Ezrat Nashim: Notes on Halakhic Womanhood

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Naima Hirsch Gelman



in all the times i’ve argued with myself about my practice
i never let myself win
even though all i want is to
let halakhic misogyny become rote
a one-size-fits-most ratty bathrobe bleached between dunks

and in all the times i’ve argued with dead men about my body
i was never told that purity burns like chlorine

this mitzvah is a swimming pool, my friend jokes
and she’s right
this mundanity (inanity) of ritualizing sex
or the inanity (insanity) of buying pre-checked cotton squares
instead of trusting underwear that’s served me well enough before

yet this all makes me feel adult
i belong to the club now, a full member
of the taharat ha-mishpaha mishpoche
a phone tree of mikveh ladies rooted in a genizah of unmentioned rules

leave your hair wet, lie when they ask you where you’ve been, you’ll understand when you are older

chlorine ought to keep things from growing
but this swimming pool waters my resentment
at the same time it names me woman
and i am grateful

Dear Daughter

I have not failed you yet.

I tell myself this now:
as I shuckle over small print & margin notes,
trace my unmanicured finger down columns of densely packed definitions,
bounce potential understandings back & forth with Leah & Talia,
and do my damned best not to drown in forty se’ah worth of tears
collected from traumatized women throughout the centuries.

I say to myself now that I have found your father,
but if I am wrong, I know there will be another man
to make me want to shackle myself
to this system I cannot seem to shake myself free from,
the only reason I still care about rings & reciprocity
is that I’m only guaranteed one.

Putting the right words to the right feelings
is not something I struggle with.
There is always the chance to edit, to return, to go back, to say again, to do better.

But with you, I need to get it right the first time around.


this could not be what God intended
to weaponize piety into barbed wire
wrench kedusha out of righteousness
wrestle with our holy indignation  

we, women, are not what God intended
to shackle behind impermeable latticework
banish past swirling spinning stairwells
imprison to white space between aleph and bet

we, women, are what God intended
to hold complexity in the lining of our wombs
explode the translation of rabbi
swim through burning mikveh waters

this must be what God intended
to build a sukkah without counting walls
branch out from padded tree houses
break Aramaic accounts of what rabbis said

for our yet-unborn daughters
for our already-gone grandmothers
let us raise the parchment flag high
let us chisel out of the walls a new temple
where our song will be heard

Naima Hirsch Gelman is a third year student at Yeshivat Maharat and a Rabbinic Fellow at the National Council for Jewish Women. She earned her BA from Hunter College in English (Creative Writing) with a minor in Women and Gender Studies. Her strong opinions about Judaism and feminism as well as her previous publications can be found on her website,