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Torah and Half-a-Torah

By Naomi Paiss, October 2013

When I was Bat-Mitzvahed in a Conservative synagogue a long time ago, girls did not read from the Torah. Bat Mitzvahs took place on Friday night, not Saturday morning. Girls did not wear a tallit, and their speeches about the meaning of the Haftorah portion they read were truncated.

As a Hebrew Day school student, I knew very well the difference between a Torah and Haftorah reading. In my 13-year-old mind, I was being asked to do half-a-service, half-a-Torah reading, although I knew that I was twisting the meaning of “Haftorah” to serve my own rebellious, proto-feminist instincts.

Fast forward 31 years, and my daughter Molly is Bat-Mitzvahed at a Reform synagogue. On a Saturday morning, wearing a tallit, reading from the Torah, speaking about her Torah parsha. She did well and I was proud of her, and pleased at the difference between our two celebrations, a generation apart.

To cap things off, the rabbi of the synagogue told Molly after her service that she should consider becoming a rabbi. She told me this incredulously, rather proud of herself. And I thought, hey wait a minute. I was just as articulate as Molly at that age, just as interested in arguing about the meaning of the Tanach in my classes, a good writer and a decent leader. How come nobody ever told ME I could go to rabbinical school?

Because I couldn’t. Girls in my observant milieu didn’t become rabbis back then. And although both Molly and I would have been sadly miscast as rabbis, the fact that she could qualify, that she could consider, that it was within the realm of possibility that she could run a congregation as a spiritual leader….that went a long way towards reconciling me to my own place in the Jewish community.

Naomi Paiss has served as Vice President of Public Affairs for NIF since 2005, and has 27 years of experience in public affairs and issues management. Naomi is a graduate of Akiba Hebrew Academy (now Barrack Academy) in Merion, PA and of Sarah Lawrence College.

 

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