There is a silver string on the front of my tallit (prayer shawl), tied onto the tzitzit, the fringes. I can’t remember how long it’s been there, but it started with a campaign from the Women of the Wall,. It’s meant to remind me and all else who see it of how other women are prohibited from wearing a tallit in prayer at the Kotel, Wall, in Israel. I think of those other women every Shabbat morning, when I gather together the four corners of the tallit, during the prayers just before the Shma. The text says the fringes are to remind me of the commandments: “make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments,,..look at it and recall all the Commandments of Adonai…”(Num: 15:38-38) , which we read in this week’s parasha, Shelach L’cha.
I’ve written before about what it means to me to wear a tallit. It’s been almost 20 years, and it just feels odd not to wear it if I’m in a prayerful setting. It’s not always easy; those summer outdoor services at camp were pretty hot, and putting on another layer of wool wasn’t my first choice. But I committed to wearing talit, so I wear tallit.
There’s a tangible weight that comes off my shoulders when I take my tallit off, and it’s more than the weight of the fabric. My behavior, my thoughts, my outlook change when I have my tallit on, and when I take it off, I re-enter the secular setting of life. The tallit is a distinguishing line, between the prayerful and secular worlds.
When I see that silver thread, I am now reminded of the new President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin. He would do well to wear the silver thread, if he is to be a true president of all the people of Israel, which he claims to be. Is he President of the women who are barred from reading Torah and wearing tallit in public, or will he continue to refer to Reform Judaism as “This is idol worship and not Judaism. Until now I thought Reform was a stream of Judaism, but after visiting two of their synagogues I am convinced that this is a completely new religion without any connection to Judaism.” Recent polls find that over 400,000 Israeli Jews define themselves as Reform or Conservative. Is President Rivlin their President, too?
I don’t have to prove anything to President Rivlin. I don’t have to prove to him that my weekly Shabbat presence at synagogue, or my delight in reading and studying Torah comes from a deep and abiding passion for Jewish life. I don’t need him to validate my Jewish identity when I walk into a sanctuary and actually, literally count as a Jewish adult. I live in America, where the State can’t tell me how (or if) to practice a religion…so far. But the silver thread reminds me that the Torah says we were all at Sinai, male and female, so God spoke and revealed Torah to me, too. The silver thread reminds me that those 400,000 Jews, and more, actually, literally count, too. And the women who show up at the Wall to thank and praise God for the new moon, the passage of time, say the prayers for good health and parnassa (sustenance) count, too. They’re saying Jewish words, in a Jewish setting, with Jewish “accessories”, and they count. No State has the right to tell them otherwise.
So I’ll continue to wear the silver thread. I’ll continue to support those organizations like IRAC and Women of the Wall and the Reform and Masorti movements in Israel. The silver thread ties me to the Wall more than anything else, and I will wear it as long as it takes until it’s not needed any more. May that day come, soon.