Jewish World Review May 14, 2003/ 12 Iyar 5763

Confessions of a
religious feminist

By Dr. Debby Schwarz Hirschhorn | I'm a card-carrying feminist from birth. An only child, my parents had high expectations of me. From their perspective, the world was my oyster; um, bagel.

And when I had my own children, I taught my sons to cook, shop, and sew. Good survival skills, I always thought. I didn't discriminate; my daughter learned all that as well.

But what is a feminist, really? And can an Orthodox Jew be one?

The truth is that being Orthodox is synonymous with feminism, if, by feminism, one means respect for women, appreciation of their talents, recognition of the contribution, equal voice, and equal rights.

Our history and prayer book back me up.

In the ancient world, women were not landowners. The Jews changed that. Tzelafchod died, leaving only daughters, for whom the ruling was made that, of course, they got to keep their father's land.

Another piece of evidence: Every Friday night before husbands recite Kiddush (sanctification of the Sabbath with wine), they sing an ode to their wives, and mind you, the ode has nothing to do with what Westerners worship in women (good looks, backing their husbands up).

Instead, it has to do with the things that count in a relationship and a family, including being: a good person; skillful; hard-working; financially successful in the import/export, real estate, or garment businesses; a kindly person who is even considerate of the maid; charitable; concerned for the welfare of her family; and artistic. Because of her wonderful personality, her husband values—and seeks out—her opinion. Her children, too, respect and admire her. Although she is modest, she is nevertheless cognizant of her strengths and her value. She knows that when she dies she will feel good about what she accomplished and stood for in this world. How about that, folks? This lovely ode is part of King Solomon's Book of Proverbs, written about 2500 years ago. I guess he was a feminist.

Now, mind you, no-where in the prayer book does a woman make a fuss over her man. He just toils away, hoping the L-rd Above will recognize his worth. Let me continue. (Prudes should go read another article at this point.) The Torah (Talmud) admonishes men—and it is right in the Marriage Contract in plain Aramaic (well, go translate yours) that their responsibility to their wives is food, clothing, and good sex. Don't believe me? Check out Rabbi Maurice Lamm's "The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage." While the onus of sexual pleasure for the wife is on the man, there is no reciprocal onus on the woman. Furthermore, the commandment to have children is also on the man.

Let's look at morning prayers. Men thank G-d "for not making me a woman." Why? Because this is one of many ways that our Torah values Life: Women used to risk their lives in childbirth; therefore men appreciated being able to serve G-d another way. Women, on the other hand, thank G-d "for making me the way he wanted to." This understanding, that women were made to G-d's satisfaction, was made by Rabbi Dr. Elie Munk, born at the turn of the century in Paris. He must've been a feminist too. You know what? Basically, I think G-d was a feminist.

Ok, you're still hung up on the mechitza, aren't you? Why should women be separated away from the action at prayer time? What are they, contagious or something? Here's my answer: As a therapist, I have a large, colorful chart in my office with a set of about a hundred faces, each representing a feeling.

I often have to drag this poster out for people who need to learn that they have feelings and how to label them. Nine times out of ten, the client who needs that sort of help is a man. Women understand feelings and instinctively turn inward, are introspective, spiritual, and connected. Men just plain need a push, what can I tell you? You see, you women who keep wanting to be "out there" like the men are still under the influence of male chauvinist thinking. You are not yet liberated. You value the externals only because men decided that that was something to be valued. In that process, you are de-valuing what is inherently feminine: the internals. A soul that already appreciates the awesomeness of the Intangible will find the tangible a poor substitute.

G-d knew what He/She was doing, don't worry. Oh, did I mention that the most important Attribute of G-d, the Spiritual Presence, the Shchina, is a feminine word?

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JWR contributor Dr. Debby Schwarz Hirschhorn is an Orthodox Marriage & Family Therapist. To comment, please click here. To visit her website, please click here.


04/16/03: Kindliness and Blood: A Passover Thought
03/25/03: Arguing: It's a Jewish thing

© 2003, Dr. Debby Schwarz Hirschhorn