When comparing religions, people may claim that many of the laws of certain religions are unfair and unjust, this is seen often on social media and the way Judaism is portrayed on television, books and movies; women are portrayed as if they do not have any worth. They are looked down upon and forced to follow laws that do not seem fair since men are not forced to follow such laws. However when looking closer, it is evident that women in Judaism are not mistreated at all. Traditionally, women are seen as equal to men. Although women have different responsibilities than men, their obligations are by no means seen as any less important. Women have important roles that men can not complete on their own.
To begin, one must understand the meaning behind the word “God.” This helps to show that men are not favored over women. In Judaism, unlike other religions such as Christianity, God has no gender. God is only referred to as ‘He’ since it is easier and more convenient. This is not seen in Christinity, God is viewed only as an entirely male entity. This is not seen in Judaism, there has never been any distinctions based on the gender of God, in fact in the Torah, God is seen as having both masculine and feminine qualities. If women were treated unfairly and looked down upon, God would not possess any feminine nature whatsoever. This is a major hole in the argument for those who believe women are not treated fairly in Judaism.
Another important fact that many do not know about women in Judaism is they are actually viewed as more mature than males. In Judaism, it is believed that women are gifted with a large amount of “binah.” Binah is the hebrew word for knowledge, intelligence and instinct. It is claimed that women possess more Binah than men. This is the reason why girls have their Bat-Mitzvah at twelve years of age and why boys have their bar mitzvah at thirteen years of age. A prime example of this is seen in Gen. 2:22 when the woman is built from the man. At first, this may seem like a form of degradement. The man was created first and the woman was formed from him. However, after a second look it is evident that this is not a form of degradement at all. In Gen. 2:7 it is clear that Eve was not formed from Adam, but rather built. In Hebrew the root word for ‘build’ has the same amount of consonants as the word ‘binah’ proving that these two must be linked in a way.
Although one may not be completely convinced with the Adam and Eve argument, another misconception that many have is a woman’s obligation to marry and have children. However, this is not exactly true. In fact it is the other way around. Women are not required to have a family, men are, yet they cannot do this without the aid of women. Many believe that according to the story of creation Eve was created to keep Adam company, to help him, ultimately meaning her only purpose in life was to keep man company. The only logical way of a woman performing this “duty” would be to have her spouse’s children and raise them. However, in halacha (Torah law) it does not mention anywhere that a woman is obligated to do this. It does not state that she is required to carry children. However, what the Torah does mention is that a man is required to do this--a man is required to have children. Yet he cannot do this without the help of a woman. Meaning, a man needs a woman, more than a woman needs a man. Men are dependent on women to carry their children.
Although people may still argue that women are treated differently than men, it is evident that even though women do not have the same roles as men they are still valued and viewed as important. However, opponents may argue that males are clearly the favored gender and women are looked down upon this is simply not true. In fact, the Torah mentions women in a positive manner quite often. In the Torah, the Bible, women are mentioned time and time again. In positive aspects. One such exmple in the Torah talks about Miriam--Aaron and Moses’s sister--as one one of the liberators that freed the Jewish people from slavery Egypt. Without her, it may not have been possible. She helped Moses and Aaron tremendously, Obviously if women were looked down upon this would not have mattered, the Torah would not have spoken about Miriam so highly. She played an instrumental part in the Exodus from Egypt and this is recognized in the Torah.
Additionally, women had many more rights than most other civilizations up until the 20th century. For instance, women were allowed to own their own property, they were able to buy and sell it as well. They could make their own contracts. Women in America did not have this right until roughly 100 years ago. In other countries and religions women do not have these rights at all, they do not even have the right to vote, yet Jewish women were allowed to do so much more than most could ever dream of. Proverbs 31: 10-31, is read at Jewish weddings. It mentions women’s business ‘skills’ and how this is an important trait. The fact that this section of Proverbs is read at weddings speaks volumes. Since this is being stated at a wedding, many hear this message, that women possess a trait that men do not (this special business skill). This is extremely important because if a religion looked down upon its women, it would never mention this, let alone at a wedding where there are many people to hear this message. This ties back to the fact that women have more “binah” than men do--more knowledge and wisdom. It is the same situation, a religion would never mention that if women were treated unfairly and looked down upon.
Marriage is an extremely important topic in Judaism, it is also another great example to showcase how important women’s rights are. Marriage is not only for the sole purpose of having children, but it is also important for companionship and love--in Judaism this is the primary reason of a marriage. This shows that the woman is not obligated to procreate, there is more to a marriage than having children in Judaism. With this in mind, “Women have the right to be consulted with regard to their marriage. Marital sex is regarded as the woman's right, and not the man's. Men do not have the right to beat or mistreat their wives, a right that was recognized by law in many Western countries until a few hundred years ago. In cases of rape, a woman is generally presumed not to have consented to the intercourse, even if she enjoyed it, even if she consented after the sexual act began and declined a rescue! This is in sharp contrast to American society, where even today rape victims often have to overcome public suspicion that they ‘asked for it’ or ‘wanted it.’ Traditional Judaism recognizes that forced sexual relations within the context of marriage are rape and are not permitted; in many states in America today, rape within marriage is still not a crime” (http://www.jewfaq.org/). In other words, this is vital because Jewish women still have a say after the are married, they do not become their husbands “property” so to speak. They still have a right over their body and they are not forced to do anything they don’t want to.
To continue with the topic of marriage, many believe a Jewish woman’s main role as a wife is to take care of her children and to perform the role of a wife. However, this is not a woman’s main role. Although a woman does perform these duties, she is not looked down upon for it. In fact the Torah speaks very highly of women for performing these tasks. Traditionally, it is common to see that the main role of a woman is as a wife and mother; she takes care of her family and her home. Many may see this as a form of degraadement, however in Judaism, women are respected for doing so. In the Torah, it is stated that when a religious man marries an ‘evil’ woman, the man becomes evil as well. However, this is not seen if the reverse is true. If an ‘evil’ man marries religious and devout woman, he becomes good as well. As previously mentioned, women are not required to perform all the ‘mitzvot’ that men are required to. Women are not required to fulfill the ‘mitzvot’ that must be done at a certain time. For instance praying in a synagogue three times a day. A woman is not required to perform these “time bound” mitzvot because her role as a mother and wife are more important.
Many people believe that since a woman is not required to do certain things, for instance praying three times a day everyday, that this exemption is a prohibition. However this is obviously false. Since women are not required to go to the synagogue, many assume that Jewish women do not have an active role in religious life. Many believe that religious life is based on the synagogue, so if a woman does not attend she is not allowed to come. Although, this misconception couldn’t be farther from the truth because in Judaism, religious life is based on life at home where both women and men are equal and women are just as important as men. In fact, many view women to be the home. “The word in Hebrew for home, bayit, is a yud between the letters that form the word bat, daughter. The concept is that the yud, the smallest of all the Hebrew letters, represents the seed (we are even taught that it looks like a drop of seed in its shape) and yet it is housed within the bat, the daughter. This is why there is an additional statement which says, “Beito zu ishto,”, a man’s home is his wife. It is not that his house is his wife or that his wife represents the house, but that his literal home is housed within his wife, on a spiritual and emotional level. A woman need not be in the home. A woman is the home” (https://www.chabad.org/). In other words, a home in incomplete without a woman.
Not only are women important in the home, but they are trusted with other important laws such as keeping a kosher kitchen. A woman performs most of her mitzvot in her home. Not many people see her perform these mitzvot, they are performed privately where no one but her sees. The most obvious example is keeping a kosher kitchen. Keeping kosher is extremely important to religious Jews and it is taken extremely seriously. In Judaism, keeping kosher is extremely important and a very sensitive topic. Many religious Jews will not eat at people’s homes if they are not certain that the food was prepared properly. The fact that women are entrusted with such an important task proves that women are not treated unfairly. Keeping kosher is an extremely important mitzvah in Judaism and cannot be stressed enough that if a woman is responsible for making sure this important mitzvah is fulfilled then she must be important as well and looked up to highly. Basically, a Jewish woman is trusted by her husband, the rest of her family and others who may eat in her home. No one watches how she makes her food and if she is in fact taking all the laws of kashrut (keeping kosher) into consideration. Essentially, a woman’s word just needs to be trusted that she is in fact cooking the proper way and is making kosher food for those in her home. Just like women are responsible for keeping a kosher kitchen, she is responsible for welcoming in the Sabbath--the Shabbat--every Friday night. This is reserved only for women. Men are not able to do this, only women are able to welcome the Shabbat into their home every Friday night. In Judaism, the Sabbath is very holy and important. The fact that a woman is the one to welcome it into her home is critical information.
Another misconception that many have is the fact that women and men are not allowed to sit next to each while they are praying in a synagogue. People assume that women are not holy enough to pray with men, but this couldn't be further from the truth, if anything it is the opposite. Women and men are separated by a wall or a curtain. Sometimes women are above the men, on a balcony above the men’s section. This is done because you should be focusing on prayer and you should not be distracted by the opposite gender. However, this separation is done more for the men than the women. Women are able to see men (if the form of separation is a balcony; they can see the men from above). This once again enforces the idea that women have more maturity. They are able to concentrate more on prayer rather than members of the opposite gender.
In Judaism, there is a monthly holiday that celebrates women. This holiday is called Rosh Chodesh, it is on the first of every month (following the Hebrew calendar). The custom is for women not to work on this day. This holiday is specifically for women since they did not participate in the sin of the Golden Calf, when men did. It is also believed that when women pray on Rosh Chodesh, their prayers are answered more than ever because of the importance of this holiday. Rosh Chodesh also serves as a reminder to men for the sin that their male ancestors committed many, many years ago. If women were treated unfairly in Judaism, they definitely would not have their own holiday. Not only that, but this holiday would not appear monthly.
When compared to other religions, it is evident that there are certain similarities and differences. For instance, in Islam, women are required to cover their hair. In both religions, women do this for modesty purposes. It’s also a physical representation of their faith. The same for women in Judaism. Although women in Judaism start covering their hair after marriage, the reason is the same: for modesty.
To continue about Islam, men and women are viewed as equal in God’s eyes. Both women and men are required to fulfill the same obligations: fasting, pilgrimage to mecca, almsgiving, prayer, worship and faith. Compared to other religions, Islam has actually improved women’s status compared to other Arab cultures--these cultures did not recognize women as people, more as mere objects. In Islam, the Islamic law highlights contractual nature of marriage. For instance, a dowry must be paid to the woman who is getting married, not her family. This also guarantees the woman’s rights to manage and own property. This is similar to Judaism where women are allowed to own their own property as well.
It is also seen that women were important and were held in high regard in the Islamic religion. For instance, Muhammad consulted many women and took their opinions into serious consideration. Women are allowed to pray in mosques with men, just like in Judaism. Muhammad’s last wife: Aishah was known for her knowledge in history, medicine and power of speech. There are also women that converted to Islam before their husbands did, showing that women are able to have to make their own decisions, they do not need anyone to give them permission. Another example of how women are important in Islam is Caliph Umar allowed women to serve in the marker of Medina as officials. Just like in Judaism women have their own autonomy. There are many written works and biographies of important women, specifically in Muhammad’s home, that prove that women were able to make their own choices; they behaved autonomously.
Although, women in Islam did not hold political titles, they have definitely had some sort of political power, sometimes independently and sometimes with their husbands. In fact, some of the best known rulers who governed the Muslim Empire were women: Khayzuran in the eigth century, in the elevnth century both Malika Arwa bint Ahmad al-Sulayhiyya and Malika Asma bint Shihab al-Sulayhiyya held power. Sitt al-Mulk held power in the eleventh century as well, and many more. Showing that women were trusted to hold political titles. Women were able to hold political titles eighth century meanwhile in America women only were able to vote in the 1900s, showing that both Judasim and Islam are far advanced than life in America, women were taken more seriously and held to a higher regard.
Additionally, not only have women in the Islamic religion had an important role in the past they are respected now more than ever. For instance, women are actively participating in grassroots organizations, relief efforts, economic education, political projects, social services and more. It is evident that women are still able to follow their passions. Their religion does not stop them. This is seen in Islam and Judasim. To continue, polygynous marriages are now either illegal or extremely difficult to get away with.Wives are now able to sue for divorce in a court of law. The minimum age for spouses was also raised. Women’s rights rights regarding custody over their children was also strengthened.
In Christianity women also have an important role, just like in Judaism and Islam. Men and women were created in God’s image, both as females and males and they cannot survive without the other. Jesus was very welcoming of both genders. For instance, Jesus taught Martha and Mary, his friends that were both women. They were a part of his disciples. Martha and Mary were not his only followers, there were other followers that were women. In St. Paul’s eyes, women were loyal and great coworkers. They allowed St. Paul to successfully spread the gospel. An example of such a woman was Phoebe--she was one of the first to be given the title as deaconess. St. Paul stated that she was, “a helper of many and myself as well.” Phoebe had many important roles, an important role as deaconess was to help the clergy to baptise adult women.
To continue, life in a Christian home is very familiar to life in a Jewish one. Men are viewed as the “leaders” of their family and women are required to take care of their children and home, this is their priority. Like in Judaism, although women are to take care of their home and family, they are in no way looked down upon since this is an extremely important task.
Overall, it is evident that compared to other religions, women in Judaism are not looked down upon, in fact in some cases Jewish women may play roles that are more important than the roles of women in other religions. When looking at other religions, Christianity and Islam, it is clear that women are not treated unfairly, in fact there have been many situations where women were treated better than men. For instance, women have their own holiday in Judaism: Rosh Chodesh. It is wrong for people to assume that women are treated unfairly simply because they have different roles than men; although men and women do not have the same responsibilities, this does not diminish either importance, this is seen in Judasim, Islam and Christianity.