Almost all of the Hebrew Bible ignores women. When females are mentioned, it seems only to describe heterosexuality, sexual violence, and childbirth. And even the latter is not safe, since it often says that guys ‘begot’ kids. Very strange for a benevolent Creat^r and moral tradition.
But, on the other hand, Orthodox Rabbis are often the most-women-friendly men on the planet. In fact, so women-friendly that, when you ask them about their ban on male homosexuality, they’re not even interested. They only see the problems of the ‘chained women,’ not ‘chained gays.’
Classical Christianity very much stressed that Eve brought the Primordial Sin into the world. Judaism says that Adam should not have listened to his wife, but this is rectified when G^d tells Abraham to do all Sarah tells him.
Feminism wants equal rights for women. But the Jewish system is very much one of holding people to their responsibilities rather than have them insist on rights. A serious misfit with feminism. Modernity has opened many doors for women, including Orthodox-Jewish ones. But Judaism was the first movement in the world to take some women’s concerns seriously.
To address another layer of confusing reality, feminism has been a trap of traditional society to burden women even more. Now, most women are not only allowed to compete in the job market (for lower pay) but they are also supposed to have a career and run a household at the same time. ‘Feminist’ husbands often promise to do half the chores but rarely deliver.
Could there be a Jewish-feminist viewpoint that breaks with neither?
Copying the Men or Not?
We have seen many attempts by Orthodox women demanding equality with men. A women’s section in the synagogue. Women officiating at the Service. Women learning Talmud. Women learning to be Rabbis. Equality that seems copied from secular society. Why tolerate discrimination?
This is much better than women (and men) allowing a subservient position of women. For that, it’s a big step forward. And generally, women do so much better. Ginger Rogers set the same steps as Fred Aster, on high heels and backward. There can be no doubt that women can outdo the men.
A second possibility is to have women blossom, even ignoring the men.
Unfortunately, many Reform Congregations see Shabbat services with beaming women doing it all splendidly but without the men because they are tired and preferred to sleep in. It’s not that the women are not tired but they learned to first get the work out of the way so that they ‘can’ rest. And without separation between men and women, men are not forced to relate to men anymore. And to relate to women, they do already at home.
A Proposal for an Alternative
I want to suggest a new way to frame the issue that may make problems surprisingly disappear and unexpected possibilities open up effortlessly.
Judaism gives more responsibilities to the socially powerful. And men are truly pelted with an endless list of Divine demands. Do women need this?
Perhaps, the Bible and Jewish Law focus on men because they are the main problem in the world. Not that there are no lazy, mean, dishonest, cruel women, but you know what I mean. Selfishness, fighting, power playing, creating wars, and committing sexual violence. The world’s jails are full of men and not because women get away with anything.
If a certain medicine is good for heart or cancer patients, should everyone take it? Of course not! So, why should women try to go through the grueling demands Jewish Law puts on men? The Torah and Jewish Law leave women largely alone because they trust them.
Before the CORONA, I used to go to a weekly ultra-Orthodox lecture for women where men are allowed (in the back). The first thing I noticed was the excellent questions these women ask. No power struggle to be heard and no ‘tell me how cute I am before I feel safe to say what I think.’ They know their stuff and pinpoint where the Rabbi could expand on what he said. He takes them seriously and they take themselves seriously. Their ideas are really from a women’s perspective and very worthwhile.
The whole world is enriched when women share their thinking (not necessarily in the male way of building theories). Everybody’s life will go better when more women are in positions of power. Not because they are better than men (they are). But because they have so much to contribute.
My wish is that many women will not have to waste their energy in competing with men. Their own voices are good enough as they are.
And women should never give up on training the best men in their lives (father, partner, sons, students, colleagues) to be solid allies to women.
The above is a totally heterosexual story because Jewish Law generally prescribes for the average person. However, because of the enormous debt feminism and all women owe lesbians and transwomen (and Jewish women), let me add that if a woman’s voice is very valuable to be heard, just imagine how valuable a lesbian’s and a transwoman’s voice are!
And for men who get nervous from the above, let me add: understandably. Let me then add, for when women become the dominant voice in society, (which they are not at all yet,) that a man’s voice is very interesting too.
Agree or disagree with any of this. I’m happy if it inspired you to think.