web analytics
April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘” the role of women’

The Parameters and Paradoxes of Being an Orthodox Woman

Monday, February 17th, 2014

I am a woman. I am a wife. I am a mother. I am an observer of Halacha. I am a professional. I am a shul board member. I am a writer. I am Orthodox. I am committed to Jewish tradition, to the Oral and Written Torah. I am a proponent for the advancement of women’s viewpoints and concerns.

If the combination of those terms seem paradoxical to you, trust me, I understand. I have spent a lot of my life trying to resolve this odd dichotomy.

I have read about the recent uproar over women and tefillin with growing interest. It was interesting to read about a modern Orthodox school allowing a couple of girls to wear tefillin, but it was even more fascinating to read the various reactions inundating the blogosphere.

If you are an Orthodox woman and this story did not interest you, it should. And here is why:

As an Orthodox woman, whether you realize it or not, whether you are bothered by it or not, you are living a paradox. As a woman alive in the 21st century, you can be a lawyer, a doctor, an accountant, an engineer, a researcher, a psychologist, a computer programmer, a judge, an academic professor. If you do not have a career in any of these fields, you most likely know a woman who does.

Kollel lifestyle has ironically helped promote this, as women seek to find means to support their husbands. Frum women are creating careers for themselves in all areas. They are working as professionals, pursuing intellectual careers, managing finances, taking on leadership roles… all successfully.

Yet while they may be respected as professional and competent contributor to their profession, when it comes to discussing Divrei Torah at the Shabbos table, they often take a side line. They may become CEO of a company, but when it comes to being president of a shul board, they are forbidden by many Orthodox Poskim. They may be a doctor whose decision impacts the life or death of a patient, but when it comes to deciding Halacha, they cannot contribute.

Women are generally exempt from mitzvos that are time-bound. Traditionally, this was more easily understood, providing women who were housewives and mothers with greater leeway. This may continue to be easily understood for contemporary women who are functioning as the primary caregiver. However, Halachically-observant women in the workforce who are complying with various time-bound constraints due to a professional work-day, create their own anomaly. There is something odd about seeing women at a professional conference, who sit around and “schmooze” while their male colleagues stop to daven mincha.

Traditional Bais Yaakovs do not teach Oral Law to girls. When I repeatedly asked my teachers if I could learn Gemara as a young child, I was given numerous answers as to why it was not okay. Mostly because “women’s brains are not cut out for that type of learning” or “women are too emotional to analyze text objectively.”

Looking at the various careers my fellow classmates and friends have embarked on, I see a blatant inconsistency. Halachically, women cannot be judges (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 7:4) or bear witness in court (BT Shevuos, 30a; Baba Kama I 5a; Rambam Hilchos Edus 9:2). When I asked why, again I was told it was because women were too emotional and could not be relied on for objective observations.

With female Supreme Court Justices in the United States who seem as objective in their decisions as their male counterparts, with a court system that relies on women witnesses just as much as men, it’s makes the reasons I was given seem inadequate. Interestingly, numerous recent research studies have shown no significant differences in gender in eyewitness memory, other than women remembered more details when observing women and men remembered more details when observing men (Google it!).

Although Bais Yaakov education ingrains in girls the glorified role of a woman in the home, not many Bais Yaakovs harp on the negative legal ramifications of the traditional role of woman. In traditional Halacha, men were the official heads of household and women had few independent rights and privileges. Halachically, men had sole custody of their children- they were the final decisor in all matters until the child reached puberty (BT Sotah 23b). In most instances, all of a woman’s earnings belonged to her husband, in exchange for him supporting her (BT Gittin 77a).

Not only that, but a woman was not responsible for something she damaged since legally, she owned nothing—it all belonged to her husband (similar to a slave who was also not responsible for what he damaged- BT Baba Kama 87a). In Kesubos (59b), the Gemara lists a wife’s responsibility to her husband (in response to his responsibilities to her). The list includes various domestic obligations. In Kesubos, 61a, the Gemara goes on to say that if a women brings maidservant to the marriage, she is released from these obligations, with a few exceptions. She still had the obligation to personally wash her husband’s feet, prepare his cup of wine, and make his bed. Rashi says that these are not obligations but rather suggestions to make a wife beloved in her husband’s eyes. Rambam, however, says these were obligations that were enforceable by whipping (Hilchos Ishus 21:10).

So while the “frummest” girls may say they have no interest in the feminist agenda, there are many apparent paradoxes that they have to contend with. I cannot imagine that most women would lie awake at night and lament a time when a woman’s role followed the legal aspects dictated above.

If all of these inconsistencies between your general lifestyle and traditional approaches don’t bother you, they may bother your daughter. And if they don’t bother your daughter consciously, they may bother her subconsciously. And by that I mean that even if she cannot articulate any issues she has, somewhere deep inside she has to deal with these paradoxes. To do so, she either ignores them and doesn’t think too deeply or tells herself that was then- it doesn’t apply now. Either of these scenarios runs the risk of significantly diminishing the passion with which the next generation commits to Halachic Judaism. When there are major inconsistencies in how you think the Torah law understands something and how you live in your “regular” life, you are already making your commitment to a Torah lifestyle severely diminished.

So if you want to help ignite your daughter’s passion to Halachic observance- to the preservation of traditional Torah observance and to the commitment to seek greater meaning to life than just materialistic goals, you are best to recognize these issues and take them seriously. Observance of Halacha can only be maintained when there is a fixed Halachic process. But within the parameters of the Halachic process, there are lots of ways to maneuver within the law. Taking a proactive approach to making a woman’s general life and Torah life consistent will do a lot for the continuance of Torah observant Jewry.

These women’s issues are not going away. They are only going to increase.

Can Islam Be Reformed?

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

Originally published at Daniel Pipes.

Commentary requested an internet supplement for this article and I chose the key passage on the Medieval Synthesis from my 1983 book, In the Path of God; Islam and Political Power. To read it, click here.

Islam currently represents a backward, aggressive, and violent force. Must it remain this way, or can it be reformed and become moderate, modern, and good-neighborly? Can Islamic authorities formulate an understanding of their religion that grants full rights to women and non-Muslims as well as freedom of conscience to Muslims, that accepts the basic principles of modern finance and jurisprudence, and that does not seek to impose Sharia law or establish a caliphate?

A growing body of analysts believe that no, the Muslim faith cannot do these things, that these features are inherent to Islam and immutably part of its makeup. Asked if she agrees with my formulation that “radical Islam is the problem, but moderate Islam is the solution,” the writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali replied, “He’s wrong. Sorry about that.” She and I stand in the same trench, fighting for the same goals and against the same opponents, but we disagree on this vital point.

My argument has two parts. First, the essentialist position of many analysts is wrong; and second, a reformed Islam can emerge.

Arguing Against Essentialism

Rumi (1207-73), a leading mystic of Islam.

Rumi (1207-73), a leading mystic of Islam.

To state that Islam can never change is to assert that the Koran and Hadith, which constitute the religion’s core, must always be understood in the same way. But to articulate this position is to reveal its error, for nothing human abides forever. Everything, including the reading of sacred texts, changes over time. Everything has a history. And everything has a future that will be unlike its past.

Only by failing to account for human nature and by ignoring more than a millennium of actual changes in the Koran’s interpretation can one claim that the Koran has been understood identically over time. Changes have applied in such matters as jihad, slavery, usury, the principle of “no compulsion in religion,” and the role of women. Moreover, the many important interpreters of Islam over the past 1,400 years—ash-Shafi’i, al-Ghazali, Ibn Taymiya, Rumi, Shah Waliullah, and Ruhollah Khomeini come to mind—disagreed deeply among themselves about the content of the message of Islam.

However central the Koran and Hadith may be, they are not the totality of the Muslim experience; the accumulated experience of Muslim peoples from Morocco to Indonesia and beyond matters no less. To dwell on Islam’s scriptures is akin to interpreting the United States solely through the lens of the Constitution; ignoring the country’s history would lead to a distorted understanding.

Put differently, medieval Muslim civilization excelled and today’s Muslims lag behind in nearly every index of achievement. But if things can get worse, they can also get better. Likewise, in my own career, I witnessed Islamism rise from minimal beginnings when I entered the field in 1969 to the great powers it enjoys today; if Islamism can thus grow, it can also decline.

How might that happen?

The Medieval Synthesis

Shah Waliullah (1703-62) a leading thinker of Indian Islam.

Shah Waliullah (1703-62) a leading thinker of Indian Islam.

Key to Islam’s role in public life is Sharia and the many untenable demands it makes on Muslims. Running a government with the minimal taxes permitted by Sharia has proved to be unsustainable; and how can one run a financial system without charging interest? A penal system that requires four men to view an adulterous act in flagrante delicto is impractical. Sharia’s prohibition on warfare against fellow Muslims is impossible for all to live up to; indeed, roughly three-quarters of all warfare waged by Muslims has been directed against other Muslims. Likewise, the insistence on perpetual jihad against non-Muslims demands too much.

To get around these and other unrealistic demands, premodern Muslims developed certain legal fig leaves that allowed for the relaxation of Islamic provisions without directly violating them. Jurists came up with hiyal (tricks) and other means by which the letter of the law could be fulfilled while negating its spirit. For example, various mechanisms were developed to live in harmony with non-Muslim states. There is also the double sale (bai al-inah) of an item, which permits the purchaser to pay a disguised form of interest. Wars against fellow Muslims were renamed jihad.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/the-lions-den-daniel-pipes/can-islam-be-reformed/2013/07/02/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: