from the JOFA Journal, Fall 2014
The Road To Wearing A Tallit: Why This Orthodox Woman Wears a Tallit, By Bat Sheva Marcus
I will never forget the first time I saw a woman wearing a tallit. I was twenty-seven years old, living in Israel, and attending the first International Conference on Women and Judaism. I came early, stumbled into the “wrong” room, and came upon a room full of women praying. Many had on tallitot, tefillin, and kippot. I thought I was going to throw up. To me, it looked awful. It looked like a mockery of everything I loved. It seemed to me a caricature of the pictures I held close to my heart of my father standing in a faintly lit room in the early morning, wrapped in tallit and tefillin. I backed out of the room and went into the ladies’ room to calm down. Even then, I was rational enough to be annoyed at myself for my violent overreaction.
So here I am, twenty-five years later, a tallit wearer. I often marvel at the transitions we go through in our lives.
I can’t pinpoint exactly when my feelings began to change. When my sense of disgust transformed itself into an indefinable longing. When I began to look over the mehitzah at my husband wrapped in his white tallit and find that I too wished I could be wrapped in white, feeling cool cotton transport my existence into a space of holiness. But somewhere and somehow my feelings had changed. Maybe it was partly that as I got older, the “right way” to do something often seemed less clear. Meeting different people, discussing issues openly, somehow I found out that in so many areas of my life, right and wrong were not quite as black and white as I had originally assumed them to be.
Maybe it was also that I couldn’t “seem to get myself into a good space” for tefillah. I grew up in the day school system, praying daily. I grew up in a home where tefillah was expected to be a part of my daily life, even on vacation days. But I never really davened. Usually I daydreamed. Often I moved my lips to mimic the prayers. And then I found myself an adult, no longer praying to fulfill someone else’s expectations, and unable to sustain regular, daily, ongoing prayer.
The agonizing fact was that, philosophically, I believe prayer to be critically important in our lives. It’s a chance, amid the chaos and the self-centeredness of our generation, to stop and thank God for all of the everyday miracles: for our children, our community, and our health. So there I was, thirty-five years old, still struggling with daily prayer and full of frustration and guilt because of it.
And then my daughter was born. If I knew one thing as a parent, it was that if she didn’t see me davening daily, it would be hard, if not ridiculous, to expect her to do so. In my heart of hearts, I knew that if I didn’t want her to grow up with the same struggle, it was time for me to resolve the issue once and for all……