Letters to the Editor - Volume 1, Number 4Volume 1 , Issue 4 (June, 1988 | Tammuz, 5748)
As a Jewish woman raised in a traditional family, I have long sought the answer to why I was excluded from cheder, from prayer, from being counted as part of my Jewish community in a Minyan, and made to sit in a separate part of the Shul, usually behind a curtain. Later I learned that my saying Kaddish for my dead father was meaningless. It had to be said by a man. I have no brothers. Thus, I read with interest Miriam Biber's article, Jewish Women: Separate But Equal (March 15 issue). I was looking for some answers.
Unfortunately, I was disappointed and dismayed by her article. She opens her column with the statement that the Jewish wife and mother is under attack, as if wanting to study Torah, to pray, to participate in all facets of Jewish life including the Shul means a rejection of those roles. That is not true. Rather, it is a broadening which will allow, for those who so choose, to perform better. Indeed, a full knowledge of Torah, participation in the spiritual as well as the social aspects of Judaism (keeping Kosher, lighting candles. etc.), will mean that the entire family participates as a unit in living the entire Jewish experience.
Ms. Biber writes at length about the central role the home plays in Judaism. No one would deny that this is true. However, her portrayal of woman as cultural and religious bearer to our children is not quite accurate. Cleaning the house, making gefilte fish orchicken soup and lighting candles is not how Judaism gets transmitted. While it is true that the holidays are celebrated at home, my experience has been that invariably it is the wife who cooks and cleans in preparation for the meal while her husband leads the celebration reciting all the prayers and telling the story of the holiday. Then she gets to clean up. And of course, the meals are all perfectly timed, so the husband can go to Shul and pray, usually with the male children.
The Jewish mothers' children by the way, are not taught Torah by her or raised by her, because it is not her place, nor does she have the knowledge to do so. They are sent to Yeshiva, often at an early age for long days of study, six days a week. What her children see is a division of labor based solely on sex, with women doing the physical hard work and men engaging in the spiritual - prayer and study. Prayer and study has always held an exalted place in Jewish life. It was an honor for a woman to marry and support a Torah scholar in the shtetl. The division of labor is made without regard to interests and abilities of either sex and excludes 50% of the Jewish population from participation in all facets of Jewish life.
It is the exclusion of this 50% that is of concern to me; we are losing
their minds, their energies, their interpretations of Torah and Talmud. We are
a people who have suffered much and lost 6 million of our mothers and fathers,
brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and cousins to a senseless and horrible
murderer. The loss to both the religious and the secular world cannot be
measured and can never be recovered, yet we continue to exclude some of our
best and our brightest from full participation in religious life. Jewish women
are lawyers, judges, doctors, teachers, government officials, historians. etc.
Let us not forget that Golda Meir played a major role in
Finally, separate can never be equal, when the rabbi calls a Jew to read Torah and he means only men, not the women in the rear behind a curtain who may not be able to see or to hear. Inferior accommodations in the Shul, like the back of the bus, speaks volumes about inequality. Moreover, how can separate be equal when women play no part in interpreting, applying and enforcing God's law. We are governed, but have no role in governing. Simple justice demands that we not be treated as a subject people.
Very truly yours,
Esta R. Bigler
EDITOR'S NOTE: Many of the issues and concerns raised in Ms. Bigler's letter are discussed in the articles presented in the FOCUS ON: section of this issue.