Archive | August, 2009

As the fringe gets longer, the conversation gets wider

Crossposted to Jewschool

Tzitzit.

They’ve become a recurring thread in my life. I put them on three years ago and have missed only a few days since. I keep wearing them, talking about them, blogging about them, thinking about them. I just did a search of my blog for “tzitzit.” It’s a sizable percentage of posts that contain the word. My first post for Jewschool was even about tzitzit.

Now, finally, it seems I’ve become a progressive evangelist for them.

Here at the URJ and NFTY‘s Kutz Camp, I taught five Reform high school students about tzitzit an hour a day for five days. Two girls, three boys. One girl had spent part of her life in a yeshiva and one boy was from South Carolina or something like that.

The catch was that I required them to wear one of my fifteen or so sets of tzitzit for the five days of the elective. Four of them took me up on that requirement, the one who didn’t being the girl form the yeshiva. She told me it just wasn’t right for a girl to do that. More on that later. The other four all placed an order for their own tzitzit from my preferred online tzitzit dealer at the end of the week and kept wearing mine until theirs arrived.

Each day we debriefed. The four who wore the tzitzit each day all faced comments from their fellow Kutz participants ranging from confused to encouraging to negative. Some even called their parents to tell them about it. One mother wasn’t surprised, that mother being the most reminiscent of mine when I told her. One parent asserted confidently that it was a phase and not to buy more than one. Another seemed indifferent.

We also studied some texts. We looked at some midrash, some Torah, and some commentaries, cheif amongst them Rashi and Nehama Leibowtiz. I even finally found a use for the WRJ Torah Commentary, which has a great discussion of the sociological underpinnings of tzitzit.

Before the camp session was over, four or so more kids had approached me about trying it out.

And then, at this post from earlier this year, a comment appeared: “I’m curious– what’s your opinion on reform women wearing tzitzit in daily life?”

Well, why shouldn’t they? I know a few who do, but it’s even rarer than progressive men doing so. I can count the women and girls I know doing it on one hand.

But in the final assessment, I don’t think wearing tzitzit is good or bad, really. I don’t even think that women doing it is good or bad. I just want to broaden the conversation about it. And now, some girl who used to go to a yeshiva is going home with the tools to talk about it. And three guys and one girl are going back to mainstream Reform congregations acorss America, where their mere tzitzit-wearing presence will certainly start a conversation.

Or at least they’ll earn themselves a few suspicious glances.

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