In the biblical era, ShavuotShavuot is the holiday fifty days after Passover and commemorates when the Israelite liberation from Egypt culminates with the giving of the Torah. Traditionally, Jews study in an all-night study session, eat dairy products (one interpretation is that the Torah is like milk to us), and read both the Ten Commandments and the Book of Ruth. marked the beginning of the grain harvest. The new agricultural season was also marked by bringing new fruits to the Temple. After the Temple’s destruction in 70 CE, the nature of the holiday changed, and it began to be associated with the Revelation at SinaiAccording to the Torah, God, in the presence of the Jewish people, gave Moses the Torah on Mount Sinai (Har Sinai).. The holiday of Shavuot comes to celebrate God’s gift of the TorahThe Five Books of Moses, and the foundation of all of Jewish life and lore. The Torah is considered the heart and soul of the Jewish people, and study of the Torah is a high mitzvah. The Torah itself a scroll that is hand lettered on parchment, elaborately dressed and decorated, and stored in a decorative ark. It is chanted aloud on Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbat, according to a yearly cycle. Sometimes "Torah" is used as a colloquial term for Jewish learning and narrative in general. to the Jewish people.
In ways unprecedented in Jewish history, women are renewing our connection with Sinai through study and engagement of Torah. For example, only in recent years have women begun to study TalmudThe rabbinic compendium of lore and legend composed between 200 and 500 CE. Study of the Talmud is the focus of rabbinic scholarship. The Talmud has two versions, the main Babylonian version (Bavli) and the smaller Jerusalem version (Yerushalmi). It is written in Rabbinic Hebrew and Aramaic. in increasingly large numbers. Shavuot is celebrated with an all-night study session, a tikkun leil ShavuotAn all-night study session held on Shavuot to recall the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai., at which traditional texts are studied. The biblical text associated with Shavuot is the Book of RuthAn important female biblical character with her own book. The Book of Ruth, read on Shavuot, tells the story of Ruth’s devotion to her mother-in-law, Naomi, and their return to Israel. Ruth’s story is often read as the first story of conversion. Ruth is the grandmother of King David., a pastoral romance that uniquely represents the collaborative and redemptive friendship of women.
Today Jewish women write themselves back into history and engage in a dialogue with Jewish texts. Women have for years learned what the men heard at Sinai. Now we have the opportunity to reclaim our relationship to Torah and to hear the revelation for ourselves. As Jewish feminist theologian JudithJudith saved her people by seducing Holofernes, the enemy general, and then decapitating him. The story of Judith, found in the apocrypha, is associated with Chanukah (relating to the tradition of eating cheese dishes because she seduced the general and fed him dairy). Her Hebrew name is Yehudit. Plaskow writes in her book Standing Again at Sinai, Jewish feminists must “reclaim Torah as our own. We must render visible the presence, experience, and deeds of women erased in traditional sources. We must tell the stories of women’s encounters with God and capture the texture of their religious experience. We must expand the notion of Torah to encompass not just the five books of MosesThe quintessential Jewish leader who spoke face to face with God, unlike any other prophet, and who freed the people from Egypt, led them through the desert for forty years, and received the Torah on Mt. Sinai. His Hebrew name is Moshe. and traditional Jewish learning, but women’s words, teachings and actions hitherto unseen” (p. 28). Our interpretations and reactions are necessary to make Judaism whole.
Having a feminist tikkun with a women’s group such as a synagogue sisterhood, or a Rosh HodeshThe new moon, which marks the beginning of the Jewish month. According to tradition, because women did not participate in the sin of the golden calf, they were given the holiday of Rosh Chodesh. It is customary for women not to work on Rosh Chodesh. (new month) group, is an opportunity to take up Plaksow’s challenge by including Jewish feminist texts in your study/learning. Use the Shavuot or Feminist Torah Commentary sections of Rituallwell’s bibliography for some feminist texts that will expand and enhance your study of Torah. These books are available through online bookstores or from your local Jewish bookstore.
If you would like to plan your own feminist/women’s tikkun, here are some suggestions:
Where to have it:
Tikkunim (pl.) often take place in a communal space such as a synagogue or community center. This can be good for ensuring enough space and facilities for both food and study. However, some people prefer a more intimate setting and choose to invite others to their homes to study during the evening. If you do this, make sure that you have a good supply of coffee, tea, bagels, and dessert to getA writ of divorce. Traditionally, only a man can grant his wife a get. Liberal Jews have amended this tradition, making divorce more egalitarian. you through the night. Also make sure to have enough copies of the texts you will be studying.
Some suggested feminist/women’s tikkun topics:
- Women and Revelation
- Biblical Women
- Women and Leadership in Jewish Text Throughout the Ages
- Women and Time in Texts and In Our Lives
Consult some of the works in the bibliography for inspiration. See especially the wonderful and provocative essays in Judith Kates’ and Gail Twersky Reimer’s anthology, Reading Ruth: Contemporary Women Reclaim a Sacred Story (Ballantine Books, 1994) (personal essays, fiction, and poetry by thirty contemporary Jewish women on different aspects of the biblical book of Ruth).
Artwork by Betsy Teustch.