By Mirah Langer, as printed in the Jewish Report, April 2nd
“The changing of the world starts at home – and it starts between the spouses,” asserts Rebbetzin Tamar Taback, a pioneer in women’s Torah study. It’s a reflection which takes on a new poignancy as the world returns to the home as a haven during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Taback’s focus is the interrogation of Jewish femininity. “As we approach the times of Moshiach [the Messiah] there is a predicted and undeniable rising of feminine energy.”
Yet, conventionally, the way Jewish femininity and its association with the domestic realm has been interpreted can make it seem a “lesser” entity.
“It’s ironic, because Judaism has always respected its women, but suddenly, after feminism, Judaism was put on the back foot because of the feminist movement and its claims of ,‘Why are the women in the kitchen, and why can’t they read from the Torah, and why is there a mechitza [room divider for men and women at religious functions]? Why don’t they put on tefillin phylacteries]?’ “As a Jewish woman, that’s going to affect your relationship with G-d because maybe you’re going to think you aren’t loved in the same way.”
However, notes Taback, who is also a musician, artist, and the mother-of-seven, “just because
the world doesn’t appreciate something, it doesn’t mean it isn’t intrinsically beautiful”.
“The world doesn’t validate motherhood, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the holiest thing
you could do. Just because something is put in the foreground or given high salaries,
it doesn’t mean that’s where fulfilment is.”
For Jewish women, there is no onesize-fits-all policy of how to develop their sense of spirituality. However, what there is, said Taback, is the Torah’s great depth of commentary on femininity.
It’s this source which Taback has made it her life’s mission to unpack as the founder of Nexus, an onlineplatform for Torah learning for women around the world.
Taback, who is Johannesburg-born and based, grew up in St Louis in the United States. Born into a family that didn’t start out as religious, her parents gradually took on Orthodoxy as she
entered into her teenage years.
As her parents embarked on their religious journey, Taback said she, too, sought her own particular path within this sphere, specifically in understanding her role as a Jewish
woman. She found resonance within the mystical realm of Torah teaching.
“I had this thirst. It was really uncommon for a woman to be so interested in the mystical tradition.”
She remembers as revelatory Rabbi Akiva Tatz’s book, Living Inspired, and a lecture at the Neve seminary in Israel about the sun and the moon.
“I started to understand that the feminine and masculine are two sides of the same coin of the universe – intrinsically, there’s no preference between one or the other.”
“The world is struggling, people are struggling. So many women cut off one part of themselves or the other. The first step is to come back to basics, claim Jewish femininity, and find its spirituality.
“It’s not an easy thing to do in today’s world, especially if you’re a highly creative, highly ambitious, highly intelligent woman. How then do you balance your maternal instinct with your desire for a career?
“That balance is elusive, and you’re constantly course-correcting. It becomes about giving yourself
permission to engage with your spiritual needs and identity.”
Taback, who has been teaching Torah to women for almost two decades, said there was a real hunger for this from women across all ages and levels of religious affiliation.
“What they have in common is that they are aspiring and evolving.
Each woman is living out the story of femininity in her way. There are these
motifs from the Torah that are threading through all our lives.”
Now is the time, posits Taback, that women need to support each other.
“We are ashamed of struggling. Even though so many of us are having so
many of the same struggles, we don’t share them.”
She hopes her digital platform, which allows Jewish women to collaborate across the world, will facilitate this.
Taback suggests that when women develop their sense of spiritual femininity, it will also enrich their connections with men.
“Divorce rates are high, and happy marriages are rare. In this reality, there is a lot to a woman having a strong spiritual self-definition. If she wakes up her spiritual being, she has respect for
herself; she has compassion for others. She will act differently from a woman
who feels disempowered; she will show up differently in her marriage.”
Furthermore, as important as it is for women to embrace spiritual femininity, it’s equally important
for Jewish men to explore their masculinity.
“Just like there’s traditional femininity, there’s traditional masculinity – the idea of the macho, the giver, the strong provider.”
While this is a role that feels fundamental for many men, there also needs to be space for them
to express vulnerability.
“Men also want to be able to be emotional, empathic, and nurturing.”
Taback said the mistake often made is to try and promote equality between the sexes as
sameness. “However, a wise woman knows how to heighten difference in order to enhance her
Nevertheless, both masculinity and femininity are about spiritually complementing each other. They’re both coming a little closer to the centre, to find a new kind of harmony.”
Taback’s newest online learning series uses a study of the women of the
Torah as the springboard for spiritual self-exploration.
“Take our matriarchs for example: when you light Shabbos candles and you say, ‘Sarah, Rivka, Rachel’… it seems abstract. After all, who were these women? What were their marriages like? How did they mother? What was their relationship to G-d?
“Well, when you start to learn the texts, you discover that they were outrageous women! They weren’t traditional, they were totally ‘calling the shots’. It’s paradigm-busting.
“You realise that these biblical women are talking to us right now.”