Friday Night: When the Man Does Shabbat – Kveller
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Friday Night: When the Man Does Shabbat

So, my wife works wayyyyy more than full time. She’s an elementary school principal. It gets better! She’s also currently eight months pregnant. So, even if she had a flexible schedule, she doesn’t have any energy left at the end of the week to make Shabbat. I run a part-time law practice out of a home office, but I shut it down at noon on Fridays.

Just about every week, I take my 18-month-old son to the store to get challah (unless I baked it myself). I buy flowers. I cook a meat dish, usually in the sous-vide cooker starting days in advance. I make a chopped salad with a dressing recipe I’ve evolved by making it every week. I make sure we have wine. I set the table and make sure there are bentshers (Grace after Meals booklets) for everyone. During the week, I’ve put it out to my friends that they’re welcome to join us as long as they give me some notice so I know how much food to make. On top of this, I sit at the head of the table, make Kiddush, sing the songs, and say the blessings, just like a traditional male should.

But what is this? Aren’t men privileged enough in Judaism? Don’t we have enough of our own special observances and rituals?

One argument is that egalitarian Judaism is just that: egalitarian. You can’t have women in tefillin if you can’t have men lighting the candles. But just as in the context of the race debate in America, that argument seems to me to be a thinly veiled argument intended to return to “separate but equal” which isn’t really equal. I’ve never heard of anyone, for example, suggesting or practicing a family purity ritual where only the husband goes to the mikvah. Am I unfairly getting the best of both worlds?

Is separate but equal ever equal? My wife sure didn’t think so. When we visited Israel last January, we attended an Orthodox synagogue that divided up the seating fifty-fifty with only a thin, short, translucent mechitza. But my wife chafed at it nonetheless, just like she chafed at the smaller section at the Kotel. She did not like the ladies’ dress code, either, even though I think nothing of throwing on a suit to attend services. I don’t disagree with her at all. I don’t believe separate is ever equal.

This isn’t the only place where traditional roles are different if not totally reversed in my house. My wife is not a female Archie Bunker. I certainly don’t hit the gym or contemplate plastic surgery to keep myself a “trophy husband” (it would take a lot more than that) and just because my wife is, at the moment, the main wage earner doesn’t mean we don’t act like equal partners in our marriage. While I do the cooking, cleaning, and child-care, I also do some work and many traditional male things like curbing the garbage and mowing the lawn.

So, what do you think: Should there be any gender-specific ritual acts?

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