The Treatment of Women in Jewish Culture

Posted on December 13, 2016 by

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Here in American culture, we are taught at a young age to always respect women. Traditionally, their roles primarily consisted of staying home and raising the kids while the husbands worked to support their families. Women received little respect in society and were not taken seriously, especially in the workforce. In modern times, however, more women are attending college and working full time, demanding respect and credibility from family and colleagues. In other societies, however, this is not always the case. Religions around the world, such as Orthodox Judaism, tend to have more traditional views towards women. In this culture, they have been forced to be stay-at-home wives/moms, as well as been removed or ‘changed’ in books to express male dominance.

What makes a Jewish household different from a non-Jewish household is that it is conducted in all its details according to the directives of the Torah. Hence the home becomes an abode for God’s Presence, a home for Godliness, one of which God says, “Make Me a sanctuary, and I shall dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:5) In a Jewish household, the wife and mother is called in Hebrew akeret habayit. This means literally the “mainstay” of the home, in which she largely determines the character and atmosphere of the home. As a person who has had the privilege of knowing many great modern-day Jewish families, I realized these facts primarily apply to Orthodox Judaism, the most traditional form of the Religion. I also realize, however, that there are many other families who still practice this form of Religion.

While it is hard to argue with what is in the Torah, it can be interpreted in various ways. Even though the Hebrew word of wife is translated to the mainstay of the household, it can mean more than just “housewife.” Wives/women in the modern period tend to set examples and atmospheres in other ways, such as getting a solid education, working to support the family and by being a supportive parent. As years pass, fewer and fewer women are fulfilling the pure “housewife” role and are beginning to expand their horizons. Family structure has changed, and so has the ways women set the atmospheres for their families.

Along with being limited to in rights and abilities, images of women are being obscured or altered in children’s reading books. In north London, two orthodox Jewish schools altered or erased pictures of women in children’s books, displaying/teaching children to hold “very narrow views about the role of women in society.” Yetev Lev, one of the largest Jewish schools in Stamford Hill, England, with 794 boys from ages 3-13, was criticized by inspectors for this alteration of the children’s books. Leaders at the school refused to allow kids to speak with female inspectors on a formal basis, and pupils had insufficient opportunities to interact with others “outside of their close community”. The school’s leadership informed inspectors they had no intention of providing kids with the tools and guidance to enable them to acquire an appreciation of and respect the differences between people based on culture, religion, sex and sexual orientation.

According to Harriet Sherwood of theguardian.com, the majority of kids still express views about the roles of men and women that indicate that the school is not preparing them for life in modern British society. In this school, kids universally consider that the role of women is to ‘look after children, clean the house and cook’, while men go to work.” Sherwood further states that the social and cultural development of the kids don’t promote fundamental British values. While they are polite to visitors, they unable to show mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs because their knowledge of people’s differences of faith and gender are limited.

While reading through this article by Ms. Sherwood, I was astonished that these types of schools still exist today. These types of institutes are incredibly outdated in their practices and teachings that the kids attending the school will struggle immensely to function in society. Leadership is failing to realize women in society have begun to acquire different roles in the world than just housewives, such as engineers, business people and even country leaders.

What caught my attention the most from this article was that all school lessons are taught in Yiddish rather than English. To me, this further distances the kids from reality, since they are being taught these ideas at critical times in their lives. Since an extremely small number of people, especially in London speak Yiddish, it creates communication barriers at those young ages that will be difficult to overcome.

In conclusion, I have discussed the various ways that women are often portrayed in Jewish society. Whether it is through the Torah or school, the female role is often seen as less worthy than the man’s in society. It is time for the Jewish community to evolve in society, since it is changing at a constant and rapid pace.

Sources

Sherwood. Harriet. Feb. 17, 2016. Orthodox Jewish schools ‘erased or changed pictures of women in books. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/feb/17/orthodox-jewish-schools-erased-pictures-women-books-ofsted

Dovid Dubov. Nissan. What is the Role of the Woman in Judaism? http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1802936/jewish/Woman-in-Judaism.htm

Judaism101. The Role of Women. http://www.jewfaq.org/women.htm

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