Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Queen of Judaism

by Schvach Yid

In Judaism, estrogen frequently trumps testosterone. It seems that every time women bench candles, I don’t get to put on tefillin the following morning. But men get to put on tefillin, and women don’t, one might retort. Okay. Take the kabbalistic view. STAM is a frequently applied acronym for Sefer Torah, Tefillin, and Mezuzah which constitute the 3 instruments of holy parchments on which the soferim (scribes) convey HaShem’s revelation, and from which we borrow kiddusha. These are assigned, according to some kabbalistic teachings, an obvious connotation, whereby the sefer torah is analogized to the female genitals, and tefillin, which are two in number and are carried in a bag, and the mezuzah are likened to the male. Judaism, with its emphasis on tznius (modesty) is not too loud about this teaching, but the analogy is obvious. After all, the sefer torah suggests in its appearance the female. It is an honor for a man to be called to the torah, and this honor goes exclusively to men. The one who receives this aliyah (ascent) spreads apart the two scrolls of the sefer torah, kisses the exposed parchment, and thanks Gd by reciting a brocha (blessing). To call a woman to the torah suggests homosexuality, which is forbidden by torah. Additionally the sefer torah is deemed to be the means by which Gd’s Divine Presence, the Shechinah, makes itself manifest. We are taught by the sages of Kabbalah that the Shechinah is HaShem’s female attribute which rests over the aron kodesh in which the sefer torah reposes.

So too is Shabbos analogized to a female, a bride, and one’s wife is analogized to a queen, and let's not omit that most important aspect of a Jewish woman's significance - it is through her that Judaism is inherited. The Jewish woman is literally the generator of new Jews, and not in the sense of functioning as a 'baby machine'
as some would rudely put it.

Halacha certainly does subordinate a wife to her husband in the matter of divorce, but otherwise, the family and home are hers, from the public doorway to the very private bedroom and everything in between. As far as I know, the wife rules the life of her family, the husband relegated to the role of a ‘gofor’. The wife, his queen, determines what is needed by her family, and hubby is obligated to come up with the cash needed to provide. The man’s central role in schul is not so much a matter of male dominance over female displacement, but rather constitutes compensation for his lack of standing in his wife’s home – his subordination to his wife’s prerogatives in the life of their family. This extends to all aspects of their shared domestic life, right into the bedroom. Work, the effort to earn one’s living, is a function of one’s family life which is directed by the wife, not the husband.

The husband’s relegation to schul is reminiscent of the gag from the old TV series ‘The Honeymooners’, where Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton were required to leave their homes (apartments) and retreat to their Lodge, with fez’s on their heads (not yumulkas), in order to feel like men.

Mikveh is another misunderstood aspect of living a life of torah. Women aren’t condemned to the mikveh any more than are men, who are required to immerse in the mikveh after every seminal emission. It's not that women are dirty but rather that marital relations require a tikun, in the form of mikveh, which is equally binding on both women and men. It’s the emission, whether menstrual or seminal, that counts. The husband has an additional tikun to make, in the form of davening Tikun Hatzot post midnight.

So what’s all the accusation about? Baby boys get circumcised and baby girls don’t? Thank Gd; baby girls have nothing to circumcise! Or perhaps it’s that only newborn boys are the recipients of the Shalom Zachar, a celebration by the men to welcome a newborn son into the kehilah, celebrated on the first Shabbos following his birth (not true – you should have seen the bash given by the Chabad House I attend to welcome a baby girl born this past week).

Perhaps it’s because women don’t get to deliver the derush in schul or get called to the torah. Schul isn’t the point. A community is permitted to sell its schul in order to raise funds to build a mikveh. It’s the home and family that count in Judaism, the place where the queen rules. Perhaps it wasn’t until the Jewish community’s abandonment of the frum life, in favor of emulating the larger Western society, that the schul became a synagogue or temple, which were given precedence over a Jew’s life at home, where the Jewish man is subordinate to his wife, as the ‘centerpiece’ of Jewish life.

The point is, in Judaism, the woman is no footstool. Her ot (sign), the benching of candles, out does his, and he takes that to schul.

6 comments:

Ben-Yehudah said...

B"H I'm commenting, because you asked me, too. I do not learn Qabbalah, nor have much of an interest in it. I don't have a frame of reference, since you didn't cite your sources. I don't know if this is just your take on it, or if it's bases on Zohar, or some other texts.

I disagree with you analogy to the Torah. The Gemara frowns upon oral stimulation by a man to his wife. One should not even look down there. Maybe I'm missing something.

Condemned to the miqweh? She has the zkhuth of doing this misswah.

She is also exempt from most all time-related misswoth 'aseh, due to her spiritual superiority to men, not the opposite.

Schvach said...

ben-Yehuda:
I agree - that was my entire point.
A woman certainly is not condemned to the mikveh, nor are men, but for both, mikveh is a mitzvah, and yes indeed, the Jewish woman is spiritually superior to Jewish men, ergo 'The Queen of Judaism'.

Malachi Rothschild said...

Beautiful post. I am one who tends to see a need to create the space for changes along the feminist line for more pragmatic reasons, but I have never been one to deny the important theological ideas Judaism establishes about the importance of women and the role they traditionally play.

Yonah said...

Surely then tefillin & mezuzot ought to be exclusively women's mitzvot? If you're going to frown on women taking aliyot because it's like lesbianism, you certainly ought to frown on men wearing tefillin, and more so since that's assur mid'oraita. Duh.

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