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Religious Roles

Discussion in 'Judaism DIR' started by dudley thoth, Apr 26, 2004.

  1. dudley thoth

    dudley thoth Member

    Apr 9, 2004
    The religion of the Jewish people, as it is presented in the Biblical texts appears to of been very much in the hands of men, and largely viewed through their eyes. God is portrayed as exclusively masculine with titles such as 'Lord' (Deut 10:17), 'Husband' (Hosea 2:16), and 'King' (Isaiah 43: 15).
    The priesthood who officiated the sacrifical system were exclusively male, and the preserevers of the written and oral tradition were also exclusively men, as shown in the Ethics of the Fathers (Beckerlegge, G 'ed', 2001, p.27).
    Already, in the foundations of Judaism, an imbalance can be perceived relating to the importance of the male sex over the female. A specific gender role is also seen to be placed (or imposed?) apon men that has given them control over religious matters that have been denied to women.
    In questioning the Divine Authority of scripture by scholars in the nineteenth century, there was a move away from the orthodox interpretation of the Bible. This new attitude towards the Hebrew scriptures became part of the Jewish Reform Movement and has helped to open the doors for Jewish women such as Ellen. M Umansky, a Rabbi in the reform tradition.
    Umansky has expressed her dissatisfaction with a Judasim she views "as hopelessly patriarchal" and desires a Jewish religion that is of equal relevence to both men and women (Ibid, p.70).
    The family unit is highly valued within Judaism as it is the seat of individual and collective well being for Jews everywhere (Unit 1-2, 2001, p.38).
    Rabbinic Judasim has placed specific gender roles on both male and females that are to be ingrained from infancy within the family unit (Study Guides, 2000, p.62).
    When a male child is eight days old he is circumcised. Circumcision is regarded as a mark of Jewish identity and symbolizes the covenant between God and Israel. The birth of a female child is celebrated with a thanksgiving service, where she is given a name and blessed as a member of Israel (Holm, J 'ed', 2001, p.120). The permanent mark of circumcision seems to place an emphasis on the male child that has no equal parallel for females. The Biblical texts also reflect an attitude of inequality between the birth of the two sexes, which only mention the birth of males as if the birth of females was of less importance to Israelite lineage (ibid, p.120).
    The emphasis on the male can also be seen in another life-cycle ritual known as Bar Mitzvah, which celebrates the male passage into manhood. There is no female parallel within Orthodox Judaism, and only recently has the female equivelent Bat Mitzvah, been introduced into Reform Judaism (Study Guides, 2000, p.63).
    According to the Halakhah, the father is only responsible for the education of his sons but not daughters. This didn't mean that women were forbidden to receive an education, Although in Europe Jewish education was only considered to be of value to men. However, the modern opinion holds that Jewish education is important for both men and women, and the acceptance of female Rabbis in the reform tradition since the early and mid-seventies appears to reflect this (Holm, J 'ed', 2001, p.124 & 139).
    Marriage, together with the family, provides a stable environment for the continuation of Jewish religious values (ibid, p.126). According to Jewish law, a women is concidered to belong to her father until marriage and then the 'ownership' is passed to the husband. A wife does not literally become her husbands property, rather it reflects that she is exclusively with him and not with any other man. A women finally 'owns' herself through the death of her husband or divorce (ibid, p.127).
    In the event of a man dying childless, the widow was permitted to marry her brother-in-law. Known as Yibbum (now forbidden), this law enabled the dead man to continue his family line through his brother, again expressing the importance of male lineage (ibid, p.126).
    In Jewish law, divorce is a husband's preogative. The primary cause for divorce is adultery which is defined solely in terms of the woman as the offending party (ibid' p.134-5).
    Sexual relations between husband and wife are regulated by the women's menstrual cycle. As a menstruating woman is concidered by Biblical law to be unclean during her period, all contact with women at this time is to be avoided. Rabbinic laws concerning menstruation are even more rigid than the Biblical texts, which were probably primarily concerned with maintaining temple purity. Although women have been known to seclude themselves voluntarily, laws concerning menstruation do not restrict women from activities within the synagogue (ibid, p.130).
    Within the synagogue, and Judasim in general, women have been treated as religiously subordinate to men, and denied the status of leadership (ibid, p.138-9). Within the orthodox tradition, women in the United States are included in the synagogue worship, while in the U.K this is not the case, although they do, of course, attend the synagogue. Women are not included in the Minyan which is the requirement of ten men in constituting a synagogue. In Reform Judaism women have a more equal status and, as already mentioned, may be ordained as Rabbis, and fulfil other roles of leadership (ibid, p.138-9).
    Traditionally the obligation to observe the divine commandments, or Mitzvot, was more binding for men than for women. The duty of a wife towards her husband, family and household matters were seen to be in conflict with the obligation towards God and the Torah, and she was directed towards a more domestic role, as the spiritual head of the household (ibid' p.136-38).
    Shlomo Deshen tells us that as a consequence of the restrictions placed on women in the synagogue, domestic rituals were of major importance to women. The lighting of the candles on a sabbath eve was of particular importance and Deshen describes the ritual as "a virtual symbol of female religious identity" (Beckerlegge, G, 'ed', 2001, p.71-2). The Dietary laws (Kashrut) would also be maintained by women as "the primary preparers" of Kosher food (study Guides, 2000, p.63).
    In the past, women have found themselves confined within their own homes, and even Jewish literature has remarked that "she is banished from people and confined to prison" (Holm, J, 'ed', 2001, p.133).
    Today, women have much more freedom in social and religious life within Judaism and are free to choose a career in the secular world (ibid, p.133).


    Beckerlegge, Gwilym 'ed', 2001 'The World Religions Reader 2nd Edition' Routledge.
    Holm, Jean 'ed', 2001 'Women in religion' Continuum.
    Open University Study Guides, 2000.
    O.U Units 1-2 'Judaism', 2001.