Women and men have equal but different missions in life, each pursuing their own path to holiness. For women to adopt the lifestyle of men is not only contrary to their nature and divinely given task, but betrays a lack of self-respect for their own dignity and worth.
Do women occupy a position in Judaism inferior to men? Does Torah and the lifestyle it mandates discriminate against women? Some people apparently believe so, for under the banner of women's liberation efforts are being made to free women from what is perceived as their unequal status in Jewish law.
The call for equal rights is a persuasive one. All people are created in the image of G-d, and no person, and certainly not a whole category of people, should be subjected to unjust and unequal treatment. And, it is claimed, Jewish women labor under just such inequalities.
Judaism, advocates of changes say, discriminates against women in both lifestyle and observance of Jewish ritual. (Jewish lifestyle, of course, is prescribed by Jewish law as is Jewish ritual, and it is impossible to detach one from the other.. But for the sake of clarity we shall treat each as a separate item.) Of the former, the discriminatory practice most often cited is that while men enter the workforce, women traditionally have kept the home, raising children. Examples of the latter are the inability of women to be called up for an aliyah to the Torah or to be counted as part of the minyan. Is there any substance to these charges?
Torah, certainly, assigns different roles to men and women. But different does not mean unequal, equality is not sameness. In the divine plan for creation, men and women have distinct, diverse missions, which work in harmony, complementing one another and bringing the divine plan to fruition. The role of one is neither higher nor lower than the other's: they are simply different.
If we were to measure tasks, that of the woman would rank the highest, in terms of self-fulfillment, importance, and just about any other criteria. Is there anything in the world loftier than bringing another Jew into the world, guaranteeing the perpetuation of the Jewish nation -- the "holy people" -- and thereby guaranteeing also the perpetuation of Torah and its teachings, the world of G-d?
Yes, Jewish tradition says that the women's role is primarily to raise the children and to be the mainstay of the home. For it is a sacred mission, the importance of which dwarfs any other. It is but a perversion of our times to perceive having children, raising them in the ideals of our heritage, and setting the tone for the entire household, husband included -- as being inferior to earning money, making a name for oneself, or anything else seen by society as being the ultimate goal in life.
Women have been given G-d's most precious gift, and they are being told to throw it away in exchange for worthless baubles. G-d in His infinite wisdom has granted the woman the ability to carry a fetus in her womb for nine months, and to give birth to a new member of the holy people. No man, no matter how wise or capable or willing, can do it: only the woman. Can there be greater self-fulfillment than when she carries out this magnificent G-d given mission?
The cry of equal rights is not only irrelevant, but a tragic corruption of the very concept of "rights." To bombard girls with propaganda that they will be fulfilled only if they imitate men is to deprive them of their natural right to be mothers, the perpetuators of Jewry and Torah! It is a swindle to convince women to exchange their most holy of missions for things which are meaningless in comparison.
It is wrong to persuade girls that they should first enter the business or professional world and only afterwards, if they want to, should they establish families and homes. It is wrong to press such a warped set if priorities on a girl, saying, in effect, that raising children and running a home is a secondary course of action, applicable only after one has first had a business or professional career. To be a good mother and homemaker needs adequate preparation, and the firm conviction that being so is one's primary function.
This is not to say that for women to work is always wrong. It is more a matter of priorities, of knowing what is one's primary mission and what is one's G-dly ordained role. What is false is to replace women's sacred mission with the ideal that having a business or professional career is a goal for itself. But as a means to furthering Torah study, for example, there is a long Jewish tradition of women working to allow their husbands to devote themselves totally to studying Torah. Even then, of course, it was not allowed to prevent raising a family.
In a similar vein, the fact that women are not called up to the Torah for an aliyah or are not counted as part of a minyan is irrelevant to their worth. To demand such "rights" is simply a total misunderstanding of what they mean.
Having an aliyah and being part of a minyan are indeed lofty matters. "Aliyah" literally means "ascent," referring to both the physical ascent on steps to the platform where the Torah is read and to the spiritual ascent that accompanies it. Through a minyan, G-d is sanctified in this world and in all the spiritual worlds, too. But sanctity and spirituality are not man-made matters, to be toyed with as one desires. Holiness is attained by cleaving to G-d, and it is He who has established how one becomes sanctified and how one sanctifies.
There is not just one way in which to approach G-d. G-d has given men one path and women another; and the underlying condition for all is to carry out G-d's will in the manner set for that particular person or persons. It is meaningless to arbitrarily exchange one for another, for then not only is holiness not achieved, but G-d's will has been flouted, creating the antithesis of holiness.
G-d has indeed said that He is sanctified in a minyan, and that having an aliyah produces a spiritual ascent for the person. But the same G-d has said that this is the way for men only; women have different ways to be spiritually uplifted and to sanctify G-d. So again we return to our previous assertion of what Judaism postulates for the respective roles of men and women: Equal but different.
Ironically, the movement to liberate women does the opposite: it debases women. A person who is sure of her own value and worth, secure in the conviction that she is equal to others, will not attempt to imitate anyone else. It is only the person who views herself as inferior to others, and has no values of her own, who will try to imitate another person.
Jewish women have their own mission, their own identity, their own worth. Why the frenetic endeavors to adopt those of men? It is debasing and betrays an astonishing lack of self-esteem, an inferiority complex that compels one to junk everything and anything that may be construed as marking women different from men.
Torah says emphatically that the diverse missions of men and women does not mean inequality. Just as Torah commands that "A man shall not wear a woman's garment," so equally it commands "A man's garment shall not be on a woman." Neither men nor women carry our their G-d given tasks or achieve self-fulfillment by imitating the other. A woman has no reason to feel inferior to a man, and therefore she has no need to try to be as a man.
The blurring of the essential difference between man and woman has spawned another aberration, this time robbing women of their rights as mothers. Jewish law decrees that a child belongs to the people of which his or her mother is a member. One of the reasons for this is because the embryo is formed and nurtured in the mother's womb, and therefore belongs to her people. In the case of the Jewish people, a child is Jewish only if the mother is Jewish.
Flying in the face of this indisputable fact of nature, some people are proposing that the father should be a factor in determining the child's identity. This not only has no logical underpinnings, but in effect robs the mother of the child she carried in her womb for nine months, for whom she went through the pain of childbirth, and whom she willingly brought into the world. What an injustice!
Such a perversion of the natural order of things cannot be allowed to continue. Women throughout the world, Jewish and non-Jewish, should protest strongly against the theft of their children. It is ludicrous that a group of people should perpetrate such an outrage against mothers, and against G-d who gave mothers the privilege of being the ones to bear the children.
It is time to restore sanity to a world where light is called darkness and darkness light. Time to restore to women the dignity and worth of their sacred role of being the mainstays of the home, and the raisers and molders and perpetuators of Jewish life and tradition.