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Whose Torah? by Trisha Arlin


Blessed Yah,

I have a question or two:

Why did I lose Torah?

After ten years of Hebrew School

And in my final year, Thank God!
I was 15
And the Rabbi,
Who shall remain nameless,
Taught the class.
He was dull and pedestrian
But he was the rabbi
So I treated him with respect
Which at that point I mostly withheld
From everybody else.
I was 15.
And the rabbi,
“Everything in the Torah is true.”
He said,
“If it’s in the Torah then that’s how we should live.”
And so I raised my hand, and asked,
“Rabbi, does that mean that when we win a war that we should kill all the enemy men and rape all the enemy women and enslave all the enemy children?”
There was a pause, then,
And then he said, “No more questions from you, young lady.”

Why did I lose Torah?
Well yes, because I was a girl
Back in the day
And though I had a Bat Mitzvah
It was on a Friday night
And I got a lot fewer presents
And had a much smaller party
Than the boys
And I wasn’t called to the Torah
I wasn’t allowed to have an aliyah
And I chanted the complete haftarah
And wasn’t allowed near the Torah
Sure that’s one reason I lost the Torah,
Basically I never had it.
But really it was that rabbi
Who wouldn’t answer my questions,
Who wouldn’t even let me ask questions.
That rabbi was an idiot.

Why did I get Torah back?

I met a rabbi who told me that,
Doubt could be an act of faith.
I had a teacher who said,
The study of Talmud was about the questions and not the answers.
Long story short
And check it out
Some forty years after that Hebrew School class,
I’m in rabbinical school!
Go figure.
And someday, when I teach Torah?
And some wiseguy kid
Asks of me a question,
Genuine and/or smartass,
That I don’t want to answer
Or I cannot answer,
What will I say?
I hope I will say,
This is your Torah:
What do you think?

Blessed Yah, giving us so many opportunities for questions
And for this we are so grateful.



Thank you to Trisha Arlin for composing this for our Jewish Futures conversation.

What is your story? Have you lost Torah? Found it? Explored it? And, Whose Torah Is It Anyway?

More of Trisha’s writing can be found on her blog: Triganza, on RitualWell, and OpenSiddur.


1 Comment

  1. anitasilvert says:

    Like Trisha, I first had to lose Torah to find it. Fifth year of Hebrew school, four days a week, and suddenly, the boys in my class were herded off to continue learning….and we girls were left behind to learn how to be a Jewish wife and mother, skills I didn’t need for another 20 years, if it can be said I ever mastered them in any way.

    So, clearly, if Torah was going to be mine again, I was going to have to get it for myself. It took most of those 20 years. Because, although youth group, singing, song leading and family practice gave me something, it didn’t give me enough.

    In college, I was a voice major at U of Iowa. Truly, singing was the only thing anyone ever told me I could do well. So, with a career choice that work around my eventual children, I set out to be a music teacher.

    Vocal nodules got in the way. “You’ll never be a singer,” said the doctors and my voice teachers. I stubbornly continued. Nodules went away, then came back. “You’ll never be a singer,” they said again, “pick something else.” I had no idea what that would be. So I graduated knowing I’ll never be a singer.

    My Hillel/town rabbi, Jeff Portman asked me to teach Sunday school. I did. I liked it. He said I was good at it. He said, “Come with me and some other teachers to a teachers’ conference in the Quad Cities.” I did. I decided to get a Masters in Jewish Education right then and there.

    I had no hours in Jewish studies, much less a major or minor in it. Boldly, I applied for Spertus’ Masters program. And there I met David Weinstein z”l and Byron Sherwin and Rabbi Goldman z”l and Rachel Dulin. It took a while, but I soaked up as much as I could, and then they gave me a piece of paper. I couldn’t make a living. So I left for another 20 years. But I wanted to find a way back….and I did, through Peter Pitzele. Bibliodrama. The heavens open, the angels sang, and I was thunderstruck. Cosmic click.

    Now I had Torah, it was mine to mine and share for years to come. And I haven’t looked back. By the way, I am a singer. They were all wrong in so many ways.

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