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Written by Sender Rozesz. Sender Rozesz is a practicing attorney with a background in Jewish pluralistic education for adults. The views reflected in his columns represent his own personal views, and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations, institutes or associations with whom he may be affiliated. For more Double Mitzvahs by Sender Rozesz, check out A Woman’s Vow, Sexual Motive, Choose Your Own Spouse, The Post-Honeymoon Journey, A Wise and Understanding People, The Blessing of Fertility, Abominations, Coitus Interruptus, Sexual Struggles,The Unspeakable Language of Passion, Cut vs. Uncut, The Silence of Bitterness, Sex and the Holiest Day of the Year, Shifting Beds and Sex in the Sukkah,Sex…In the Beginning, A Sexual Reboot, She’s My Beautiful Sister,Kosher Incest?, How They Met, Male-Female Intercourse, The First Kiss, The Power to Transform, Onanism, Daughters-in-Law and Moshiach, Issues with the In-Laws?, The Undoing of Captivity, Shift Beds – Part II, Pharaoh’s Assimilation Policy, Passion vs. Pleasure, Loving in Reverse, Music is Female, Fecund Fluids and Revelation, Sexism in the Commandments, Divine Lust, Name Calling, Mismatched Lovers, Sex and Mirrors, The Challenge of Real Loving,Getting Undressed, The Strangers Among Us, Wet, Moist Matzah, The Anatomy of an Anchor,Blood and Birth, Menstruation and Circumcision,Incest, and Adultery, and Homosexuality, Oh My!, and Beauty is in the Eye of…?.
Modern sensibilities and today’s culture of gender equality often collide with the perception that Torah is sexist and patriarchal. This creates uncomfortable conflict for those Jews who are both products of modern culture and yet devoted to the Torah and its eternal quality.
Some perhaps wonder whether our newly enlightened perspective is a further sign that the Torah is out-of-date, belonging to an older, more primitive era. Some may feel the need to reconcile the Torah with our fresh views, apologizing for the Torah’s perceived backwardness, and finding creative ways to explain away the smoking gun of sexism.
But is Torah sexist?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition of sexism is: 1: prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially : discrimination against women; 2: behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex.
By this definition, Torah is most certainly sexist.
In this week’s parshah, Behar-Bechukosai, the Torah introduces a new law: When a person makes a vow, pledging the value of a human being, there is a schedule – a kind of Kelley Blue Book for people – indicating how much money each human being represents. Here is the schedule:
|Between 20 and 60 years of age||50 silver Shekel||30 silver Shekel|
|Between 5 and 20 years of age||20 silver Shekel||10 silver Shekel|
|Between one month and 5 years of age||5 silver Shekel||3 silver Shekel|
|After 60 years of age||15 silver Shekel||10 silver Shekel|
As you can see, whatever the measure of valuation is being used here, females are consistently valued less than their male counterparts.
Some have suggested that the above amounts reflect the value that each age group would bring in the slave market. Since males are typically stronger and better-suited to manual labor than females, this accounts for the higher price that would be paid for them, and consequently, their higher biblical value. This explanation is very dissatisfying, however, for several reasons:
And yet –
What does this mean? Does this mean that Torah regards women as inferior to men? As inherently less valuable?
“A man shall leave his father and his mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Genesis, 2:24. Doesn’t the fact that Torah sends man to the female, directing him to cleave to her, suggest female superiority, as opposed to the reverse?
When G-d cursed Eve for her role in feeding Adam the forbidden fruit, he said: “To your husband will be your desire, and he will rule over you.” Genesis, 3:16. Does that not suggest that prior to the curse, the natural state of things was that woman was not submissive or subjugated to man?
When Sarah told Abraham to send away his son Ishmael, G-d said: “Be not displeased concerning the lad and concerning your handmaid; whatever Sarah tells you, hearken to her voice.” Genesis, 21:12. The Midrash notes that “We learn from here that Abraham was inferior to Sarah in prophecy.” Is that consistent with the notion that women are inferior to men?
When Rebecca was barren, “Isaac prayed to the Lord opposite his wife.”Genesis, 25:21. Doesn’t this suggest that the two were on par in terms of their prayers? And wasn’t it Rebecca who directed the entire scene with Jacob receiving his father’s blessings and thereafter being sent off to his uncle in Haran, thus setting the stage for the rest of his life — and indeed, the very future of the Jewish nation?
And when G-d told Jacob to finally leave Haran, and her went and consulted with his wives, obtaining their consent and approval. Genesis, 31:3-16. Doesn’t this leave one with the impression of a parity between Jacob and his wives that was uncharacteristic of the rest of the world at the time?
The tales of Eve, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Tamar, Yocheved, Miriam, Deborah – are any of these consistent with a systematic treatment of women as inferior?
Indeed, from exodus and throughout the Jewish nation’s 40-year trek through the desert, we are repeatedly reminded of the superior moral and spiritual character and stamina of Jewish women. “It was in the merit of the righteous women that our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt.” Babylonian Talmud, Sotah, 11b. “The women did not participate in the making of the golden calf.” Bamidbar Rabah, 21:10. “The women were not included in the decree [enacted in the aftermath] of the spies, for they cherished the Land. The men said, ‘Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt!’ , whereas the women said, ‘Give us a portion’.” Midrash Tanchuma, Pinchas, 7. And, of course, women were right up there alongside the men in their contributions to the construction of the tabernacle. Exodus, 35:22, 25-29; 38:8 (and in Rashi).
Thus, while the prevailing culture at the time certainly treated women as inferior to men, we would be hard-pressed to find that attitude in Torah. Oh, Torah is definitely sexist. Women could not be priests, or serve in the temple. Divorce was prerogative of the male. And the monetary value attributed to women is less than that of men. However, given Torah’s rich tradition of respect for and empowerment of Jewish women, it seems unlikely that this discrimination is based upon any sense of female inferiority.
From the perspective of Kabbalah, as we discussed here, G-d is a combination of the masculine and the feminine. “His” intellectual-type attributes (Chokhmah-Wisdom and Bina-Understanding) are called the father and the mother of the emotional attributes (Chesed-Kindness, Gevurah-Strength, Tiferet-Beauty, -Victory, Hod-Splendor and Yesod-Foundation), which are considered the male son. Finally, “His” expressive faculties of thought and speech (Malkhut-Kingship) is the female daughter. She is also referred to as the Shekhina – G-d’s divine presence – which was the basis for Leonard Nimoy OBM’s famous “Shekhina Project.”
The plot thickens, however. Each of the above attributes, collectively coined the “Sefirot“, also represent a supernal “limb” of G-d’s manifestation. Thus, Chokhmah is the mind, and Bina is the heart. Chesed is the right arm, and Gevurah is the left arm. Tiferet is the torso. is the right leg, Hod is the left.
Yesod is the penis.
Malkhut is the mouth, and possibly also an oblique reference to the vagina of the sacred feminine. And there is way too much innuendo regarding that association, so I won’t even go there.
Adam, of course, having been created in G-d’s image, was initially created both male and female; then, – for the sake of sex – those two critical aspects were separated, each to occupy its own distinct physical body. So how could one be inferior than the other?
During the days between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot it is Mitzvah to count the Omer – essentially, to count seven weeks – 49 days – from exodus on the 16th of Nissan, to the giving of the Torah on Shavuot, the 6th of Sivan. Kabbalah posits that each of the seven weeks corresponds to one of the seven emotional Sefirot (six emotional Sefirot plus Malkhut). Further, Kabbalah explains that each Sefirah incorporates within itself all of the other seven Sefirot.
Thus, each of the seven weeks is associated with one of seven Sefirot, and each day within each of the seven weeks is associated also with the same seven sub-Sefirot – thus creating 49 permutations. Each day of the week, we focus on a different aspect of the Sefirah of that week, with the hopes of attaining spiritual improvement in that specific area.
This week was the sixth week of the Omer. Thus, this week past has been devoted to the Sefirah of Yesod – the penis – and all of its different permutations 🙂 This Saturday night, however, we will enter our final week of the Omer, week 7, which is the week of Malkhut, the sacred feminine, with all of Her feminine bits.