A new reader, Judy K., recently responded to the knitted content of this site: “I’m interested in possibly putting more Jewish content into my knitting. I’m not even sure what that might mean. It might mean distributing finished products to Jewish organizations or actually knitting Jewish objects, ritual or otherwise. Any thoughts out there?”
Naturally, I have many thoughts on the subject, having taken knitting as the metaphor for this website’s project. Though I’ve spent much time working through the challenges of Genesis since Simchat Torah, there’s been plenty of knitting going on behind the scenes. To transform my knitting into Tikkunknitting, my choices are informed by reference to the “five w’s” from elementary school: who, what, when, where, why (and how).
Why? (and how)
You are not required to complete the work, yet you are not allowed to desist from it. Pirkei Avot 2:21
I start with the Tikkun ha-Olam, and knittivism, each understood as noun (doctrine) and verb (activity). The modern liberal Jewish community is familiar with the eco-social implications of the doctrine of tikkun olam: to heal, repair and transform the world, by working to create a world that embodies social, economic and environmental justice. Originating in the Kabbalistic philosophy of Isaac Luria, Tikkun ha-Olam was the most distinctively Jewish and the most important ethical obligation: every act of creation, divine and human, was understood to participate in the process of restoring the broken vessels of creation (Shevirat ha-Kelim), expressing the essential relationship between mankind and the divine (more about this 16th-century teacher here). The active, verb-oriented nature of the doctrine is what inspires me.
I am similarly motivated by the notion of “knittivism”, the view that needlework should be used vigorously, in controversial, unusual or challenging (even political) ways (discussed here), and keeping track of the varied “knittivist” projects created by others, motivates me greatly.
I see the intimate connection between the tradition of divine Creation and human creating expressed by Luria in the opening of an early printed edition of the Torah, in which Bereshit is expressed by the work of hands – divine creation and blessing anthropomorphised in the image of human (priestly) hands. Like so many others who imagine the work of tikkun olam in terms of hands and world (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and more – just Google “tikkun olam”!), my Sukkah’s Tikkun olam banner clearly reflects my commitment to working with my own hands to repair even a small corner of the world in which I live.
So how to “tikkun-ize” one’s needlework?
Who, What, When, and Where?
One might knit with other Jews, in a formal, synagogue-oriented group, or in a less formal knitting Havurah (“fellowship” group). “Knitzvah Corp” groups have sprung up all over the country. I’ve started a similarknitting group in my synagogue, the Rodeph Shalom Tikkun Knitters, which meets informally during Sunday morning religious school hours. In addition to using stash, we have a set of special Tikkun Knitters projects, hats and scarves made with Peace Fleece’s Baghdad Blue yarn (the purchase of which promotes peaceful collaboration between Israel’s Jews and Palestinians; more here). We plan to donate finished items to the local Jewish Family and Children’s Services, but some of us are knitting hats for the recent call from Afghans for Afghans and the Dulaan Project (so our tikkunknitting extends beyond the Jewish needy). The R.S. Tikkun Knitters will also be taking our knitting into the classrooms, to teach the children knitting as a “life tikkun skill”. I knit during Shabbat morning Torah study, often working on one of the group’s Peace Fleece projects. There’s a lively debate going on in Ravelry’s Jewish Fiberaholic group about knitting during services.
It’s also possible to look to the Jewish calendar as a guide: don’t knit on Shabbat (for traditionally observant knitters), or knit certain kinds of projects only on Shabbat (my tikkunknitting approach), or knit for “Jewish time”, the liturgical and festive life of the tradition. So, to the “what” to knit …
If I am not for myself, who will be? And if I am only for myself, what am ‘I’? And if not now, when? Hillel, Pirkei Avot 1:14
What to make is easy … of course charity knitting comes quickly to mind, which means hats and scarves for children and adults, or blankets and booties, all depending on the needs of the agency that will receive the items. Ritual garments, such as kippot (yarmulkes) for Bnai Mitzvot students or tallit (prayer shawls) for loved ones, are obvious choices; a quick look through the internet or Ravelry’s discussions shows the extent to which Jewish knitters are busy making these ritual garments. My “to do” list includes knitting up a trio of Bokhara kippot for my menfolk (either felted or stranded colorwork).
Hanukkah is nearly here, and I’ve been working on a set of the holiday’s symbols: a dreidel and gelt (usually Chocolate coins), and a Hanukkiah – or menorah – complete with knitted candles. The dreidel has just come off the needles, and spins like a dream. Links to more photos, discussion and a pattern will be available soon.
Hanukkah foods are a special treat: my knitted latkes (with sour cream and applesauce!) and sufganiot (jelly doughnuts) are nearly ready to share.
So my approach to making my needlework more Jewish includes both “serious” and “playful” elements. Tikkunnknitting is integrating the wisdom of the past with all aspects of one’s life, committing one’s energy to the work of repairing the brokenness of our world, and saving a bit for one’s own repair, and joy, as well.
4 December 2007 Pattern Update!
Hanukkah has arrived, and you’ll find my illustrated pattern for the TikkunKnits Dreidel here.
Have some dreidel fun! And knit for peace.