Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sexism in Scriptures and in Life

One subject that I have found to be a big myth is the stigma of women in the observant community.  The secular world is convinced that women are treated as subservient citizens and it is all because the Bible treats them as such.  I had the exact same belief before I became observant since I had only lived in secular communities (about 48 years worth) which perpetuated that stereotype.  I didn’t know any observant Jews and could only believe what I had heard about them.  Then two things happened in my life.  One was a deeper analysis of what scriptures really says and the other was moving into an observant Torah community, meeting these wonderful people and experiencing the exact opposite of what I was led to believe. 

First of all, let us review what it says in scriptures.  The most amazing thing that I discovered was it is very one sided but against men not women.  “Women are at a higher spiritual level than men could ever be.”  What is the basis for that statement?  Because women can experience life in them and men can’t.  It is the primary reason that women are not obligated to fulfill many of the commandments.  Women are above the need for many commandments.  We see throughout scriptures that the women are more righteous than the men.  The original sin, as I had discussed yesterday, was mostly due to Adam not repenting his mistake.  We have additional insight into how a wife should assist her husband.  Hashem separated Adam and Eve and said that she should be “ezer kenegdo,” a helper parallel to him (Genesis 2:18).  This has an interesting connotation that in English we stress the first word a “helper” almost making her sound like a servant to him.  More accurately, the second word “parallel” or, I have even seen it translated as “against” him.  This makes her totally equal a partner who should even keep him straight when he makes mistakes.  She is there not to serve him but to work together on an equal basis and maybe even keep him out of trouble.  Maybe it isn’t so equal after all which is why we call our wives “our better half.” 

We are told that Sarah was more of a prophetess than Abraham being a prophet.   Isaac was not aware of the deception of his son Esau but Rivka was able to help Jacob achieve the birthright and perpetuate the will of Hashem.  Both Rachel and Leah were very wise and of great help to Jacob.  When the father of Moses, Amram, a leader in the community, decided to prevent further killings of the Jewish male babies, he required the men to divorce their wives. It was the wisdom and foresight of his daughter Miriam that changed his mind.  As a result of the prophecy that she experienced, her brother, Moses was born -- the deliver of the Jew people.  Shifra and Puah (who were really Yocheved and Miriam) acted as midwives and saved many Jewish babies.  The greatness of Queen Esther in her role that saved the Jews in Persia (the celebration of Purim) or Jehudit the one whose bravery helped save the Jews (the celebration of Chanukah) or the greatness of Chanah, Chulda, Michal, etc.  The fact that the women were not in favor of building the Golden Calf or that they did not believe the negative reports of the spies are very indicative of the much higher spiritual level that women have throughout history.  Many are not aware that because ten of the spies did come back with a negative report and the fact that the men didn’t have the high level of faith and trust in Hashem as the women did, there were two punishments that resulted.  One is that the Israelites would have to remain in the desert for 40 years, one year for each day that the spies were away (there is no validity to the fact that they were in the desert for 40 years because men refuse to ask for directions).  The other is that from that time on when men pray they will require a quorum of ten men in order to bring down the Shechinah, the divine presence of Hashem, one man for each negative spy.  Never think that women cannot be counted as part of a minion is a sexist of prejudicial act.  It is that women are at the higher level and don’t require this punishment of ten in order to pray to Hashem.  Women should never lower themselves to the level of men by wanting to be included in the minion.   (It’s interesting that this spirit of Hashem is a feminine word, which negates the poor English translation of Hashem as He.  Hashem is neither a He nor She.  But, the different qualities of His essence are considered masculine or feminine and the words demonstrate those qualities that men and women are individually blessed with from Hashem).  You get the idea.  The roles that women played and tremendous sacrifice that we see throughout scriptures is very much in favor of the Jewish woman and not men.  One incident in Torah that shows the weakness of men is when the righteous Joseph was confronted by the wife of Potifar.  Joseph was said to be a very handsome man that the women swooned over.  When he was made a servant in the house of Potifar, the captain of the palace guards, Potifar’s wife made a play for the handsome Joseph.  Joseph knew that men, including him, were not strong and could give into temptation, ran from the house.  Sometimes one passes a test by running from the situation.    

One of the most important roles of the married Jewish couple is to “be fruitful and multiply.”  Bringing new Jewish souls into the world is a very prominent factor in the process of perfecting the world.  The world will not be perfected until all the Jewish souls in Heaven have come to Earth and have been rectified individually (this is much more involved than what I am saying here).  The woman takes on the very important role of teacher of life within a household.  Her nurturing of the children is the greatest element for the success of the family and in turn the entire Jewish community.  The training of Jewish children to become righteous adults can be attributed to the high level of righteousness of the Jewish woman.  What I have experienced is that Jewish men hold their wives in high regard since most households are very successful in bringing fruition to the will of Hashem.

There is another great misunderstanding in the customs of the observant community -- the separation of men and women in prayer service.  As demonstrated in the story of Joseph, men are weak.  When you have a situation such a prayer that requires complete concentration and not lip service to perform it properly, no man could ever convince me that he can handle the great spiritual involvement with a woman in his site.  I’ve said it before, any man that tells me he can handle it is either a liar or a homosexual.  There are other hidden factors in the separation of men and women.  One is Hashem wishes no individual to be embarrassed.  When men and women sit together it becomes obvious if you see a single man or a single women sitting alone.  People gossip.  They look at the individual, especially if the person is older and wonder why that person doesn’t have a spouse.  We eliminate any possibility of embarrassment by having men sit with men and women sitting with women.   Another embarrassment is that no individual should touch a Torah if he or she is ritually impure (this would require much explanation as to what impurity means – but whatever you think it is, is probably incorrect since it is a spiritual matter not physical).  The time of the monthly cycle renders a woman impure.  If a woman was in seat in the synagogue that she could reach the Torah or could be asked, as the men are, to take the Torah out of the Ark, it would be an embarrassment if the woman declined or shied away from the Torah and everyone suspected the reason.
It is fascinating to know that for thousands of years men and women were always separated in prayer service even in the church.  When the enlightenment came in the mid 1800s the church so-called modernized and combined the sexes.  The Jewish Reform movement which mimicked the church in most of its customs followed suite.  This is the only reason the so-called modern Jewish movements have combined seating.  It is not the will of Hashem.

From the book “Tefillin” by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan z”tl
Tefillin are a most wonderful way to bind oneself to Hashem.  But, it is only for men.  Where do women come in?  On a most simple level, the reason for the commandments is to establish a link with Hashem.  The most profound way to do this is to resemble Him.  There is one unique way that women resemble Hashem in a way that no man could ever hope to.  Only a woman can create within her body.  Only a woman can bear a child.  In this sense, a woman partakes of Hashem’s attributes more intimately than any man.  The Kabbalists teach us that the hand Tefillin represent the feminine element.  The single hollow can be said to represent the womb, and the coils, the umbilical cord.  What man partakes of with an object, woman partakes of with her very body.  The box of Tefillin is called a Bayis -- literally a house. The woman also has her Bayis -- the home in which she raises a family.  One could say that a woman's home is her Tefillin.

There are two basic elements in Judaism, the home and the  synagogue. Judaism treats the home and synagogue as being co-equal. Some of our most important rituals belong exclusively to the home, such as the Seder, the Succah, the Sabbath table, the Sabbath candles and the Chanukah lamp. The continuity of Judaism rests on the home more than anything else.  This Bayis, the home, is a woman's Tefillin.  It is her contribution to the overall picture of Hashem’s purpose.  It is interesting to note that Hashem told all, from Moses to Jacob, and teach the sons of Israel: “If the Torah does not enter the Jewish home first, there can be no continuity of Judaism.  This spirit of Torah in the Jewish home (Bayis) is the same as the parchments of Torah in the Tefillin box (Bayis).  But this is the domain of the woman.

Additionally, the Tallit or prayer shawl is a reminder to men to perform the 613 commandments. Women do not need this reminder and are therefore not obligated to wear a Tallit.  Woman who would like to wear either a Tallit or Tefillin are lowering themselves to the level and weaknesses of a man.  Let us do things the way Hashem commanded and not attribute any custom to the .arrogance of men or the misconception of prejudice to women

I probably could never fully articulate the true aspects of the high attributes of Jewish women – after all, I’m a man, what do I know.  But having had a very extensive comparison of the way women are treated in the secular world to the pedestal treatment they receive in the Jewish observant world, I can say without reservation that they are not even close.  I have observed such prejudicial treatment of women in secular life, at school, in the military and at the work place.  This behavior would be considered appalling to the observant Jewish community.  When people believe that it is the flawed rules and customs made up by men that we follow instead of the perfect guidance of Hashem, they are greatly deceived.  When they realize that Hashem’s system is perfect, only then can they also enjoy the happiness that the system of this world has to offer.  The observant Jewish community has the happiest people in the world with the best behaved children, the lowest divorce rate, the most successful marriages and by far the greatest peace of mind.  When you follow and trust Hashem it is easy.  Are we perfect in following Hashem’s system?  Definitely not but that is what life is all about – perfecting ourselves so that our eternal life can be the best.  “Be all that you can be” is not just for the US Army.  The truest accomplishment of that motto in the world is with the observant Jewish community.  Don’t argue with 


  1. What could I as a woman add to this...Nothing !
    Wonderful job. May HaShem bless you for your candid honest approach.I hope this falls on ears that not only hear but DO! as well.

  2. I would like to touch upon a question that has been bothering me regarding the spiritual status of today’s secular or secular-aligned women (both Jew and non-Jew).

    I do not dispute that women are on a higher spiritual level than men or that just as in the first redemption, the Geulah with come in the merit of righteous women, yet are today’s women still on a higher spiritual level than men even if they are not righteous? As it can be compellingly argued that a non-righteous woman’s baser nature is worse than a man’s.

    I ask because we live in an era where men in today’s misandrist west are undervalued as maintainers, builders, inventors and defenders that keep civilisation going (while women are overvalued), where the state forcibly transfers resources from men to women creating various perverse incentives for otherwise good women to conduct great evil against men and children, and where male nature is vilified but female nature is celebrated.

    Those same (mostly) secular / secular-aligned men cannot rationally justify secular relationships / marriage with women no matter how many times they are asked / told to “man up”, nor can they see anything worth defending anymore in a society they no longer have any stake in preserving (be it reproductive or out of loyalty and affection) or incentive to produce on behalf for, since they see how those (mostly hypergamous / materialistic / self-interested / serially monogamous) wayward women profit greatly from separation / divorce and decided it was preferable to go their own way in not getting married / having children (that they cannot even test the paternity of in some countries) and economically disengage from society.

    In the case of some countries such as New Zealand, a man in a long-term relationship with a woman is considered by the government to be effectively married with a man losing half assets / home / kids / etc upon the relationship ending as in a regular secular marriage, with many other examples of men getting a raw deal in secular marriage where women have options without responsibility while men have obligations without options (whilst still being held accountable under the law), where men are asked to believe in an anachronism called chivalry in an (supposedly)-equalist (actually misandrist) society and where men are now told to keep lowering their already low standards with women who with few exceptions have ruined themselves.

    Even many low-status secular or traditional Jewish men have taken one lesson to heart in today’s era (even in religious social / dating circles)… that in spite of descending from the sons of kings (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, etc) there are no Jewish princes.

    1. We have absolutely no way to judge the spiritual level of any individual. This is not a physical attribute that we are looking at and if the criteria is that someone who can actually have life in her (an additional neshamah) has a higher spiritual level, then so be it. This is beyond human capability to know the truth about any individual -- Only Hashem is the Judge.

  3. Very interesting article--thanks. It is my understanding, however, that women are allowed to hold/touch a Sefer Torah while in Niddah.

    1. According to the Mishnah Berurah 88:6, a woman in Niddah shouldn't even enter a synagogue. There is even a restriction according to some authorities about touching any holy book. Two things to be said. This is a spiritual matter that is totally incomprehensible to humans. Second is how much do you want to do the will of Hashem? You can always find someone who has the opinion you are looking for, but I always like to ask the question "what is Hashem's opinion?" This world is measure-for-measure -- playing it safe according to the more stringent authority is my policy.

    2. First of all I would like to congratulate you on your excellent site, and on this post in particular. However, on this particular point, you should be aware that there are different opinions in the Torah world, so it I find that your two points above to be inaccurate (i.e. you negate an opinion on the basis of desire to do Hashem's will).

      My two points are that without Beit Hamikdash we are all ritually impure according to the halacha, and secondly, a sefer Torah, likened to fire, is not mekabel tumah.

      I'm just saying that you should be aware that there are different opinions on this matter, which is actually minhag, and also that even if an opinion appears to you to be lenient, that in and of itself does not render it less halachically valid. As a rav of mine used to say, it's easy to be machmir, anyone can do that.

      Anyway, please keep up the good work.

  4. As a women who comes from a non religious, completely Judaism-ignorant background (I started in a Reform 'temple') I can say this: I did not even know what a mechitza was and did not have an opinion one way or another. But after many years in an Orthodox environment I couldn't do without it. I love the privacy I feel with the mechitza. Sometimes I am moved to tears by davening or by the rabbi's drash. I don't want to be sitting by a man when this happens - not even my husband. Yes, some women have complained but some want what the men have simply because they don't have it. They want to wear tallis and t'fillin because they do not know how important the role of a Jewish woman is in this , our Jewish world. Thank you again for another beautiful lesson. Your blog is my 'go-to' site first thing in the morning.

  5. I find it depressing that in the Aneini we pray for sons but not daughters. If our words really do affect reality this is particularly disturbing in a world where female infanticide exists.

    1. There are many prayers and ideas in scriptures that may seam male oriented but are really generic. We always pray and Hashem's system responds with exactly what we need. Trust Hashem, His plan is perfect.
      Female infanticide is not in the Jewish community. There are many horrible things occurring in the world, we can only pray and repent in our effort to correct everything.

  6. As an Orthodox women, I agree with everything you have said. Thanks for the post.

  7. Who is the rabbi who teaches such things? I never heard about a community not allowing a niddah in synagogue, it's not the Beis Hamikdash. Or to touch the sefer Torah as needed. Not even a male touches the sefer Torah for no reason, and a woman defers to males, but if necessary she may touch, niddah or not. A male who has a discharge is much more embarrassing than being nidda which is a natural cycle in women, should not your argument apply to that? There is no hard prohibition for tallit and tefillin for women and in the days of Moshiach there will be some women who do, but currently women are exempt because they are not on that level, no different from a shoteh who is patur.

    Do you say asani shelo isha? Yes or no? If yes, do you believe your own words?

    1. The name of the Rabbi that this is brought down from is Moses. He got it from his teacher Hashem. Please refer to my answer given to Shari (above), it says it all. If you are not familiar with the Mishnah Berurah compiled by the Chafetz Chaim, then you must be a secular Jew. Every (and I do mean every) observant Jew knows that source and goes by it. So far as Shelo Asani Isha it is in the Siddur so of course I say it. But, do you have any knowledge (not opinion) as to what it means? A man thanks Hashem that he does not have the pain of child birth since men would not be able to endure it. Hashem in his mercy created women with a much higher pain tolerance. Thank you, Hashem

  8. Great blog except when you get into these female superiority speeches. Show me a torah source that makes such statements. Moshe Feinstein said that we have commandments due to our holiness (not due to our lack of it). Women are said to be exempt from certain commandments because they also have the holiness but have other duties.

    1. I have a very long answer to your short question, but most of it is obvious in my post above. Just review all the stories in the Torah that support the concept. We are told that Sarah was a greater prophetess than Avraham was a prophet. Rivka knew better than Yitzchok when he was ready to bless Esav instead of Yaakov, the story of Miriam knowing better than her father, the women in the dessert at a higher level with the Golden Calf, the spies, Esther, Yehudit, Chana, Chulda, Devorah, Ruth, etc, etc, etc. When you read the commentary over thousands of years, it is obvious that the women were higher even to the point of not needing Tallit, Tefillin or even a minion.

      As I said the answer is much more involved, but you can check it out yourself. By the way, one of the sources for this was a talmid of Rav Moshe that I learned with for years.

  9. Those things don't mean that women are greater but that women are capable of greatness. Was Sarah greater than Avraham? R' Miller tells us that the greatness in that house was based on Avraham. The Netziv says that Midrash was referring only to ruach hakodesh, where Sarah was superior because she lived protected in the tent. In prophecy Avraham was greater.

    That women didn't sin at the golden calf doesn't mean women are greater, only that at times they are more stable. They might be more stable because they are less spiritual, as spirituality is hard to handle.

    To draw the conclusions you draw you need a Torah source that says it explicitly. Otherwise, you are making a personal interpretation on verses, and that is dangerous because one's owns views creep in.

    Reb Moshe had lots of students, some great scholars, some not on that level. Just being a student of his doesn't make a person an expert on anything and certainly not on matters like this. In his teshuva R' Moshe says men and women are equal. The Lub. Rebbe says the same thing.

    Why do you refer to tefillin as a need for the deficient. Maybe it's a device for channeling spirituality. A Kohen has more mitzvos. Is he less spiritual?

    What's the purpose of listing a few prophetesses? I can list 100 prophets.

    1. The basis for the statement of women being of a higher spiritual level than men comes from the fact that women can have life grow within them and men can't. Giving birth is a much higher spiritual level than anything that man has the capability of doing. My source for this is Rav Aryeh Kaplan, zt"l and others that I can't remember at the moment. I learned this about 20 years ago and would have to do some digging to find the sources I once saw (even though I believe it is from the Zohar).

      The wearing of Tefillin was also brought down by Rav Kaplan in his book about Tefillin. The bayis for a woman is the house that she lives in -- men need an artificial bayis to experience the same level. The strap being wound around the arm is an artificial umbilical cord which men do not experience. The subject is a lot deeper than I can cover here, but rest assured, women are at a higher spiritual level than men.

      I believe wholeheartedly that my wife has already reached Tikun and that she has only come to this gilgul to help me (according to the Arizal Hakodesh). My basis for that statement is beyond the scope of this comment. We are soulmates and she must help me complete my Tikun.

      There were an estimated 1.2 million prophets. Only the ones who were given information that pertains to all of us were written in scriptures. Since the world population is more female than male (I believe it is 105 women to 100 men), there is a strong possibility that there were more prophetesses than there were prophets. That is my own analysis.

      The mystery to me is: why is it so important to you to refute the statement? Are you a man who is so offended thinking that there are billions of people on this world that may be spiritually superior to you? Get over it -- Hashem still loves you.

  10. In some matters of a personal and family nature Sarah was superior. See R' Soloveitchik:

    "In Proverbs (31), Solomon extolled the exemplary woman
    who "looks well after her household" and "whose husband is
    known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land."
    In some matters of a personal and family nature, Sarah's spiri-
    tual discernment is praised as being superior to Abraham's.
    When her husband hesitated about sending away Hagar and
    Ishmael because of Ishmael's baneful influence upon her son
    Isaac, God said to Abraham, "All that Sarah says to you, listen
    to her voice" (Gen. 21:12).6 Rashi adds, "We may infer that
    Abraham was inferior to Sarah in respect of prophecy. ""

    R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik

    (Man of Faith in the Modern World, p. 84).

  11. "You should know that all of this (the exemption of women from positive time bound commandments) is not because women are on a lower level of holiness than are men. While obligation in commandments results strictly from one's having holiness, men and women, in that sense, are equal in holiness. All the verses in the Torah regarding holiness refer also to women. (This applies from) the beginning (with) the arrangement to receive the Torah (at Sinai). "You'll be to me a treasure and you'll be to me a holy nation." Exodus 19:6. (The subject of this verse is all of the nation of Israel) as it says "house of Jacob" in referring to the women and "tell to the house of Israel" in referring to the men. Exodus 19:3. ...

    Therefore women also include in their blessings the words "you have sanctified us with your commandments." (Women do this) even when performing commandments for which they are not obligated. (The exclusion of women from positive time bound commandments) is a leniency made by Hashem for his own reasons and not because of any diminution (regarding the women) Heaven forbid. We explained this earlier. "

    (Igros Moshe, Orach Chaim IV #49)

    1. I really don't have time to continue this nonsensical discussion. I have no idea what your agenda is that you think you have to question my credibility on a subject that I have studied for decades. This discussion ends here.

      I leave you with a quote form a book written by Rabbi Shalom Arush, as translated by Rabbi Lazer Brody. The book is entitled Women's Wisdom. I thought I would quote the beginning of Chapter 44, entitled A Woman's Superiority. "When is comes to spirituality, women usually start off at a much higher point than men, since men have a much greater Evil Inclination." You really don't want to hear what the rest of the chapter has to say.