On Women and the Hoshanot Circuits

Sukkot is supposed to be a joyous holiday, but every single year I come back from shul services feeling upset.

I am upset because, in every single orthodox shul that I have ever been in during sukkot, the men all pull out their lulavim and etrogim, and parade around the shul, joyously singing and waving the four species. The women stand and watch. Afterwards, some men come over to the women’s section and give their lulav and etrog to their wives/sisters/mothers/female friends who didn’t feel the need to purchase their own. The women do the mitzvah of shaking lulav, but don’t participate at all in the hoshana circuits.

I am used to feeling like a spectator watching orthodox prayer services. On a theoretical level, it bothers me, but on an emotional level, I’m less concerned with it because I know that that’s how orthodox prayer services (generally) have to be. I’ve been to partnership minyanim and LOVED them, but unfortunately the town that I currently live in doesn’t have such a minyan.

BUT. The reason that I really, really, hate watching the hoshana parade as an outsider is because IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE LIKE THAT. There is nothing stopping the women from taking their lulavim and etrogim and marching around the synagogue, albeit in the women’s section, as the men are doing the same on the men’s side.

I understand that a large reason why more shuls don’t do this is because women generally are not required to own their own lulav and etrog. Although a man may not borrow a lulav and etrog, a woman may use her husband’s or father’s lulav. Therefore, most women simply don’t have a lulav and etrog set available to wave during the hoshanot parade, since their male relatives are probably already using the family set. Although some single, adult women do own their own lulavim and etrogim, these women tend to not make up the majority of women in most orthodox synagogues. Families purchase a lulav and etrog set for each of the men, and the women share. To ask all women to purchase their own lulavim and etrogim so that they, too, can participate in the hoshana parade is to ask families to take on an extra expense that many just can’t afford.

I hear that, I really do. But the result is that women end up getting the message that they just don’t matter in shul. Articles have been written addressing why women seem to be a decreasing presence in the synagogue, and I think this is a major reason.

My plea to you: Next year, women, if you are at all able, purchase your own lulav and etrog. Bring it to shul with you. Don’t march around the synagogue if you feel uncomfortable as the only woman doing so, but at least stay in your seat and pull out your lulav and etrog and be an active participant in the hoshanot circuits. Once enough women start doing this, women’s hoshanot circuits won’t be uncommon, and our synagogue services can be more complete.