This wasn’t the first time that (straight) men have argued that my religious practice – egalitarian – was wrong.
I met a friend of a friend, K, who’s Orthodox (bal t’shuvah, I believe). He asked if I went to Ghetto Shul (Orthodox congregation in the McGill Ghetto neighbourhood). I said no; I went to, and helped run, an indy minyan. He asked what that was; I said it was “traditional egalitarian.” What’s that? I explained that the liturgy was similar to Conservative or Orthodox, only no mechitzah and women can do anything men could (lead services, chant Torah, etc). His whole air changed. “You changed the liturgy!” He hadn’t heard “similar to” but “it is Orthodox.” He went on: letting women participate equally with men meant that it wasn’t halakhic. Further, how could they read Torah if they don’t perform “their three mitzvot?” I said it wasn’t up to me, or any others, whether or not they followed all mitzvot; most people don’t – can’t! – follow all 613 but we strive to follow as many as we can. And, further, that should include the mitzvah of learning Torah. He stated women could learn or read Torah, just with other women. Then he got stuck on the “three mitzvot,” wanting to know how many women daven with me and, of them, how many “separate challah?” I tried to explain, again, that it wasn’t my job, or his, to check on others. (Do not judge others!) I tried to steer us back on track. The women who come are there because they feel that sitting separate from men renders them unequal. Again, he wouldn’t hear it. “It’s just a piece of fabric. If I hang fabric between us here at the table, does it render us unequal?” I tried to explain that if sitting on one side of the fabric at the table meant no more alcohol, or that you couldn’t really hear the music, then, yes, it did render us unequal. He went back to arguing that you can’t change gemara. I had to say, thrice, that we should agree to disagree and change the topic before he finally agreed. (Only then to say that I had a lot to hearn about “Judaism and how it really works” – oy! Because, you know, only his understanding of Chassidism is the only way to practice Judaism. I can’t imagine how he would have reacted had I told him I was raise Reform.)