Hardly anyone hasn't balked at the big recent question "When is a woman in her prime?" that was stealing headlines only a few years after the "Me Too" revolution, which took place decades after women had already crashed so many glass ceilings regarding the right to vote, and equality in receiving higher education and career success, it shocks me how society still has a long way to go in the journey for equality and respect for women.
It leads me to wonder, is there a better way? As a Jewish woman and mother of Jewish girls, having just returned from the largest international women's leadership conference, I look to traditional Judaism to see if it can provide an outlook, a mentality, a culture, that gives women, and our femininity, the true respect it deserves.
I am often asked why women do not lead public services, read from the Torah scroll, or get called up for an aliyah in a traditional synagogue. In a society where equality means "same" and requires everyone to have identical responsibilities, those may be valid questions.
The Torah, a holy code of law that doesn’t change based on lasting or fleeting social norms, teaches us that just as there is a heart and brain in the human body, each with different and unique roles, and different and unique responsibilities - one no greater than the other - so too men and women have different and unique roles and responsibilities in Judaism. Let's remember that no human can live with just a heart or just a brain. A healthy human needs both, one of each, and each functioning as intended.
Although I’ve only just touched the tip of the iceberg on this big and deserving topic, I wanted this little space here to talk about how ironic the above concerns of a woman’s role in Judaism sounds to me. When looking at how much responsibility is attributed to the woman, I wonder why the questions even come up.
I’ll start with the big one. Jewishness is passed through matrilineal descent. A father can be as holy as Moses, but if his children's biological mother is not Jewish, his children are not Jewish unless they choose to convert. Jewish identity depends exclusively on the woman!
Here's another thought to consider. In order to convert to Judaism, one must accept all the mitzvas, but there is a tremendous emphasis on three specific areas; family purity (mikva), Shabbat observance and Kosher. Each of these mitzvahs are commonly the woman's domain. The home environment on Shabbat, the kosher standards, and mikva, are very much feminine responsibilities!
I'd say this speaks volumes about how G-d, Torah, and its holy laws, value and trust the Jewish woman.
It almost makes me wonder: Where is the male outrage? Look how much the Torah cherishes the woman! How do the men feel about that? I feel compelled to ask the men reading this: Are you still with me? Are you ok? :)
It seems clear to me that as segments of modern Judaism drifted further away from the core daily observance of Judaism, and Jewish life started centering mostly on the once-a-week or once-a-year attendance at synagogue, the role of the Jewish women seemed to be lacking. But maybe we should pause and ask ourselves: Is the synagogue truly the center of Jewish life? Or is it the home?
Perhaps those concerns about women and Judaism stem from an altered Jewish observance.
Every Friday afternoon, as I get ready to light the Shabbat candles with my daughters, my toddler son Levi clamors to get his turn to light as well, which of course I oblige, if only to avoid the inevitable tantrum. I wonder as he grows up, and grows out of this, how he will feel about his role in Judaism being different from his sisters. When will he be old enough to understand that this treasured family moment is actually for the gals, and he gets to do other mitzvahs. He will wear a kippah, put on tefillin, and maybe even take a leading role in shul. I appreciate Judaism, which gives its women an awesome, tremendous, envious responsibility that conveys how much a Jewish woman and her femininity is treasured, valued, and cherished by the Torah.
We just celebrated Purim, which highlighted a Jewish heroine amongst many others, Queen Esther. She may not have been called to the bimah for an aliyah, but she's got a whole scroll named after her!
I hope my thoughts give you a new perspective, and make you think. I look forward to continuing the conversation!
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Living life and raising Jewish children