Calling All Yentls
by Howard Lev
From novels to movies to the stage, it is the male who is traditionally depicted, as learned. The woman cleans the house, raises the children, and even has a proper double-chin. In the short story, Yentl The Yeshiva Boy, by Isaac Beshevis Singer, Yentl, a young woman, is so desperate to study and discuss the sacred texts, she disguises herself as a boy. If Yentl had been a member of my temple, she would not have had to wear a disguise to pray and study. The women of Temple B’nai Torah have a voice; they can quote, interpret, and read the sacred text with ease.
One clergy member of our temple has been female. Our religious school principal is a female. Even our temple president is female. At Temple B’nai Torah, women are encouraged to learn, and to lead, and to don tallit and kippot on the bimah, and to celebrate Shabbat and holidays. They are free to share their knowledge and ask questions to be a better person and a better Jew.
A year ago, 13 women became adult B’not Mitzvah. A small group of these women led an informative roundtable at Yom Kippur. This year a female lay leader ran a discussion and reading of the Megillah prior to our Purim service. Long after the service ended, congregants continued to comment how moving and informative it was.
A recent program about Shavuot was organized by women. Adults aptly made Mezuzah for their door(posts) while the children had a separate craft. As the father of a daughter, who enjoys midrash, my temple has given her the same opportunities to participate the way her younger brother does.
My temple hosts a number of different ongoing Torah study programs. I rarely take notice of the male-to-female ratio in the room but given the portion we recently discussed, Deuteronomy 22:13, I realized I was one of only two men in attendance out of the 13 participants. The discussion was lively, intelligent, and I never felt in fear for my manhood.
I learned that Haftarah, or the reading from the Prophets, which are not found in Torah, originated when the Greeks ruled and reading from the Torah was prohibited. Jews, male and female, have fought too long and too hard to have the right to worship freely. I am proud that my temple is at the forefront of being an all inclusive congregation.
Howard Lev is a long-standing member of Temple B’nai Torah in Wantagh (Long Island), where he is the press representative and serves on the religious education and rituals committees. Married with two children, Howard is a theatre professional who has worked on a number of Broadway and off-Broadway shows including the national tour of The King & I. It is his unique perspective, as both an active congregant and a Reform Jew, that fuels his work, views, and commentaries.