#BlogElul 11: Count
When I was growing up in Israel, I used to go to the little village synagogue with my parents for the High Holy Days. That was the only time I went there, because otherwise I did not feel welcome. When I was little I would go into the men’s section downstairs with my father, but once I turned twelve, I was banished to the women’s gallery upstairs, where I could not see or hear or participate in any way. So, naturally, I stopped going. There was nothing there for me.
Many years passed and I found myself in a newly egalitarian synagogue in Winnipeg. Our rabbi at the time taught me how to lead services and lay tefillin, but most importantly, I found myself being counted and valued as a member of the congregation.
It made me want to contribute, to support the community with the gifts that G-d had bestowed upon me. The ability to sing in Hebrew, to lead services, to read Torah, does not depend on my gender. I don’t think any of the men in the minyan are thinking lascivious thoughts about me as I stand there, encased in my tallit, with my tefillin wrapped around my arm and my head.
There is something very powerful about being counted. Today in shul I read Parashat Ki Tetzeh, which among other things, talks about how to treat a young woman who has been raped. In what was probably enlightened policy 3000 years ago, the rapist is required to pay a fine to the girl’s father (for the damaged goods), and he is condemned to marry her and never be able to divorce her. The Torah does not give the woman the option to refuse to marry her rapist, although the Talmud, centuries later, does. I should also mention that if the woman is engaged to another man, the rapist is to be put to death for damaging another man’s property, and if the rape happened in the city, the woman is as well, for not calling for help.
In a society where women count, such things are unthinkable. The dignity and inviolability of every human’s body were clearly not priorities in the time of the Torah, and it is questionable whether they are today. There’s still lots of work to be done.