To speak of the ‘role’ of women sounds to the modern ear at best anachronistic and at worst reactionary

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Last updated: April 10, 2019

It has become evident that there are roles, and those roles carry with them certain specific duties, obligations and of course social stigmas. We concede that there is a sense in which the religious leader, the doctor, the scientist, or the politician has a role and thus a certain defined part to play in social situations. What is strange, and in need of explanation, is the idea that a man has a role as a man, and that a woman has a role as a woman yet these roles are somewhat unequal, which the Jewish tradition clearly portrays.Where does the strangeness lie? Evidently, it lies in our sense that roles are placed upon us. Since one does not choose one’s gender how then can a persons’ gender have any moral, social or religious inferiority? The simple answer to this question becomes evident through history. That’s how it has been in the past and very few people had the courage to try and alter society, yet something very interesting occurred. Modernity was in full swing, feminism was born and lastly a remarkable landmark occurred in 1948, that being the establishment of the State of Israel.

These three major factors dynamically changed the status of Jewish women; socially, economically, politically and religiously for the first time since the creation of Adam and Eve. The Bible is somewhat confused regarding woman’s creation. In the first creation story (Genesis 1:27) God is described as creating man, both male and female at the same time. This might be interpreted as implying equality between the two genders. But in the second creation story, (Genesis 2:7) God formed only a man.Realising that he needed a helper (Genesis 2:18), God marched all of the animals past Adam (Genesis 2:19-20) looking for a suitable animal.

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Finding none suitable, God created Eve out of one of Adam’s ribs. The term “helper” has historically been interpreted as implying an inferior role for Eve, although some modern interpreters believe that the word can mean a companion of equal status. “..

. the Hebrew word translated “helper” is used twenty-one times in the Old Testament: twenty of these cases refer to help from a superior. “1 Adam later asserts his authority over Eve by naming her.Similarly, there were certain laws that reveal an inferior status assigned to women in Judaism. A man could sell his daughter as payment for debt (exodus 21:7). The women’s role in organised worship was limited to secondary functions. Women are excluded from leading public prayer, being counted in a minyan2, and being called up to read from the Torah. Furthermore, Orthodox women are not allowed to be witnesses in a court or even to attend the circumcisions of their own sons.

Furthermore, In Numbers 27:8-11, Moses describes the rules of inheritance that God has stated.If a man dies, his son inherits the estate; his daughter gets nothing. If there is no son, then his daughter inherits. If there are no children, then the estate is given to the man’s brothers; his sister(s) get nothing. Women were given very few choices in marriage. In the past, their husbands were picked for them. They didn’t have any say in whom they were to marry.

3 Until late in the 18th century most girls were engaged at 12 and married at 14 so they had no childhood, and once they were married their life was devoted to serving their husband and doing whatever he demanded.Divorce can only be initiated by the husband. (Deuteronomy 24:1.

)4 Women were not allowed to own businesses, participate politically and more importantly, were still very restricted religiously. This traditional way of life remained for thousands of years until Jews women were emancipated in Europe from ghetto style life into the mainstreams of society, however; even then they were restricted in many ways. Shortly after, the Holocaust eventuated and as a result the state of Israel was established to ensure the Jews had a safe haven after such a traumatic event.The women of Israel saw this as an opportunity for social, political and religious emancipation however they shortly realised after immigrating there this was still not the case. It became apparent shortly after their arrival they would have to overcome even greater barriers than their non-Jewish women counterparts. If women in general have one strike against them (their womanhood) Jewish women had two strikes against them (womanhood and Jewishness) Jewish women realised that in order to escape the limited inferior roles placed upon them by their religion they needed to embrace Zionism and the feminist movement.Zionism and feminism was not a continuation of the traditional Jewish way of life. Clearly, the implications of Jewish feminism, while they include Halachic [N1]restructuring, reach beyond Halacha5 to transform the bases of Jewish life.

Feminism demands a new understanding of Torah6, God, and Israel: an understanding of Torah that begins with acknowledgement of the profound injustice of Torah itself. However, the role of Jewish feminism is not as simple as it seemed ten years ago.It is not merely a matter of changing and re-interpreting halachah and gaining inclusion in the minyan; rather, it is a much more complex process, bringing with it the hope (and threat) of profound change. Feminism challenges the patriarchal nature of Judaism and demands recognition of women as full persons rather than only in male- defined roles. “Without these fundamental changes in the patriarchal structure, many feminists who do not fit into the traditional roles will continue to feel estranged from Judaism. ” 7 This idea became a reality for all Jewish women living in Israel when the first female prime minister was elected in 1969.

Golda Meir was helped neither by the influence nor tutelage of a politician father, like Indira Gandhi or Benazir Bhutto, nor of a politician husband, like Evita Peron, Mrs. Bandaranaike, or Corazon Akino, but had risen through years of holding party, diplomatic and cabinet posts, like Margaret Thatcher. Incidentally all these women have amply demonstrated that the old assumptions about women’s essential inability to function in top-level politics are worthless and false stereotypes. 8 Golda along with the feminist movement fought for further increased participation in public life for women.Golda explained that “without it women cannot acquire sufficient political power to abrogate the laws, and to change the institutions that hold women down, to enact laws that make all sorts of discrimination and violence against women punishable by law, and – most importantly – to protect any gains made by women and to maintain equal access to resources and an equal measure of autonomy. ” 9 The major change developing in recent years is, indeed, due to the rise of feminism, feminist consciousness, the establishment of the state of Israel and Zionism, Jewish nationalism.Israel’s declaration of independence ensures complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or gender. However history and religion has shown that unless this is stated by law there will always be some sort of exclusion for women.

In order to ensure that women had equal status in Israel as men they actively participated in the establishment of two laws. The Nationality law (1952) which ensures that women have exactly the same rights and duties as men and this is clearly demonstrated in the women’s compulsory service to the army.Secondly, the Equal Pay for Equal work Law (1964) 10. These two laws allowed Jewish women in the years preceding and immediately following the establishment of the State of Israel, to be able to take an active part in public and communal life in order to raise their status in society and most importantly maintain it. Israeli Women at the advent of the new millennium now had higher salaries, more corporate power, and more career choices and freedom of choice over such issues as which stream of Judaism to follow and divorce. One of the first evident victories for the feminist movement and Israeli women was the women’s role in the courts.

Previously women judges were appointed mainly to the lower courts, there are now a number of women judges in the regional courts and there is even a woman judge on the Supreme Court. This process may have been helped along by the fact that more and more women have studied law and are practicing it, and there simply may be more qualified women around. Similarly, “as for women executives, between 1994 and 1997 their number grew from 6,500 (16% of all executives) to 9,000 (20%). Those at the pinnacle of the industrial sector (CEOs, vice-presidents, and owners of enterprises rose from 650 to 1,450. Women gained ground relative to men in both industry and in public services, rising from 10% of executives in both sectors to 16%. High financial positions in the Public Service or Bank of Israel, the state bank, appear to open up for women.In 1982 women occupied the positions of Examiner of Bank, Bank of Israel; Assistant Commissioner, Income Tax and Property Tax Commission, Ministry of Finance; Assistant- Director, Economic Planning Authority, Ministry of Finance; Assistant Controller of Foreign Exchange, Bank of Israel. 14).

In mid-1998, 35,000 women were employed in the civil service (in the broad Israeli sense of the term, which includes nurses and teachers), of whom 15,000 were in the health system 12 In 1997, the Civil Service Commission created a special function-women’s advancement officials; by mid-1998, 62 of 70 government offices and auxiliary units had filled these slots. As of that date, the 700 public companies, each of which has seven or eight directors, had a total of only 120 women board members; half the companies had none at all.Legislation that passed on June 22, sponsored by Minister Haim Oron (Meretz political party), stipulated that any all-male board of a public company must appoint a woman as a public representative.

By November, around 25 women industrial executives had been added to these boards, their names drawn from a Manufacturers’ Association database of qualified candidates. 13 There are a number of explanations for the rise in participation of women in the work force: A rise in the level of education, which has a positive influence on participation in the work force: 78. % of the women who studied 16 years or more belonged to the work force in 2002, compared with 49.

8% among those with 11-12 years of education. It is reasonable to suppose an expanding system of environmental support for working mothers, which is expressed by establishing a network of centers for full-time day-care and afternoon day-care systems, as well as an improvement in the working conditions of working mothers, and finally, The desire to increase the family’s income, and the existence of technological improvements which assist in housekeeping and save much time and knowledge.These reasons also contributed to a shift from employment in part-time work to full employment. 14 Furthermore, the Israeli Defence Force is one of the most important spectrums in Israeli society. The armed forces’ leadership affects the daily lives of a very large part of the Israeli population and here women’s influence for many years was relatively absent.

The authority of the highest women officers was restricted to the women’s corp. , which was a very limited role in the army. Even though they have till this very day not received complete equality in the army, they have certainly come a long way.Over the course of the years, the number of military occupational specialties open to women in the IDF has expanded and today most jobs are open to women. “Following a recent Supreme Court ruling, which upheld the petition of a servicewoman (Alice Miller) to be allowed to apply for Flight School, the Defence Service Law was amended in 1995 to enable servicewomen to attend Flight School, and woman recruits to serve in units outside the IDF ORBAT (women may thus serve in the police force and in the border police).In 2001, the first female fighter pilot graduated the Israel Air Force flight school.

All women have the opportunity to participate in an officers course”. 15This was a landmark case in the fight towards women’s equality and gave many women a chance to now fulfil their dreams just like she was able too. The women’s movement has profoundly altered religious attitudes towards women and Judaism and the way women and men think about themselves. Increasingly public philosophy and policy assumes that women are full human beings with a capacity for achievement in all spheres in which men function.

6 Although this is not the case for many ultra-Orthodox Jewish women, for the majority the road towards equality is certainly approaching. 17 Women in Judaism now play a role not merely as mothers and housewives but very often as partners of the Rabbi. Furthermore, it has become the first time in Jewish history that the ultimate goal of Judaism is that its men and women should receive a proper Torah education.

18 Jewish tradition by and large has upgraded the status and equality of women through Reform Judaism however they need to then abandon many traditions.Women who in their own eyes and in the eyes of reform Jews regard themselves as extremely religious have embraced the highest religious position in Judaism as Rabbi in all places across the globe including Israel. Although this is strictly forbidden in Conservative and Orthodox Judaism it cannot go without saying how successful Jewish women, particularly in Israel (where Female rabbi’s are generally more accepted) have been in their battle for equality in Judaism.Another remarkable case occurred just 6 months ago. A tribunal of three Supreme Court justices issued a groundbreaking ruling that said Jewish women could pray aloud from the Jewish holy text, the Torah, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

According to Orthodox Jewish tradition, women praying from the Torah violates Jewish law and the division of roles that God assigned men and women so therefore they are not allowed to pray at the Western Wall the most holy sight in Judaism.This illustrates just how incredible Israeli women have been in fighting for what they believe in. 19 The question has now to be asked: Is this political, social, economic and religious equality in decline, stationary or growing? The natural conclusion is that it is just too hard to tell. There is a definite growth.

The relative growth of women’s power, as well as the good chances for further growth, are due to the organisation of an effective women’s network, and of the formulation of a women’s agenda that is basically feminist. This network is now capable of mobilizing wide coalitions of women, who pressure their male leadership to place women in realistic places on their slates for Knesset elections, of developing and canvassing a women’s list of demands from local authorities, to a week-long, country- wide campaign against violence against women, to supporting a demonstration of Agunoth (women denied divorce). Or organizing meetings of Arab and Israeli women for the purpose of exchanging views and suggestions for fostering peace.However what must be realised is that this growth is not guaranteed. This is because of the forces that have prevented Israeli women up to now from gaining more equality. These are as strong as ever, growing, and may – if unchecked – eventually become destructive to whatever gains Israeli women have made over the last 45 years. 20 Some people claim that in a society where the equal rights of all persons are protected by the Basic Law there no longer exists a problem of equality for women.Equality for women as a group in society has not yet been achieved In Israel.

There is a lack of equality for many women as evidenced by the shortage of women in occupations ranging from technology to engineering, high-tech, business to legal, including the judiciary, in the public service, from science to politics. On current evidence, this is still not the case. The status of women in Israel has been influenced by several social and historical factors related to the conflict between state and religion, which characterize the political scene.Though the founding fathers of the State were mostly oriented towards a secular and liberal, or socialist ideology, they assigned to the religious institutions all matters concerning personal status, i. e. marriage, conversion, divorce, burial, etc. Thus, the Orthodox stream of Judaism, acting according to Halacha – Jewish religious law – known for its patriarchalism, virtually obtained a monopoly over official Jewish religious life and personal status.

The limited number of women in public life can be attributed, to a large extent, to the political structure itself.The system of proportional representation, which actually encouraged women’s representation in Europe, has not had the same effect in Israel. A great deal of power is granted to the political parties, in which women tend to be under-represented, particularly at the decision-making levels.

Because of systemic discrimination and job differentiation according to gender, few women rise to high rank. While primaries are more accessible to women, they require three things which women candidates tend not to have in abundance: money, public exposure and organization.Many political parties now stipulate a minimum number of women on all party lists, but these requirements are not yet implemented on all levels of party activity. Sixty percent of public servants are women, but most are concentrated in the lower ranks of the civil service.

21 ‘Women’s under-representation at all senior levels of involvement and decision-making is self-perpetuating. Where women do not constitute a critical mass, they cannot and do not promote other women. ‘ 22 There exists a vicious circle here.Women are still considered by most men–and also by a large proportion of women–to have as their primary responsibility the welfare of their children and for all the care-work and all the housework connected with the raising of children; therefore the time available to them for occupational work is limited; they are tied to family mealtimes, to children’s bedtimes, and to the opening and closing times of private and public child minders, kindergartens and schools; consequently they tend to work “part time”, i.

e. less than the norm for full-time work for the day, the week, the year, the occupation. Everywhere a much larger proportion of employed women than men work part-time 23.

In some cases part-time workers are paid less per hour than full-time workers 24. They have fewer vacations, less fringe benefits, greater non-membership of pension schemes, and less insurance against sickness, accidents, old age or unemployment 25. Most common are fewer or no chances for promotion to better-paid positions of responsibility 26.Obviously most part-time workers have smaller incomes (and smaller pensions) than most full-time workers and this means that most women who work part-time earn considerably less than their male partners 27.

Consequently the husband’s or male partners occupational work will be taken more seriously, family decisions will give his training, or search for a job, position, or need for a move, preference over hers. It will be considered as for the benefit of the family that he continues to work full-time or even overtime.Consequently he has little time left for routine daily housework and childcare and so the woman continues to perform most or all of the domestic and childcare work and to accept primary responsibility for them.

Consequently her occupational income and status remain lower than his, so that views held regarding the present unequal division of labor between the genders as being both inevitable and reasonable are strengthened–and the vicious circle continues. Engels considered the fact that employed women had also to perform a separate, unpaid, work role at home, as the root cause of their inferior status in industrial capitalist society.His proposed remedies were the abolition of “bourgeois marriage” and the family household, and the “socialization” of housework to permit women’s full participation in production. What Engels hoped for was the abolition of the entire private “reproductive” work role. He did not consider that private household and childcare work could ever be shared equally by women and men. 28 The conclusion reached is that modern industrialized societies should redesign the working time which is potentially the key to the achievement of equal status for women in paid occupational work, and therefore also to the achievement of equal status in society.

Both genders should share dual work roles and equal parenting. To achieve this the radical reduction of the workdays, and the flexible coordination of the working schedules of all parents (or educators) of younger children have to be legitimated and facilitated. Furthermore, what is sorely needed today in additional to the above idea is the creation of a dialectical fusion between Jewish values and the mores of modern society in light of the far reaching implications of women liberation.

One crucial part of the dialectic is to measure the Halakhic and religious status of Jewish women against the feminist notion of equality of women. There must be a tow way communication and influence not withdrawal and separation. There a several areas in Jewish religious life where the goals of feminism may be applied creatively.

This means interaction not aping or assimilation. Though the truth is painful to those who live strictly in accordance to Jewish law. Unfortunately, this issue will not be resolved easily there is too much passion, love and history involved.

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