Sign In Forgot Password

Moons, Menstruation, and the Mishkan

03/08/2024 04:42:41 PM


          Shabbat Shalom! This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Vayekhel, more of the counting of items the Israelites bring to the building of the Mishkan. As we know from the Alicia Jo Rabins song I like to sing this time of year, wise-hearted people of all the tribes of Israel brought what they had to build and beautify the dwelling place of HaShem. Early in the parasha is the verse, “They came, the men along with the women.” Nachmanides clarifies the way the Hebrew communicates the men and women coming forward, “The women came first, and the men followed.”

          In last week’s parasha, Aaron tells the men specifically to take the gold jewelry from their wives, suggesting that the women did not volunteer to participate in the building of the Golden Calf. This is often used as the textual proof for women earning an extra day of rest and perhaps special treatment from their husbands on Rosh Hodesh. In contrast to the gender split when it came to the Golden Calf, Chizkuni and some of the other classic rabbis claim that not only did the women come first and the men followed when it came to giving gifts for the Mishkan, but indeed the women gave voluntarily and generously to the Mishkan, and the men only gave over their precious metals after they saw the women give away all their gold jewelry.  

          At Ner Shalom, and much of the modern progressive Jewish world, we are interested in moving past enforced gender binarism such as this. But the truth is that Judaism at its core has always been built on systems of binaries that it recognized from the start as false, non-inclusive of the breadth and scope of humanity. This is why even as our religious traditions have been split into different halakhic obligations between men and women, the Talmud then lists 8 different gender expressions that need to be decided – more-or-less – which side of the proverbial mechitza to be placed on. And still, there are many who do feel more secure pretty far onto one side of the gender spectrum, and who find comfort in occasionally getting together with a same-gender circle.

In college, my friends and I used to have Sauna Time determined by the girls in the group. Our guy friends would ask to come, so we compromised with the assertion that girl time was important, and we would be talking about the things we wanted to talk about: our bodies and feelings and relationships, and other stereotypically feminine topics. They could join if they wanted, but they couldn’t change the subject or be weird about it if they were uncomfortable. They had to allow us the space to set the tone and speak freely. This worked up until various members of our friend-group started dating each other anyway.   

          Rosh Chodesh may be assigned a Ladies’ Night because of a misunderstanding of science and the connections between the waxing and waning of the moon and menstrual cycles. It may be a gift from God and our ancestors because of the ancient Israelite women’s steadfastness when it came to donating their gold to the Mishkan and not to the idol. Either way, it is an opportunity for Jewish women to connect with one another across time and space, to sit with what it means to be a Jewish woman, however we define that. Just as we need Shabbat to mandate our rest and separation from the week, it’s nice to have a prescribed monthly time for us to have Girl-Time as well. And maybe Guys’ Night and Queer Night and whatever else, because sometimes its nice to huddle up with people who face similar difficulties from the world. In the pre-modern world especially, when certain gender roles were very enforced, all the more so the idea that there was at least one extra day a month that the women could get a break from all their domestic duties, could have a little extra say-so in their lives and relationships, seems like it would have been progressive for its time.

           This Saturday night/Sunday is Rosh Chodesh Adar II. Adar II, or Adar in a non-leap year, is recognized as the most joyful month because of the great excitement and silliness of Purim. Rosh Chodesh Adar II should be a weekend of Jewish ladies and theydies celebrating and trying on their Purim costumes together. Let us rejoice in the moon and give our jewels to the greater good of the community. May we celebrate a new month of fun, love, and self-expression. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.


Tue, July 23 2024 17 Tammuz 5784