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Rabbi Adam Jacobs

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How the Torah is Pro-Women

Posted: 12/11/2010 6:52 pm

There is a common (and unfortunate) misconception in the world at large that the Torah is anti-women. The reality is that a simple examination of the actual text and a little research into some of the major commentaries reveal just the opposite. No modern apologetics are required to prove the truth -- that Judaism is, and has always been, exceedingly pro-woman.

Let's start at the beginning. A careful reading of the text of Genesis shows us that Adam was never alone: "So G-d created Man in His image, in the image of G-d He created him; male and female He created them." The original Adam was a male and female composite that was only separated later. The 19th century German Torah giant Rabbi Sampson Raphael Hirsch expounded this verse unequivocally in support of the fundamental equality of men and women, "Although all living creatures were created in both sexes, this is only stressed at human beings to lay down the fact that both sexes were created equally, directly by G-d, and in equal likeness to Him." He wrote this some 50 years before women's suffrage.

Then there are the women of the Torah themselves -- powerful, intelligent people who by all appearances are respected, loved and given the voices to enact their will. Time and again, their decision making proved decisive in the history of the formation of the nascent Jewish nation. In fact, an argument could easily be made (by one who does not accept the Torah's divine authorship) that women must have written these stories. When Sarah and Abraham clashed over Ishmael, it was her will that won out and he was forced to evict a son whom he loved. G-d Himself ratified the action telling Abraham "whatever Sarah tells you, heed her voice." That doesn't sound too oppressive does it? From here we are also taught that Sarah was a greater prophet than the founder of Judaism, Abraham.

When the evil Esau was on the verge of receiving the powerful blessing from his father Isaac, Rebbecca stepped in a crafted a plan to have Jacob receive it in his place, once again averting a near disaster in the succession of leadership. When Moses' father, Amram, in desperation at the oppressive and genocidal laws of Egypt, separated from his wife, believing that it was wrong to bring any more children into the pit that was Egypt, he was rebuked by his young daughter Miriam -- and listened! Anyone spot any misogyny here? Deborah and Yael led the nation in battle, Channa taught us the essence of true prayer and an entire book of the Bible is dedicated to the heroic deeds of Esther. These events occurred between 2,500-4,000 years before suffrage. They were also engrained into Jewish consciousness and recorded into law. For instance, 1,000 years ago Maimonides wrote that "a man must love his wife as much as himself and honor her more than himself."

On the fourth day of creation we are taught that "G-d made the two great luminaries -- the great one to rule the day and the small one to rule the night." So which is it, are they both great or only one of them? We are taught that the answer is both. They began as equals and then one was reduced. The midrash (homiletically) explained that the moon came and complained to the Almighty about having to share the sky to which He responded, "OK, then go make yourself small." This short exchange is the subject of a massive amount of Kabbalistic exegesis and instructs us about the unbalanced and degraded nature of women in this world, a state that the Torah wants rectified.

We are taught that the moon symbolizes several things; it represents the Jewish people's relationship with G-d and our status in this world. It is always in flux, waxing and waning and all the while never producing any light of its own but only reflecting the light of the sun. So too does it represent women and the desire and direction of all of history and all of Jewish practice is to rectify this imbalance, which Kaballah explains is the root of evil in this world. This is the true meaning of tikkun olam. How interesting that once a month a group of Jewish men will stand outside after the Sabbath to stare at the moon and recite the verses of Kiddush Levana (the Sanctification of the Moon) which reads in part "to the moon He said that it should renew itself as a crown of splendor for those borne by Him from the womb, those who are destined to renew themselves like it..." Delving further and summarizing this idea, the great Kabbalist Issac Luria wrote, "As long as the feminine presence within each creature remains diminished, the entire organism lacks completion. Thus, the primal drive of the universe is to restore woman back to her place on high. There is no other way to fix the world except by inviting her back up and in."

There are, and have always been, a great many people interested in speaking in the Torah's name. When these voices, who generally have neither the training nor the licensure to explain it, are allowed to direct the narrative, a twisted and forlorn version emerges. One that possesses a plethora of partially baked tidbits and a healthy dose of preconceived errors, but lacks the true beauty, depth, wisdom and humanity of the real thing.

 

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