Dvar Torah for my Bat Mitzvah
by Aviva Rosenbaum
Dear family, friends, Migwan members, and guests,
Thank you all for coming. Today is a very important day for me, and now comes one of the most important parts, my Dvar Torah. My Torah portion is not particularly exciting. But of the Torah portions I've heard of, it fits me the best. Maybe it's not very exciting, but it's very interesting.
My Torah portion, Tazria, has three parts, all of which concern purity with regard to worship in the Temple. The first is about what a woman has to do after giving birth. The second is about skin disease in in general, the third about when skin disease of old people counts as skin disease.
This Torah portion fits me for two reasons: sexism and disease. Both are topics that interest me. Both are pretty negative things, and both are things I want to fight against during my lifetime. Both interest me, but today I only want to talk about the first one, sexism.
My parasha begins, "when a woman brings a child into the world," in Hebrew "tazria". Literally, tazria means "seeds", by which they mean babies. Tazria is also the name of my Torah portion, which I think doesn't fit very well, but at least it sounds pretty. When a woman gives birth to a boy, she is "unclean" for 7 days. So she can't be together with her husband. On the eighth day the newborn is circumcised (in Hebrew, brit milah). Afterwards, she must stay away from the temple 33 days, and must not touch anything holy. Okay -- I get it. She gets a break. But if she gives birth to a female child, she is unclean for 2 weeks and has to stay away from the Temple for 66 days! Regardless of how I look at this, for me, it's just sexist!
Rabbi Bea and I thought about why this could be. Of course, it could be that the mother should have more time with her daughter, because this is a special and important connection. Sure, that's a nice thought... but sexist! So boys don't get a special connection to a parent? In that case, the boys should be locked up for months with their fathers! But probably, that's not the real reason. People used to think, when a woman had a girl, that she wasn't strong enough to give birth to a boy -- that something was wrong with her, and with the girl too. I'm very proud to be Jewish, but I'm ashamed that Judaism is so sexist. Of course, there's still sexism today everyhwere, so that it's almost impossible for me to be proud that I'm a girl and at the same time not to find others too girly. But it astounds me, that today's sexism is still so similar.
Already in the first story in the Torah, the story of Adam and Eve: Eve made friends with the snake, and Adam said that Eve convinced him to eat the apple. What he meant by that was that he couldn't control himself because she was so beautiful, and because of this, God blamed Eve. And men are supposed to be the strong ones?! Even God is sexist, He accepts this stupid excuse, and Eve stands there the whole time and accepts that women will have to suffer during and after childbirth!
Now we're back to my actual topic. At the end of the second paragraph we read: "the priest shall forgive her (that is, free her from guilt) and she shall be clean." "Forgive her?" Did she do something wrong? Is is somehow a sin to bear a child? I have no idea what they were thinking when they wrote the Torah. IT'S NOT A SIN TO HAVE A BABY!!!
So: did God really want the world to be this sexist? No, I don't think so. I do think God is partly to blame. But maybe God noticed the mistake, and therefore gave us so many hints that the sexes must be more or less equal. The Torah is female, the menorah is female, the kippah is female, Shabbat is female, and many other important things. But the world still has a lot more to learn, and I think it's going to take a lot longer than it took God.
Now I'm almost at the end of my dvar torah, but first I want to thank a few people. First, I want to thank you all for coming, especially my non-Jewish family and friends. I know very well how boring it can be, when you don't understand anything and can't sing along. But I hope you like it here anyway. And now for the people who really helped me in the last several years. First I want to thank my good friend Lea. She always made Hebrew school fun, and the services are a lot more fun with her too. She's two years older than me and taught me a lot about Judaism, and about life in general. She also said yes immediately, when I asked if she would sing an aliyah today. Next of course I want to thank Ruthi Ritter, my Hebrew teacher since first grade. Learning with her was always fun, and she always gave me as much hope as I deserved! She never got annoyed when I didn't make progress, and she's always in a good mood.
Next I'd like to thank Rabbi Bea Wyler a lot. She taught me so much about Judaism, that I can hardly believe we've only been studying together for a year. She taught me tricks about reading that I will never forget. She showed me how learning can be serious and fun at the same time. I know that I'll never forget how to "leynen". She explained it so cleverly, it's soooo much fun! I'm excited that I'm finally old enough to do it regularly, and I hope that Migwan will let me!
That brings me to my second to last thank you, to Migwan. I am the third Bar/Bat Mitzvah at Migwan, which means I'm one of the oldest kids. For the last few years, I've gotten to lead the kids' program together with Lea, which has been awesome. At Migwan, I've always had the feeling that my opinion matters. And that's one of the reasons Migwan is so important to me. In such a small congregation, everyone knows each other. It's like a big family of all kinds of people.
Now I come to the biggest thank you -- the biggest that I can imagine. Of course, it goes to my parents. They gave me life, and they decided what religion I would be, what traditions etc... My mother is Catholic, so I could just as easily have been Catholic. But my parents decided that I should be Jewish. They didn't force me to go to synagogue, but they did recommend it. That religion should be fun, a kind of connection between people. Today, according to Judaism, I am an adult. From today, my religious decisions are completely my own. But I'm not going to change anything, because I am absolutely satisfied as I am. My parents chose well for me. I want to thank my mother for always participating at every festival and holiday, and that she always came to synagogue, even though she understood the service even less than I did. She was always proud and supported me with everything. And I want to thank my father, that he always made synagogue fun, so that my brother and I (but especially my brother) could sing loudly from the bottom of our hearts. It was also not easy to find Migwan; at first we thought we would just be part of IGB. But my father searched a long time; and also afterwards, when we were already at Migwan, he did a lot for Migwan. And I know that when my parents did so much work and gave up so much, a big part of what they had in the back of their minds was that this day (my Bat Mitzvah) would turn out as good as it has today.
So thank you -- thanks to all of you, because you're all very important to me. Lastly I want to wish my grandmother a terrific 73rd birthday today. Mazel tov and shabbat shalom to you all!