Dinner with the Renewal gang
Another Renewal (and renewing) Shabbat

This week's portion: promises


If my body belongs
to a man, Torah says
he gets to decide
whether my vows stand.

If I give my body
to a woman -- Moshe
didn't transcribe,
so Torah must not care.

But if my body is mine
my vows are binding.
The tefillin on my arm,
my silver wedding ring.

By what shall I swear?
By painted tiles.
By strong salty cheese.
By the sound of bells.

My body remembers
your touch on my neck,
pressing away
the knots in my palms.

I want to promise
the world isn't broken,
peace is almost here
but the words won't come.

The opening verses of this week's portion, Matot, always amaze me. On the one hand they feel so restrictive to my modern sensibility, presuming as they do that if a woman is tied to a man (as his daughter or his wife) then his word trumps even her sincerest promises.

And on the other hand there's a hint of progressive values here. A widow or divorcée can make binding vows -- and if the husband or father fails to annul the vow when he first hears of it, he can't change his mind after the fact. But the dominant tone of the passage is still steeped in patriarchal assumptions.

Anyway, this week's poem riffs on bodies and on promises. The ending is a bit bleaker than I had initially intended, but that's how it goes. This temporary life in Israel is complicated sometimes.

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