Thursday, April 23, 2015

Female Position of Jewish Women

Nadene Goldfoot                                              
Four Matriarchs, Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, Rachel
Jewish women have been equals to men in our Jewish society since the very beginning. We have 4 women in our history who are considered matriarchs and are the ideal types of women for us to emulate.
Rebekah (model Noa Tishby) 
Sarah (singer Ofra Haza) was niece of husband
Abraham, mistaken for sister and taken into harem for
her beauty, then released.  Abraham was told by G-d
to listen to her.  

Rebekah  was the wife of Isaac, and of course Isaac was Abraham's 2nd son, son of Sarah.  She was the mother of the twins, Esau and Jacob.  She was known for her kindness that attracted the match-maker in the first place.  She later supported her son,  Jacob in his struggle with his twin, Esau.  Our 4 matriarchs, Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel,  are  recognized as co-founders of Israel equal in stature to their more renowned husbands, respectively Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
Leah (Jennie Goldstein)

Rachel (model Bar Refaeli)

 Leah and Rachel were sisters who married Jacob.  Jacob fell in love with the younger one, Rachel, first but it was the custom of the land to marry the oldest first, so he married Leah, and then had to wait 7 years to marry Rachel.  He had only 2 children with Rachel, Joseph and Benjamin,  but 6 including Dinah, with Leah.  Leah was described as having weak eyes and Rachel was the beautiful one.  
Joshua, of tribe Ephriam, appointed leader after Moses in about 1271 BCE, Judge
Israelites entered Canaan 3,286 years ago and stayed as Jews.  
Before the settlement in Canaan, the elders of the community acted as judges. Joshua was the first after Moses.   Afterwards, the soldier-leader, priest, or prophet assumed, in addition to his chief function, that of judge.  Usually a judge just took care of their own tribe.
In about 1150 BCE-over 3,000 years ago, Rebekah's nurse was considered a prophet.  She was Deborah, the wife of Lapidoth.  She became something like a General in fighting against the Canaanites.
What she did was to instigate the 12 Israelite tribes to revolt against the Canaanite King, Jabin of Hazor and his ally and commander, General Sisera, who had 900 iron chariots, and he had oppressed the Israelites forcefully for the past 20 years.
Deborah telling Barak what to do
 Deborah, known to be a prophetess and one of the Israelite judges,  would sit under a date palm tree between Ramah and Bethel on Mount Ephraim, and Israelites would go up to her for judgments.  She sent for  Barak Ben Abinoam, son of Abinoam of Kedesh-naphtali, the commander of the Israelite tribes to go to war against the Canaanites. She directed him to take 10,000 men of the tribe of Naphtali and from the tribe of Zebulun!.  She then told him that she herself would cause Sisera to move towards him .  It took place by the river Kishon. Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh.  He told her that if she would go into battle, he would do this, but without her, he wouldn't.
  He led the forces of Naphtali and Zebulun and these two tribes defeated the army of Sisera. Sisera was told that Barak had gone up to Mount Tabor.  It was G-d who caused Sisera to panic  along with all the chariots and the entire camp by the edge of the sword before Barak.  Sisera got out of his chariot and ran away with Barak chasing after the chariots and the men as far as Hsarosheth-goliim.  The entire camp of Sisera were slaughtered in sword fighting;   not even one was left.
Jael  slew General Sisera of Hazor in Canaan
Sisera was defeated and then killed by Jael, the Kenite, in whose tent he had sought refuge. He went there because there was peace between Hazor and the Kenites.     Jael was the wife of Heber, the Kenite.  After the forces of Jabin of Hazor were defeated by the Israelites, the fleeing commander, Sisera  sought refuge in Jael's tent. She told him to turn aside from her, and she covered him with a blanket and gave him some milk to drink.  He asked her to stand at the entrance and tell anyone who might come that no one was there.  When he fell asleep, she took a tent peg, and using a hammer, drove the peg into his temple and it went clear through into the ground.   She killed him in his sleep.   It's all recorded and documented in (Judg.4) and (Judg.5)  The song of victory is attributed to her and is regarded as one of the oldest compositions preserved in Hebrew.
Deborah, the prophetess and Judge (Barbara Streisand) 
Deborah was a singer, and so wrote a song and sang about what had happened.  I think of her as the first Barbara Streisand.   At this time in the Israelite's history, there were no kings, but they had lawgivers who circulated among the people tirelessly in their time of degradation (living under and fighting the Canaanites) , teaching them to bless G-d.  It was a hard life, as they had to even fear ambushes at their wells.  They had to run from danger in their unwalled cities.

The Kenites were descendants of Jethro, Moses's father in law who lived in the Negev and Sinai deserts.  They were loyal friends and allies of Israel, and the Jews reciprocated this friendship by evacuating the Kenite families whenever they might be caught in the crossfire of war.  The Kenites had settled in Jericho, then called the City of Date Palms, and when the battle for the city took place, they left it and settled with the tribe of Judah.  Eventually, it's thought that the Kenites were absorbed by the Israelites through marriages.  Jael's husband, Heber, was one of the leaders of the Kenites who had led many northward from where they had been living.  It was Jethro's son, Hobab, who had guided the Israelites in the desert, and after the conquest had settled with part of his tribe on the borders of the city of Arad.
Huldah was another Prophetess in Jerusalem who lived at the time of Josiah, King of Judah (637-608 BCE). He became king at age 8 because his father, Amon (638-637 BCE),  had been murdered by conspirators  after being king for only 2 years.   When Josiah   became an adult, he started religious reform and removed foreign cults which had taken hold in Judah and re-established a pure monotheistic religion.  Huldah had foretold the catastrophic fall of Judah and also that Josiah would die prior to the calamity.  The Temple was destroyed in 586 BCE by Nebuchadnezzar and people were taken away as captives.

Beruryah/Beruriah was an educated woman who lived in the 2nd century CE.  She was the wife of Rabbi Meir and daughter of Rabbi Hananiah ben Teradyon.  She happens to be the only woman in the Talmud who participated in legalistic discussion.  Her opinion on one occasion was decisive.  She was very strong and brave and admired because of suffering severe family misfortunes.  Her parents were murdered and were martyrs for being Jewish.  Her two children died on the same day.

What is meant by education in Judaism is not well known.  Education in Hebrew is: hinukh.   This means formal  schooling as well as consecration which is training a child for living, not just for a livelihood.  They are to learn:
1. Moral and ethical values of their Jewish heritage
2. Torah's commandments of doing mitzvot
3. Learn-gain knowledge of Torah, Talmud and other writings
4. Develop sense of identification with and for all Jewish people

Then they can work on broad secular fields of study and prepare for a career.  Much of the above should be developed at home by copying their parents' behaviors.

Though Hebrew must have been affected by oriental standards and outlook towards women in Babylon where Jews had been exiled in 597 and 586 BCE, the role of Jewish women in early Jewish society as reflected in the Bible is often one of importance. Women had more freedom in their own land of Eretz Yisrael, and even later in Palestine than they had in Babylon.  Interestingly, the Babylon Talmud was of a higher quality than the Palestinian Talmud, though.   This is seen in the 4 matriarchs.  It is also seen in the women  besides Deborah, such as Mirium,  queens Jezebel of Israel and Athaliah of Judah. and  Golda Meier.

Our writings tell of women's wiles and the woman of worth who is the mainstay of her household.  In the 2nd Temple period, we had Queen Salome Alexandra who ruled Judea.This was after King Solomon had died and when Israel's southern section had ceded to become Judah.

In Hellenistic days, Jewish women's status was higher than the Greek women.  She was an independent legal personality permitted to own property when single or widowed.  She could keep certain property even after marriage, though increments went to her husband.  This was written in talmudic law.   Talmudists were very aware of sexual power that we women have.  

Women were exempted from many performances of many precepts, although the domestic religious rites connected with food, were  left mainly in their hands.  One reason is that they were busy caring for small children most of their lives.                                                                                                                                                 
It wasn't until the year 1,000 CE that monogamy was established and enhanced the position of the women.  Polygamy remained legal in the oriental countries.  Of course it is illegal in Israel today.  Rabbis had healthy attitudes towards sex and that the woman's dignity was recognized, but their education was neglected.

In eastern Europe it was a tradition for the woman to work in order to facilitate the husband's studies.  It should be stated also that a couple married very young, which biologically figures.  It is only today that this is ignored and that both received an education first before marriage if at all possible.  With the type of work that women could be involved in our early history, it was very realistic to have women work, and they could accomplish this at home with their children.

"There is some evidence that early Palestinian sources interpreted the word banekha more broadly and believed that women could also acquire merit by studying the law (M. Nedarim 4:3; Tos. Berakhot 2:12; P. Shabbat 3:4). However, the Babylonian scholars strongly disagreed."

It was Rabbi Akiva in the year 50-135, and was uneducated until age 40 when his wife Rachel, daughter of the rich man, Kalba Sabbua, was able to devote himself to learning and became the greatest scholar of his time.  Rachel worked, allowing him to study.  He had thousands of students at his school, and you can imagine that his children learned there as well.  It was just that women had to be separated from the men due to women's mensus period, for there were/are strict laws about coming into contact.  The Romans prohibited the study of the Law which he ignored.   For that he was arrested, imprisoned and executed at Caesarea.

Rabbi Benjamin Slonik of Poland (1550-1620) printed and published a book in Yiddish just for Jewish women to read and learn from called  Seder mitzvot hanashim (The Order of Women’s Commandments).  Evidently they had been taught to read Yiddish.  This tells us something of public education of the day.  Studying of the day for men was in rabbinic studies of the law of Moses.  Since women rarely, if ever, attained the level of rabbinic scholarship necessary to pare the details of these complicated laws, they were not expected to be on a par with the education of men then.  This goes along with the fact that Jews were to be a nation of priests; not used car salesmen or scientists.  But not to worry; our learning developed curiosity along with a sense of fairness, and within our time frame Jews have held more Nobel prizes in all fields  than other people.  

The tendency of some families to be less concerned with the Jewish upbringing of their daughters than with that of  their sons is wholly contrary to the spirit and expectations of Jewish family life.  Most of the goals of Jewish education apply equally to women.  The Jewish woman shares full responsibility with her husband for the many religious observances that are centered in the home.  She and her husband are called upon to answer the questions of young children and guide the development of this next generation.  

Every parent is obligated to train his children in the observance of the commandments, the mitzvot- in accordance with the age and the capacity of the child, for it is written "Train a child according to his way" in Proverbs 22:6.  They are taught from the time they begin to talk and understand a little.  When their behavior is under control, they are to be taken to the synagogue regularly.  The parent is required to teach his children Torah and see to it that they receive formal instruction in Jewish religious studies.  This comes from the Biblical precept, "And you shall teach them to your children..Deut. 11:19.  No parent should be satisfied with a superficial smattering of such knowledge, but should make every effort to provide his children with quality Jewish education.  It is the obligation of the parent to provide a child with the education or skills needed to earn a livelihood for himself when he grows up.  This injunction was based upon ethical considerations.  He who does not do so, teaches him to steal.   None of this was broken down to refer to boys only.  

It is customary for Jewish families to have books in a bookcase in their living-room.  Books and reading them are something to be proud of.  

The New Jewish Standard Encyclopedia
Book:  To Be a Jew, by Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin, page 130

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