If you do not appreciate the below, please share it with your grandmothers, mother, sisters, aunts, wife, mother-in-law, daughters, granddaughters, and female colleagues and acquaintances and ask them (English has no feminine plural for her) what they think of it and listen well. And also show it to the boys and men in your life. (If you like it, you will share it anyway.)
On Shavuot, Jewish Pentecost, we celebrate and commemorate the Revelation at Mount Sinai when we received the summary of the Torah, the Ten Sayings (in the non-Jewish world called the Ten Commandments) and we request and celebrate the coming down of Jewish insights for a whole coming year of Jewish learning.
A Question Begs Answers
Just before the Festival this year, I was thinking about the well-known idea that the first half of the Sayings deal with Obligations between Man and G^d and the second half with Injunctions between Man and his Fellow.
And I asked myself, And where is the representation of the most basic relationship, that of a person with oneself?
We probably all have heard said on “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) that one first needs to love oneself before one can love others. This may be true for most men but it is definitely not true for most children and women. It can’t be that the Torah would leave this out.
So much of our insights depend on us wondering. So many answers are floating around waiting for us to be pulled down by a question. In my experience, good answers will come though it may take a while. But when we don’t ask, we will never know how many things we don’t know.
In this case, the answers came rolling in even before the Festival started. So, I had two days to contemplate them and expand on them.
The Torah is a Sexist Document
Now, if you love G^d and the Torah, don’t get angry. I do too and I promise you a happy end. Just keep reading.
When a man addresses a mixed crowd, most of them women, and ignores the women completely — “Gentlemen! How are you?” — what do you call that? Sexist. It makes me think of how Jewish married women were called 50 years ago in the US. Forget about losing one’s maiden name. They were even bereft of their own names. Mrs. David Baker and Mrs. Alan Cohen.
The Torah ignores women greatly. Women are mostly paraded when they are needed for a story about marriage, sex, childbirth. But even in the latter case, they are often omitted:
- About the 20 generations before Abraham we learn how the leading men “begot” sons. We hardly hear about women.
- Jacob went down to Egypt with seventy people “and their wives.”
- We left Egypt with so many men who are counted several times on G^d’s command. This, to show the importance of each of us and the great love He has for us but the women are not even mentioned.
How can a perfect and just (Genesis 18:25) G^d give humans One Document and that is sexist?
This question — and its answer — is closely related to another question.
How can a perfect, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, indivisible G^d create an imperfect world full of suffering, injustice, evil, and contrasts?
The answer to the second question is: G^d created an imperfect world, ready for humans to perfect together with Him. Every imperfection is an invitation to us to team up with Him and put in the finishing touch. Especially, we need to perfect ourselves. Just as G^d says in the Torah (Genesis 1:26): “Let us make Man,” meaning: you and Me together. And since we are fit to do this, the world is already perfect (for this purpose).
Before answering the first question of how G^d could write a sexist Torah, first a third question. What do the following statements have in common:
- We all cried all night at the report of the Spies. G^d decides to let that whole generation die out before we could enter the Land.
- History is one long chain of wars, connected by brief interludes.
- With the progress of medical science, soon, the leading cause of death will be murder.
These clauses have in common that the culprits in each of them are men. The men had to die before we could enter the Promised Land. Men make war. Men murder.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the Torah is primarily meant to tame the men. Women are sparsely mentioned because, by-and-large, they are not the problem.
In the US, small children are taught, if you ever feel in danger and you don’t know anyone present, run to a woman. I know that there are women who are violent and abusive, who are terrorists or serial child-molesters. But to destroy all life is such corruption of being “the mother of all life” (Genesis 3:20). These are exceptions that confirm the rule.
(I’m not talking about women joining the IDF as combat soldiers, like a close friend of my daughter. She did so to set high standards for herself and let no one tell her she can’t. But I’m sure she also did that to prevent a further genocide on the Jews, rather than looking forward to kill.)
The Jewish Tradition teaches that women should rule the house. Husbands should not just let them but actively support them. (Outside the home, men should learn to cooperate with other men, instead of fight and compete, especially in the synagogue. The mechitzah, separation between the men’s and the women’s section is first and foremost to prevent men from letting women do all the work and cooperation.)
Our Patriarch Abraham got the shock of his life when he complained about one idea from his wife to G^d. Because He told him to heed her voice on everything Sarah tells you (Genesis 21:11).
In fact, a true spouse helps a man if he wants to do something virtuous and will oppose him when he plans to do the opposite (Rashi, Genesis 2:18). Women are encouraged to keep their husbands decent.
So, the Torah is the most Feminist text one could want.
Women in the Ten Sayings
The last five of the Ten Sayings have G^d talking to men. Stop the violence.
The first five of the Ten Sayings have G^d talking to women.
And they start with the Royal I. G^d tell us that He consulted the Angels before creating humans to teach us to always talk it over with the people serving under you (Rashi on Genesis 1:26). Also here, He has no great need to start with such a prominent I but to tell us: Do as I, put yourself first. Without supporting yourself, nothing will work well. Hillel famously said: “If I’m not for myself, who should be (in a better position to be for me)?”
Surely, it helps to be properly loved. As Bea, a friend of a friend, who died last week, once said: “In the presence of love, you begin loving yourself.” But when no one yet loves you properly, you must start with self-love.
In the First Saying, G^d says that He liberated us from the Land of Egypt. Remember that we left Egypt because of the merit of our women.
The Second Saying tells us not to have other gods. Feel free to demand your husband’s total monogamy. Less (women) is more (closeness).
In the Third Saying, G^d forbids any resemblance of Him from the sky, on land, in the sea, or under the ground. Feel free to forbid any pornography whether via satellite, undersea cable, non-virtual stuff, or landline.
In the Fourth Saying, we are reminded to take Shabbat rest. Do shut him up or demand a break from activity whenever he seems unstoppable.
In the Fifth Saying, G^d wants honor for the parents. Feel free to expect full respect for the way that you parent.
Undercover, G^d sometimes talks to women directly in His Torah. He likes women. G^d is high away and exalted (ה’ רם ונישא) has the same Hebrew letters as He sees women (רואה נשים).
Societies have come a long way. In democracies, women have voting rights like men now. That’s only some 100 years on the books. Equal pay for equal work is a nice principle that is hardly realized anywhere. Women are more and more welcome to compete with men but only in their game and with their rules. Most work in the world, by far, is still done by women while they own less than 1% of all value.
In the Orthodox Jewish world, we see some women now also learn Talmud, pray the prayers prescribed to men, even don tzitzit, a prayer shawl, and phylacteries, and even learn to become rabbis.
This is all very courageous, but it’s not enough
Some 50 years ago, there was a lot of violence between the police and criminals in Amsterdam. Also demonstrations tended to turn violent. Instead of harnessing the police, another tactic was tried. The massive schooling and hiring of policewomen. Problem solved. They defused many tense situations. “You’re going to kill us and we’re going to kill you, is that what you really want?” “Just go home. We have enough people in lockup.”
Ginger Rogers did all the steps famous Fred Aster did, on high heels and backward. Don’t underestimate women. Equating women with men might very well be an insult. Just like equating Jews and Gentiles. Let me explain.
Jews got themselves the Divine obligation to be humanity’s teachers. When Gentile monotheists just want to “exchange views” with Jews, that is such an audacity. It totally denies our special obligations. If we ourselves want to just say that we are Gentiles’ friends, that is nice, humble, and correct. But they better confirm that we are their friends and teachers.
So, I don’t plead for female rabbis. That’s not what we need in this last epoch before Redemption. Let communities, next to rabbis, hire learned women to speak on their own level — not to imitate men. Therefore, I’d not call her a rabbi. Let’s say to call her a malka – a queen. An example.
A rabbi may speak about how we can violate Shabbat in order to try to save a Jew’s life. Better to break one Shabbat and so (hopefully) add many more observed Shabbats. [This is kind of a lame excuse (pardon the pun) as a danger to limb already allows for breaking Shabbat while a Jew with one limb less could observe Shabbat. This shows that the “reason” is not the real reason that Jewish Law allows this.] But, how do we save a Gentile’s life on Shabbat? That won’t bring more Shabbat observance. The answer: We can save a Gentile’s life on Shabbat because otherwise, Gentiles may threaten our lives or may not save us when we need saving.
Then the synagogue’s queen would speak. When human life is in danger, we of course save it. Shabbat or not. No principle is higher or more dear than the value of a human. Our Sages and Rabbis must find “reasons” but the real reason is that it’s obvious. We would not even want to be in a religion that sacrifices human lives. (If G^d demands a capital punishment, He only does so for our greatest Sages to find reasons that it doesn’t apply in any of the cases.) The only reason to take or not protect a life is to defend another life, for instance in self-defense. I am willing to receive G^d’s fury for saving someone’s life rather than letting someone die.
The reasoning for the latter speech comes from intuition. Intuition is thinking so fast that it escapes the slow rules of logic. Checking comes afterward. The first check is, Does it have the Ring of Truth? The second check is, Does it jive with our Tradition? The third check is, Does it confirm with the Fifth Part of The Code of Jewish Law — which has only four volumes. That means, is it common sense or common decency?
Men will be scared that women showing their superiority will disrespect them. And in the beginning, some may — out of anger and revenge for so much suffering they endured. But, reasonableness will set in. They will honor men in society as much as in their families.
To Hell with sexism.