A Medieval View of the Women at Sinai

It was once a widespread custom among Asheknazi Jews to recite the 10th-century Hebrew poem Adon Imnani on the holiday of Shavuot, which begins on Saturday night and celebrates the giving of the Torah. In one illuminated prayer book, composed in Germany around the year 1300, the opening word of this poem is accompanied by a peculiar illustration of Moses, Aaron, and the Israelites standing at Sinai. Marc Michael Epstein comments on the picture:

Behind a partition (a kind of synagogue m’ḥitsah) of flowering vines, a group of women with normal human bodies, but with the faces of animals, look to the heavens. Such depictions in Ashkenazi manuscripts are common, though here it must be noted that (unlike, say, in the famous Griffins’ Head Haggadah) men are given ordinary human features.

As the men look across toward Aaron and Moses, the women gaze upward at the letter alef, which begins the first word of the poem on the page. . . . The endpoint of their gaze is the trumpets, which broadcast the divine voice. The foremost figure among the group of animal-headed women holds what I believe to be a siddur. If so, then she is the firzogerin (or zogerke), the woman in medieval Ashkenazi Jewish communities who was responsible for reciting, translating, and interpreting the prayers for the female section of the synagogue. This illumination undoubtedly makes Torah the province of men, but I understand this small and easily overlooked detail of the siddur to indicate that the experience of the divine presence is accessible to women through prayer.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: German Jewry, Jewish art, Jewish liturgy, Mount Sinai, Religion & Holidays, Shavuot

Why Haredi Jews Are Enlisting in the IDF

Unless it can get an extension from the Supreme Court, the Israeli government has until the end of March to formulate a law requiring more haredi Jews to serve in the military. This always contentious issue has become more contentious still with the IDF’s recently announced plan to extend the term of service for male conscripts from 32 to 36 months and to require reservists to spend more time in uniform. All this in addition to the unprecedented demands placed on reservists since the war began and the greater dangers to which troops are being exposed.

At the same time, the war has changed haredi attitudes toward the IDF and the Jewish state, leading some 2,000 young haredi men to volunteer. Cole Aronson interviewed several of them, and describes the attitudes he discovered:

Nobody I spoke to described enlisting as rebellion. These men are proud to serve and proud to be haredi. It is doubtful that their community’s leaders share this dual pride.

They do not care for the Z-word, but the new haredi soldiers I’ve spoken to sound remarkably like pre-state Zionists. Meir of Bnei Brak says he enlisted for the sake of “unity, responsibility, and re’ut.” The Hebrew means “friendship,” but “solidarity” may be more apt in context. However much Jews disagree about their spiritual destiny, they share a physical fate so long as they share a physical home. Of his recent decision to enlist, Meir Edelman of Beit Shemesh says that “this isn’t Zionism, it’s survival,” citing the main justification for the ideology in opposition to the ideology itself.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Haredim, IDF, Israeli society