During the 30-Day Tzitzit Challenge, I’m finding myself fretting over whether to wear the fringes or not when I’m working around the house. Starting the day before Thanksgiving, my tzitzit began to take on a whole new significance: Tzitzit are a real obstacle to many of the daily chores of running a family. That’s why women are exempt from the obligation. We have too much messy work to do at too many odd times.
However, this exemption seems unfair from at least two angles. First, the cynic in me objects to the idea that men are exempt from the messy work of parenting and housekeeping by virtue of those tzitzit and everything they stand for. Second, the simple optimist in me objects to the idea that men are excluded from the messy work of parenting and housekeeping on account of those tzitzit and everything they stand for.
I confess: given a choice between plucking my eyebrows or cleaning the bathroom, I’d probably burst into tears because I hate both. I’d gladly affix those tzitzit to every article of clothing I own if it meant I never had to clean the bathroom again. However, I also know that my husband delighted in caring for our children, especially the messy stuff. And my sons begged to mix casseroles, bake bread, and shape matzah balls. I can’t imagine limiting my sons’ nor my husband’s experience of family life to those things that wouldn’t sully the tzitzit dangling about their hips.
Surely, Chasidic Jewish fathers find ways to wrestle with their kids and still wear tzitzit; how could they be happy if they didn’t? Do they ever get a chance to turn a lumpy, sticky mass of flour, yeast, and water into a smooth, fragrant, spongy ball of dough, awaiting the oven? Do they ever splash through a creek, kneel in the mud, or roll in a pile of leaves? Do they explore thick jungles or climb into the canopies of rain forests? And – okay, I’m going there – do they ever get to survey the bathroom they just cleaned and sigh with relief and pride?
I’m just wondering.