As anyone who has read my blog before knows, I’m a staunch advocate of people doing what they love, regardless of gender. However, today we need to put aside “do what you love” for a minute, and talk about “do what you must.” We often have responsibilities, duties that perhaps we don’t enjoy but must be fulfilled nonetheless. And these are the actions that ultimately allow our lives, or homes, or communities to function smoothly. And in this area, the “regardless of gender” philosophy applies as well, and is perhaps even more important than shunning gender roles to follow one’s dream. Here, we are shunning gender roles to save the Jewish people.
I don’t think anyone would argue with the premise that men are equally obligated as their female counterparts in creating a warm, caring home in which to raise the next generation of the world’s population. It’s not just about providing the means for food and shelter, but catering to the emotional needs of their children, as well. Similarly, women are equally obligated in ensuring that the infrastructure of their society is ethical, moral, and focused on meeting the needs of all its members. Our judicial systems, our social welfare systems, and our governments must be formed on the basis of input and participation from both men and women.
In Mishlei (Proverbs), King Solomon tells us “Chachmot nashim banta beita.” Essentially, wise women use their intelligence to keep their households peaceful and running smoothly. What’s interesting about this verse is the use of the word “chochma,” the kind of intelligence associated with logic, linear thinking and problem-solving, instead of “bina,” which is typically the word used to refer to a woman’s intuitive understanding and empathy—the sort of smarts one would assume are required in building a loving home.
Rashi says this verse refers to the wife of On ben Pelet who (while highly praised in classic Jewish literature does not seem to merit having her name mentioned) understood her obligation to prevent her husband, an influential member of the community, from joining forces with a political movement that was detrimental to the continuity of the Jewish people—that of Korach and his rebels.
In this era, in a country that subscribes to Western values, where women can hold government offices, create and manage organizations, and should, at least in theory, have as much influence on the shaping of our society as men, they are no longer relegated to being the “woman behind the man.” The wife of On ben Pelet today would be a journalist, a politician, the chairwoman of a pro-Moshe Rabbeinu organization. The “bayit” that is mentioned in “Chachmot nashim banta beita” does not only refer to individual households and families; it should also be understood as “beit Yisrael,” the Jewish nation. The intelligence of wise women is what will hold our people together. The only way for this house of Israel to stay intact is to allow women to participate, to give over the knowledge that only they possess. Without it, we are a shaky structure. Women need to be involved in halachic decision-making. They need to be involved in the Beit Din. They must raise their voices and demand a say in how Judaism is evolving. Not because women want to be like men, or do what men do, to prove some supposed feminist point. But because we are a nation in crisis. Without women’s involvement, we are refusing to utilize an essential resource, a wealth of information and knowledge, practical solutions and creative problem-solving, without which the Jewish nation cannot survive!
I have been lucky enough to have been included in the creation of a new initiative, dubbed Chochmat Nashim, consisting of a group of observant Jewish women who have had enough of the abuse, disunity and discrimination within our own communities and Israeli society in general, falsely committed in the name of Torah. We aim to utilize our collective intelligence and talents to ensure that the House of Israel is a secure structure, filled with a loving and accepting family. And we welcome the support and participation of all who wish to help us achieve this goal.
Bahtya Minkin is a member of Chochmat Nashim. Chochmat Nashim is an initiative by Jewish women, observant of both Torah and society at large. We harness our collective strength and compassion to confront injustice and intolerance within the Jewish world. Committed to the dictates and spirit of Halakhah, we rigorously promote a platform of reason and moderation to be catalysts for practical and just solutions to contemporary challenges. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.