Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Male - Female Thing In Judaism

Lady Light wrote a rather thought-provoking post, The Role of Women in Judaism.  Usually I don't get into the issue.  I don't know why davka today I commented on her post.  Having been raised nominally Conservative, including five years (I graduated) of Hebrew School in the Oakland Jewish Center, Bayside, NY, and having come of age when feminism was rising, you may be surprised at my feelings about the subject.

 Here's the comment I left on her blog:

Ironically, I think it was this past parshat shavua, which mentioned that it's forbidden for women to don men's clothes and the opposite, when it hit me that tallit and t'fillin must be included in that. Of course, that's my simple interpretation.

Last year, and G-d willing this year, too, I'll study in Matan. Most of the teachers, especially Tanach, are women, since men just don't know the subject as well. Women spend a proportionately larger time on it, while men concentrate on Gmorah.

I don't go for imitating men. I suffer no envy, as long as I'm not ignored, just because I'm a woman.

Biological men can't get pregnant. There are innate differences between the sexes, as I well know as I prepare to teach high school girls after more than a decade teaching boys. I do prefer teaching boys.

Every morning I'm totally sincere when I bless G-d for making me according to His will. And I'm happy to sit in shul knowing that the food is keeping warm on the platta and I don't have to learn the leining. I can just "meditate" on the words of the prayers and concentrate on G-d.

One of the keys in my philosphy of life is making the best of what we have.

Some of my feelings about this is probably due to the fact that I'm in Israel, and our synagogues and rabbis don't have the same roles as in the galut.

There are things we can't change and can't control.  According to Chazal (our sages) they are:
  • when we were born
  • where we were born
  • to whom we were born
Lady Light mentions the late and revered Bible teacher Nechama Liebowitz as an example of women who were "berated" because they delved in masculine roles.  Many strictly observant Orthodox men attended her classes, because she had more Bible (not Torah) knowledge than one could learn from rabbis in yeshiva.  That's because Bible is mostly ignored in all yeshivot.  Even in relatively "modern" yeshiva high schools in Israel, it's part of the secular "afternoon schedule," along with History, Math, English and Literature.  The rabbis who "berated" Leibowitz also disapprove of that sort of modern curriculum.

I'm not some old-fashioned behind the curtains type of female.  I expect people to read my political observations without taking my sex into account.  I don't consider being female to be something which should hold me back in the blog world, not even the jblog world of Jewish Bloggers.

Honestly I have no desire to be called up to the Torah or be Shaliach Tzibbur for Musaf.  And I don't leave the dovening early to set up the community kiddush either.

From what I've read, just like in many other professions, the Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and whatever "forms" of Judaism which have admitted women into all ritual roles, now find that men are much less apt to apply.  It has become "women's work."

ה לֹא-יִהְיֶה כְלִי-גֶבֶר עַל-אִשָּׁה, וְלֹא-יִלְבַּשׁ גֶּבֶר שִׂמְלַת אִשָּׁה: כִּי תוֹעֲבַת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, כָּל-עֹשֵׂה אֵלֶּה. {פ} 5 A woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment; for whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto the LORD thy God. {P}(Ki Tetzei)


Shtuey said...

I'm glad you wrote about this. When I say the birchot hashachar I don't thank HaShem for NOT making me a woman. I personally don't like the connotation. I've had teachers tell me the thought is that if I had been made a woman I would not have the honor of performing mitzvot. But if I had been made a woman I would have the honor of being the transmitter of Jewishness if I were to have a child, and all the other bonds, relationships and rolls that women play that are vital to the endurance of our people.

So instead I thank HaShem for making me according to his will, and for making me a man. And I am definitely thankful that HaShem did not make me a goy. :-)

Hadassa said...

That's Nechama Lebowitz, not Lifshitz. Nechama Lebowitz is regarded as having been a top authority on the Tanach. Every year she found more to learn from Tanach, as the Sages say we should. I can't recall ever hearing or reading that anyone, including rabbis, ever berated her. Teaching Tanach is not considered by anyone, including rabbis, to be a male role. I can imagine that some rabbis berated their students for "wasting time" learning Tanach.
Rav Kahane, hy'd, ztz"l was very critical of men for not learning enough Tanach. Without Tanach we do not have enough examples of how to be a sovereign nation in our Land.

I also have read that women in the Conservative, Reform etc. movements have basically ousted the men. Women are always willing to fill the vacuum left when men can't or won't do their jobs. Sometimes it's necessary, and sometimes, like in the case of violating halacha, it's highly detrimental.
I don't agree with the custom of women leaving early to prepare kiddush either. If everything is prepared before Shabbat it should be a matter of minutes for EVERYONE to arrange the tables. There are also always women who can't be in shul because they're busy with very young children or people who went to a different minyan who can start the set-up early. Does Shilo have a weekly kiddush? Why?

Rashi's daughters wore t'fillin so the halacha is a bit complicated.

I agree with what Ari commented on Lady Light's post. Women, and for that matter men, only degrade themselves when they try to be the opposite sex.

Lady Light mentions Kolech, a women's organization that supposedly follows halacha. Please look at the Hebrew archives of B'Sheva for ample proof that Kolech does not operate within the bounds of halacha.

Anonymous said...

You are completely wrong about Talit and Tefilin. They are not at all forbidden to women because they are considered mens garments. They are in fact unisex, according to the Torah. That being said, I'm not saying a woman should don them.

It's easy to concoct a case where a woman would be obligated in Tzitzit and a man would be forbidden to wear them.

Tzitzit is an obligation for a four cornered garment that will be worn. There is no Torah obligation for anyone to wear Tzitzit, if they never put on a four cornered garment. When men intentionally wear Tzitzit today, it is a Rabbinic obligation.

Therefore, if a woman buys a 4 cornered garment for women (example: a pullover poncho), she should be obligated to have Tzitzit on the garment because it is a 4 cornered garment.

On the other hand, if this is solely a woman's garment, a man would be forbidden to wear it - tzitzit or not - because it is a Begged Isha.

I think I'm correct.

Batya said...

Shtuey, I've never heard that before, but I'm impressed.

Hadassa, thanks, I made the correction. I knew it looked wrong, but I've been so distracted. Thanks

I agree that groups calling themselves Torah-based frequently aren't. Also, I think it's the utmost important for a stronger emphasis on Bible for men, women and children. The weak, wishy-washy "sipurei" midrashic stories are a dangerous foundation.
It annoys me when people counter medrash to my pshat. I like the Birkai teaching.

Lack of Tanach knowledge weakens our hold on Eretz Yisrael and makes people vulnerble to missionaries, since they can't counter arguments.

And Shy, very interesting. I have a four-cornered shawl I wear in shul to keep out the drafts. Maybe I should have a talit...

Anonymous said...

Ask your local rabbi and tell us what he says.

Unknown said...

The matter of t'fillin being klei gever is actually (what else?) a machlokes. Here is a quote from Torah Tidbits at the OU Center in Yerushalayim (http://www.ou.org/torah/tt/5769/kiteitzei69/pp.htm)

It is a BTW reference as he is explaining why he used a picture of t'fillin in the "Parsha Pix Puzzle" of Ki Teizei

Ki Teitzei is NOT one of the five places in the Torah where the mitzva of T'filin is mentioned. Here it refers to the prohibition of a woman's wearing K'LEI GEVER, men's apparel. Targum Yonatan Ben Uziel defines this prohibition (do we poskin this way?) as referring to the mitzvot of Tallit and T'filin, "worn" by men who are commanded to do these mitzvot.

I used google to find a site at http://www.beki.org/womentefillin.html that actually goes into a major discussion about the matter. However, it appears to be a Conservative site, so it should not be taken too seriously.

I also found http://drewkaplans.blogspot.com/2006/01/women-tefillin.html but I don't know anything about him. He does however bring up certain points which may apply.

1. Tefillin is a "time bound mitzva" which would exempt women from it.

2. There is a certain aspect of "nikayon" which is one reason men no longer wear them all day. To my mind, this would have implications regarding niddah. If these implications do exist, then it could be that the fact that seeing a woman wearing tefillin, (or not wearing tefillin when she had worn them previously) may involve "TMI" (too Much Information).

3. It appears that "kli gever" may be a societal matter and that even if tefillin had not been kli gever in the past, they may now be considered kli gever. This may be a reason that there are quotes that Targum Yonasan ben Uziel said that they are and that there are statements that Rashi's daughters wore tefillin (which would imply that he permitted the practice).

However, I am not an expert and this is only something that showed up in a quick search of the subject. I am sure that people on mail-jewish and avodah mailing lists could give a much more detailed analysis.

Unknown said...

I removed the last comment because of a typo. This should be better.

One additional point to Kli Gever from http://www.aishdas.org/avodah/vol11/v11n027.shtml

Since men would have the chiyuv, they wear tefillin for Shma and Tefillah. Since women do not have the chiyuv, Shma for them is like the rest of the day for men. Therefore even if it were allowed, women would follow the current practice (of men during the remainder of the day) not to wear tefillin. This was over and above the niddah question.

Keli Ata said...

Batya--thank you for this post. It is both thought-provoking and beautiful:):)

Shtuey--I love your approach and comment re birchot hashachar, too:)

Most of the other comments are over my head but just a few thoughts:

I have wondered about the role of single women in Judaism particularly when it comes to time bound mitzvot. Single women like me have more time so should we have more mitzvot? If so, should they be mitzvot such as tefillin? Though I find the prayers men say when they're donning tefillin incredibly beautiful I would feel very uncomfortable putting them on.

Whether its because only men typically do and so it seems wrong I am not sure.

Should single women daven more or perhaps, lacking a husband or family volunteer to help the elderly or pay visits to those in hospitals?

I agree that Jews should learn more of the Tanach. Missionaries cite chapter and verse and when you mention something they press for answers. They demand chapter and verse. And knowing Tanach certainly does ground one in truth.

Finally--I've been pondering something the past few months: can I be an eishes chayil because I am single?

I've poured over the last chapter of Mishlei in an almost checkbook fashion. Example:

She's like a merchant's ship; she brings her food from afar. Well, I do walk quite a bit daily going to the supermarket. I don't drive and people say I walk so much I must have walked around the world 200 times.

She watches for bargains? No. I want to get in and out of the market ASAP. I hate shopping.

She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy? I try where I can.

She has no fear of winter for her household because all of them have warm clothes? B'H that is true.

Her husband (no) is well-known, for he sits in the council meeting with other civic leaders (no).

When she speaks her words are wise (no) and kindness is the rule when she is given instructions (yes and no. Not consistently).

She quilts her own bedspreads (no. I never learned how to crochet or knit from my aunts). She dresses like royalty in gowns of finest cloth (not really).

With her earning she plants a vineyard (no. the only plants I ever had any luck with is a cactus).

Her light burns late into the night (yes).

Let her deeds publicly declare her praise (do they? I don't know.)

There is also something in there about purple garments. I wear a long violet colored winter coat.

Well, you get the point. I'm trying to see how I can stand up to that as a single women; I think most married women with children can answer yes.

I'll end here. Most of the comments and terminology are out of my league as I am still learning but I am enjoying reading them.

Anonymous said...

Sabba, Niddah = Choser Nikayon????

Niddah = Tumah!!!!

Is a Niddah forbidden to be Mazkir Shem Hashem in Tefilah and Berachot or to learn Torah?

Batya said...

Amazing comments, one and all, thanks!

keli, thanks, you can be an aishet chayil through chessed to others.

Shy, yes, bli neder, I've been thinking of it. Not to be "revolutionary," just because as I wrap myself in the shawl, it feels like I imagine a Talit would.

Sabba Hillel, thanks for all the research and suggestions.

Yes, most clothing is cultural, and in recent years in my neck of the woods, women are wearing very feminine versions of pants and pants/skirts combos.

Hadassa said...

Keli, do you have a good commentary on Mishlei? Reading commentaries is a great way to answer questions about the "p'shat" and is much more satisfying than going through a text "checkbook style". P'shat means the actual text with no explanation and shares a root with "pashut", meaning simple.
I would imagine that sites like Aish HaTorah have audio classes or written articles on "Aishet Hayil".
It's hard for all of us women to know how best to devote our time, especially once the kids are in school most of the day or have "left the nest". You're not alone!
P.S. I do well with the "candle burning at night" bit. As far as the "getting up when it's still dark", umm, let's talk about something else.

ha said...

Question: Lady Light mentioned that rabbis berated Nechama Lebowitz for her teachings. Does anyone have a source or recollection for that?

Anonymous said...

and in recent years in my neck of the woods, women are wearing very feminine versions of pants and pants/skirts combos.

It's only feminine looking if you think that Bedouins dress femininely.

However, I'll try to be even-handed. The average Israeli male dresses like an absolute shloch. :)

To Keli:

1) Best wishes on finding your other half. Daven! Daven! Daven! You don't need to go to Amukah. If anything, go to the Kotel - front row seat. But davening is good from anywheer.

2) There's so much good you can do with that extra time. Shlomo Hamelech was praising the most common generic form of Eishet Chayil. What's great about that praise is how common and plentiful they are in Klal Yisrael. However, no one's stopping you from qualifying by doing Superwoman-like chesed in both common and uncommon ways. Bring it on! Your neshamah will never stop thanking you.

Unknown said...

Shy Guy:

I was bringing up a question that perhaps there was an aspect of choser nikayon in niddah that could be an analogy to flatulance. It would not be a matter of tumah as that also covers days when nikayon would not be an aspect.

This is a matter of something to be considered when analysing the situation. It could be something that is not relevant at all, it could be something that is analogous to the physical aspect of a zav (though I do not know if a zav may or may not wear tefillin), or it could be analogous to some other situation that may or may not apply.

Keli Ata said...

Shy and Muse: Thank you!

Hadasa: Great suggestion. I don't have a commentary on Mislei but maybe Chabad.org which has the entire Tanach online has one. Do you know of a good book commentary indepth on Mishlei?

Hadassa said...

Sorry Keli, I'm not familiar with English commentaries at all. Many sites like Chabad or Aish have rabbis who answer questions. Try them. I'm sure that a good commentary in English exists. I would state that what you're looking for is specifically a commentary on Aishet Hayil. You might even find entire books on the subject.
Have you starting learning Hebrew yet? There's nothing like reading the original.

Unknown said...

From Google looking for Art Scroll and Judaica Press versions of Mishlei



Batya said...

ha, good question. Ask ll.

westbankmama said...

Great post Batya. You expressed a lot of my feelings too.

Batya said...

wbm, glad to hear and thanks for the link.