I’m a thinker by nature, much more comfortable tackling obstacles with my mind. If I’m not careful, I can live completely there in my head, crunching numbers, unraveling meaning, connecting concepts. It’s where I retreat to in order to feel safe.
When I first approached conversion, it was completely from my mind. I created reading lists and ticked off titles. I memorized concepts and laws. I banged my head on Hebrew. I have always loved books and I read them by the stack. I was mystified when none of this seemed to matter much to my Rabbis. They raised their eyebrows at my list of dates and books and concepts. It made no sense to me because I still saw conversion as something you earned like a college degree, yet for all my hard work, I seemed to be missing the point.
It took a break and some years of wandering to finally realize that, really, I was missing the point.
There is a reason why it is the men who study in Orthodox Judaism and why the women do not, but it’s not the one that is most easily grasped on the surface. People often look at the disparity in study and practice between men and women in Orthodoxy and assume it must be due to some inherent sexism, that somehow women are judged to be less intellectually capable and that’s why they aren’t in the library pouring over books.
While gender roles and the raising of babies does play a role, there’s something else going on there that even though I embraced my side of the gender divide, I didn’t grasp until later. What I didn’t grasp is that, really, my role as a Jewish woman is to conquer my mind enough to live more in my heart. My role is more doing than getting lost in my thoughts. My life is meant to be more of a flow, a moving meditation, than a struggle. The Rabbis knew this. That’s why the more I struggled, the less ready I showed myself to be. I had to learn to give up the struggle.
It isn’t that I wasn’t judged capable of wrestling complex concepts to the ground, forcing them to fit into my mind, it’s that I was created for something else equally important. I was created to be the heart, the feeling, intuitive center of my home and family. I was created to connect with my creator less with my intellect and more with my emotion. The more I do that, the more I train myself to get out of my head and open up my heart, the more I find joy in life and in Judaism, the more I bring peace to my relationships and to my home.
All my life I’ve been fed the message that I need to be tough. I need to fight and compete and prove myself. The more I learn about women’s unique place in Judaism, the more I learn that this mindset does not serve me or those I love. It doesn’t bring me fulfillment and it means that there is no one there who is brave enough to be the softness. It’s my job to hold the crying child and comfort them, not toughen them…there is a father for that. It’s my job to find the positive in every situation, not constantly be critical or looking for the risks. It’s my job to find joy and bring it down for others. The world has more than enough angry or sad people. It’s my job to dance and weave my way through life, not trudge uphill in a straight line. It’s my job to feel Hashem.
This has all been unfamiliar territory for me, this gentleness both for myself and for others. The more, though, I relax into it, the more peaceful I am and the more at home in Judaism I feel.