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October 7, 2015 | 24th Tishrei 5776

Ask the rabbi

Galilee Diary #374, January 27, 2008
Marc J. Rosenstein


“Your hair is like a flock of goats streaming down Mount Gilead…” (Song of Songs 4:1). From this we learn that a woman’s hair [uncovered] is indecent exposure.
-Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 24a

F. called me today; it’s the first time we’ve spoken for a number of months. She was our secretary for four years, and continued to work here in an educational position for another year. After going out on maternity leave for her second child, she decided not to return, and as her husband started an MBA program a long commute from home, decided to do some very part-time bookkeeping work and be a full time mother, for now. She has a BA in psychology with an interest in pursuing an MA in human resources, but that will have to wait.

F. is a mostly-not-religiously-observant Moslem Arab from the mixed city of Shfaram (Moslem, Christian, Druze). Arabic is her mother tongue, but she speaks Hebrew with no accent. Her father owns a store; her mother is a retired schoolteacher. Throughout the years I have known her I have watched her struggle with her identity. When she first started to work for us, and asked if she could listen to music while doing the bookkeeping, and I said OK, the tape she brought from home was Cat Stevens (and not because he converted to Islam). She sent her first child to a day care center in a Jewish community (in Hebrew, of course, and celebrating the Jewish holidays) because she couldn’t find day care in Shfaram that met her standards. Later, a Waldorf kindergarten opened in the town, so she moved her daughter back to her own community.

Why did she call? We hadn’t talked for a long time, and she had something she just had to share: her parents went on the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) this year. Her mother had always wanted to go, her father was not so interested but likes to travel, they figured it’s better to go when you’re young enough to appreciate it. And it was indeed a once-in-a-lifetime spiritual experience for them that they found meaningful, enjoyable, and moving. Very nice, I said. But wait, there’s more: F.’s mother says that she has studied the Koran enough to know that the requirement that a woman who has been on the Hajj must put on the veil is only custom, not law. And she, therefore, refuses to cover her head. This has the family in a bit of a tizzy. One brother thinks Mother is right. Another is afraid what his neighbors will say if she comes to visit him. She is doing a really radical thing, and you know how people talk in our community.

And what about you, I asked; how do you feel about it?

I am really proud of her! And yet, I don’t know, how can religion be just whatever you want it to be? If you really believe, don’t you have to believe all the way?

So we talked for a while about human interpretation of sacred text, about autonomy and authority and community. Then we compared notes about our kids, and her erstwhile colleagues here on our staff, and agreed that we really do need to get together one of these days.

And I realized this wasn’t just a social call out of the blue, and was left wondering if only in the Galilee do rabbis get calls from Moslems for religious counseling.

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