Russel Neiss’s wife, Rori Picker Neiss, is in school at Yeshivat Maharat. It’s the first institution to train Orthodox women as spiritual leaders and halakhic leaders. While his wife learns to be a Maharat, Russel is learning to be a Maharat’s husband.
I walked to the back of the synagogue clutching the overstuffed diaper bag under one arm and my screaming 10-month-old daughter in the other, and I wondered whether it was really worth it. This was her third diaper change since Shabbos services began that morning.
I’ve always liked taking her to synagogue. I especially loved those first few months where should would sleep through all of the morning prayers and the Torah service, only to awaken and cry at just the right moment before the rabbi’s sermon–thus affording me the perfect excuse to quickly exit, guilt-free.
The past few months have been different.
Don’t get me wrong–I still admittedly get some sick thrill about my daughter being some sort of radical feminist because she sits on the “wrong side” of the mechitza, the divider between the men’s and women’s sections of the synagogue, with me.
But as she grows, becomes more mobile, and is unwilling to sit in one spot for more than two seconds–let alone two hours–it’s become more and more of a challenge to take her with me. The two of us have already been kicked out of one synagogue on Shabbos morning, and there are a handful of congregations in our neighborhood–that is chockablock with synagogues–that have “no children” policies.
In the past, I could count on my wife to take our daughter for a few minutes so I could fulfill my obligation to pray. But recently, since she’s taken on more of a public role in the community in which she has her “not-a-rabbinic” internship, I’ve had to take on the nonstop role of lead parent during services… in addition to figuring out what it means to be the husband of an Orthodox Jewish woman who serves as a congregational leader.
The fact is, though, it’s not the parenting part that gets me. I’m happy to change diapers, to cook and feed her, to roll around on the floor banging on pots and pans, to splash around during bath-time, to sing Hamalakh and the Shema at bedtime.
Some people are amazed that I do all these things, and I get tons of accolades from other moms who–in their words–“wish their husbands could be more like me.”
This annoys my wife to no end. Don’t get me wrong–she appreciates everything I do, but no one throws her a parade when she changes a diaper.
Frankly, though, sometimes I don’t want the attention. No one bats an eye when our little girl is in the woman’s section, or if my wife chooses to stay home from shul entirely to be with her, or if my wife disappears in the middle of the Amidah to change a dirty diaper.
I love my wife. I love my baby. I love being part of a sacred community. And I wish people didn’t necessarily see all those things in conflict.