Sunday, November 21, 2010

Male Converts Are Really the Crazy Ones

Personally, I think it's much easier to become orthodox-observant as a female than a male. What the heck are those male converts thinking?? Quite frankly, I think the mitzvot for women is exactly what benefits me, and the mitzvot of men are things that I think would not benefit me. Of course, drawing any line is imperfect, and some people may benefit from the mitzvot of the other gender. This is an area of the halacha that I don't know as much about, but if someone wants to take on another mitzvah with the right intent (as opposed to a general opposition to gender line-drawing), I would support that.
UPDATE: I just read a bit about this on Shabbos in Halichos Bas Yisrael. According to that, women are allowed to do all mitzvot except tzitzit and tefillin because those were specifically assigned to men. If you'd like me to post the sources for that, just let me know in the comments!

On a related note, it's very interesting to me that it's normally women wanting to take on the mitzvot of men, rather than the opposite. There are no men running to bake challah or light Shabbat candles. Perhaps this is because men already have more than enough on their plate, while women may feel that their opportunities are limited. My problem is that I'm content with what I have been given, so I lack the perspective to really understand the other side, though I can imagine the frustration.

The lesson? I guess human nature always wants to think someone else is crazier. It helps us feel less crazy :)


  1. I find the idea of women wanting to take on the mitzvot of men, or indeed vice versa, to be totally nonsensical.

    The mitzvot of tefillin and tzitzit are not proscribed because there is something intrinsically holy about covering yourself in a white shawl or donning leather straps. These are holy activities purely because G-d commanded them.

    Women are not being in any way 'cut-off' from worshipping G-d by not observing these mitzvot. No more than say, myself or any Jew who is not a Kohen being forbidden to perform a priestly blessing on a congregation or serving in the Temple.

    A woman laying tefillin is as religiously pointless as me avoiding contact with the dead or marrying a divorcee. Jewish men and women can serve G-d just and be just as holy, but in Judaism holiness is performing what G-d specifically commands. Taking up the mitzvot of others is like a sport or hobby. It might make you 'feel' good or more 'spiritual' but it would be based on ignorance and Jewishly valueless.

  2. I remember hearing a long time ago about how Adam and Eve being one person, then separated. And that each of us are also separated from our beshert before we're born, and that this results in some people having a kind of "imperfect" division that means a person could have traits that traditionally belong to the other gender. Just from living my life, I've known many people who blur the lines between the stereotypical genders (as I do, in my own ways). Men don't get as much a choice, but I could certainly see women with more "masculine" traits finding real meaning and fulfillment in masculine mitzvot.

    The funniest part of all of this is that someone guessed I was talking about circumcision! I didn't think about that at all! Though I guess that's even more reason for thinking male converts are crazier! John, as resident male convert, what are your thoughts on my idea that the men are crazier than the women??

  3. My understanding is that, according to halacha, women may don tzitzit and tefillin. Even the orthodox rabbi in charge of the Kotel when the Women of the Wall started praying there agreed that what they were doing was not against halacha.

    I disagree that it is "Jewishly valueless."

  4. Single men who do not have a woman in the house must light Shabbos candles, and if they bake bread they must take challah as well. They can buy bread, of course, but so can women.

  5. Hi Chavi,

    I've heard of Adam and Eve being one entity before. In my experience there are quite a lot of effeminate men out there, including gerim, but they are not rushing to cover their hair when they marry. I've asked guys about this issue before. All including myself see candle lighting as 'the woman's mitzvah', a beautiful and important ritual that we are always willing to forfeit when there is a woman there to perform it. I've never met anyone who disagrees.

    On your idea of men being crazier than women, I'm really not sure. It depends on what you mean by a mitzvah 'benefiting' you. I want to perform mitzvot because G-d commanded them, and in performing them we are acknowledging G-d's sovereignty. Men get some, women get some, Kohanim get some and the Levites get some.

    Certainly women aren't losing out in living a Jewish life in terms of kashrut, shabbat observance and taharat hamishpacha. Laying tefillin seems like a small step compared to observing shabbat and the festivals and keeping a kosher kitchen.

  6. When I started the process I thought it was so much easier to be a guy - I found the dress code very difficult at first - now Im so glad Im a girl!

  7. I disagree with women wearing tzitzit or tefillin, but I think John's comment above is too broad. There is the concept of being eino metzuveh v'oseh, and of receiving reward for doing something that was not commanded. See, for example:

  8. Chava is correct; I light the Shabbat candles and buy my challot. (I'm a man.) The general rule is that women are exempt from most positive mitzvot with time constraints, such as tzitzit. However, if a woman lays tefillin, it becomes an obligation for her after that.

    I agree though; male converts have a much rougher time, largely because of the necessity to join a minyan.

  9. I think the division is actually a lot less clear than we think...

    Chava's right, everyone (inc. men) are obligated in shabbos candles, and the taking of challah. They're just marketed as women's mitzvot.

    Furthermore, I've heard that women are obligated in tzitzit as much as men are. The interesting point is that tzitzit are a conditional mitzvah.
    IF you wear a four-cornered garment, THEN it has to have tzitzit. Men choose to don four-cornered garments. Women don't. Both are still equally obligated...

    I also keep hearing that Rashi's daughters wore tefillin, but I can't seem to find a source. Has anyone else heard about this? Do you know where this comes from?

  10. I'm always most interested by the Sh'ma. From the words, you'd think both men and women are obligated to lay tefilin and that it wouldn't be time-bound. Besides, women are generally considered obligated to daven shacharit and mincha, so couldn't tefilin have gone with that? I also feel a little silly saying the last two paragraphs because it's basically all about the men!

    Sarah B, that's a very interesting point about the Women of the Wall! I hadn't heard that!

    John, I guess by saying "benefits me," it was that I'm amazed at how well the division of mitzvot works out in my case. Hashem set up the system well!

    As for men and Shabbat candles: I know men are obligated, but the men I know (minus one) turn on a light instead.

    A follow-up question: Because tzitzit only go on four-cornered garments, and men's clothing today doesn't qualify, I'm interested to know why some groups say that men are obligated to wear the tallit katan. I understand the idea of fulfilling a mitzvah you have the ability to, but requiring them to fulfill a mitzvah they wouldn't otherwise have to? Being female, I don't usually get these explanations!

  11. Chavi, the bit about Shema is where the Oral Torah comes in! Shema also doesn't describe WHAT tefillin is, but the Oral Torah does.

    Regarding tzitzis, I have heard this argument from men who don't wear tallis katan. By technicality they are not doing anything wrong. They are not wearing a four cornered garment WITHOUT tzitzis, they are just not purposely putting on a four cornered garment specifically to fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis. If the man puts on a tallis every day, making the bracha for it, shouldn't that "count" for him fulfilling the mitzvah of tzitzis?

    Putting on a tallis katan to me is like intentionally sniffing flowers so you can make the bracha for their scent, or baking challah specifically so you can separate the portion. You don't otherwise WANT to smell the flower, or even want the challah, you are specifically doing it to fulfill the mitzvah. However, if you don't bake challah it is not like you are breaking a mitzvah or failing to do a mitzvah, you just have not had a situation that is specific to participate in that mitzvah(as men have with donning a tallis for the mitzvah of tzitzis)

  12. There's an interesting case I came across recently...

    Most of the gender inequality in mitzvot has to do with one not being obligated in a mitzvah, and therefore not being required to perform it. Putting aside the question of whether or not someone can take on these extra mitzvot, it's actually rather liberating: "Huh, so Hashem DOESN'T think it's necessary for me to put on tephillin.... SCORE!"

    There's another category of gender difference that no one seems to have mentioned: things in jewish tradition (not necessarily mitzvot) that women aren't ALLOWED to do. Not because of physical constraints, but because of their lack of obligation in another mitzvah.

    The example I know of is that a woman cannot write kosher tephillin (because she is not obligated in tephillin), and she cannot write kosher mezuzot (because she is not obligated in tephillin - yes, that's right).