Ever since college, my preference in synagogue and Jewish affiliation has raised eyebrows among those who know me best. I would describe myself as career driven, outspoken, and humorous (not always in a PG way). So why, I have been asked many a time, would I choose to affiliate myself with the Orthodox movement? After all, aren’t they sexist? Don’t I feel repressed? Disrespected?
No. Not at all.
Let me start by saying that when it comes to how an individual practices Judaism I’m very much a live and let live type of gal. What’s right for me may not be right for you and vice versa. And that’s okay. I am well aware that the role of women in Judaism is a hot button issue and I expect this post to spark some debate. In fact I hope it does. However, I feel there is an unfortunate misperception of women in Orthodox Judaism and it’s time to start setting the record straight. So after a long discussion with an Orthodox rabbi, completing a thorough information dig at Chabad.org, and reading some of the Rebbe’s teachings here is what I have to say on the matter…
Simply put, men and women are obligated to perform different mitzvot. Men are commanded to put on tefillin, wear a kippa and read from the torah. Women light shabbos candles, go to the mikvah, and perform the separation of the challah. Male mitzvot tend to be more external. More outwardly evident. But that doesn’t make their mitzvot any more important.
In fact, in Orthodox Judaism women are considered to be more divine and spiritually inclined than men and are described as being the pillar of the home and family.
Now I know for some of you the above statement conjures up the image of a 1950’s housewife with an embroidered apron, phony smile and secret desire for some intellectual stimulation. However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Orthodox women can get an education, have a career, and still be the backbone of the home and family. A woman sets the spiritual tone of the household. She is the guiding educational force for her children. A prime example of how to be both modest and driven, strong in opinion but open to compromise, and curious but wise.
So do I feel repressed or disrespected? No. I feel empowered.
I’ve had many friends ask me if I’ve ever wanted to perform the mitzvah of a man. My answer is always no. What would my motivation be for doing it? To be equal? In Judaism (and I’d argue in life) men and women are equals. They’re just different. And that difference is beautiful.
How do you define your role as a Jewish woman? What mitzvot hold special meaning for you? Are you an Orthodox woman breaking the stereotypes? Tell me all about it ladies! Note: Gentlemen may chime in as well.