Shemot: They came to pray

by Anita Silvert, from her site Jewish Gems

uppity-women-of-the-bibleGood morning class and welcome to Civil Disobedience, 1:15 (Exodus chapter) , or as the saying goes, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

Today we meet two of those uppity women, Shifra and Puah, Hebrew midwives during the time of the Hebrew enslavement in Egypt.   Confronted with one of the most harsh and intolerant decrees possible, the murder of newborn baby boys, these two women said, “Enough.”  Quietly, but with great passion and purpose, they set about defying the government’s decree.  Pharaoh was afraid that the oppressed people would become too numerous, would join forces with other enemies of the State, and overthrow him.  So he set about hitting them where it hurt most – their families.

Shifra and Puah simply refused to carry out the Pharaoh’s decree.  They wouldn’t kill the babies, or allow them to die (depending on your perspective).  When they were called on the carpet, so to speak, to answer for the fact that there were still baby boys living past infancy, they simply said that the Hebrew women were so strong, they couldn’t get to the birthing fast enough to do what the law required.  Oops, Sorry Pharaoh, but not our fault.  And history was made when one of those baby boys grew up to lead the entire nation out of slavery.

Uppity women change the world, and they are still doing so.  As you have read in this space before, the battle for ritual equality continues in Jerusalem, supposedly the spiritual homeland of all Jews.  You would think, when we women travel to Israel, we would feel at our most spiritual, our most fulfilled as Jews.  To walk in the steps of our history, to see and sense our ancestors’ encounters with God, to pray at the sites of our ….oops. Sorry.  Forget that last oneS.

Still and still, worse and worse, the situation at the Western Wall is giving women something to wail about.  Still and still, more and more, women are required to feel less and less connected to this holiest site as active, participatory ritual-evolved Jews.

Women of the Wall (www.womenofthewall.org.il) leads the fight of uppity women, led by the uppityist of all, Anat Hoffman.  For over 20 years, they have gathered at the Wall to pray.  Simply to pray.  And for that offensive, outrageous desire to express praise and gratitude to God every Rosh Chodesh (new month), they are attacked, harassed, and arrested. Why? Because the government is “afraid that the oppressed people will become too numerous, and join forces with other enemies of the State, and overthrow [them]”.  Wait. Did I just write that?  Yes I did.  Indeed, women all over the world are joining forces to overthrow the oppressive, discriminatory rulings of the Israeli government-backed “Authority” at the Western Wall.

According to midrash (commentary/tale) after Shifra and Puah took their stand and made an impact on the Hebrew community, Miriam  convinced her parents to re-marry after the government had forced them apart, in another attempt to keep the enemy-population down, and their union produced Moses.  Where uppity women lead, others follow.

Last month at the Wall, uppity men “smuggled” in the contraband tallitot (plural of tallit, prayershawl)  for the women who came to pray. This is what it’s come to?   Check out the Women of the Wall  website for the latest round of decrees, as reported in the New York Times  The police/government, laying down and taking orders from the ruling Ultra-Orthodox “authority” of the Kotel (Wall) plaza, is forbidding women to bring in any religious ritual items…like a prayerbook, perhaps? Is that what’s next?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he has finally heard the voices of women and men around the Jewish world, and he has formed a committee to come up with a solution.  The Jerusalem Post reports, however, that the committee, headed by Natan Scharansky, hasn’t even been given a clear mandate for what he’s supposed to be heading up at all.

Shifra and Puah went before the Pharaoh and lied through their teeth, so that they could continue doing the work they intended to do.  They prayed with their hands, each time they brought another “contraband” baby into the world.  Today, Jewish men and women from all over the world are forced to do the same thing, lying and smuggling in “contraband” religious articles, just so they could pray with their hands and bodies, voices and souls.  The Pharaoh/Rabbi is afraid, but the people will rise up and be freed by those uppity women who have come to pray.  God will hear them as clearly as God heard the soul-cry of Shifra and Puah, leading them onward to liberation.

They come to pray.

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