Opinion: T’fillah Exploration Surprises Me

By Mila Boymelgreen ‘21, Contributing Writer

In past years, I was apathetic about the school’s biannual t’fillah Exploration Week, in which students explore minyanim other than their usual ones for three days. I didn’t understand the point of diverging from the usual t’fillah options. My perception changed, however, when I took High School Director of Jewish and Student Life Rabbi Dahlia Kronish’s Narratives of Exclusion t’fillah. The purpose of this minyan was to explore the narratives of those who often feel excluded from the Jewish community. Rabbi Kronish explained on the first day that our objective was to understand the narratives we learned, rather then jump to state our opinions of them. 

On the first day, we looked at an article exploring a number of women who felt out of place in their religion. The women explained that they felt left out by certain standards the Torah sets for women and how the Jewish community chooses to uphold and value these rules.

The next day, we read an excerpt of Wrestling With God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition, a book written by Rabbi Steve Greenberg, the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi. Rabbi Greenberg reflects on a time when he tried to hide his sexuality from his community and God. He stated that the hardest time for him was Yom Kippur, when the Torah explicitly prohibits a man from having intercourse with another man.

On the final day, we read a mishnah instructing that one should bless a person with a disability. We then proceeded to debate whether this instruction was offensive or benevolent. The discussions we had gave me a new and personal understanding of the narratives. Rather than merely being aware of the injustices and biases within the Jewish community, I came closer to comprehending the nuances and complexities relating to each of the groups we studied.

This positive t’fillah experience caused me to reevaluate my feelings towards the concept of t’fillah Exploration. Exclusion in Judaism had never concerned me, but after this experience, I thought more about the matter in my daily life. T’fillah Exploration gave me a chance to branch out and explore different aspects of Judaism that I might not have considered otherwise. 

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