Timbrels and Torahs is Academy Award nominated Judith Montell's 2000 documentary film about a new Jewish ritual designed to celebrate women on their 60th birthday. Instead of slowing down, these women have decided to embrace the last chapters of their lives.
The creators of the Simchat Hochma looked to the Biblical character Miriam as their guide. The Bible records a celebration in whichs, “Miriam took the timbrel in her hand and all the women danced.” The prophetess was not afraid to follow her own song and be a leader among women. Thus, she inspired the women in the film to do the same, as her timbrel inspired the title of the documentary.
Instead of succumbing to mainstream culture’s negative attitude toward aging, participants in the Simchat Hochma challenge it by empowering themselves. Western society’s fixation on youth has stigmatized older women, but the women of Timbrels and Torahs believe age should be celebrated and enjoyed as proof of wisdom and experience.
The ceremony also stresses the importance of acceptance. A woman undertaking the ritual is encouraged to reflect on her life thus far, embracing both her successes and struggles. At sixty, some women have lost their spouses and the Simchat Hochma serves as an opportunity to try to come to terms with this loss. Many women also put on a kittle (a burial shroud) half-way through the ceremony to symbolize acceptance of their own inevitable death.
The structure of the Simchat Hochma is subject to interpretation by each individul, with its creators suggesting eight key elements as guidelines to be interpreted, or disregarded, as the celebrator sees fit: community participation, a naming ceremony, reading Torah, a healing ceremony, receiving blessings, acknowledging mortality, a legacy (tree planting), and a covenant.
But in between what has been and what is to come, the Simchat Hochma recognizes room for change. The optional name-changing ceremony allows a woman to alter her identity for the last stage of her life. Names hold meaning and serve as fundamental character descriptions. “If you have been unhappy with your life and you change your name,” one woman explains, “you give yourself a new change.”
Lilith Magazine wrote: "ROLE MODELS" - TIMBRELS AND TORAHS, a documentary film celebrating aging in a youth-obsessed culture introduces a rite of passage ceremony— Simchat Hochmah, a ceremony of wisdom—for Jewish women making the transition from their mid life to their elder years. Featuring political activist Marcia Cohn Spiegel, biblical scholar Savina Teubal, and filmmaker Miriam Chaya. Debbie Friedman, Blu Greenberg, Sue Levi Elwell, Drora Setel and Marcia Falk also appear...
Hadassah Magazine wrote: "TIMBRELS AND TORAHS: When Harriet Fields faced her sixtieth birthday, she chose to mark the passage with a Celebration of Wisdom. The 35-minute footage follows a naming and healing ceremony, Torah reading, acceptance of mortality, singing and dancing as Fields accepts the name Miriam Chaya. Directed by Chaya and Academy Award-nominated Judy Montell. JOY OF WISDOM PRODUCTIONS. Review by Renata Polt..."
Other Jewish films by Judith Montell: