The Conspiracy

Can Men Bake Challah Too?

[CC: Kosherham]

In college, or at least my college, we learn about gender and sexuality. A lot. We learn of its performative nature, its implications in the underlying structures that we live in, and its complex ties to governance, capitalism, and production. We learn how it is oppressive and offensive and limiting. We learn how the role of male as breadwinner and of female as homemaker mean more than just who gets to wear what. I could talk about this all night.

Thankfully though, I don’t have to, because a fellow student writer over at the Jewish Week is talking about it too. What sparked this debate? The gender-crossing experience of challah baking. The article, The Disservice Orthodox Judaism Does, is a response to an earlier experience where the author, a male, participated in a “women’s” activity in order to see whether or not he would feel disoriented. The ensuing insights that are penned range from a brief sketch of Judith Butler’s theory of performativity to a call to all thinking Jews to face the civil rights realities of our generation.What do we do with traditions that are implicated in oppressive histories? How do we reconcile the cannon of patriarchal Jewish thought with social realities that we currently find unredeemable?

While overall, I would hesitate to equate “the women’s role” of baking challah with “the man’s role” of patriarchal superiority, I like what Snow is trying to get at. Gender consideration is not just a college campus fad, it is not a utopian civil right that will be forgotten once we “enter the real world.” “I can tell you this,” writes Snow. “Orthodoxy’s ongoing heteronormativity, that is, its alignment of anatomy, sexuality, and roles, is hastening a rupture for young thinking Jews between tradition and today… The conversation we need has hardly hit the Orthodox education system. I’m talking about engaging gender and sexuality in honest and open ways which affirm what we believe to be true everywhere outside the four corners of the beit midrash.”

I whole-heartedly agree. I refuse to sit through yet another Chabad dinner where the wife and her sister serve a four course meal to a packed table, while her husband sings himself deaf with niggunim. I refuse to continue hearing young jewish girls tell me that their classmates roll their eyes when they speak up in class about women’s issues, how they are called “feminist” like it is a dirty word, how they feel like second class citizens in a world of male intellectual and spiritual domination. I refuse to be told one more time that the reason women stay home on Friday nights while men go to shul is because they “are more spiritual and don’t need to pray”….

These are real issues that will continue to tread and tear upon our revered Judaism, and if we don’t acknowledge them, then I am afraid that I won’t be the only one to walk away.

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