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There have been many assumptions that Judaism has a low negative and perception of women. There has been the perception that the Jewish woman is not as respected, valued or admired as the man. The sad thing is that the she has also believed this fallacy, and has even become confused about the different roles that she is allowed to take in the society. This feeling of being estranged from their cultural and religious beliefs, later on leads to serious consequences, not only to them but also to their generations.
In today’s society, the Jewish woman has risen in terms of career advancement and in the knowledge of other issues, like the secular ones that have become a part of her world. The Jewish woman needs to be aware of the opportunities that surround her and take advantage of them. That is why the Jewish woman needs to be well educated for her to fully benefit from the life’s opportunities. Studying the Torah is important for the Jewish woman, as it is the source of all inspiration and knowledge that she needs to become a committed and caring Jew. (Kornbluth, pg 15)
The role of the Jewish woman as a mother and a wife.
Throughout the history of the Jews, the occupation of the Jewish woman as a mother and a wife has always been the indicator of religious expression and duties for the women. It is true that women have always concentrated their energy in playing these roles. There have been debates as to where these roles originated and of what benefit they are to the women. However, in the world of the Orthodox Jews, the roles of women as wives and mothers are
very important because they are the basis for the growth and spiritual expression for both the woman and her family.
The home life for the Jews is comprised of love for the family, nurturing each other, praying for the one another, and living in harmony with each other. For this to be possible in an Orthodox Judaism family, the wife has to play a role in bringing the family members together. Some women have said that they have found the role of being a house wife more interesting, spiritually satisfying and important to them than that of the corporate world. However, this does not mean that the Jewish woman is not allowed to have a job. The Torah law does not dictate people’s lives. The Torah philosophy emphasizes that the activities and occupation for the acquisition of the secondary materials be secondary to that of seeking to fulfill the needs for the family life, prayers and charity.
Women are not obligated to marry
In the first chapter of genesis, G-d blesses Adam and Eve and tells them to be fruitful and multiply. In Judaism, a man has to get married and have children, while a woman can choose whether to get married or not. When G-d commanded the first couple to be fruitful and to multiply, been said that this obligation was placed upon the man and not the woman. Women may have instinctual and cultural pressures to produce progeny, but it is not a requirement of them by the law to marry and become mothers. They can choose to be involved in a family setting or to life a career life in the corporate world. (Greenberg, page 94)
Also as many classical authorities in the Torah have taught us, the Jewish woman is not required to get married. This means that she could find an acceptable place in the society, without being involved as a wife and as a mother. A majority of the Orthodox Jewish women of today’s society find these roles central to their divine service. The way in which a woman
wants to live her life will differ from woman to woman. However, the Torah emphasizes that service and dedication to other people is a virtue. This is why many women choose to serve their families at a personal level. It is not easy to define the role of a Jewish woman, because she can either choose to live a life of service to her family or a corporate life. (Soc. Culture Jewish, 2008)
Jewish men should listen to their wives
In the teachings of the Orthodox Jews, the women have a very big influence on the kind of women they marry. The traditional Judaism says that the women have more binah, that is, they are more intelligent, more intuitional and understanding than the men. This is got from Genesis 2:22, where G-d is seen to build the woman instead of forming him as he did with man in Genesis 2:7. There is also proof in that the word “binah” is said to have the same consonants as the word ‘built”. Thus, Jewish men should listen to and respect the women because most times, they are their advisors.
Some of the women that were respected by their husbands because of their wise opinions are such as Berurya, the wife of Rabbi Meir. Her opinions on the Jewish law were more respected than those of men in several instances. Furthermore, in the Jewish writings, it is written that it is the wife’s obligation to teach the Torah to the husband. There are also other Rabbis that have consulted their wives concerning the law of the Jews on their roles and other issue like the periods. (Torah one on one, 2008)
Women are allowed to read the Torah
One of the inequalities that people accuse Judaism of is the excuse from reading the Torah. This can be explained from the Jewish notion of the separation of the spheres. The explanation is that the Rabbis did not exempt the women from reading the Torah. The women are definitely allowed to, otherwise, how would they be able to abide by the laws of Judaism?
They are only exempted from studying the more obtuse points that are not of religion, but are subtleties of theology.
Some of the writers of Judaism state that the difference between religion and theology appears to be the difference between ritual actions and the theory behind them. The men study the abstract theory, but they are responsible for most of the ritual activities. However, when it comes to women, most of the rituals would compete with doing their domestic duties. Today’s world is a material world where people are blinded by the pleasures and the allures of the world. However, a person who is interested in hearing G-d communicate to her must study the Torah in order for her to remain closer to G-d. (Gachinsky .M, pg 62)
Women in Judaism are holier than the men
The Jewish woman is innately holier than the Jewish man. For this reason, she can study less, as compared to the Jewish man who needs to study the Torah as much as he can.
The women are also said to have greater powers of prophecy than the men. This comes from the fact that their powers of intuition are greater than those of the men. It can be illustrated by the fact that when the Jews were expelled from
The Maharal (1526-1608) makes reference to the idea of women being holier than the men from the Torah (27) on the Pasuk (Exodus 19:3) “so you should say to the house of Jacob and tell the children of
Another source that supports the fact that the women are holy is the classic book “pele Yo `es”, written by R. Eliezer Papo. In his book, he deals with the duty of the husband to love his wife. He says that the husband should love his wife with a spiritual love. It is also a requirement of the husband to rebuke the wife pleasantly, and to guide and teach her concerning matters of modesty. In doing so, her heart will tremble and she will be more careful than the man the next time.
A good example of woman who displayed a higher level of spirituality than his wife is Rabbi Aryeh Levin’s wife. Even when they were together, she always displayed a greater fear of heaven, something that her husband did not. However, today, the women are informed in matters of Judaism than most men are. This has exempted the husbands off their duty to educate their wives. As Binyomin says, they only need to be reminded whenever it is necessary. (Shaul Wallach, 1994)
Women either bring a man up or down.
There is a common story among the Jews of Rabbi Akiva. Having lived as an illiterate shepherd, he decided to study the Torah at the age of forty. Once he told his wife, she was very supportive of the idea. He started by learning the Hebrew alphabet like a child. After completing his studies, Akiva became one of the greatest Torah scholars who ever lived. He constantly told his students that he owed all his success to his wife because of the support she gave him. (Kornbluth etal, pg 34-35)
Women in the synagogue
Women have a limited role to play in the synagogue, first of all because their role is not as big as the men’s. However, they can pray the silent standing prayer as the men do, although they do not need to pray the full prayer service in the synagogue which the men pray. While in the synagogue, the men are separated from the women with a curtain or a wall
(mechitza) or by letting the woman pray at the second floor balcony. The separation of the men and the women in the Synagogue has been said to be discriminating. But it has to be understood that the reason why men and the women do not pray together is because the men may be distracted by a woman’s presence while in the process of prayers. This is also done because before the Israelites were given the Torah, many of the worshipping practices involved sexual activity. Such an occurrence is prevented when the men and the women are separated, so that they do not even think about it during prayers such separations were also done at the temples long ago. (Torah one on one, 2008)
Women’s role in Judaism
In general, the roles of men in Judaism are more compared to those of the men. But this does not mean that the women are excluded from the Jewish way of life. The women are more spiritual than the men and are therefore closer to G-d. The women being exempted from doing certain things does not mean that they can’t do them or are not good enough at them. Judaism is not all about attending prayers at the synagogue, but is about all the aspects of your life. It is about the things that you do from the time you wake up, to what you eat, how you dress, what you do during the day and how you conduct yourself to the time you go to sleep in the evening.
This is why some Jewish women prefer to serve G-d through their deeds at home, such as bringing up the children, and doing other things to serve the family unit. The Jews believe that G-d placed them on earth so that they can become better and more spiritual people. The mitzvot are given to us to guide us to become better people and to grow in the areas of our lives that are weak. (Torah one on one, 2008)
Jewish women in the Torah
There is an outer bible which comprises of the stories of men and women and of stories like those of wars. According to the ancient traditions, there is an inner bible, where each story is viewed from a perspective that covers the beauty, light and wisdom of the characters. From the outside, the women of the Bible appear to be playing the roles of supportive wives and mothers, to the men in their lives. However, these women were the reason for the success of these men. They manipulated and nurtured them to be what they are with their feminine values. Solomon said that a woman of value is the crown of her husband. Below are some women who made a difference in the stories in the Torah.
Genesis says that Adam called his wife Chava, for she was the mother of all life. Eve was the other side of the image of G-d; in the sense that G-d is within all things, to be whatever they are and to giving them life. Eve is said to be the Divine Presence that Dwells Within, (Shechina).The yearning to experience the taste of life, to be involved with it is what drove the earthly Chava to eat the fruit. By doing this, she went beyond the limits that G-d had set for her. She desired to move from the realm of the Divine; to where everything that is real is the here and now, where it is hard to differentiate what is good and what is evil. Eve took with her the Shechina, and imprisoned her as well so that there was destruction and confusion on earth was the result of her actions.
However, the desire behind her transgression was the holy yen of the Shechina to permeate all. She will succeed in the end, and the life within will also be G-dly. As long as there is drama in the world, the Shechina is silent and does not sing. She plays the secondary role in the minds of the people. Her husband conquers and subdues, while she provides life and nurture. Such is how the mind of an immature world is. A time will come when the secret of the inner light will be revealed, and then Chava, the mother of all life will sing a
loud with joy. (Freeman Tzvi, 2005)
Sarah was the wife of Abraham. She was a wise woman. This can be proved from Genesis21:122, where G-d tells Abraham to listen to whatever she tells him. She was the first one to heal the wound that Sarah had made. She descended to Pharaoh’s palace, to the snake’s nest, resisted his enticement rose up successfully. She was able to live with enticement but was able to remain in touch with G-d. She achieved this through the support of Abraham, although he was unable to do so himself.
In doing this, Abraham performed the role of a man, to activate the power that lies dormant in a woman. The role of a woman in a man’s life is to ensue that he is in touch with the Shechina, some thing that Sarah was able to do. She is the expression of the universal power of purification and the healing of men’s souls. What Chava confused and mixed, Sarah refines, where Chava brought darkness, Sarah bring light. Sarah’s work is evident in every generation, in that she decides the stains that must be cleaned and he impurity that must be rejected. (Freeman Tzvi, 2005)
Miriam is the sister of Moses and Aaron. She is one of the women that have been respected in the Torah for being wise and intelligent. She watched Moses grow up. Exodus 2:4 states, “His sister stood from afar to know what would become of him.” This is proof that she loved and took care of his brother like a Jewish woman should, even though she was young. She hid among the reeds to watch over his brother when Pharaoh ordered all the male children killed. She guarded the promise that all her people waited for, without letting it go out of her sight. Miriam means bitterness, the bitterness of her people being bound in slavery. This is what drives her to protect her brother, to ensure that he saves her people from slavery. In her
merit, we were redeemed form slavery. Such is the merit of today’s Jewish women of faith, and with it, the whole world will be redeemed from its darkness. (Freeman Tzvi, 2005)
In concluding this term paper, I would say that the assumptions that people have come up with to prove that Judaism discriminates women are all false. Examples of Jewish women that have played their role well in the Torah have been discussed. Also, of the great men mentioned in the Torah and in the writings of the Jews, many had wives wiser, more intelligent and greater than them, and daughters that were greater than their sons too. Such men are Isaac, Jacob and Abraham, and Adam. This was the case too with some of the Rabbis, like Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Meir and other great masters of the Kabbalah.