Judaism: Change in the Status of Women
Rabbi Eliezer MelamedThe writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper. His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: www.yhb.org.il/1
In the wake of the results of the international PISA tests (a worldwide study by the OECD of 15-year-old school pupils' scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and reading), some radical, semi-Hellenistic leftists leveled serious allegations against the State of Israel’s educational system. The ‘Haaretz’ newspaper even devoted an editorial to the topic.
To summarize their remarks: The Zionist vision has failed! The Jewish state was established to fulfill the vision of democracy, whose main objective is to equate the level of the Arabs to that of the Jews, and it has failed. The educational system has failed to raise the level of the Arab students to that of Jewish students, resulting in a huge gap between them.
Arab supporters should in fact commend the State of Israel for this. Had they compared the situation of Arab students in Israel to that of students in other Arab countries in the Middle East, they would discover just how much their educational level has risen thanks to the establishment of the Jewish state, and by publicizing this fact, could promote peace. Instead, they make grave accusations and encourage hostility, hatred, and war.
Testimony from the Home of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef ztz”l concerning Mixed Singing by Family Members on Shabbat
Rabbi D'vir Azulay from the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva sent me supporting evidence from the custom of the great posek (Jewish law arbiter), Maran, the Rishon LeTzion, HaRav Ovadiah Yosef ztz”l, and may these words be l’iluey nishmato (an ascent for his soul).
This is what the present Rishon LeTzion, HaRav Yitzhak Yosef, shlita (Rav Ovadiah’s son) wrote to him two years ago: “In the house Maran, our master, teacher and rabbi, the custom at all times was that the entire family would sing together on the eve of Shabbat, and during Shabbat day, together with the son-in-laws and all the brothers. Maran told them that since a woman does not sing solo, but rather her voice mixes-in with all the other voices, there is no prohibition – even though her voice, as well, is heard – in other words, not in an exceedingly loud voice, but in a normal voice – but not in a high tone”. Afterwards, he also wrote this in his book Yalkut Yosef (Part 1, Vol. 3, pgs. 368-371).
The Status of Men and Women
In a certain respect, nevertheless, woman is on a higher level, seeing as man was created from dust while woman was created from man in an advanced stage of development, therefore her ability to perfect what man initiates is greater and more superior. Thus we find many loving and devoted couples where initially, the husband’s leadership was exceedingly clear with his wife following after him, but over time, the wife’s status gradually increases, to the point where often it seems her influence is greater than her husband’s.
“It once happened that a pious man was married to a pious woman, and they did not have children. They said ‘We are of no use to the Holy One, blessed be He,’ whereupon they got divorced. The former went and married a wicked woman, and she made him wicked, while the latter went and married a wicked man, and made him righteous. This proves that all depends on the woman” (Bereishit Rabbah 17:7).
In general though, in a successful marriage, there are usually no big gaps between a husband and wife, with both sharing a common goal. Through their mutual enrichment, they increasingly grow, with the man initiating ideas and the woman following-up, deepening, and developing them. Consequently, he once more initiates an idea, and she develops it all over again. At times they alternate, with the development emerging as an initiative, and the initiative as development. Nevertheless, the main roles of male and female – initiator and developer – remains in most couples, while over the years, the value of the woman’s role and her status, increases.
Just as within every couple the status of the woman increases, the process within history is similar. In the beginning of history, man’s status was significantly higher, but in a gradual process, the status of woman increases.
The First Stage: in the Present World, Man’s Status is Higher
An additional explanation is that in the stage of decision-making, men are more inclined to the intellect, which is inherently more objective, while women are inclined to make considerations incorporating emotion, which naturally is more subjective. And therefore in the beginning it is necessary for man to lead, and he does so with the help of Torah study. Nevertheless, the world is in a process of advancement, and as the values of good and evil become clearer and more accepted, we progress to the stage where the values must be understood on a deeper level, with all their nuances, and brought to complete fruition in our daily lives, and then the female characteristic becomes more important.
The Second Stage: In the Future – Equality
At that time, the status of man and woman will be equal. There will still be a need to delineate between good and evil and enforce the good, and as a result, there will be a greater need for the male characteristic. But on the other hand, we will already have reached the stage in which the values of emunahand the positive aspects of everyday life in all their features will be truly evident, and for this, there is a greater need for the female characteristic; thus, the status of women will be equal to that of man.
The third stage of Olam Ha’ba (the World to Come), which is the world after techiyat ha’maytim (resurrection of the dead), there will be no need for struggle between good and evil. At that time, feminine traits will be able to be revealed completely, and the status of women will rise beyond that of man, as is hinted in the verse: “For God has created a new thing in the earth: a woman shall court a man” (Jeremiah 31:21).
This article appeared in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.