The Torah is the world’s original, first feminist text
I applaud women refusing to accommodate non-stop. Before becoming happy and friendly, after being forced to ‘be nice’ all the time, be nasty and moody for as long as you need. No one should be treated as a slave.
I applaud any woman who rebels against sexism in Jewish circles or men. For me, they don’t have to prove when they feel treated as second-class. In a society that conspires against feelings, her feelings are good enough.
However, I don’t like it when men or women claim that Judaism started out as a primitive sect, hateful to women and children. This would be OK if there were grounds to say so. But, don’t make up slander about the Torah. How vain to assume we must be on a higher moral level than the Sages!
Seeing how much the Torah values women, we should presume that all mistreatment of women, individually and institutionally, is the result of assimilation of non-Jewish ideas, norms, and customs.
Thousands of years ago, the Torah was a real revolution. When universally, poor people and women were treated as slaves, the Torah departed from that. Women got rights. Women were portrayed as greater than men. Abraham asks G^d if he should listen to his wife on one occasion. G^d replies literally (Genesis 21:12): You do anything she tells you. The Torah burdens men in general, the rich, and the powerful with endless amounts of Commandments to make the lives of the socially less powerful better.
My rabbi always says: In lectures, I always have to defend how Judaism is not sexist. But, my wife is very content to be an Orthodox-Jewish woman.
A book review saying the opposite prompted me to write this post. I find the baseless slander quoted quite undeserved and so disturbing. Especially because the publishers have issued such excellent Jewish books and the author and the reviewer claim to be knowledgeable Orthodox Jews.
Maybe this knowledgeable author’s text has been killed by an editor or is misrepresented here. He was not so ignorant or dishonest to cherry-pick, take out of context, and mistranslate as it reads below. Let me go over the review point by point. It says the book claims that in the earliest period, Jewish ‘women were treated as creatures somewhere between animals and men, beings far inferior to men, created to serve men.’ Then, ‘many, but not all rabbis, tried to mitigate the situation and treat women as human beings.’ Let’s see the examples it brings to prove these two points.
The reviewer thinks ‘Orthodox Judaism should be embarrassed for not resolving the many discriminatory practices against women. Far too little has been done since 1990,’ when the book was first published. That could be true. The whole of Orthodox Judaism is stagnating. But to slander the Torah … He claims that ‘a living Torah must speak to the unique needs of each generation.’ That is warped. The Jewish Tradition isn’t a supermarket where one can pick up whatever needs one has. It is a demanding lifestyle more than an accommodating one. It doesn’t come to serve us. It wants us to serve. Against the norms of every human-made society, it charges the powerful more than the vulnerable. The latter should be protected.
The book claims that ‘even prophets [sic: plural] degraded women. The prophet Jeremiah said in 51:30 that Jews sat passively, failing to act when they should have. “They have become like women.” [Sic: one example.]‘ Yet, this verse doesn’t talk about Jews but about Gentile warriors. It also doesn’t say that they failed to act when they should. Rather, in those days, women were not sent to the battlefields. These powerless soldiers had become like women [who don’t fight in wars]. Nothing degrading here.
The book continues that originally, Jewish Law ‘was that if one sees a man and a woman drowning, he [sic – the savior needs to be a male?] should first try to save the man.’ The opposite of women and children first. But, in planes, we’re told that, when oxygen levels fall, grownups accompanying children should first put on their own masks before assisting their children. In those days too, women were stronger to survive physical hardship and so should be saved last. And women needed the protection of men. First, save the man so that she doesn’t stay unprotected. In other words, it’s just how you explain it. The agenda shows when it’s only explained one way. Most shockingly, the Mishnah doesn’t say at all that a man should be saved before a woman. It says a wise person above an ignoramus, even a learned bastard before an unlearned High Priest! This book pretends that a woman is always less learned than a man? Now, who’s the sexist here?
‘Only men were allowed to initiate marriage and divorce; women were to be treated as property, which one could acquire and dispose of.’ This is so untrue that I wonder if this is a typo, somehow. Jewish marriage is only obligatory for men. Women could die in childbirth and Jewish Law doesn’t obligate anyone to a life that naturally may kill. Can it be more feminist? Men sign for obligations to their wives. Wives don’t sign anything. If she’s displeased, she can go to the Rabbis and demand a divorce. A disgruntled man has no right to divorce his wife on insufficient grounds. The whole marriage idea is mainly to protect women against the well-known, ongoing trend among most men to have sex as much as they can with as many women as possible without obligations to them or their own offspring.
‘Rabbi Akiva (circa 135), whose views are part of halakhah today, ruled that a husband may divorce his wife against her will if he found another woman more pleasing to him than his wife.’ First of all, Rabbi Akiva’s views are not just part of Jewish Law today. All of Judaism that we have today comes through him. All of it. The author and the reviewer don’t know this? It’s Judaism 101. And so is that Rabbi Akiva claimed that all virtue he ever accomplished was because of his holy wife! And you trash him for disrespecting women? He is quoted in Mishnah Gittin Chapter IX but not as cited here. He adds to what the other Sages say in the same Mishnah that sometimes a man can want a divorce “because he doesn’t like her.” Yet, a Jewish man cannot divorce his Jewish wife against her will, just like that. The divorce laws on their own permit this, but other laws stop that anyway. The Torah says you absolutely cannot hurt a woman. The Sages use this to block a man from throwing his wife away. The Torah deals with honest people. But it leaves space for the Sages to block dishonest ones. If he still doesn’t want her anymore, he needs to pay her through the nose.
‘The renowned Torah commentator Rashi (1040-1105) wrote, “For the wife serves her husband like a maid-servant, like a slave his master.”’ First of all, Rashi is not a ‘renowned Torah commentator.’ Nothing would be left of present Judaism without his Commentary on the Hebrew Bible, including the Talmud. How can learned Jews not know this? I’m just stunned. Further, Rashi’s two daughters were very learned and wore phylacteries. Everyone knows this. How come this is left out? But their father was a sexist? Is this book or its review trying to teach us or manipulate us?
You know what? Until here. This cost me too much time already. It’s always a problem that many untruths or misunderstandings can be packed in one line while refuting each of them often cost so many sentences.
The reviewer doesn’t even see that men should not sit with women during a prayer service to teach most men to leave their comfort zone and relate to other men and break nuclear families’ tendency to huddle together excluding all singles. And he doesn’t see that the Torah focuses on men because generally, men are the leading problem in this world, not women.
Everyone can see from the above that this book deserves no credit if this review represents it properly. It’s a shocking bunch of nonsense that has nothing to do with Orthodox Judaism.
Yes, there are plenty of Jewish men who misbehave toward women. Some sometimes, some more often, some always. Respect for women, like any other aspect of Jewish Law may be violated. Don’t blame the Law for it.
Judaism puts up plenty of challenges for every Jew. In general, we don’t do so badly. Improvement is needed. That’s why we’re here. Especially to rid Judaism of influences from outside. But, it’s not helpful to misrepresent Orthodox Judaism and then criticize your strawman. A disgrace it is.