Why Be Jewish?: A Testament
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Why A Gendered Judaism Makes Sense

Orthodox Judaism believes in the importance of engaging reality, not a world we wish existed.

Mon, 03/24/2014 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week
Women and men are different, and Judaism reflects those differences. Fotolia
Women and men are different, and Judaism reflects those differences. Fotolia

As rabbis of Modern Orthodox synagogues, we consistently advocate for greater women’s involvement in Jewish life.  As a result, we are often invited to speak at local non-denominational Jewish schools about halacha (Jewish law) and the role of women. Often in these pluralistic environments, students discover what differentiates the various denominations and learn about the presence of a mechitza (a separation between men and women) in Orthodox synagogues. We arrive at these forums and hear questions like: Why is Orthodoxy anti-women? Why is your synagogue so backwards that it still treats men and women differently? Aren’t we well past the point where egalitarianism is the societal norm?

We understand what prompts these questions. We are sensitive to the political and social environment in which these students’ opinions are formed. Yet we sense something distorted about the assumptions these students bring to their thinking about faith, and sometimes we push back. We ask: Are you bothered by the common societal practice of a man going down on one knee to propose to a woman? Are you offended that women receive engagement rings and men do not? Do you think it speaks ill of society that there are numerous websites, magazines, TV shows and entire TV channels that cater to a specific gender?

None of those gender specific societal norms bother the students. So then why, we ask, does it bother them that men and women sit separately during prayer services? If we all agree that men and women have different interests and predilections, should a faith enriched by thousands of years of wisdom and experience not reflect that reality?

It’s a question we should all be asking. It’s a question that we as rabbis of prominent modern Orthodox synagogues also ask. We appreciate the necessity of finding space within our communities for women to take meaningful roles of religious leadership. We have led our communities to create leadership opportunities suited to well–educated and motivated women.  While that will continue to be an important focus for our communities, it should not come at the cost of Orthodox Judaism’s commitment to fostering a gender-specific Judaism.

Gender is a crucial part of what we are. Western society is becoming more and more gender specific and modern science is encouraging that trend. While the 60’s and 70’s pushed an androgynous ideal, Western society, today, has pushed back and embraced masculinity and femininity. Girls’ clothing has never been more pink and boys’ has never been more blue.

Masculinity and femininity are a fact of life, not an inconvenience that might be easily disposed of. Orthodox Judaism believes in the importance of engaging reality, not a world we wish existed.

As Jews, we try to improve the world with an understanding that good intentions can have unintended harmful consequences. As rabbis, we approach a task with a humility that says few things long deviate from the mean, and few problems are solved without creating new problems.

The Talmud in Masechet Yoma (69b) tells a powerful story that illustrates this point. After the destruction of the first Temple, Ezra attempted to destroy lust, because it so often drives humankind to sin. He and his colleagues prayed and “lust” was delivered into their hands. They imprisoned it for three days; after that, they sought a newly laid egg (to cure a sick person of illness) and could not find one. Sexual desire was necessary for the normal functioning of nature. In trying to improve the world, Ezra and his colleagues had failed to recognize the collateral damage they might cause. Changes need to made with the greatest of care, as they often have unintended and undesirable consequences.

As much as we might like to live in a world without gender distinctions, we cannot. By underselling the reality of gender differences in Jewish practice, we would be doing ourselves a great disservice. If men and women are different and have different psychological, emotional and spiritual needs, why would we want a Judaism that ignores those needs?

Men are attracted to women and women to men, specifically because we are different. Hollywood and the music industry are well aware of this. Jewish leaders need to be as well. While attraction is one piece of the equation, our gender differences affect so many parts of our lives including how we deal with stress, how we communicate, and how we experience love.

The mechitza is only one expression of how Judaism is gendered. Recent controversies regarding ordination of women, regarding young women donning tefillin, and regarding semi-egalitarian prayer groups – have often been conducted with an assumption that the arch of history will lead an enlightened Orthodoxy to egalitarianism while it is merely the recalcitrant parts of our community who remain fixated on a calcified legalism. We believe that traditional Judaism with its insistence upon gender roles has something to teach modernity. These lessons relate to a part of human nature that will not change; a community that ignores them will harm not only its cohesion but also the happiness of its members. While it is beyond the scope of this article to address each flash point between an egalitarian and a gendered vision of Orthodoxy, insightful explanations may be offered based upon a gendered vision of community for the roles men and women play in traditional services, in the rituals of halakha, and the clergy structure of our community.

At times, we wonder why a standard for egalitarian living would be demanded of religion, but not from the marketplace or from popular culture.  Upon reflection, we believe it comes from the utopianism inherent in the spiritual quest. We want to live up to higher ideals and to divorce ourselves from our material and animal selves. Egalitarianism is in many ways a spiritual value. The quest is not ill intentioned, but like all utopian dreams, we will cause great harm if we do not temper our idealism with an appreciation for our full humanity. 

Orthodox Judaism believes strongly in the eternal and divine wisdom of the Torah. While we have a long history of adapting to our times, we have never consciously reformed. Orthodox Judaism has kept the Jewish people alive for thousands of years. The recent Pew study on American Jewish life revealed that Orthodox Judaism has a much higher retention rate than the other denominations with a median age thirteen years younger than its closest counterpart. Our strength and vitality come from our strong commitment to Jewish education and practice, and the confidence that our Judaism is authentic and grounded.  We see value in how each individual may express their God given uniqueness; we see value in how we may each contribute to our families, communities, and nation to become that much better, because we are part of a greater whole. We adjust to the times, but we don’t change because of them.

We will continue to embrace the Torah’s approach to the unique and special nature of men and women. This approach will continue to help make our boys and girls into strong, confident and proud Jewish men and women. We might be separated by a mechitzah, but our pursuit of these values unites us. 

Rabbi Chaim Strauchler is the spiritual leader of Shaarei Shomayim Congregation in Toronto, ON.

Rabbi Joshua Strulowitz is the spiritual leader of West Side Institutional Synagogue in New York, NY.

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If I was gay and attended an Orthodox service - where would I sit?

Vive la difference! Men and women are different, and that is wonderful! They have different spiritual and social needs, and that is wonderful! Both are created in the image and reflect different aspects of the one true G_d, and that is wonderful! But how in the world do we we go from there to an enforced separation? Why in the world would we give reduced legal status to a facet of G_d? How am I, as a man, to learn the whole Torah if I cannot here women scholars teach it to me? If men can look at and describe the shekhinah, women embody the shekhinah and so can teach and pray from a place that men cannot. In short, my relationship with G_d and Torah are diminished by these human created restrictions.

Please, wise Rabbis, tell me why this is necessary. I hear you say, repeatedly, that you cannot change. Is there no other reason? Yes, I agree, men and women are different. I love that about women! But why, then, may I not follow them in prayer, study with them, or even pray with them?

The ideas in this article connect to why I left Orthodox Judaism many years ago. Hasn't it occurred to the writers that many women are not comfortable with gender definitions for women invented by men? Restrictions for women in prayer contexts reflect cultural norms at the time synagogues became part of Judaism. I am a proud Jew who finds these restrictions degrading and against Jewish traditions of social justice. I fight for the rights of women in employment and all areas of life, so why should I sit in the back of the bus (on the other side of the mechitsa) in the synagogue?

Do you really think Modern Orthodox women are in need of civil rights legislation? Have you met Modern Orthdox women? they don't seem to be very oppressed. What "Jewish traditions of social justice" does a Mechitzah degrade?

Dated: April 3, 2014
It seems to me that whenever an article appears expressing an Orthodox point of view
in a newspaper, a legion of the letter writers like the one I am responding to come out to
trash Orthodox Judaism.
First of all, whether the letter writer wishes to acknowledge, there are points
of view other than the Feminist one espoused by this letter writer. From my point
of view, the halacha mandating a mechitza and restrictions of women in prayer do
not represent arbitrary inventions of men to suppress women but part of a tradition
that evolved over a millenium starting with Sinai. There should be some changes to
accommodate the changing role of women but that must be done within the
Halachic structure.
Secondly, the author of the article correctly pointed out,the Feminists in
non-Orthodox Judaism have forced changes which have not occurred in other
areas of America life. TV commercials still gear their detergent commercials
towards women and sports car towards men simply certain markets are gender
based. Why is so terrible in religion? Indeed, Feminists in Conservative and
Reform movements have gone so far as to repel some men with constant emphasis
on Cos shel Miriam and breaking the glass ceiling for women rabbis.
Thirdly, the comparison of the Orthodox synagogue with apartheid and
Jim Crow trivializes both historic tragedies. The letter writer left with great
ease from the Orthodox synagogue of her origin and joined a synagogue which
enshrined Feminism and other forms of political correctness as its Torah
MiSinai. However angry she may be, she can not compare herself with the
Afro-American in the South 65 years old or the Black South African 40 years ago.


so try this - women sit downstairs, men upstairs.

orthodoxy will wither and die within the century.

Judaism will be the better for it.

Then all Judaism will die and the sun will go supernova. Congregations die without male attendees. Men don't attend when they aren't needed for services.

As a Jewish woman who loves life behind my mechitza and with my hair and knees covered, I wholeheartedly thank you Rabbis Strauchler and Strulowitz.

"Orthodox Judaism has kept the Jewish people alive for thousands of years. "

This falsehood unfortunately is so instilled in the sub-conscious that it is used to justify wrongheaded ideas, without thinking. Orthodox Judaism is a new construct. It did not keep the Jewish people alive for thousands of years. The Jewish people have been kept alive by many things, but I would think many Orthodox people would/should say it has been kept alive by God, at least in part. Not kept alive by a construct such as a denominational classification.

Maybe adherence to a halacha that is consistent and dynamic kept it alive as well, at least in part? That is what many who pursue greater women's roles see themselves as part of. They may be judged wrong in time, but there is a common thread behind the motivation to increase women's roles and what has kept the Jewish people alive.

Your semantic points are well-noted, but they are semantics. Don't ascribe too much to them. He should have said "traditional Judaism," though I hardly think you'd be happier. And since the s'mikha was lost in the days of the amoraim, the ingenuity of halakha has been limited. As the rabbi said, it has almost never been adapted on purpose. So that means traditional Judaism has kept us alive for 1,500 years. Practice may change (look at bat mitsva parties which are pretty much legitimated by now), but it won't mean ignoring that men and women are different (look at bat mitsva parties that happen at 12 and involve sarts and crafts and stuff that boys would never go for).

I am not sure I follow your logic. On the one hand you affirm the "genderedness" of Orthodox Judaism in its recognition of different roles for men and women. And then you write "We appreciate the necessity of finding space within our communities for women to take meaningful roles of religious leadership. " Necessity? Why is there a necessity? If female leadership takes place in the home and male leadership takes place in the shul, why should women have leadership roles in the synagogue? How can you logically conclude that there is a *necessity*?

We never said that female leadership takes place in the home. That's a straw man you created. We believe very strongly in the importance of female leadership. just because men and women are different and Judaism reflects that doesn't mean we think women should not be given prominent leadership roles.

If people want religious egalitarian Judaism, they can join the Conservstive movement. Let us know how that works out for their intermarried kids and for that movement.

It is not fair to compare popular culture or social norms to halacha. We Torah-observant Jews believe halacha to be divinely mandated, given to Israel through Moses at Sinai. Hence it cannot be re-legislated, only sensitively interpreted in terms of the reality which presents itself. Thus the advent of electricity demanded new questions of interpretation as to whether it was fire or something else. Food chemistry affects kashrut. But in terms of the basic obligations of prayer and Jewish life, they are not going to change unless and until we have a Sanhedrin which chooses to reinterpret Scriptural verses differently from accepted Talmudic and post-Talmudic tradition. We believe that is possible, but it's not happening yet. Sit tight. Meanwhile, Judaism if practiced humanely but halachically is the best way for a Jew to live. For the non-Jew who thinks he/she is a Jew, that is not the case. You are talking about different pixels in the soul. Sometimes the intra-Jewish discourse gets muddied as a result. The rest is commentary. Go and learn.

This article is like something out of the Middle Ages. The author paints an anachronistic fantasy picture of artificial dichotomies. Are there biological differences between genders? Of course. So what!

So what are all the behavioral differences that go with those biological differences (and a recognition that men can't be mothers). Additionally, as traditional Judaism has always believed, there are spiritual differences which are neither biological nor artificial constructs. You may not be in touch with them, but halakha is crafted to the majority of people, not the unique individuals.

"Western society is becoming more and more gender specific and modern science is encouraging that trend." Excuse me? Have you read ANY journals on gender lately? The trend is actually AWAY from an "either/or" definition, and more towards a fluid, scaled, view of gender and sexuality!

Not at all, the Brenda/David Reimer case is clear proof that we're moving towards the "either/or" definition. To learn more read here http://reason.com/archives/2004/05/24/the-death-of-david-reimer

If you have any specific studies you want me to read post them here, I'm happy to read them.

That means that there is a difference between the sexes or there would be nothing to be fluid about, eh?

This is insipid and one of the unfortunately many reasons why Orthodox shuls are losing young congregants. It's too shallow and silly to merit further comment, except to say that the quality of the rabbinate is on the decline and the empty (or vacuous) pews are testament. It's as if they're still peddling caricatures of life to adults.

This piece was so shockingly shallow, I don't even know where to begin. I can't help getting a little sarcastic to make my point. Surely, if men, who are so different from women can make the rules for women, then the opposite would be equally acceptable, right? Or maybe, because of our differences, people should only make rules and decisions for people like them. If so, then we need both male and female rabbis to that each can serve as the teacher and guide and yes, AUTHORITY, of those whom they understand most. Or maybe its not about male and female - it's just about masculine and feminine. Judges and leaders and halachic decisors need to be masculine. Even if you want to say that men, in general, are more masculine, and women, in general, are more feminine, I certainly know some women who are more masculine than some guys I know, can they be yoreh yoreh yadin yadin?

And let's talk prayer. Maybe the differences between men are women are so significant that there really aught to be two different prayer services, where women lead the one for women, and men for men? Men and women have separate bathrooms, and clothing sections, and often hairdressers, right? Why should women be spectators at a service done by men, presumably FOR men? Maybe we should follow what Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, the former chancellor of YU, wrote in 1972:

"If ten women so desire, they may organize a minyan and conduct tefillah b’tzibur, public services; and in such a case, if men straggle in to such a synagogue, it is they who are guests sitting behind the mechitza."

As for marriage and divorce...I must admit that I did propose to my (though not on one knee). And I gave her an engagement ring (though she got me one later because she thought I should also wear something that signified I was "taken.") But does all this mean that ONLY I should be able to effect divorce? That I can refuse her a get, and if she has children with another man, that her children are mamzerim? But if I go and remarry (maybe even with halachic sanction due to the signature of 100 rabbis) and have children, mine are not?

There are differences, and then there are differences in power. Why wasn't this more obvious to the authors?

I have tremendous respect for Modern Orthodoxy when its leaders wrestle honestly with the tradition's patriarchy. I respect the intellectual honesty of someone who says that, sociologically speaking, the same conservatism that makes individuals and communities continue to "swim against the tide" and observe halacha ALSO makes it impossible to just "fix" everything - especially when the pressure to do so seems to come more from outsiders and/or outside ideas.

But this article is just an apologetic addressed to a straw man.

"We believe that traditional Judaism with its insistence upon gender roles has something to teach modernity. These lessons relate to a part of human nature that will not change; a community that ignores them will harm not only its cohesion but also the happiness of its members."

This statement in the article is its crux. The question is whether "human nature" ever really reflected the strict gender separation that lead to the specific gender roles advocated in Traditional Judaism. It seems counterintuitive to say that human nature dictates that men are only attracted to women when we live in a state (Illinois) that now allows marriage between two men and two women. Could it be that this fact of reality is recent, and not as old as the bible itself? Can you really say that separating men from women in shul is to prevent people from having impure thoughts when the reality has always been that attraction is much more fluid than gender specific? It is ironic that a married lesbian couple can sit together in an Orthodox shul, while a married hetero couple cannot! It is also hopelessly out of touch for the authors to claim that separation into gender specific groups will not negatively impact the "cohesion" and the "happiness of its members." It seems to me that insistence on gender separation has hurt cohesion in the Jewish community, and has negatively impacted the "happiness" of some of its members. Nevertheless, it is clear that there may be other valid reasons for gender separation in Traditional Judaism.

It seems obvious that there are gender differences that need to be acknowledged. For instance, a male will rarely if ever be a wet nurse; a woman will never be a sperm donor; a man will rarely give birth to a child. But these examples are much more the exceptions than the rule. Regarding the roles that men and women can play in society, it is increasingly hard to make a case for gender separation. Does anyone really believe that there are professions or responsibilities that should be confined to one gender? Societies that take this view are squandering its human capital, and definitely negatively impacting the happiness of its members. Ask a Saudi woman who is not allowed to drive if this makes her happier. Our Jewish girls and women are as competent as the boys and men are when it comes to performing religious and ritual functions. Can we really afford to prevent them from using their talents, whether it is davenning or reading torah? Maybe in the Traditional Orthodox world you can afford this luxury because there are men who are ready to step forward and take responsibility every day, three times a day. But I can tell you, outside of Traditional Orthodoxy, that the congregations could not function if it weren't for the talents of women. Would it be better to condemn non-Traditional congregations to collapse, than allow women to play roles they are suited for?

If the Traditional Orthodox world has anything to teach modernity it is that it continues to exist side by side with the modern world. It continues to remain relevant because it is so closely tied with the font of our wisdom and knowledge. It continues to be a source of inspiration, and a jumping off point for authentic religious expression. It is a touchstone of purity in an age of fifty shades of grey, rather than the simplicity of black and white.

The clash between Tradition and Modernity seems boil down to one's perspective on whether truth is regressive or progressive. Tradition posits that we learned the truth at Sinai, and we have lost a bit in each generation as we move away from revelation. That the way to truth is to reach back to our original contact with the divine. Modernity looks at truth as "progressive." Even if we don't know as much as our predecessors, we are standing on their shoulders, benefiting from their accomplishments and discoveries. Over time we are moving closer to the truth, correcting the errors of the past, refining our outlook to more closely reflect the divine. Which perspective is correct? It is hard to say. Both are valid. They can co-exist in the same place and time, if not in the same physical space.

How does one know if a practice by our ancestors was simply primitive, and contextual and specific to a time and place, and not eternal? How does one evaluate whether a modern outlook is just a fad or trend, and not divinely inspired? These seem to me to be the same problem. That is, one can make the same criticism against saying we have to do something the way we have always done it, as one can against saying we have to do it a new way because it is modern. Neither tradition, nor modernity has a monopoly on truth. That leaves all of us with a problem. How does one judge truth in the face of uncertainty? The Traditional world might say by relying on the judgments of gedolim. This is where the Traditional world has an advantage over the modern one. The modern world has no gedolim. We might have "opinion leaders" whose views we respect, but there is no one who has the stature to declare anything they want and be taken seriously. That is, there is no one who, if they were to say that men and women are not to be treated equally, would still be held in esteem. If Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech in the Mall in Washington saying "I have a dream, that all women should be treated separately from men, that women should have separate seating in shul, never lay t'fillin, and never read from the torah in the presence of men" we would not be hearing about this speech 50 years later. Why is that? Because people give respect to those who articulate the best in us, our aspirations, even if the ideas are utopian, and not achievable in our lifetime. No matter how the Traditional dress it up, and say that women are on a higher plane than men, the message of separation will never be heard by the ear of a modern to be anything but ugliness, repression, retrogression, distopian, and not representing the best of humanity.

Does that mean that the Traditional world should stop trying to explain it perspective to the modern? No, it should absolutely continue, but the statements must address the modern with a sensitivity to how its arguments will be heard by the ones they are addressing. The existence of the Traditional in our modern age is a major challenge to the modern world. Its persistence and attraction to so many speaks loudly for itself. In the end, in the time of the moshiach, we will learn which perspective was correct. In the meantime, we need to have respect for different perspectives, and continue to learn from each other. The starting point is a humble attitude. As we read in the Talmud, the reason Bet Hillel's views were accepted over Bet Shammai was because Hillel would first let Shammai speak, listening to their arguments, and then make their own.

The authors point out that the the reality today, in our modern world, is that women and men seek and are satisfied with very different things as a rule. Capitalism allows us to see this clearly. If this ever changes to match the "utopian" society you describe above, we will need to change how we speak, but until then this article is a very neat way of responding and thinking about the issues.

This is pathetic. "Are you bothered by the common societal practice of a man going down on one knee to propose to a woman?" Yes, I am. "Are you offended that women receive engagement rings and men do not?" I am offended that people are so stupid and shallow as to allow De Beers to dictate the "ancient custom" of engagement rings that is actually only about 100 years old and is bought on the backs of virtual slaves. "Do you think it speaks ill of society that there are numerous websites, magazines, TV shows and entire TV channels that cater to a specific gender?" Really? Since when does Orthodox Judaism take its cues from popular culture? Is this the best argument you can fashion? I'm sorely disappointed by the incredible shallowness of the discourse. Shame on you. To echo what Mark Berch said above: "But where is the nexus between these facts and the actual forms that gendered Judaism takes in Orthodoxy. Just as one example, a woman cannot sign a document as a formal witness. What is the connection between that rule and those actual differences between men and women?" Indeed. In that same popular culture to which you compare Orthodoxy women do testify in court, do sign marriage contracts, and have an equal standing in marriage and in most churches. The more I think about this piece, the more appalled I am by its contents.

You are easily appalled and offended. Whether or not gender distinctions reflect essential differences in the psychological and existential needs of the genders is not something to be detemined by a lavish use of adjectives. On the one side is the weight of history; on the other are your emotional reactions to facts that you find unpaltable.

One thing to consider is that some of the gender distinctions in Judaism may be necessary for Judaism to sustain itself. For example, men seem to need a special place of male bonding in which only fellow men can participate.

Typically, outside of Judaism, this is seen at the workplace or in bars or other hangouts. In Orthodox Judaism, it occurs through the male-run prayer service. They know they are doing something special and important that it is their duty as men to do. In the denominations that have opened up this space to women, the men are no longer interested, and the women become the vast majority of the people who attend services.

It is important that the prayer service is run by men because we need men to devote part of every day to spirituality -- otherwise they will forget it and focus on work or friends or sensual pleasures. Men have a stronger evil inclination than women (men commit most murders, rapes, robberies and burglaries, for example) and need a required daily structure for their connection to God.

As a member of a "modern Orthodox" congregation, I am prepared to abide by the minhag of the group. However I can't help but hear in this article echos of the reasonable segregationist of my youth who were willing to accept Negros to greater responsibility in spite of the intrinsic difference between the races. They also remind me of the liberal college Presidents who were willing to accept a few Jews, as long as they did not challenge the intrinsic decency of the WASP establishment. I also know many Orthodox women who are completely comfortable with the current modus operindi. They do not seek to be expected to attend minion thrice a day, or demand to celebrate every simcha with their own aleah. I also know some who have found ways to expand their "female participation" from their side of the machitza but within the lines of halakah as it is understood by some. The innovation of "partnership minions" suggests a compromise that is true to all its participants. To them I say kol kavod.
To the students the rabbis speak with, I would say it is good to question, but you should respect the diversity within our religion the same way you should respect diversity within your family. Would you demean a sibling for preferring a different form of music? Would you call your uncle insensitive for preferring to listen to drums rather than violins? A commitment to One God, is not an insistence that there can be only one way to relate to that God.

Finally, just as change can have unintended consequences, so can the absence of change.

Kal yisrael chaverim, male and female created He US!

The real difficulty may lie in the fact that Orthodox Judaism is coercive. If all in this essay were valid, men and women would choose separation. Perhaps the ideal Orthodox synagogue should have three sections: male, female, mixed. Other Orthodox institutions could offer choices also.

Coercive? Last time I checked no one was standing at the door of the shul with a whip forcing people to enter.

Of course Orthodox Judaism is "coercive". At it's core, traditional Judaism -- which you can label Orthodox if you prefer -- posits that God revealed his law, both written and oral, to man, and that such law is as binding today as at the time of revelation. By contrast, Reform and Conservative "Judaism" are subjective free-for-alls where, at most, Jewish law and tradition serve as vague guideposts to be modified, or abandoned, essentially at the whim of the community based on prevailing social norms. Traditional and "progressive" Judaism are essentially two completely separate religions.

Outside of Israel, Orthodox Judasim is definitely not coercive. To be coercive, a system has to be able to wield political and judicial power capable of deterring Jews from violating halacha. No one can force a Jew in the Diaspora to practice Judaism. In Israel, the Orthodox political parties have limited power to affect the "Jewish atmosphere" of the public arena (no bus service on Shabbat, no chametz on Pessach), and even this is waning as the liberal secualr courts gradually nibble away at the status quo. They certainly cannot force a nonreligious Jew to adopt a religious lifestyle. This has been the case at least since the "Enlightenment" period.

This is a bit of a straw man. Most of us who promote gender equality are not saying that "there are no differences between genders" as the authors imply. The article sets up a false dichotomy between a world with no gender, and one in which inequalities must be preserved in the face of the evils of all that is secular. I believe that the unique contributions of men and women can be acknowledged in a way which still respects the basic humanity and rights of both genders. One doesn't need to look too far past the agunah situation to see that Orthodoxy fails to do this.

The rabbis write, “Masculinity and femininity are a fact of life” and men and women “have different psychological, emotional and spiritual needs”. Agreed. But where is the nexus between these facts and the actual forms that gendered Judaism takes in Orthodoxy. Just as one example, a woman cannot sign a document as a formal witness. What is the connection between that rule and those actual differences between men and women? --- Mark Berch

We don't necessarily know. Traditional Judaism is bound to the legal-spiritual differences (as we see them as one and the same) between men and women by one of two things. They either stem from G-d Himself, or they stem from legislation that we cannot overturn since the loss of s'mikha. But if you think the rabbis so twisted halakha because of their patriarchal views, why would you want to give it any respect?


This is a wonderful article with words of wisdom that are relevant far beyond the realm of the synagogue or Jewish ritual life. I say this as as a woman who has an equivalent job, pay and professional status to that of my husband.

Hard to understand your comment. If society was like orthodox Judaism, you would not have the equivalent job, pay and status as your husband. Just as you wouldn't even 50 years ago.

Judaism has never believed in unequal pay for women or relegated women to the household. Where did you get such a distorted notion? Women have a primary responsibility to be amot hashem and mothers and wives just as men have a primary responsibility to be ovde hashem and fathers and husbands--work is always secondary (as codified in Jewish Law). But for those women who want or need to to add work to their busy schedule, they have always done so. As to "status" that can mean many things, but the only places where women ave been discriminated against is the rabbinate and the courts. There are female toanot (the Jewish equivalent to attorneys), but they are rare and there is admitted institutional discrimination (of course many courts did not allow toanim and still don't). But as to any other area of work, women have always been equal in Jewish Law and culture.

Wow, this is a beautifully thought, organized, and delivered message. Thank you for this terrific contribution to the communal discussion.