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Marriage and family law in biblical times favored men over women. For example, a husband could divorce a wife if he chose to, but a wife could not divorce a husband without his consent. The practice of levirate marriage applied to widows of childless deceased husbands, not to widowers of childless deceased wives; though, if either he or she didn't consent to the marriage, a different ceremony called chalitza is done instead, which basically involves the widow removing her brother-in-law's shoe, spitting in front of him, and proclaiming, "This is what happens to someone who will not build his brother's house!

Levirate marriage is not performed in our times. Laws concerning the loss of female virginity have no male equivalent. These and other gender differences found in the Torah suggest that women were subordinate to men during biblical times; however, they also suggest that biblical society viewed continuity, property, and family unity as paramount. These included the provision of clothing, food, and sexual relations to their wives. Women also had a role in ritual life. Women as well as men were required to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem once a year men each of the three main festivals if they could and offer the Passover sacrifice.

They would also do so on special occasions in their lives such as giving a todah "thanksgiving" offering after childbirth. Hence, they participated in many of the major public religious roles that non- Levitical men could, albeit less often and on a somewhat smaller and generally more discreet scale. Michal , one of David 's main wives and the daughter of Saul , accepted the commandments of tefillin only while menstrually pure, as doing so otherwise contradicts the Halacha and tzitzis upon herself, the latter as an atonement for her criticism of her husband for dancing "too" wildly around the Ark on its journey to Jerusalem.

This was due to a mistaken opinion in her father's personal philosophy that she had until then accepted. Women depended on men economically. Women generally did not own property except in the rare case of inheriting land from a father who didn't bear sons. Even "in such cases, women would be required to remarry within the tribe so as not to reduce its land holdings". Women are required by halacha to do all negative mitzvot i. Halacha also provides women with material and emotional protections that most non-Jewish women did not enjoy during the first millennium of the Common Era.

Classical Jewish rabbinical literature contains quotes that may be seen as both laudatory and derogatory of women. The Talmud states that:. While few women are mentioned by name in rabbinic literature, and none are known to have authored a rabbinic work, those who are mentioned are portrayed as having a strong influence on their husbands. Occasionally they have a public persona. Eleazar ben Arach 's wife Ima Shalom counselled her husband in assuming leadership over the Sanhedrin.

When Eleazar ben Arach was asked to assume the role of Nasi "Prince" or President of the Sanhedrin , he replied that he must first take counsel with his wife, which he did. Since Jews were seen as second-class citizens in the Christian and Muslim world, it was even harder for Jewish women to establish their own status.

Avraham Grossman argues in his book, Pious and Rebellious: Jewish Women in Medieval Europe , that three factors affected how Jewish women were perceived by the society around them: During the Middle Ages, there was a conflict between Judaism's lofty religious expectations of women and the reality of society in which these Jewish women lived; this is similar to the lives of Christian women in the same period. Religious developments during the medieval period included relaxation on prohibitions against teaching women Torah , and the rise of women's prayer groups.

Women probably learned how to read the liturgy in Hebrew. According to John Bowker , traditionally, Jewish "men and women pray separately. This goes back to ancient times when women could go only as far as the second court of the Temple. Separation from the men was created by the Rabbis in the Mishnah and the Talmud. The reasoning behind the Halacha was that a woman and her body would distract men and give them impure thoughts during prayer. However, recent research has shown that women actually had a larger role in the synagogue and the community at large. Women usually attended synagogue, for example, on the Shabbat and the holidays.

Depending on the location of the women in the synagogue, they may have followed the same service as the men or they conducted their own services. Since the synagogues were large, there would be a designated woman who would be able to follow the cantor and repeat the prayers aloud for the women.

Women sitting separately from the men became a norm in synagogues around the beginning of the thirteenth century. One of the main jobs for women was to beautify the building. There are Torah ark curtains and Torah covers that women sewed and survive today. The rise and increasing popularity of Kabbalah , which emphasized the shechinah and female aspects of the divine presence and human-divine relationship, and which saw marriage as a holy covenant between partners rather than a civil contract, had great influence.

Kabbalists explained the phenomenon of menstruation as expressions of the demonic or sinful character of the menstruant. At the same time, there was a rise in philosophical and midrashic interpretations depicting women in a negative light, emphasizing a duality between matter and spirit in which femininity was associated, negatively, with earth and matter. For example, it seems that Jews would analyze the modesty of their non-Jewish neighbors before officially moving into a new community because they knew that their children would be influenced by the local gentiles.

After the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in , women became virtually the only source of Jewish ritual and tradition in the Catholic world in a phenomenon known as crypto-Judaism. Crypto-Jewish women would slaughter their own animals and made sure to keep as many of the Jewish dietary laws and life cycle rituals as possible without raising suspicion.

Occasionally, these women were prosecuted by Inquisition officials for suspicious behavior such as lighting candles to honor the Sabbath or refusing to eat pork when it was offered to them. The Inquisition targeted crypto-Jewish women at least as much as it targeted crypto-Jewish men because women were accused of perpetuating Jewish tradition while men were merely permitting their wives and daughters to organize the household in this manner.

Marriage, domestic violence and divorce are all topics discussed by Jewish sages of the Medieval world.

Gender, Religion, and International Relations

Marriage is an important institution in Judaism see Marriage in Judaism. The sages of this period discussed this topic at length. Rabbeinu Gershom instituted a rabbinic decree Takkanah prohibiting polygyny among Ashkenazic Jews.

When Prayers Are Not Enough

The rabbis instituted legal methods to enable women to petition a rabbinical court to compel a divorce. Maimonides ruled that a woman who found her husband "repugnant" could ask a court to compel a divorce by flogging the recalcitrant husband "because she is not like a captive, to be subjected to intercourse with one who is hateful to her".

The rabbis also instituted and tightened prohibitions on domestic violence. Rabbi Peretz ben Elijah ruled, "The cry of the daughters of our people has been heard concerning the sons of Israel who raise their hands to strike their wives. Yet who has given a husband the authority to beat his wife? And one who beats his wife is to be excommunicated and banned and beaten. Jewish women had a limited education. They were taught to read, write, run a household.

They were also given some education in religious law that was essential to their daily lives, such as keeping kosher. Although Christian girls may have had a male or female tutor, most Jewish girls had a female tutor. See Female Education in the Medieval Period.

Middle Eastern Jewry, on the other hand, had an abundance of female literates. The Cairo Geniza is filled with correspondences written sometimes dictated between family members and spouses. Many of these letters are pious and poetic and express a desire to be in closer or more frequent contact with a loved one that is far enough away to only be reached by written correspondence. There are also records of wills and other personal legal documents as well as written petitions to officials in cases of spouse spousal abuse or other conflicts between family members written or dictated by women.

Many women gained enough education to help their husbands out in business or even hold their own. Just like Christian women who ran their own business, Jewish women were engaged in their own occupations as well as helping their husbands.


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Jewish women seem to have lent money to Christian women throughout Europe. From certain contexts of the Mishnah and Talmud it can be derived that women should not study Mishnah. There were female Tannaitic Torah jurists such as Rabbi Meir's wife, [47] Rabbi Meir's daughter, and the daughter of Haninah ben Teradion [48] Haninah's daughter is again mentioned as a sage in the non-Talmud 3rd-century text Tractate Semahot verse A yeshiva , or school for Talmudic studies, is an "exclusively masculine environment" because of absence of women from these studies.

Bruriah is one of several women quoted as a sage in the Talmud. She is greatly admired for her breadth of knowledge in matters pertaining to both halachah and aggadah , and is said to have learned from the rabbis halachot on a single cloudy day Tractate Pesachim 62b.

Her parents were put to death by the Romans for teaching Torah , but she carried on their legacy. Bruriah was very involved in the halachic discussions of her time, and even challenges her father on a matter of ritual purity Tosefta Keilim Kamma 4: Her comments there are praised by Rabbi Judah ben Bava. In another instance, Rabbi Joshua praises her intervention in a debate between Rabbi Tarfon and the sages, saying "Bruriah has spoken correctly" Tosefta Keilim Metzia 1: In one case, she gave an interpretation of the religious sense to "paskin din" of "klaustra" a rare Greek word referring to a "door-bolt" in the Talmud.

However, Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi did not believe women could be credited with "paskining din". Because, as the saying goes, 'do not speak too much to women' Tannah Rabbi Jesse the Galilean , he credited the law to Rabbi Joshua, who may be considered to have been her father. Bruriah however was actually remembered with great respect in the Talmud where she is lauded to have been reputed as such a genius as to study "three hundred Halachot from three hundred sages in just one day" Pesachim 62b.

This praise was in clear contradiction of the common injunction against women studying the Torah. Rashi had no sons, and taught the Mishnah and Talmud to his daughters, until they knew it by heart, as Jewish tradition teaches; [53] they then transferred their knowledge of original Mishnah commentary to the Ashkenazi men of the next generation. When Maimonides wrote responsa concerning women, he tended to elevate their status above what was common practice in the Middle Ages.

The Hida , wrote Tuv Ayin, no. However, if she wants to learn, then not only may she do so on her own, but men may teach her from the start, and she can then teach other women if they so choose. According to Hida, the prohibition of teaching women does not apply to a motivated woman or girl. Other Mizrahi Rabbis disputed this with him. His response to detractors was that indeed, in truth, there is a prohibition against teaching Mishnah to any student—male or female—who one knows is not properly prepared and motivated.

This response referred to a talmid she-eino hagun Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah Babylonian Talmud Berakhos 28a which relates that Rabban Gam a liel would announce that any student who is not pure enough so that 'his outer self is like his inner self' may not enter the study hall. While this approach, requiring absolute purity, was rejected by other ancient Rabbis, for example 'he who is not for the name of God, will become for the name of God', and a middle approach was adopted by Jews as standard.

If one has knowledge that a particular Mishnayot student is definitely bad then he may not be taught. Gam a liel claimed that 'it seems that for women there is a higher standard and she must be motivated in order to have this permission to learn' in his response to the Mizrahi tradition. One of the most important Ashkenazic rabbanim of the past century, Yisrael Meir Kagan, known popularly as the "Chofetz Chaim", favored Torah education for girls to counteract the French "finishing schools" prevalent in his day for the daughters of the bourgeoisie.

Rabbi Solovetchik taught that all religious Ashkenazi Jews with the exception of hard-line Hasidim, not merely should, or solely if they show motivation, but must teach their female children Gemarah like the boy school children. He, among others, fully institutionalized the teaching of Mishnah and Talmud to girls, from an autobiography on him by Rabbi Mayor Twersky called "A Glimpse of the Rav" in R.

Man of Halacha, Man of Faith, page There is complete unanimity that women are obligated to study halakhot pertaining to mitsvot which are incumbent upon them The prohibition of teaching Torah she-Ba'al Pe to women relates to optional study. If ever circumstances dictate that study of Torah sh-Ba'al Pe is necessary to provide a firm foundation for faith, such study becomes obligatory and obviously lies beyond the pale of any prohibition.

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Islam, feminism and secular democracy. Philosophy and Social Criticism , 39 4—5 , — Gender, power and identity among Evangelical and Muslim women in the United States. Qualitative Sociology , 26 , 71— The separation of women in Rabbinic Judaism. The squabble that never ends: Religion and fertility in the census of India.

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