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women and religion: judaism November 15, 2006

Posted by Brad Richert in religion, sexism.
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Jacoba Kuikman alludes to the idea that Jewish women within the private sphere have balanced the public role of men, which may as well have helped the survival of Jewish tradition. Since women were “delegated” to the private sphere, they were charged with the responsibility of raising the children. Children were raised generation after generation through the Jewish traditions of the mother. At times this even countered periods of times that Jews chose to assimilate rather than stand out, which had led them to serious persecution and death. Jewish tradition cannot rely on the rabbis and teachers alone since there was not always opportunities to openly teach Jewish traditions. The private role of women is then uplifted as the tool for a continuous strand of tradition throughout generations.

The account of a women’s role as generational teacher through times of persecution is for the most part historically accurate. However, a criticism of the concept could target the necessity of the delegation of women to the private sphere. To argue that the allocation of women to the private realm helped keep the religion or culture alive, however fortunate, is still extremely limiting to women. This would state that women cannot help keep traditions alive by being scholars, but by merely being a way of passing down patriarchal ideas. Had men been the ones delegated to the private realm the case would be the same. This cannot be used as a case for empowerment, but instead as a case for transmitting patriarchal values through the maternal delegation. It is also limiting in the sense that because that this situation was not necessary. The argument presented is fairly simplistic and does not rule out that the role of women could not be in the public realm. The passing down of Jewish values was not a conscious decision on the part of women, and many would not have a place in society if they had chosen not to raise their children from a patriarchal dominated Jewish tradition.

I thank thee, Lord, I was not created a woman. – Jewish prayer

Many contemporary Jewish women recognize that even looking for positive aspects of history falls short of truly giving value to Jewish women. Thus, many of these women are looking for ways to break down the sex-role differentiation that plagues the Jewish tradition so that they can re-value women within the Judaic context. Some argue that Jewish frigidity on the role of women may even lead to the irrelevancy of the religion itself. The problem that many Jewish women face, in common with women of other religious traditions, is that feminist values are often opposed on the basis that feminism is a western ideology (as though western thought developed by itself). Jewish society, unlike Hindu or Islamic, is immersed in western society. Thus the contrasting views of women are imminent and crucial to the Jewish tradition. This argument is valid, especially considering the proximity, influence and integration of Jewish interests with the west. If the Jewish tradition continues a road of inequal sex-differentiation it could very well be limiting itself and isolating the female gender within Judaism. If a gender is isolated in a time and place that gender isolation is opposed, it would be difficult for a religion or culture to survive.

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