Men’s and Women’s Spirituality

Divre Harav/Words from the Rabbi – August/September, 2010

During my visit to Camp Ramah earlier this summer, I was dovening with the boys’ cabins of my son’s aidah.  For this minyan, the girls were dovening elsewhere.  Periodically, the staff wanted to give both the boys and girls a single-sex prayer experience.  One of the male counselors asked the boys, “How do you connect with God differently than the girls?  How is boys’ spirituality different than girls?”
The campers mentioned things like praying with tallit and tefillin, and wearing a kippah.  Afterwards, I mentioned to the counselor that the campers who grew up in egalitarian congregations probably couldn’t really relate to the question.  The answers that were given came from non-egalitarian campers who would have thought that girls would never wear kippot, tallit, or tefillin.
I was and continue to be stumped by the question.  Is there any way in which my religious expression is uniquely male?  There is an underlying spirituality in the ritual surrounding athletic experiences, but God blessed me with a body that lacks the size, height, strength, and coordination for team sports (other than chess!). I can’t help thinking about poet Robert Bly’s turn to male drumming circles, but somehow sitting around a fire shirtless beating a drum and being attacked by mosquitoes doesn’t do it for me.
The religious life committee has scheduled a number of women’s Rosh Hodesh gatherings.  Rosh Hodesh, the celebration of a new month, is a religious moment that even in egalitarian congregations continues to be associated with women’s spirituality.  With the demise of the Sisterhood, the Religious Life committee thought that there should continue to be some women-only outlet for religious expression at Ahavas Israel.
The camp experience made me wonder whether there ought to be a male-only religious program as well.  I have never seriously considered such a program, for the simple reason that my own spiritual sense has never indicated a need for a men’s group.  Are there others in our community who would like a periodic male minyan or men’s study group?  I’m sure that the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs has resources and materials that would support this kind of group.
If an Ahavas Israel Men’s Spirituality group would be meaningful to you, and if you have a suggestion as to what form it might take, I am open to suggestions.
As we approach the fall holidays, I wish each of you a good new year.  May your prayers flow from your lips with sweetness, and may all of your needs – physical, emotional, and spiritual – be fulfilled.