On Friday morning, I was cooking for Shabbat and cleaning my Jerusalem apartment while listening to a radio station that shall remained unnamed. While I cut up cauliflower, I listened over the airwaves as someone leyned selections from the Torah portion and haftarah. (This is generally good review for my own leyning the next day in shul – except when the radio rabbi leyns in Sephardi trope!) Then, while chopping onions, a new program came on: a d’var Torah about the leadership skills we can learn from Moshe Rabbeinu in sefer Shmot. This was followed by the 11 o’clock news, which concluded with, “Shabbat begins at 4:32 and ends at 5:49. The times for Shabbat this week are sponsored by Hepi diapers. We remind you that Hepi diapers have special adhesive that can be used on Shabbat. Make your baby a Hepi baby all week long!”
By the time my vegetable kugel was in the oven, it was time for my favorite program: Chidat Haparsha, a trivia question about the weekly Torah portion. The question this week, in honor of the Ten Commandments which were inscribed “from one side and from the other side,” was about a palindromatic word that appeared in the parsha. As soon as the riddle was announced in full, listeners began to call in with answers. It turns out that there are a lot of palindramatic words in this parsha, as I learned, though no one gave an answer that met all the qualifications. I stayed tuned.
I was surprised at what happened next: A woman called in, Shulamit from Bee’r Sheva, the first woman I’d ever heard on this program. She answered, “The word is Hineh,” and then proceeded to explain how this word answered each part of the riddle. The radio announcer heard her out, and then asked, “And what is the verse in which this word appears?” Over in Be’er Sheva, Shulamit paused. “I’m in the kitchen,” she said, “I don’t have a Tanach in front of me.” The radio announcer apologized; the answer had to be accompanied by the full text of the verse. But it seems that woman had made an impact, because the next caller was also a woman – Chedva from Netanya. Chedva gave the same answer as Shulamit, but cited the verse, albeit incorrectly. “I’m sorry,” said the announcer. “That’s not the verse.” She had just one or two words wrong, I noted. Chedva sighed. “I’m also in the kitchen,” she said, and I felt the weight of thousands of years of Jewish women’s kugels bearing down on her shoulders as she sighed and hung up.
Not surprisingly, a man called in next, gave Shulamit’s original answer with the correct text of the verse, and the Hasidic choir on the air broke out in a round of rousing zemirot. And so, as happens each week, a man won Chidat Haparsha, and the radio announcer moved on to the pre-Shabbat traffic report.
I was not planning to travel anywhere that afternoon, so I turned off the radio and went back to my cooking. I have nothing against women in the kitchen–someone has to cook for Shabbat–but I do wish that more women leyned the parsha. The secret of leyning well is that you really do learn the Torah by heart. This means that you can cite the right answer to Chidat Haparsha even while your hands are stuffing a chicken. Who said women can’t have it all?