Brazilian ba'alot teshuvah and the paradoxes of their religious conversion.Religious Conversion and the Reformulation of Jewish identity Jewish identity is the subjective state of perceiving oneself as as a Jew and as relating to being Jewish. Jewish identity, by this definition, does not depend on whether or not a person is regarded as a Jew by others, or by an external set of religious, or legal, or sociological in Sao Paulo
THE BEGINNING OF THE 1990s CONSTITUTED A MILESTONE in the consolidation of Jewish Orthodoxy Noun 1. Jewish Orthodoxy - Jews who strictly observe the Mosaic law as interpreted in the Talmud
Hebraism, Jewish religion, Judaism - Jews collectively who practice a religion based on the Torah and the Talmud in the city of Sao Paulo and in the Brazilian Jewish community as a whole. From this point in time a significant number of lay Jews opted for Orthodoxy. There was a shift in the two components that characterize Jewish identity, the ethnic and the religious, and the religious aspect has been privileged since then. Thus, in a vertiginous ver·tig·i·nous
1. Affected by vertigo; dizzy.
2. Tending to produce vertigo.
vertiginous adjective Related to vertigo, dizzy impulse and in a short period of time-that is, within the last ten years--dozens of synagogues, mikves, (1) and yeshivol (2) were constructed. Various formal and informal educational institutions were created; informal publishers and circulating libraries proliferated; and numerous and multifaceted activities were developed in order to satisfy the desires of a population that was becoming more and more avid to learn about and experience "authentic" (3) Judaism. A "structure of plausibility: was constructed which assured "the rational execution of the group mission," (4) on the social lev el.
Growth of Orthodoxy as a result of the incorporation of these new members to the group, the ba'alei teshuvah, is a well-known phenomenon in several Jewish communities, both in Israel and the Diaspora. (5) It is possible to point out general tendencies with respect to the multiple causes that led a significant number of lay jews to choose the Orthodox way of life; still, there are a number of characteristics of this phenomenon which are the product of each national context--that is, the respective relationships between the Jewish community and the society at large, on the one hand, and, on the other, the social structure and ideological configuration inherent to the particular group. (6)
The birth and consolidation of the teshuvak movement in the city of Sao Paulo is a relatively recent phenomenon, when compared to similar phenomena in North America North America, third largest continent (1990 est. pop. 365,000,000), c.9,400,000 sq mi (24,346,000 sq km), the northern of the two continents of the Western Hemisphere. and Israel, and reveals some distinctive traits. Particularly important are the hybrid and syncretic syn·cre·tism
1. Reconciliation or fusion of differing systems of belief, as in philosophy or religion, especially when success is partial or the result is heterogeneous.
2. components which characterize Brazilian society and culture at large, and which shaped the tendencies of religious habits in the country. That is why anthropologists, sociologists, as well as those scholars who study religion utilize the categories "hybridism," "syncretism syn·cre·tism
1. Reconciliation or fusion of differing systems of belief, as in philosophy or religion, especially when success is partial or the result is heterogeneous.
2. ," "diffuse religion," "faith nomadism nomadism
Way of life of peoples who do not live continually in the same place but move cyclically or periodically. It is based on temporary centres whose stability depends on the available food supply and the technology for exploiting it. ," and "religious bricolage bri·co·lage
Something made or put together using whatever materials happen to be available: "Even the decor is a bricolage, a mix of this and that" Los Angeles Times. ," to define the religious expressions which we see flourishing in contemporary Brazilian society. (7) Thus, the pursuer of the sacred in Brazilian society is identified with the image of a wanderer who goes from church to church, cult to cult, and miracle to miracle, trying to confer transcendental meaning on his life and a sense of belonging to a community which helps him to achieve this goal. Simultaneously, data reveal that in this search, the principle according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. which a given religion is violated if forms and/or contents of rituals and cults pertaining to other religions are added on or mixed together is no longer relevant. On the contrary, what is observed is a religion that is created in the image of and similar to the believer, and not as a result of an external structure, efficacious in imposing a sole view of religion, considered "the absolute truth." (8)
This "religious nomadism," is a characteristic expression of Brazilian contemporary religion, and is much in evidence among the ba'alei teshuvak of Sao Paulo, not in the mixture of Judaism and other religions and/or religious cults, (9) but rather in the difficulty these new Orthodox Jews face in affiliating themselves to a given Jewish religious stream. Migrations from one congregation to another are frequent as well as the incorporation of customs and distinctive marks of several of these simultaneously.
The statement made by one ba'al teshuvah's mother is illustrative, and expresses the real life experience of dozens of people with whom I have spoken in the past two years:
My son is not radical! You know, on one sabbath, he may go to the Binyan Olam at night and to one or more Beit Chabad synagogues the next morning; he's not chained down to any particular sect. He has his own religion, his own beliefs, his own faith. He is capable of learning what he thinks is worthwhile from each of these rabbis, from each of these sects, although he studies at the yeshiva yeshiva
Academy of higher Talmudic learning. Through its biblical and legal exegesis and application of scripture, the yeshiva has defined and regulated Judaism for centuries. Traditionally, it is the setting for the training and ordination of rabbis. in Cotia. (10)
Another indicator of the influence which Brazilian hybridism exercises on the configuration of the teshuvah movement in Sao Paulo is the lack of boundaries between the Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities. One of the expressions of this phenomenon is the important role played by Sephardic rabbis among ba'alei teshuvah Ashkenazim, and vice-versa in the keruv (1) process. Likewise, in the Orthodox communities, Jews of all origins are welcome, since all ba 'alei and ba'alot teshuvah learn the ritualistic rit·u·al·is·tic
1. Relating to ritual or ritualism.
2. Advocating or practicing ritual.
rit nuances of each of these communities. These are some of the reasons why it is impossible to establish a distinction between the Chasidic and Lithuanian, or the Ashkenazi and Sephardic ba'alei teshuvak communities within the Brazilian context. (12)
Since a significant number of ba'alei teshuvah are from 16 to 30 years old, the extended social moratorium characteristic of Brazilian middle-class youth, who live with their parents until marriage, must be taken into account when discussing this age group. The central role played by the nuclear family in Brazilian society contrasts with the experiences of North American North American
named after North America.
North American blastomycosis
see North American blastomycosis.
North American cattle tick
see boophilusannulatus. and Israeli youth; with respect to the teshuvah movement, this gives rise to interesting phenomena. (13)
In this essay I will focus on the ba'alot teshuvah of Sao Paolo, discussing the multiple forms of newly-adopted Orthodox-Jewish rituals found among women who passed a large part of their lives within the boundaries of secular or liberal Judaism This article covers the Jewish denomination of progressive synagogues in the United Kingdom. The term Liberal Judaism is also a synonym for Progressive Judaism. For information on the beliefs and practices of liberal Jews, please see Progressive Judaism. . The question I will try to answer centers on a paradox: why is it easy, even pleasant, for the ba'alot teshuvah to account for and explain their new beliefs: the complex ritualistic system involving the family purity laws--in which they play a central role--celebrating some of the details involved, extending themselves on the benefits of these laws, and accepting the yoke of the Halakhah; and why it is that, when the issue at hand is the tradition concerning the use of the shaiti--the wig-by married women, a certain modesty impedes them from speaking freely Speaking Freely is a public television show by the First Amendment Center hosted by Ken Paulsen. Recent guests have included Jim Bouton of Ball Four fame and Lewis Black of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
The attempt to comprehend why the ba'alot teshuvah manifest difficulty or seem to be ill at ease when referring to the orthodox tradition that requires married women to cover their heads, indicates the need to establish a distinction between the process of incorporating "invisible" rituals or, putting it in another way, rituals whose consummation affects a reduced number of people, generally husband and wife; and the incorporation of a distinctive mark which will point out to both insiders and outsiders, that this woman belongs to a specific, minority group which is considered exotic by society at large.
My analysis of the dialogue I maintained with dozens of ba'alot teshuvah concerning the use of wigs and the family purity laws, will lead us to discuss the legitimacy of the distinct institutions which endow the experience of this group of women with meaning. Having been socialized in a modern, secular society, they nevertheless choose to live their lives within the boundaries of a religious system which is basically patriarchal in structure and organization.
On Family Purity Laws, Modesty, and Eroticism Eroticism
novel of Alexandrian manners by Pierre Louys. [Fr. Lit.: Benét, 783]
Ovid’s treatise on lovemaking. [Rom. Lit. within Conjugal Pertaining or relating to marriage; suitable or applicable to married people.
Conjugal rights are those that are considered to be part and parcel of the state of matrimony, such as love, sex, companionship, and support. Relationships
According to the orthodox Halakkah, there are three positive commandments for which women are held directly responsible: lighting the candles on sacred dates, baking bread for Sabbath, and complying with the family purity laws. Only the latter two are solely up to them, since no other family member may substitute for women in carrying out these laws.
When I began research on the ba'alei teshuvah movement in Sao Paulo two years ago, and familiarized myself with the complex ritualistic system which guides the life of Orthodox Jews, I discovered a sense of frustration, followed by an appreciable dose of apprehension and discouragement: how could one understand the fascinating world of Orthodox Jewish women, their role and status in Judaism? How should an issue such as the family purity laws, which involves a plethora of stereotypes and stigmas, constituting, for the majority of secular and liberal Jews, the most visible indicator of Orthodox women's subordination and submission to men in their daily lives, be approached?
The difficult, but patient reading of the manuals designed to guide the ba'alot teshuvah in the long journey which will convert them into pious Jewish women, reinforced my hypothesis that it would be at least a fantasy for me to try to share my doubts with the women with whom I had made arrangements to interview.
However, my first encounters with dozens of ba'alot teshuvah soon showed me how mistaken I was in my rushed interpretation of their possible reluctance to discuss this theme. At the same time, I verified, once more, that anthropology--despite the discomfort that this statement may produce among many colleagues--still maintains one of its pillars on what Geertz (14) denominated "being there," and that many of its hypotheses may become senseless when confronted with our "native's" first reply or first silence.
I discovered that for the ba'alot teshuvah of Sao Paulo, in a manner similar to that described by Davidman (15) and Kaufman (16) in the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. , the relegation and circumscription cir·cum·scrip·tion
1. The act of circumscribing or the state of being circumscribed.
2. Something, such as a limit or restriction, that circumscribes.
3. A circumscribed space or area.
4. of women in the home, as well as their compliance in fulfilling the precepts and customs that govern the family purity laws, constitute a way of rehabilitating the feminine figure in a society whose foundations have been perverted per·vert·ed
1. Deviating from what is considered normal or correct.
2. Of, relating to, or practicing sexual perversion. with respect to the role of woman, which is manipulated, at the present time, as a commodity. Furthermore, the statements of dozens of ba'alot teshuvah reflect a basic idea: compliance with the family purity laws grants women an intimate space and time, which are pointed out as one of the most important acquisitions in the long journey of religious conversion.
Let me quote some extracts from two conversations, which are illustrative of many others, and which reflect the understanding ba'alot teshuvak have of their experiences with respect to the ritual which culminates with the mikve:
My first immersion in the mikve was, for me, a very good experience. It took place on a Wednesday. Then, I came back the next month, and I returned again and again and again. And, gradually, my husband and I complied with the laws more rigorously. Each time I'm in the mikve, I feel marvelously well. And the day in which I prepare myself for the mikve, I joke around saying it is the day of my betrothal, understand? In the sense that this is a day reserved for me, a day for me and my family. A day that is different from other days.
You see, to study of the laws of taharat ha'mishpacha (17) is a very pure form of learning, so beautiful! And it influences you in a very profound way, for you learn a different vision of what to teach your children....And [the rabbis] say that when you study and observe this miztvah, you have a different kind of unity with your children. When you study, you begin to understand when you are pure or impure im·pure
adj. im·pur·er, im·pur·est
1. Not pure or clean; contaminated.
2. Not purified by religious rite; unclean.
3. Immoral or sinful: impure thoughts. . And the period in which you do not have intercourse Verb 1. have intercourse - have sexual intercourse with; "This student sleeps with everyone in her dorm"; "Adam knew Eve"; "Were you ever intimate with this man?" with your husband is a very important period. Because during these days, it's as though you and your husband are...more united. It's not just a physical thing, you feel something in your soul, do you understand? Unfortunately, before lachzor bi'teshuvah, (18) I always had problems with my husband concerning this issue! But, now, practicing and studying the taharat ha'mishpacha, my husband and I are getting along much better intimately. Much better!
The experiences narrated by these women--and by many others--express the feeling of well-being they have acquired, in which a new way of perceiving their conjugal relationships in particular, and their relationships with their families in general, is emphasized. At the same time, and as can be gathered from the "manuals for Jewish women" (19) and the statements registered by Kaufman, (20) the observance of the family purity laws associate the woman with a spiritual sphere which transcends her. Other recurrent ideas, present throughout the interviews, stress the protection and respect with which women are treated within the Orthodox community, and the pride they feel for being responsible for maintaining an "authentically" Jewish home. The strict delimitation of the roles of husband and wife is understood as a necessary and positive value, which confers control and autonomy on the ba'alot teshuvah, not only in the domestic sphere, but also with respect to themselves and their bodies. Therefore, the days in whi ch sexual intercourse sexual intercourse
or coitus or copulation
Act in which the male reproductive organ enters the female reproductive tract (see reproductive system). is prohibited are experienced as anew period of time, in which husband and wife relate to each other on a spiritual plane, thus enhancing the bonds of companionship between them. It is interesting to note that both the ba'alei teshuvak and the rabbis and rabbi's wives I interviewed tend to resort to psychological justification to legitimate this custom. In fact, the new Orthodox women frequently comment on research carried out by therapists from several different backgrounds in order to sanction the benefits for the couple that result from compliance with the family purity laws.
Some further questions deserve our attention: what are the implications, within contemporary Orthodox communities, of defining menstruating women as impure? Does the Halakhah constitute the only institution endowed with meaning for the consummation of the family purity laws? Does the ba'alot teshuvah interpretation of this mitzvah constitute a paradigmatic See paradigm. example of their process of religious conversion?
Although research undertaken by Davidman and Kaufman (21) concerning North American New Orthodox Jewish Women discusses the consequences that the new sex segregating roles exercise on ba'alot teshuvak, they do not tell us anything about these issues. Their analyses have focused on the development of a new feminine identity, as the exclusive result of the functions of solidarity and cohesion developed among women: "They [the ba'alot teshuva] seem to expand the domestic limits set by patriarchal living, not by entering a man's world, but by creating a world of their own. The solidarity, self-esteem, and strength they receive from this world reinforces them in their celebration of difference and woman-centered values and in making the claims upon the community as a whole for care, commitment, and connectedness." (22)
These analyses portray a situation similar to that of the Brazilian ba'alot teshuvah. Nevertheless, these views privilege the ba'alot teshuvah's interpretations of themselves and tend to focus on the social functions of the family purity laws without taking into consideration their symbolic aspect. Other rituals which could be adopted by the New Orthodox women in order to live an "authentically" Jewish life are not taken into consideration. This framework makes it difficult to comprehend the obstacles faced by the ba'alot teshuvah during the process of religious conversion which, in the above mentioned studies, is presented as a continuous evolution, free of conflicts and/or controversies.
This phenomenon is, to say the least, a curious one, if we presume that the process of adhering to the complex ritualistic system which characterizes Jewish Orthodoxy--perhaps the most vivid example of an orthopractical religion--implies a transformation within all spheres of social living, both public and private. In this sense, and with the objective of contributing to the better comprehension of the process of religious conversion which is experienced by ba'alot teshuvah, we could ask ourselves what were the conflicts which they had to overcome in order to become "good Jews" and, among these, which were or still are the most difficult ones.
Naase Ve'Nishma, (23) or Some Interpretations Concerning Feminine Vanity
When I began to participate in the activities organized by the Orthodox synagogues and study centers, and to observe the heterogeneity of followers and sympathizers, I felt compelled to delimit de·lim·it also de·lim·i·tate
tr.v. de·lim·it·ed also de·lim·i·tat·ed, de·lim·it·ing also de·lim·i·tat·ing, de·lim·its also de·lim·i·tates
To establish the limits or boundaries of; demarcate. the criteria for defining the ba'alei and ba'alot teshuvah who would later be my interlocutors. There was nothing better than using their own criteria for classifying themselves as members of the Orthodox community. These are: compliance with the precepts concerning shabbat, kashrut kash·rut also kash·ruth
1. The state of being kosher.
2. The body of Jewish dietary law.
[Mishnaic Hebrew ka , and family purity. As far as the ba'alot teshuvah are concerned, it came as a surprise to me that a significant number of women who adhere strictly to the above mentioned mitzvot and traditions prescribed by the Halakhah do not wear wigs or any apparel used to cover their heads, even though there is a tradition that this demonstrates modesty, a trait which is expected of every married Jewish woman.
As I mentioned before, establishing a dialogue on this issue was not easy; and the ba'alot teshuvah reactions oscillated between avoiding the theme and considering it completely irrelevant. On the other hand, several ba'alot teshuvah admitted that the incorporation of the wig, hat, or headdress headdress, head covering or decoration, protective or ceremonial, which has been an important part of costume since ancient times. Its style is governed in general by climate, available materials, religion or superstition, and the dictates of fashion. into their daily routines was a difficult, gradual process, characterized by several stages. In the beginning, women only accepted covering their heads while celebrating shabbat in the synagogue. Soon and progressively they accepted this practice on other occasions. First, this occurred in clearly Orthodox settings such as, for example, Jewish holidays, religious commemorations, and weddings. Afterwards this took place within the bounds of their households-until they finally accepted wearing the shaitl in public non-Jewish places.
From the point of view of the religious congregations, seizing all opportunities to bring lay Jews closer to Orthodoxy, the shaitl did not seem to be a theme worthy of reflection. There are no articles dedicated to this theme in the numerous publications that dedicate themselves to explaining hundreds of mitzvot and Orthodox customs, either through discussions concerning the Halakhahor through allegorical exegesis exegesis
Scholarly interpretation of religious texts, using linguistic, historical, and other methods. In Judaism and Christianity, it has been used extensively in the study of the Bible. Textual criticism tries to establish the accuracy of biblical texts. . The same occurs with respect to the manual addressed to Jewish women, with the greatest circulation among Brazilian ba'alot teshuvah, which concentrates exclusively on the family purity laws.
Another particularly suggestive example of the treatment given this theme is observed in Rachel's Daughter: Newly Orthodox Jewish Women (24) Thus in a footnote Kaufman states that, among her study subjects, only half the women belonging to the Modern Orthodox trend use wigs, in contrast to the total number of Chassidic women. In another footnote, the author explains the Orthodox practice which requires that married women cover their heads. She then makes some comments on the two perspectives from which North American ba'alot teshuvah begin to interpret this custom: 1) As a means of insinuating the control men have over women, and 2) as a way of making explicit female sanctity and pride. (25) Nonetheless, as contradictory as data seems to be, so far no analysis has helped us to comprehend the importance of this tradition in the Orthodox Jewish System; much less do people understand the factors which influence women to make decisions concerning whether or not to use the shaitl.
However, if the wig is not considered a relevant issue for discussion, or is dealt with only marginally in the above mentioned texts, (26) it undoubtedly constitutes an issue of great importance in the Orthodox communities, since it has provoked discussions among rabbis from different streams. Thus, in the chapter "The ideal of modesty and women's fashion," of his fascinating book, Ha'charedim, (27) Amnon Levy tells us, in detail, the struggle against wigs which was launched by rabbis from Meah Shearim Meah Shearim, (Hebrew: מאה שערים), is one of the oldest neighborhoods of Jerusalem, bounded on the north by Meah Shearim St. and B'nei Brak brak 1
S African a crossbred dog; mongrel [Dutch]
S African (of water) slightly salty; brackish [Afrikaans] . (28) According to Levy, both at the end of the 1970s and in 1987, there was a huge mobilization in the ultra-Orthodox Israeli communities, when several rabbinical rab·bin·i·cal also rab·bin·ic
Of, relating to, or characteristic of rabbis.
[From obsolete rabbin, rabbi, from French, from Old French rabain, probably from Aramaic authorities tried to impose severe criteria for compliance with the law which prescribes that married women should cover their heads. This was a reaction to the growing diffusion of wigs which attracted attention, and were considered immodest im·mod·est
1. Lacking modesty.
a. Offending against sexual mores in conduct or appearance; indecent: a bathing suit considered immodest by the local people.
b. or brazen in both communities. Within this context the rabbis' strategy was, in the first plac e, to prohibit the use of wigs, suggesting that scarves and hats be substituted. As a consequence of women's apathy and frank defiance, they created laws defining models, sizes, and colors of wigs which were considered kosher. It is interesting to note that, despite the implementation of several different mechanisms of social control used to oblige women to comply to their decrees involving the Halakhah, the failure of rabbis and even Grand rabbis was absolute. Both in Meah Shearim and B'nei Brak, women continued to use wigs according to their own criteria of modesty, among which they privileged esthetic es·thet·ic
Variant of aesthetic. aspects and issues concerning fashion.
The data mentioned above are clear and reveal that, both in the Brazilian ba'alot teshuvah community and in the ultra-Orthodox Israeli communities, the shaitl represents an arena of conflict between the rabbinical authorities and Orthodox women; furthermore, the wig seems to emerge as a sphere--probably the only one--in which feminine desires are capable of imposing themselves within the essentially masculine system of the Halakhah. Indeed, even if, for the ba'alot teshuvah, covering one's head--whether it is done with a wig, a hat, or a headdress--is the most difficult mitzvah to obey, in the long journey which will convert them into devoted Jewish women, for the women from Meah Shearim and B'nei Brak, refusing to use the wig is out of the question. There is no doubt that this is a phenomenon which, at first glance, seems to express women's desire to keep a dimension of their lives, which they consider important, under their control: the esthetic factor which, curiously enough, reflects itself less with resp ect to clothing and more with respect to the shaitl or on the ways in which one covers and uncovers one's hair.
How can we comprehend the different ways in which the ba'alot teshuvah incorporate rituals and symbols of the Orthodox Jewish tradition, especially the family purity laws and the use--or lack of use--of the wig? With this objective in mind, let me propose an analysis which will focus on the public and private dimensions of symbols and rituals, their levels of manipulation by Orthodox women, and the symbology sym·bol·o·gy
1. The study or interpretation of symbols or symbolism.
2. The use of symbols.
1. the study and interpretation of symbols. Also called symbolism. of hair in Jewish tradition.
Science vs. Religion, Society vs. Community, or the Meaning-Legitimating Institutions in Postmodernity
Immersion in the mikve represents the last stage of a rite of passage rite of passage
A ritual or ceremony signifying an event in a person's life indicative of a transition from one stage to another, as from adolescence to adulthood. , whose function it is to purify the menstruating woman (nida) and to make it possible for her to resume her marital life, a central value in the Jewish religious system. As was mentioned earlier, it is a mitzvah which rules the principle of family purity and falls upon the woman, directly and exclusively, for she is the only person responsible for its consummation.
We witnessed the enthusiasm with which the ba'alot teshuvak recount the experiences related to this mitzvah; let's follow the steps of this complex rite of transition from the nida (impure) state to the state of tahara (purity). Basically, this rite is divided into three phases: separation (between husband and wife), preparation (the woman counts five days of her menstrual flow menstrual flow Menstrual discharge, period Gynecology The vaginal bleeding that occurs monthly from menarche to menopause, which lasts for 2–7 days of a discharge averaging 60–70 mL. See Menstruation. , then seven additional days, and verifies if her menstruation menstruation, periodic flow of blood and cells from the lining of the uterus in humans and most other primates, occurring about every 28 days in women. Menstruation commences at puberty (usually between age 10 and 17). has ceased), and sanctification (purifying immersion in the mikve). The most complex of these three phases, and the furthest removed from the customs of secular life led by these women before they opted for Orthodoxy, is the process of preparation which precedes the ritual bath of purification. Indeed, in order to follow the Halakhah strictly, these women have to learn intricate--and, as some of them stressed, disagreeable--techniques so as not to commit errors in counting the days of the phase known as shiva nekiim (seven clean days). Furthermore, it should also be recalled that, in order to consummate the ritual of the family purity laws, the ba'alot teshuvah must study and put in practice a long series of precepts and customs that range from becoming familiar with the Jewish calendar Jewish calendar
The lunisolar calendar used to mark the events of the Jewish year, dating the creation of the world at 3761 b.c. See Table at calendar.
Noun 1. , to accepting the numerous precepts, whose goal is to avoid any physical contact with the husband when she is ritually unclean. Finally, it is necessary to stress that whatever doubt emerges during the phase of preparation cannot be resolved by the woman herself, but only by a rabbi who legislates on this theme, and who will give the final verdict in relation to the possibility of resuming or not marital relations.
This is probably why the women interviewed by Kaufman (29) asserted that compliance with the family purity laws, implies, in a certain sense, women's (the wife and female member of the Orthodox Jewish community) submission to men (the husband and the rabbi). With respect to the third phase which, according to Van Gennep's (30) classical scheme, is denominated incorporation (in this case, of the state of purity), there is an agreement among ba'alot teshuvah with respect to the physical and spiritual pleasure associated with immersion in the mikve, undoubtedly, this is one of the reasons why it functions as an incentive in relation to the preceding phases.
Rules regarding physical and sexual segregation between husband and wife during the period in which the wife is considered impure are widespread among several cultures. Within Judaism, the polluting effect adjudicated to menstruating women is referred to for the first time in the Bible (Leviticus 15:19-24) and has been interpreted, throughout the centuries, in more rigid or lenient fashion. (31) However, very little is said, in the discourse of the ba'alot teshuvah interviewed, concerning the importance of this precept according to the Torah, or Divine will, or discussions of the Halakhah. On the other hand, a lot was said about the positive effect of this mitzvah, its secondary benefits and, as was stressed above, about the positive view of this practice in modern psychology and psychiatry.
But, what arguments can be used to reinforce the custom governing the conduct of married women, according to which they must cover their heads? From the perspective of some ba'alot teshuvah, this mitzvah makes no sense, a conclusion which seemed to release them from the obligation of complying with this commandment. Let us examine the way in which two women explain this point:
I don't believe that whether I do or do not use a wig can be used as a standard to evaluate my religious commitment and I will not be more respected or respectful a woman because I use a wig. Look, I've seen cases of women who use wigs which are more beautiful than their own hair, much more attractive.... Anyhow, this issue of the wig does not concern me, I was never able to observe this.... I can even accept the rule of covering one's head with a scarf to go to shul shul
[Yiddish, from Middle High German schuol, school, from Old High German scuola, from Latin scola; see school1.] , (32) but using the wig, no!!!! It doesn't make any sense!
Using a wig is not a Halakhah, it is a custom. I studied this point well with my husband. It is a custom, not a halakhah. Why then would I have to use a wig? There is no reason for this, of course there isn't!
From both statements, one can gather an unusual (innovative?) freedom to interpret the Halakhah which, as we know, within the Orthodox system, is the monopoly of the rabbis, that is, men. We could still ask ourselves why other milzvot, that also seemed to be exempt of benefits, and whose explanations are still obscure, even for the Grand Rabbis, are put in practice to the letter by these women who, unanimously, explain them in the following way to an indiscreet anthropologist: the first and last objective of the mitzvot is to shape human nature in order to put it in harmony with Divine will. Thus it is not in man's power-and surely not in woman's power-to discuss them or try to find rational explanations or discover the benefits which accrue from them. It should be noted, on the other hand, that this Orthodox view of the world, that is, the apparent arbitrariness of some mitzvot, accompanied by the obligation to obey them because they are God's will, repeats itself in several different ways in the sermons and speeches of doctrinaire doc·tri·naire
A person inflexibly attached to a practice or theory without regard to its practicality.
Of, relating to, or characteristic of a person inflexibly attached to a practice or theory. See Synonyms at dictatorial. rabbis.
The ease with which the ba'alot teshuvah adopt the family purity laws, by contrast with the difficulties encountered in accepting the practice which prescribes the use of wigs by married women, calls out for analysis. In order to deal with this observed dissonance let me discuss briefly the symbol of hair in Jewish tradition. I will then delineate some interpretations linked to the manipulation of religious actors, when different institutions are called forth to attribute meaning to certain mitzvot.
There are several Jewish rites in which hair has a central role. Among these, it is worth mentioning the first haircut The first haircut for a human has special significance in certain cultures and religions. It can be considered a rite of passage or a milestone. United States babies , when boys are three years old, a practice which is widely disseminated within the Hassidic Orthodox communities and among those communities which are prone to mysticism. The meaning of customs involving hair found in the biblical texts are varied. Baumgarten (33) in his analyses of the interdiction to cutting one's hair among the Nazarene (Leviticus 10:8-1l), concludes that their sanctity and special status resided in their long hair. Analogously, he points out that Samson's power also derived from his long hair which, once cut, transformed him into a man who was as fragile as others.
However, if long hair is inextricably in·ex·tri·ca·ble
a. So intricate or entangled as to make escape impossible: an inextricable maze; an inextricable web of deceit.
b. related to power and has a privileged status within Judaism, anthropology has developed many different interpretations for understanding the meaning of hair in rituals within several cultures; whether these deal with interdictions about cutting hair or obligations to cut one's hair very short. In his paper "Social Hair," C. R. Hallpike (34) concludes that numerous ethnographic studies ethnographic studies,
n.pl methods of qualitative research developed by anthropologists, in which the researcher attends to and inter-prets communication while participating in the research context. endorse his hypothesis that short hair or close-cut hair: 1) indicates that the person in question lives under a regime of discipline to which she or he owes obedience and, 2) signifies that the subject was readmitted into a specific community. In general, longhair signifies liberty and permissiveness, while short hair implies social control. Obeyeskere, (35) in turn, affirms that hair, like other symbols, is part of a broad interpersonal and intercommunicative grammar. In other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently , different kinds of (emotional and cognitive) messages are conveyed through hair which can only be deciphere d by taking into consideration their institutional or personal-experiential context Furthermore, he claims that it is not relevant to distinguish public and private symbols with respect to hair but, on the contrary, to point out its personal and public dimensions. (36)
But, what messages are conveyed by wearing the wig, the hat, or the scarf as is required of the newly orthodox Jewish women in order to hide their hair? To appreciate the meanings of their hair for the ba'alot teshuvah, it is necessary to consider the orthodox context and the broader context of society at large. I believe that it is from this double perspective that we can understand many women's refusal to adopt the wig.
In Judaism, the precept that requires married women to cover their hair is more imperative than the one that obliges men to wear the skullcap skull·cap
n Latin names:
Scutellaria laterifolia, Scutellaria baicalensis; . (37) The wig, on the other hand, communicates to the community the woman's marital status marital status,
n the legal standing of a person in regard to his or her marriage state. , that is her submission to her husband. Steinsaltz reminds us that within the practice of Jewish tradition and also its linguistic usage, an uncovered head indicates limitless licentiousness Acting without regard to law, ethics, or the rights of others.
The term licentiousness is often used interchangeably with lewdness or lasciviousness, which relate to moral impurity in a sexual context.
LICENTIOUSNESS. . Therefore, this would seem to be one more ethnographic case which confirms Hallpike's hypothesis that short hair or close-cut hair implies social control, discipline, and submission. (38)
But let's see, within the context of Brazilian contemporary society, what messages are conveyed implicitly by the wig. The answer to this question is not difficult to find: the wig represents antiquated feminine apparel, which is antiesthetic and, in many cases, an indicator of a terminal illness. In fact, the few ba'alot teshuvak willing to talk about this theme recognized the discomfort associated with using a wig, in addition to the sensation of feeling "ugly" and "suffocated."
As was pointed out previously, one of the characteristics of hair, defined as a symbol which is simultaneously public and private, is its susceptibility to manipulation on the part of religious actors. This phenomenon becomes clear when we verify that both women born into Orthodox families as well as newly Orthodox women encounter hair as a symbol that, due to its intrinsic characteristics, they can adapt to their own necessities or desires as women. With respect to the message conveyed by the wig in the Brazilian context, it should be added that it represents the most relevant distinguishing mark of the ethno-religious identity of the ba'alot teshuvah and their belonging to an ethnic minority group considered "exotic" by the society at large.
Up to this point I have presented what I consider to be the most significant aspects of the two rituals analyzed: the family purity laws and the obligation married women have to cover their hair, pointing out the differences with respect to adherence to these commandments by ba'alot teshuvah. In what follows I will attempt to answer the questions and paradoxes raised and to propose some conclusions which may help us to understand the observed dissonances. This will lead to reflection on the institutions among which the ba'alot teshuvah circulate, and which produce meaning.
As was pointed out previously, the family purity laws are easily adopted by the newly orthodox women. They stress their therapeutic aspects (with respect to the conjugal relationship as well as the broader family relationships). Both rabbis and ba'alei teshuvah in general (that is men as well as women) defer to modern psychiatry and psychology to sanction this practice. We should emphasize that, despite the fact that it constitutes one of the three pillars of Judaism, the family purity laws represent an "invisible" ritual whose enactment is the exclusive responsibility of husband and wife. In other words, compliance and the degree of rigor rigor /rig·or/ (rig´er) [L.] chill; rigidity.
rigor mor´tis the stiffening of a dead body accompanying depletion of adenosine triphosphate in the muscle fibers. in compliance are outside the limits of the community's control, particularly when considering social actors who frequent several different religious congregations. And in contrast with what is observed in other societies, (39) in Judaism, at least in principle, the state of impurity im·pu·ri·ty
n. pl. im·pu·ri·ties
1. The quality or condition of being impure, especially:
a. Contamination or pollution.
b. Lack of consistency or homogeneity; adulteration.
c. of a woman does not have a domino effect in other areas of social life. (40)
Concerning the precept of wearing the wig, the words of a rabbi who belongs to the Chabad Lubavitch stream are illustrative: "The wig is a mitzvah which cannot be understood, it is a mitzvah which removes a woman's beauty. It implies nothing more than a huge headache, it is one of the most difficult mitzvot....But we should remember (41) that the wig is an obligation, it's a mitzvah from the Torah." Reality indicates, however, that the ba'alot teshuvak don't seem to "remember" and, if they remember the importance of this commandment, they feel free to re-interpret it.
Thus despite the fact that Jewish Orthodoxy defines itself as a closed system, bearer of a unique and absolute truth, it is easy to notice that some of its new members do not share this same view. To be more precise, if in their discourse, they constantly repeat this view, their conduct reveals certain contradictions. (42) Where shall we search for the origin of this discrepancy? I shall take the risk of stating that it may be found in some of the characteristics inherent in the teshuvah movement, defined as a contemporary movement of religious conversion.
In this sense, the search for transcendence and for belonging to a community, typical of these movements, should be understood as a project of Modernity. Within this project the religious agents, in this case, the Brazilian ba'alei teshuvah interpret and decipher the religious systems as active individuals--and not as passive, faithful followers--offering to themselves, as a personal project, a new system of values, beliefs, and symbols which they successfully adapt.
However, this rational choice--which is sometimes also a utilitarian one--of a new religion, even when it is an almost hermetic hermetic /her·met·ic/ (her-met´ik) impervious to air.
her·met·ic or her·met·i·cal
Completely sealed, especially against the escape or entry of air. system such as Jewish Orthodoxy, does not liberate the Brazilian ba'alei and ba'alot teshuvah from moving across "provinces of different religious meanings," (43) or from having internalized, even if unconsciously, the subjective polysemy of contemporary religious experience. (44) And, even though in this case, this process does not lead to a form of religious syncretism, the ba'alei teshuvah achieve a particular synthesis involving systems with divergent meanings, such as religion and science, and in this case, esthetic values of the society at large. The latter is used to sanction rituals and precepts imposed by the former, conferring meaning, authority and legitimacy to it. This is the case of the family purity laws.
We find the reverse side of this phenomenon in some ba'alei teshuvah's refusal to follow the precepts which oblige married women to cover their heads. This resistance expresses--albeit in an attenuated form, taking into consideration the Brazilian market of religious commodities--a characteristic trait of the religious conversion movements which are constantly growing and expanding: the juxtaposition or amalgam of values, ideas, and symbols belonging to different religious and intellectual traditions. Thus, the fact that the ba'alot teshuvah feel free to choose whether they use or do not use the wig, reflects the same tendency observed in the consummation of the family purity laws, even though in an inverted form. Now what is stressed is that a practice which does not find any support in science, and which only possesses negative connotations in the symbolic system The term symbolic system is used in the field of anthropology and sociology to refer to a system of interconnected symbolic meanings.
For complex systems of symbols, the term is preferred to symbolism of society at large, is being questioned. In both situations, the ba'alei teshuvah move across institutions with divergent meanings--modern scienc e and "authentic" or Orthodox Judaism--articulating them in different ways upon a foundation built from a personal, individual, and individualistic logic, which holds little resemblance to the blind obedience demanded of every orthodox Jewish devotee.
Having come to this point, after an incursion in·cur·sion
1. An aggressive entrance into foreign territory; a raid or invasion.
2. The act of entering another's territory or domain.
3. into the world of the ba'alot teshuvah, it would seem possible to find an answer to their intriguing reticence in speaking about the practice of covering their heads. I would like to suggest the hypothesis that they prefer maintaining their silence out of respect. They know that they are publicly infringing a commandment. This phenomenon would impede them from reciting, with the psalmist psalm·ist
A writer or composer of psalms.
a writer of psalms
Noun 1. : "Happy is the man who fears the LORD, who is ardently devoted to His commandments" (Psalms 112:1).
This text presents some of the results of a larger study concerning the teshuvah movement in the city of Sao Paulo. Taking into consideration the objectives of this study, I defined as ba'al teshuvah that person who has been following, at least for the last two years, the three pillars that determine whether ones belongs to Jewish orthodoxy: following the commandments that govern the shabbat, the kashrut and family purity laws.
(1.) Mikve (Hebrew): simultaneously, the ritual bath of purification and the ritual bath-house.
(2.) Yeshivot (Hebrew): plural of Yeshiva: schools of religious studies for young men.
(3.) These institutions are linked to various sects of Jewish Orthodoxy. Among these, the following should be underscored: the Chabad-Lubavitch Movement, whose first members arrived from the United States in the mid-seventies, and which now has dozens of synagogues in Brazil; the Orthodox communities which are dependent on Binyan Olam (a Latin-American schism of the hierosolimite yeshiva, Eish Ha'Tora, with a strong Lithuanian tradition); and the Mekor Haim temple (a Sephardic synagogue which, at present, represents the most radical wing of Brazilian Orthodoxy).
(4.) P. Berger, O Dossel dos·sal also dos·sel
An ornamental hanging of rich fabric, as behind an altar.
[Medieval Latin doss Sagrado: elementos para uma teoria sociologica da religiao (Sao Paulo: Paulus, 1985), p. 150.
(5.) Janet Aviad, Return to Judaism: Religious Renewal in Israel (Chicago: University of Chicago Press The University of Chicago Press is the largest university press in the United States. It is operated by the University of Chicago and publishes a wide variety of academic titles, including The Chicago Manual of Style, dozens of academic journals, including , 1983); Murray Herbert Danzger, Returning to Tradition: The Contemporary Revival of Orthodox Judaism (New Haven New Haven, city (1990 pop. 130,474), New Haven co., S Conn., a port of entry where the Quinnipiac and other small rivers enter Long Island Sound; inc. 1784. Firearms and ammunition, clocks and watches, tools, rubber and paper products, and textiles are among the many : Yale University Yale University, at New Haven, Conn.; coeducational. Chartered as a collegiate school for men in 1701 largely as a result of the efforts of James Pierpont, it opened at Killingworth (now Clinton) in 1702, moved (1707) to Saybrook (now Old Saybrook), and in 1716 was Press, 1989); Debra R. Kaufman, "Coming Home to Jewish Orthodoxy: Reactionary or Radical Women?," Tikkun 2.3 (1988); Debra R. Kaufman, Rachel's Daughters: Newly Orthodox Jewish Women (New Brunswick New Brunswick, province, Canada
New Brunswick, province (2001 pop. 729,498), 28,345 sq mi (73,433 sq km), including 519 sq mi (1,345 sq km) of water surface, E Canada. : Rutgers University Press Rutgers University Press is a nonprofit academic publishing house, operating in Piscataway, New Jersey under the auspices of Rutgers University. The press was founded in 1936, and since that time has grown in size and in the scope of its publishing program. , 1993); Lynn Davidman, Tradition in a Rooless World: Women Turn to Orthodox Judaism (Los Angeles Los Angeles (lôs ăn`jələs, lŏs, ăn`jəlēz'), city (1990 pop. 3,485,398), seat of Los Angeles co., S Calif.; inc. 1850. : University of California Press "UC Press" redirects here, but this is also an abbreviation for University of Chicago Press
University of California Press, also known as UC Press, is a publishing house associated with the University of California that engages in academic publishing. , 1991); N. salomon, "Judaism in the New Europe New Europe is a rhetorical term used by conservative political analysts in the United States to describe European post-Communist era countries.
"New European" countries were originally distinguished by their governments' support of the 2003 war in Iraq, as opposed to an "Old : Discovery or Invention?," in Jewish Identities in the New Europe, edited by Jonathan Webber (London: Litman Library of Jewish Civilization, 1994).
(6.) Aviad (1983) and Danzger (1989) undertook comparative analyses of the North American and Israeli ba'alei teshuvah.
(7.) C. Brandao, "A crise das instituicoes tradicionais produtoras de sentido" em Alberto Moreira e Renee Zicman (orgs): Misticismo e Novas Religioes (Petropolis: Editora Vozes, 1994); R. Cipriani, La religione diffusa. Teoria e prassi (Roma: Ed. Borla, 1988); A. Moreira and R. Zicman, orgs., Misticismo e novas religioes (Petropolis: Editora Vozes, 1994); A. P. Oro and C. A. Steil, "Introducao, "em Ibidem IBIDEM. This word is used in references, when it is intended to say that a thing is to be found in the same place, or that the reference has for its object the same thing, case, or other matter. IOU, contracts. , Globalizacao e Religiao (Petropolis: Editora Vozes, 1997); P. Sanchis, "O campo religioso contemporaneo no Brasil" em. A. Oro e A. Steil (orgs). Globalizacao e Religiao. (Petropolis: Editora Vozes, 1997).
(8.) Sanchis, 1997.
(9.) Apparently, one of the ways in which my research subjects distinguish themselves from New Orthodox Jews in Israel and the United States described by Aviad (1983), Danzger (1989), Davidman (1991), and Kaufman(1993), is that only two of the former participated in non-Jewish cults before opting for Orthodoxy.
(10.) A Sephardic yeshiva located in a municipality in the outskirts of Sao Paulo, where both Sephardic and Ashkenazim youths over 13 years of age proceed with their religious studies. The yeshiva, which is a boarding school, includes in its curriculum both religious and secular studies and offers special courses for college students.
(11.) Keruv (Hebrew): an expression used to designate the process through which several rabbis try to draw lay Jews closer to Orthodoxy.
(12.) Research carried out by Aviad (1983), Danzger (1989), Davidman (1991), and Kaufman(1993) concerning the teshuvah phenomenon in the United States and Israel reveal significant differences between the Chasidic and Lithuanian communities. Among these, it is worthwhile noting, the strategies used in co-opting new members, the level of commitment demanded of them, and the role rabbis play in the process of conversion. At the same time, the data indicate the existence of significant differences in the profile of the ba'alei teshuvah that identify themselves with each of the congregations contemplated by the above cited authors.
(13.) See Topel (M. Topel, "Do retorno ao passado pas·sa·do
n. pl. pas·sa·dos or pas·sa·does
A fencing maneuver in which the foil is thrust forward and one foot advanced at the same time. e da construcao do futuro: algumas observacoes sobre os baalei teshuva de Sao Paulo," em REVISTA DE LINGUA lingua /lin·gua/ (ling´gwah) pl. lin´guae [L.] tongue.lin´gual
lingua geogra´phica benign migratory glossitis.
lingua ni´gra black tongue. E LITERATURA HEBRAICA, N0. 3,2001 [no prelo]), in this paper the intricate and indirect forms through which the family of the ba'alot teshuvah incorporate, voluntarily or involuntarily, Orthodox values, concepts and rituals. This is an eminently qualitative study due to the fact that it is analyzing a recent phenomenon. However, some of the data are elucidative of the "Orthodox revival" taking place in Sao Paulo. Thus, during the last ten years, twenty Orthodox synagogues were built in a city which, until 1990, had only seven so called "traditionalist" synagogues. On the other hand, if in the sixties there were less than ten Orthodox rabbis, the community now has more than one hundred.
(14.) Clifford Geertz, Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988).
(15.) Davidman, 1991.
(16.) Kaufman, 1993.
(17.) Hebrew: family purity.
(18.) Hebrew: embracing Orthodoxy.
(19.) See, for example, T. Abramov, 0 segredo da feminilidade judaica (Sao Paulo: Editora Colel Tora, (1997).
(20.) Kaufman, 1993, pp. 80-83.
(21.) Davidman, 1991; Kaufman, 1993.
(22.) Kaufman, 1993, pp. 113-114.
(23.) Exodus (24:7), in the Orthodox tradition, this verse is interpreted as the obligation to follow all laws or precepts, despite the fact that one cannot find a rational explanation for doing so within them.
(24.) Kaufman, 1993.
(25.) Kaufman, 1993, p. 180.
(26.) Curiously enough, in her well-known ethnography concerning a community of Orthodox women in Israel, Tamar El-Or also does not analyze the custom concerning the use of wigs. Tamar El-Or, Maskilot Ve'burot: me'olaman skel nashim charediot (Educadas e ignorantes: O mundo das mulheres ultra-ortodoxas) (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1998) (hebraico).
(27.) Amnon Levy, The Ultra-Orthodox (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, n.d.).
(28.) Two ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Israel.
(29.) Kaufman, 1993.
(30.) Arnold Van Gennep Arnold van Gennep (23 April, 1873 - 1957) was a noted French ethnographer and folklorist.
He was born in Ludwigsburg, Germany. At the age of six his widowed mother married a French doctor who moved the family to Savoy. , The Rites of Passage, translated by Monika B. Vizedom and Gabrielle L. Caffee (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960).
(31.) See Hyam Maccoby, Ritual and Morality: The Ritual Purity System and its Place in Judaism (New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of : Cambridge University Press Cambridge University Press (known colloquially as CUP) is a publisher given a Royal Charter by Henry VIII in 1534, and one of the two privileged presses (the other being Oxford University Press). , 1999).
(32.) Yiddish: synagogue.
(33.) A. I. Baumgarten, "Hatta't Sacrifices," Review Biblique t. 103-3 (1996): p. 341.
(34.) C. R. Hallpike, "Social Hair," MAN 4.2 (1969).
(35.) Obeyeskere, 1984.
(36.) Obeyeskere, 1984, p. 45.
(37.) R. Steinsaltz, Teshuva: Um guia para o judeu recem-praticante (Sao Paulo: Editora Maayanot, 1994), pp. 228-229.
(38.) Here it is important to point Out that the women who cover their heads, either with a wig or with another piece of apparel, use very short hair.
(39.) A very different situation is observed in Chinese society, in which the polluting effect of menstruating women implies in diverse consequences in social life. Thus, it is prohibited for women in an impure state to enter temples, pray and, in some cases, they are isolated from the rest of the community. On the other hand, extraordinary powers are attributed to impure women, both in doing harm and in doing well. See Emily M. Ahern, "The Power and Pollution of Chinese Women," in Women in Chinese Society, edited by Margery Wolf and Roxane Witke (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1975).
(40.) See Blue Greemberg, "Women and Judaism," in Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought: Original Essayson Critical Concepts, Movements, and Beliefs, edited by Arthur A. Cohen cohen
(Hebrew: “priest”) Jewish priest descended from Zadok (a descendant of Aaron), priest at the First Temple of Jerusalem. The biblical priesthood was hereditary and male. and Paul Mendes-Flohr (New York: Macmillian Inc., 1988), Hyam Maccoby 1999), and Debra R. Kaufman (1993).
(41.) The author is responsible for underscoring this word.
(42.) It is interesting to note that the rabbi himself is influenced by the esthetic values of society at large when he states that the wig makes a woman uglier.
(43.) Enzo Pace, "Religiao e Globalizacao," in Globalizacao e Religiao, edited by Ari Pedro Oro and Alberto Steil (Petropolis: Vozes, 1997).
(44.) Brandao, 1994.
MARTA F. TOPEL received a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Campinas (Brazil), and is a professor in the Program of Hebrew Language, Literature and Jewish Culture and also serves as Coordinator of the Jewish Studies Center at the University of Sao Paulo-Brasil.