Equality for Women in Judaism:
Is it true that Judaism believes that a woman
is less valuable than a man?
By Nechama Kravitz, VIRTUAL JERUSALEM
Many people seem to think that Judaism discriminates against women.
After all, they say, Jewish law doesn't allow women to be called up to read from the Torah or to be counted
in a minyan (a quorum of ten men required for religious services.)
They also accuse Judaism of being a patriarchal society, where women have traditionally been expected to stay
home and care for the children.
How accurate are these claims? Does Judaism believe that a woman is less valuable than a man?
Different but Equal
Judaism gives men and women different roles. However, "different," doesn't necessarily mean, "unequal." While
men and women aren't given the same missions to carry out in life, neither of the missions that they are given is more important
than the other.
It is true that the traditional role for Jewish women has been to take care of the children. But why is that
discriminatory? If someone wants to compare this to the man's role, the woman's role actually seems more important. After
all, could you think of a more crucial mission in life than to bring Jewish children into the world and to raise them to become
members of the holy people of Israel?
Many will argue that expecting women to stay home with the kids instead of having her own career is sexist,
but it is only modern society that believes that making money and working up the ladder of society is the ultimate goal in
Modern Society's View of Women
Today's society believes that in order for a woman to be equal to a man, she must be able to do and be the
same as him.
Yet telling girls that they need to be just like men in order to be equal to them is the best way of telling
them that their natural role of having children - a role that NO man can fulfill - is just not good enough.
Telling a girl that she should first make a career for herself and that later, if she'd like, she can start
a family, belittles the role of mother and homemaker.
Without getting into an ugly political debate, try to recall how during the 2004 Presidential campaign, Teresa
Heinz Kerry said about First Lady Laura Bush, "I don't know if she ever had a real job."
Heinz Kerry quickly apologized, saying that shed forgotten that Mrs. Bush had worked as a librarian and schoolteacher,
and that there "couldn't be a more important job than teaching children."
Mrs. Heinz Kerry was absolutely right. Teaching children is one of the most important jobs in the world because
it determines the future of humanity.
If this is true, shouldn't the role of "mother" be the most celebrated in society? Even Heinz Kerry failed
to mention the First Lady's most prominent - and difficult - job of "full-time mother."
This is where Judaism differs from today's society. Judaism believes that a woman's G-d-given role of being
a mother and raising children who will do G-d's will is more important than that of having a professional career. It's not
that Judaism says that women can't have careers; what it is, is a matter of priorities. Of knowing and believing that a career
is not more important than children
Both Men and Women Can Connect to G-d Equally
Yet we're still left with questions: If men and women are equally important, why doesn't Jewish law allow
women to be called up to the Torah? Why can't they be counted in a minyan?
Being called up to the Torah or being counted in a minyan are both mitzvot. While the word, "mitzvah," literally
means, "commandment," the Hebrew root of the word is is, "tzavta," which means "connection." This is because the purpose of
a mitzvah is to connect Jews to G-d.
Men are told that they should connect to G-d through being called up to the Torah and being in a minyan. Women,
on the other hand, have other ways of connecting to G-d. Ways that are just as important and just as effective as the ways
that men have. Women can do mitzvos that connect them to G-d equally as men, but in different ways.
For example, the Torah says that, "A woman shall not wear a man's garment." Does the fact that women are not
allowed to wear pants mean that women aren't equal to men?
It doesn't, because the Torah gives another command: "A man shall not wear a woman's garment." It's not the
same command given to women, but the two commandments are essentially equal.
The world today blurs distinctions, saying that everyone is the same. Yet by saying this, society robs mothers
of their right and honors. They fail to give credit to women for carrying children for nine months and going through the pains
of childbirth. By saying that a career is more important than motherhood, they seem to be saying that a mother's devotion
and pain for her children is meaningless.
Can you think of a bigger insult to a woman than to tell her that her G-d-given role and ability to nurture
life is meaningless?
Judaism says that men and women are different but equal. But this is far from discriminatory. By acknowledging
the differences, Judaism shows a respect to women that modern society fails to.