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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

...thank you for not making me a woman...

I have had several female friends who are Jewish, devout in their faith, keep kosher, and their lives are imbued with a contented purpose.  I am jealous of that, because no organized religion seems to do it for me.  Although I love the Jewish culture, and would convert if I could just take on the culture part, I have some problems with the religious part.  Actually, I have problems with the concept of  “God”, but I’m uncomfortable with the term “atheist”.  For “atheist” is literally NOT a “theist”, which means you have to acknowledge God before you can be anti-God.  And I firmly don’t believe in a personified holy guy, or woman for that matter.

To each their own, but the one thing I don’t understand is that these Jewish girlfriends of mine are strong, independent, smart, and assertive women, yet there is a morning prayer that Jewish men say that thanks God for not being made a woman.   What the….?

"Blessed are you, Lord, our God, ruler of the universe, who has not created me a woman." 

So goes one blessing found in the Talmud that is performed in the course of awakening in the morning.  Actually that line is one of a sequence of three recited, the others giving thanks for not being made a gentile or a slave.  This so puzzles me – not that the blessing exists, but that my friends think nothing of it, nor can explain it – that I had to do some research.

Apparently that trinity of blessings has an ancient pedigree.  Hermippus in his Lives gives attribute to the Greek philosopher Thales a story often attributed to Socrates.  Thales was grateful to Fortune that first he was born a human and not a brute, next that he was born a man and not a woman, and last that he was born a Greek and not a barbarian.  Later as the Christian church branched out from Judaism, the apostle Paul stated (Galatians 3:28, KJV), “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female:  for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”  This concept seems to both allude to the Jewish blessing, and divorce itself from it.

Conservative Judaism reworded the Jewish blessing by giving thanks that one is free, Jewish, and created in God’s image, which skirts the issue nicely.  One has to view any stated ideas in the context of their time and place.  Women did not have equality with men, so why would someone want to be one?  Despite the rewording by some groups within Judaism, why would others still choose to use it?  So what exactly is the status of women in Judaism?  Are they lesser than men?

I came across a number of writers (scholars and rabbis - some of both were women) who offered a rather apologetic explanation.  Simply stated, they say first of all that Judaism maintains that God is both masculine and feminine.  Since he has no corporal body, how could he be either?  God is referred to as a “he” as a convention.

Secondly, women have a greater degree of intelligence and understanding, and since they are spiritually superior they don’t have the obligations of men.  An example is that women did not worship the golden calf, thus were never idolaters.  This is seen as proof of their superiority in religious matters, hence they don’t have to work so hard at it.  So does that mean that men are glad to have the opportunity to engage in more rituals than women?  Sounds to me like women have the better deal, so one should be glad to be a woman!

Their third point is that women are exempt from some of the “thou shalt” (as opposed to the “thou shalt not”) commandments because their roles are related to housekeeping and childcare, and these important tasks cannot be interrupted to observe certain rituals.  Not that they cannot observe them, but they have more important tasks to do.  Thus they are not exempted from participating, but more value is placed on the home than the synagogue.

I offer my thoughts as a very cursory and surface treatment of the subject, as I have not had exposure to Torah learning.

When I shared this post with a couple of my Jewish girlfriends before publishing it, their reaction was along the lines of, “Hmmm, interesting.  I didn’t know that.”  It didn’t affect their faith one way or another.

I guess that’s the thing about true faith – the details don’t matter.  And I admit to being a bit jealous.


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