Women in Judaism, Part II: Woman ≠ Man (so I learned)

This post is a continuation of “Women in Judaism, PART I: Woman = Man (so I was taught)” – read that first.

A Logical Framework to the Discussion

Let me preface by saying I’m not going to give an apologetic answer to those who demand everything be the exact same for men and women.  It’s simply not.  Absent a source of absolute right and wrong, imposing a premise on a system which is based on different premises is intolerant.  There is little more abhorrent than a person who claims to be a liberal acting as if they know better than those who believe differently than them, or try to “right historical wrongs” by being just as intolerant in the other direction.  Such a person is not, in fact, “liberal” in the John Stuart Mill sense of the word, and rebels against an intolerant system, by acting . . . the exact same.

Having stated the above, if one starts with the premise of total “equality” for men and women, then yes, Torah Judaism is not that and something is “wrong”.  If one starts with the premise that “men have strengths and weaknesses, and women have different strengths and weaknesses” then a system which promotes anything but each sexes strengths and weaknesses, is “wrong”.  The midrash actually tells us that in Mitzrayim [Egypt], one of the ways Jews were punished was to give men the jobs of women, and women the job’s of men.

The Strengths and Weaknesses of Man and Woman

women-men-equalImagine forcing men to be the kindergarten teachers and women to be the construction workers.  It just doesn’t happen this way, no matter how open the fields are to each sex.  Maybe if we did this 50/50, it would be “equal”, but the large majority would also be miserable, we probably would not have very well adjusted kindergartners, and while we might even get some great buildings built, I know of few women who get enjoyment out of such activities day in and day out.

The Torah has two accounts of creation of man and woman.  In one account, man and woman are created from the earth – this is the organic body.  In the second account, referring to our souls, only man is created from the earth.  Man is more connected with the earth and manipulating it.  Men get enjoyment out of building large towers and making physical objects work.  We need this stuff for our enjoyment.  We want to connect back to where we come from.

Women, on the other hand, are made from the rib (interior) of man.  That is, they are made from another person.  Women tend to be more social, their brains are actually wired differently with a need to talk things out more, and they are relationship-based beings.  Feelings and emotions are almost always more important to a woman than to a man.  A man goes out and conquers the world, and a woman conquers the man.

Therefore, Judaism Says . . .

. . . let’s cultivate the areas that work for each sex.  Let’s form a functioning society based on our biology (which we believe is G_d created), and more than that, “It is not good for man to be alone . . . I shall make him a helpmate” as said by the Creator, in Bereshis [Genesis] 2:18.  Based on Rashi in Tractate Kiddushin [The Babylonian Talmud tractate on marriage], men are required to get married, but women want it more.  There is a commandment for men to do so, but there is no need to command women.  So too, the famous commandment to “be fruitful and multiply” applies to men, not women.  Women want it more, but men need it more.  (Various other reasons are also given, and we can never know the full depth of mitzvahs [commandments] and reasons of an infinite Creator, as our powers of understanding lack infinity).

Further things follow from this . . .

Men, According to Judaism

Men put black boxes on their head (to properly use thought) and arm (to properly act), whereas women don’t need these external reminders every weekday of their life.  Men wear reminders of the creator around them at all time – instead of a string on the finger, it’s strings hanging from the shirt, reminding of mitzvahs.  Men have to join with ten other men, three times a day, to talk, in largely silent prayer to have a relationship with the creator (in a relationship style developed by a female, Chana).

It gets better – as men, we’re actually commanded to sleep outside in the fall, under a roof full of holes!  My wife can’t tell me it’s too late in the season to go camping … I’m commanded to be in a sukkah by G_d, and my sons are coming with me!  (There’s that whole “man goes out to conquer the world, woman conquers man” bit again.)  Not only that, we’re supposed to blow a ram’s horn once a year, and other fun stuff like that, which, for some reason not understandable to my male brain, women just don’t seem to enjoy as much.  (As an aside, every time I build a manly sukkah, my wife wants to decorate it.)

Women, According to Judaism

Women, on the other hand, don’t have to have these external physical reminders around them.  They can pray alone just the same (but can go to a synagogue as well, as many do, though typically in a much less time-structured or rigorous manner), and, according to Jewish sources, have an extra amount of “bina” or intuition.  This is the natural ability to connect with the Creator and know things.  Statistically, not just in Judaism, there are more females who become “religious” and more males who become “not religious” often leading to more women than men.

The mitzvahs which, in traditional Judaism, fall on women are three things: a) candle lighting for the Sabbath, b) taking challah from the bread, and c) niddah, or physically separating from her husband based on her menstrual cycle.  More on the third one in the article on mikveh’s, but these have to do with, in order, at least, a) harmony in the home, b) feeding others, and her relationship with her husband.  In short, they are all about relationships – talking, eating, and … skiddilypooping.  No commandment / requirement for boxes on the head, blowing ram’s horns, or sleeping outside . . . that’s men’s stuff, though in most cases, a woman can join in when she chooses to do so (not ‘forced’ to do so, like men).

Female <–> Male Interactions in Judaism

Short answer – We limit them, especially outside of family and business settings.  The longer answer involves, “why?”  Going back to the parrot example in Part I, a normal healthy man, shall we say, is naturally distracted by women.  A self-respecting woman, for her part, won’t want to be looked at in public as the object of testosterone, but will want a relationship with those around her.  Well before my days as a religious Jew, I once went to “Lilith Fair”, an all female concert (“Lilith” comes from another medrash about the two mentions of creation of man and woman, incidentally).  Alanis Morissette (a female singer…) who was up there is some not-so-modest clothing, as one expects at these sorts of events.  However, when she had something serious to sing, she literally looked like a nun with how she covered herself.  So too, woman in respectable jobs can often be confused for modestly dressed Torah observant Jews.

Now, just as I have trouble understanding how my wife fails to enjoy the fun of nailing boards to build a Sukkah and sleeping outside under a roof full of holes while it’s drizzling and near freezing, I’ve found that conversely, women tend to lack an understanding of just what a man’s instinctual drives are like.  Quoting as best I remember from my female professor of behavioral biology in college, “men have innate sexual reactions to women, especially, large areas of skin, the curves inside the legs, flowering hair, and secondary sexual characteristics such as breasts.”  She could well have been teaching at a Jewish yeshiva or seminary because those are exactly the areas that a Jewish woman covers when anywhere around men who aren’t close family.  Yes, this sometimes takes effort and inconvenience and isn’t the “do whatever you feel like” attitude, but it is more meaningful for society, and also, for each individual.  The relationships between men and women can be more sexual where one can and should act on those desires, and more verbally communicative and understood in public.  (In reality, a husband/wife relationship in Judaism the alternation of both.)

When talking to G_d, it therefore follows that men should not be distracted by their instinctual drives whatsoever, except in the context of that drive being used for a mitzvah.  As such, we don’t pray in front of an immodestly dressed woman, and when we formally pray at a synagogue, do so where we are separated from women so we can concentrate.

Summary: Man’s (and Woman’s) Search for Meaning & Where Judaism Draws the Lines on Female / Male Interaction

By being immodest in dress, action, and otherwise, the senses are dulled, relationships are cheapened, and the intimacy between man and woman in a relationship lacks as much specialness because part of that specialness is lost to unwillingly sharing it or receiving it with others.  Judaism teaches to celebrate the differences between men and women, not to negate women to take on the role of men, and to act in a way which commands respect in public for the person, not the lust for the body.

The lines have to be drawn somewhere.  In secular society, it’s still not okay to walk around completely naked, for example.  In Judaism, there are various gradations among individuals and communities, but women cover from the neckline to the elbows and the curves between the legs (at least knee length skirts), and do not sing in front of men (see what happened in Mr. Holland’s Opus?), and do not go out of their way to be a public figure to be stared at.  Being a two-way street, men are supposed to try to avoid looking at immodestly dressed women and the line, in Jewish law, is far before it’s “too late” as we don’t even touch a non-relative of the opposite sex and are not even to be secluded with a non-relative of the opposite sex.

In Part III – where Secular Feminism has it right and where it has it wrong …


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6 Responses

  1. Michael says:

    Your article has essentially ignored most of the other problems with judiasm and women. Even looking at purely biblical commandments and not Rabbinic, women cannot be judges or witnesses. They cannot divorce men, only the reverse. The father can sell his daughter to be a maid servant or marry her off. Women were not able to be Kohanim even though they’re supposed to be ‘holier’. And how exactly is it fair if women are holier than men? Seems unfair to men. Plus this ignores as I said the Rabbinic stuff. Rabbi Eliezer and not teaching torah to women. The bracha thank me for creating me as you are and not thank you for not making me a man. Tzniut (let’s face it there’s no commandment in the Torah for this). The apologetics for these things are extremely weak.

    • tostien says:

      I don’t believe men and woman are supposed to serve the exact same functions or are even happy, in general, doing so. Men generally take the more public roles out of need, but ideally no one should be seeking public honor or fame. Everyone has different jobs in life … one could also say it’s not fair that someone is born more or less intelligent, to a richer or poorer family, etc. We’re not all equals but we all have struggles, challenges, and growth. This is, in short, one of the answers in sefer Iyuv (Job) when he complains about it … if we all had the same things and there were no differences and no way of having more or less than any other creature, we’d all be worms crawling through the dirt. What kind of King would G_d be if that’s what G_d were king over? Rather, G_d is king over a vast variety of creatures from worms to plants to animals to six different kinds of angels (see Derech Hashem).

      Back to men and women … one of the greatest things we can do, in a G_d-centric world, is to create more life and give to another. Guess what? I can’t do that! The only way I can do that is to partner with my wife. Is that “fair”? Maybe not, but rather than fight G_d’s world (and biology) I go with it and have a great family and am happier for it.

      Then you say “is it fair the women are holier than men” … same as above … maybe not in a 1:1 comparison sense, but if you’re G_d creating the world, again, you’re going to create different things and in the ultimate sense, when considering everything, it’s all “fair” … just different in the detail. Would you rather be created holier and have less room to grow … or created less holy and have to work harder where you might fall short but could go further? I can’t say which is “better” or which is more “fair” but trust that it’s all “fair”.

      The brocha you refer to is along those lines … a man has more room to grow with more “stuff” he can do but also, and I don’t think one needs to look at religion for this, a whole lot stronger inclinations to do wrong in the world.

      … and just because you -can- do certain things (e.g. sell your daughter as a servant) doesn’t mean you should. I happen to have learned that very recently in the Gemora in Kiddushin and it’s not looked favorable upon but if you’re starving, it sure is a better option that will help both you and your daughter receive compensation and be taken care of and protected. Looking at things like this in 2019 with a completely different societal layout, which in many ways, has come a very long way where we take care of our poor and there’s so much wealth going around that no one is starving to death (at least, not in the United States) and we don’t need to rely on things like selling ourselves into servitude to pay back debts, etc.

      … and yes, tznious is very much in our mesorah. See mesechtos Sotah … see the story of Kimchas … etc, etc.

  2. Rivki Silver says:

    Again, very well-written. It’s unfair that so many girls are raised, in essence, to be men. It’s a very confusing experience. B”H for the clarity of Torah! And you bring it out very nicely.

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