t worry because I will likely be armed with a good deal of apologetics and well-reasoned arguments for any objection by that point. I’ve learned to appreciate that I tend to be controversial without actually intending to; why not use that as well for good; for a mitzvah?

More interestingly, it would probably totally squash any vestigial need I have to fit in or be hip or worry about how appealing I look to others (already I’ve got high schoolers staring at me with palpable distaste…how old am I again?) Just like tzniut is great at reminding you that you’re not out to score a dude all the time (tell that to my teenage sister), so too is tzitzit a pretty loud announcement about what’s important to you. A good lesson to me would be that I can’t hide it (well, I could, but see above for my rant on women hiding it), because I tend to act embarrassed by Judaism, and that’s not a great habit. Tzitzit says to me I’M JEWISH AND NOT JUST IN THE CULTURAL SENSE AND I’M NOT EMBARRASSED ABOUT ACTUALLY TAKING IT SERIOUSLY! And that, everyone, is fabulous.

Don’t think, of course, that I’m just coming up with reasons out of nowhere for why I “might want to wear it”. To be clear, like I said before, I think women ought to be obligated. At the very least, I think that women ought not to let themselves remain personally exempted, myself included.

The tallit. (Enough said.)

This is the time when you start to wish there was more information out there for these “in-between” people like me.

Because, obviously I’ve been doing more mitzvot and so on, and everything’s been going well so far because these are things anyone could do. In the two categories of mitzvot, mine have all been in the “anyone” category—anyone can keep kosher, anyone can slow down on Shabbat, anyone can go to the seder, anyone can count the Omer (though that’d be kind of strange). And so far it’s all been pretty uncontroversial, although my being at the weekday minyan with nine other old men gets a little weird (so far I’ve counted twice where I could have made the minyan, but anyway). I mean, so far I haven’t thought to myself, “Wow, I really need to make aliyah” or something.

But now—and I’m really being egged on lately—I want to wear tzitzit. I always have, but ever since that lady offered to make me a tallit for my Bat Mitzvah thing in a few months, it’s been pummeling its way to the top of my agenda. Naturally, I’ve had to search my freaking soul about this, because it’s a pretty big deal, I think. I mean, according to all the “Judaism for Gentiles” stuff I read, like my religion textbook for example, “extremely pious Orthodox men wear the tallit gadol” and, of course, you’ve got to be an ultra-Orthodox isolationist to wear the tallit katan.

Good thing I’m really good at doing stuff regardless of what large stereotypical group is doing it!

That being said, let’s get to the details. First of all, you never really know if you’re doing something like this because you’re being led to or whatever, or because you just want an excuse to do something fun and different. However, I do think that women are obligated and I know that eventually I will have to—not “might want to”, mind you—do so anyway. So that’s not really the problem. The question here is “now or later?”

The other consideration is: Am I allowed? With “anyone” mitzvot, it’s not really spitting on tradition to do them. There’s a difference, you know. I don’t care if a Gentile wants to keep kosher. But it’s another thing to put a mezuza on your door, for example. And this is where the whole “some people think I’m Jewish and some don’t” controversy really emerges like a big ugly boil. The “women wearing tzitzit” thing doesn’t bother as much as it once did, because I’m quite secure in my conviction that women are obligated (and at the very least, not prohibited). However, even I think that Gentiles shouldn’t wear tzitzit, because it’s about the acceptance of the commandments, of course. We’re supposed to look upon them and think of the commands of the Torah, meant for Jews; we’re not supposed to look upon them and think about the Noachide laws. Not with tzitzit.

SO.

Whatever the reason is, I know that there are positions out there that non-Jews aren’t supposed to wear the tallit. So, everyone, am I Jewish now?

You could say that someone might wear tzitzit as some kind of educational experience—after all, they give tallitot katanot to young children, before they even know what’s happening. But I want to do it as an obligation, not just for fun. I do believe myself to be obligated in the stuff I already do. I recently read that one reason for not letting non-Jews release a Jew from an obligation, even if the non-Jew does it himself, is because non-Jews don’t have the “obligatory mindset”—like a whole different orientation. If you want to see it that way, I’m no non-Jew.

Since I over-think things, I decided that I ought to just give in to my pioneering spirit and wear one. But that just raises more questions: Should I say the blessing? (I say it for everything else, so I guess so.) Should I tie my own tzitzit, or will I have to (gasp!) talk to my scary rabbi about it? What would he say? This is one reason why I have to figure out what the heck I’m doing…I know I’m going to have to explain it in simple English to someone who doesn’t consider me even a little bit Jewish.

So I’d better be sure myself.

I had a brilliant idea last night. If I tied my own tzitzit, two problems would be solved: Only those who are obligated can tie tzitzit or they’re invalid, right? So if I tied my own and turned out to be obligated—theologically speaking—then no problem. If I tied them myself and turned out not to be obligated, then they’re invalidated and it’d be like not wearing them at all. Voila! I’m a genius.

The other idea I had was that, even though I originally planned to wear a tallit gadol, I might begin with a tallit katan—because then it will hopefully be more about the tzitzit than the tallit, and better yet no one will have to know but me. And Hashem. And my rabbi? (Awkward.) Of course, I like secrets, so maybe I just decided to go with the tallit katan psychologically because I like secrets so much! (This is why I’m glad I don’t have to worry about my psychological status, as I’ve decided that I will be obligated either way.)

I don’t know why I’m having such a problem with this—I do other things with the blessing, like netilyat yadayim and counting the Omer and lighting Shabbat candles (I just realized there’s no asher kidshanu for Havdala?) I’m not a thousand percent comfortable with saying asher kidshanu, but then who wants to be comfortable all the time anyway? The only thing I can do now is read all the halacha on it and just do it already. I’ve been dragged to this point; why put it off longer?

By the way, hopefully I will consider myself Jewish and obligated before this Bat Mitzvah, otherwise I’m going to have a heart attack having an aliyah that day.

The tallit

I’m one of those people who would spend all their money for the sake of a mitzvah. I’ve done this sort of thing before. I clearly remember a time when I wanted to be a famous musician living on the road; all I had in my room was a bed, some CD’s, and my piano. I got rid of everything else. Even my walls were bare. All my money went to and came from analog keyboards, guitar pedals, microphones, and the like. I wanted to sell my bed too, but my mom wouldn’t let me. I was twelve.

I’m thinking of this now because I just sold my two guitars and I’m considering selling my bicycles and my records. Now, that record collection is quite dear to me, and I’ve been building it since I was thirteen and bought that Attila* record. Why should I sell it?

Something strange is happening right now. Ever since I started going to the weekday minyan (more like weekday three people), a structure to my week started to emerge. There’s something about waking up at 7:00 AM Monday and Thursday for something that’s not school that gives you all the self-discipline you never wanted. When I started reading all those Basic Judaism books, there was one thing they kept repeating: “Surround yourself with mitzvot. Mitzvot makes your life holy. They are our life and the length of our days.” And I always thought, “Wow, if that’s true, that’s pretty great,” and went on with my life.But I’ve come to a point where suddenly it’s all getting a little too real.

Your morning changes from the very second you wake up—you get up at 7:00 and drive to the shul, instead of your usual routine of getting up at 10:00 and driving to Geology class. You go to the synagogue library and study Torah at 9:00, instead of, well, still sleeping. I’ve established a new base level. To go back to my past routine would be a letdown at this point. I’ve become accustomed to shaping my life around the demands of a demanding religion, rather than the other way around, and antithetically to what we in our modern day think ought to be the case—I prefer this way.

And that’s why I’m considering selling my beloved possessions. I’m seeing the speck of truth in what those Basic Judaism books were waxing so lyrically about. Of course selling my records to buy a tallit is reasonable. It’d be like how people sell their possessions just to buy a wedding ring. It’s just important.

So naturally at this point I’ve taken the rare opportunity to think about how much less important it is for me personally, since I’m not really obligated in anything yet, and therefore why would I do that? It wouldn’t make my life holy; it wouldn’t be my life and the length of my days. Theologically, would I be even a little obligated, since I’m not all wrangled in the Reform world, which says I’m Jewish—obligated, though I still can’t touch Orthodox wine? Of course, this may just be a problem of my trying to make concrete something that’s totally metaphorical and not actually meant to be a scientific fact.

*Attila: Billy Joel’s 1969 two-person metal band. On AllMusic.com, this band is rated a one.