Last year, the Temple Institute in Jerusalem unveiled a completed tzitz, the solid gold crown intended to be worn by the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, in the Temple (whenever we merit to rebuild it). I was first struck by its beauty, and then by the stirring I always feel in my soul when I see what this organization does to prepare for a return to Temple worship.
But then I was moved by another emotion. This tzitz would only ever be worn by a man.
Most of the time I study Torah and the disproportionate role men play in it, and don’t really spend time thinking about it. But now I began to feel irritated, thinking about the rampant corruption, greed, and incompetence in Israel today—in the government and the rabbinate in particular—and thought about how the vast majority of these thieves and charlatans are men. For there never to rise an honest, learned, devout woman to wear that tzitz seems to me the greatest waste of human endeavor. (Has no one noticed that a person’s Judaism is only passed through the mother? If the sleazy excuse that one could traditionally only prove maternity and not paternity still stands, then why doesn’t the status of Kohen and Levi pass through the mother too?)
But to be a woman is to be kept in a holding pattern of potential. It’s always to look ahead, way down the road, and imagine what life will be like for women in the future. It’s to celebrate the (sometimes meager-seeming) accomplishments we’ve made through herculean effort and sacrifice, and to see that we’ve only addressed the tip of the iceberg of inequality. To be a woman is to be an optimist; otherwise, life would be unbearable.
My consolation in seeing this completed tzitz right now is that we are so far from even having a man be allowed to wear it that the fact that a woman will likely never wear it doesn’t bother me so much. As a human race, and especially as Jews, we have so far to go before the Temple service will be re-established, that at this time I think the effort to get to a place where a person—any person—could wear it is challenge enough. And who knows? Perhaps by the time we merit to rebuild the Temple, the rules will have changed and women will carry kahuna status. Absurd? Perhaps. But hey, we finally got the vote, didn’t we?