Friday, March 5, 2010

Aleichem Shalom


As you can tell by my earlier post, the orthodox boy's comments stayed with me all week. It made me feel a bit like a crazy person. However, I simply could not drop it. I was determined to bring it up in class on Wednesday. My Professor thought it was a good idea.

Before class started, I ran into him in the hallway....(He needs a name. Whatever shall I call him? Crazy Chaim?). The week before, He'd told me that he hasn't read for class since his sophomore year of college. He said it with pride; I wanted to spit on him. I asked him if he'd read the two plays for this week's class. He looks at me, smirks with self-importance, and says. "Of course not, I haven't even bought the book." I wasn't ready to throw the dirty woman lecture at him, but I spit back, "I teach, I go to school, I have a kid, a husband, and a house. I read! You can't take time out of your life to read?" He smiles, starts walking away turns his head towards me and says, "What can I say? I'm lazy." What I wouldn't give to wrap my dirty female hands around his neck…

My annoyance grew when, ten minutes later, I sat in the classroom with HIM and M. very sweet ortho boy from Atlanta. M and I were playing Jewish geography, when A. (ortho boy #3.) walks into the room. "Shalom Aleichem." A. says to M. "Aleichem Shalom." M replied. "What are you doing!" Booms Crazy Chaim. He leaps up in his chair, Tzistzis flying everywhere, his too tight t-shirt immodestly shifting.( I wonder how long it would take to climb under the table.) "Whaa whaat?" .A stutters " We are greeting each other." M replies tightly, " We haven't seen each other today."

"Today maybe." Chaim loudly shouts, "You just saw him yesterday."

"And?" M questions, to my utter delight, clearly annoyed.

"But the Talmud says we only use Shalom Aleichem as a greeting when we haven't seen each other in a very long time. You saw each other yesterday."

I'm guessing this is what he's referring to:

" Shalom Aleichem is the name of a hymn chanted on Friday nights, upon returning home from the Shabbat-eve services. This song of peace, introduced by the Kabbalists of the 17th century, is based on the talmudic passage concerning a good angel and an evil angel accompanying every man home from the synagogue on Friday evenings. If they find the house in good order, the good angel says: "May the next Shabbat be as this one." If, on the other hand, they find the house neglected, the evil angel says: "May the next Shabbat be as this one":

Talmud - Mas. Shabbat 119b

It was taught, R. Jose son of R. Judah said: Two ministering angels accompany man on the eve of the Sabbath from the synagogue to his home, one a good [angel] and one an evil [one]. And when he arrives home and finds the lamp burning, the table laid and the couch [bed] covered with a spread, the good angel exclaims, 'May it be even thus on another Sabbath [too],' and the evil angel unwillingly responds 'amen'. But if not,7 the evil angel exclaims, 'May it be even thus on another Sabbath [tool,' and the good angel unwillingly responds, 'amen'.

7 If everything is in disorder and gloomy.

If every Jew is accompanied home by two ministering angels, then it is only proper that he greet them, bless them, and seek their blessing" (reblogged from headcoverings)


From what I can find, the rules regarding the use of Shalom Aleichem have to do with the hymn chanted on Friday night to protect oneself while walking two and from synagogue. I can't find anything about the greeting Shalom Aleichem. It seems to simply be a greeting (peace be with you. The same greeting, in fact, that Muslims use when they see each other).

But…what do I know? I'm only a dirty female. Clearly, the boy who doesn't read knows better than everyone else in the room. (If, by the way, someone does know if there are rules around the greeting—enlighten me!)

Class passed (of course he kept injecting his bullshit commentary when he hadn't read the play…but whatever). There was no appropriate time during class to bring up the Torah discussion. We were discussing what Clifford Odem's play Awake and Sing and Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman have to do with being Jewish in America. Neither play has anything to do with Torah.

However, during break, the boys gathered in the student lounge mixing their cup-o-noodles. Chaim stood at the counter sermonizing the proper way to kasher for pesach. I stood quietly stirring my hot chocolate. Then, I simply could not help myself. I look at Chaim, opened my mouth, and said, "I wrote about you." I blurted out.

"Oh,really?" He smirked for the tenth time that day. "And what did you write?"

"I couldn't stop thinking about your comments on women reading from the Torah. There were so many things I wanted to say that I just didn't say last week."

"Like what?"

"Well, what about masturbation? How do you know a man hasn't masturbated before he touches the torah?"

"Easy," He stands up straighter preparing us for his greatness, "We can't know, but we just give them the benefit of the doubt." Huh? The benefit of the doubt? Do you know how many times a day people masturbate? Why are we giving people the benefit of the doubt? Oh right, because they're men.

"Why do you assume that a woman has her period then?" I question.

"Also easy, you can't ask a woman if she has her period" (because we all go around asking if people masturbate). "Thus, we assume that she does."

"But," I attempt to argue," Don't you think the woman knows if she has her period? Don't you think her husband knows? Wouldn't both of them make sure, she doesn't touch the torah?

"Ah," He rubs his beardless chin as if he is a great Rebbe, "a woman, can have her period at anytime."

I guess technically, she could, but that comment speaks to the heart of the matter. A woman is constantly on the brink of impurity. At any moment, she could explode with all her womanly grossness—damaging everything holy in her path. She is in a perpetual state of worthlessness.

(I think my sister said it best, when she commented, "Wait, is the woman reading from the Torah or is she using it as a tampon?")

No one actually touches the Torah scroll when they read it. They kiss it with their talis. The read from it with a yad. No one is lying naked with it. However, ritual impurity clings to a woman's entire body. She cannot escape it. I realized (as I should have realized the week before) that there is nothing I can say to make him change his mind. Dirty is dirty. Women are dirty; men aren't. Period.

I do wonder what he'll do with himself when he gets older and marries (bless the poor girl who marries him). Does he think with all his rules, he'll be able to escape her impurities? Does he think he'll be able to stay away from her for 14 days each month..every month? He'll need his own bathroom, his own bedroom, his own kitchen, his own couch. He'll certainly need his own trashcan.

I walked out of the lounge, and they continued their koshering discussion. When I reached the classroom, I was alone. I stood over his notebook and the one book he actually brought to class. I thought of my own impurities: the possibility of a period at any moment, my Reform Judaism, my marriage to the Giant Gentile, my immodest low-cut dress, my uncovered red-streaked blond curls.

So, I did the only thing I could do: I took my hand and touched his books.



  1. I just lost my comment. You may get this in duplicate.
    Brilliant! Dad loved it too. I thought Becca's comment was great even though it made me flinch. You should send this to Irit. I think Judith would be a good person to send it to. Her responce will probably be more interesting than Irit's. Liked the gentile giant. Your writing is wonderful as usual.

  2. I am worried you won't like me when you realize you know far more about Judaism than I do...or about Orthodox Judaism. I know the basics, but...some of the words I don't know...

    another beautifully written post, i am seething. i can't even understand how any women can be orthodox. tradition yes, but this is 2012. WTF?

  3. It's my area...there are many things I don't know about this world, but religion, I get.
    The role of women blow my mind. In the 1800s, traditional Jews used to say that a woman's dream is to be her husband's footstool in heaven.