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You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down

Dear Cyber-Rav,

Your interpretation of this past week's paraSHAH (Torah portion) confused me. We are an egalitarian congregation. Yet if this is so, does it not violate Hashem's statements as interpreted by the Conservative movement? You state about the paraSHAH, "So God punishes them all. ... The woman will have pain in childbirth and be subservient to man." Subservient to man in an egalitarian congregation? I do not understand.

Clarification Requested

The Cyber Rav Answers:

Dear Clarification Requested,

I'm so glad that you wrote to me. Perhaps I can clarify the issue which you have obviously been thinking about.

First of all, it is of interest to me that you equate the traditional treatment of women within an Orthodox setting as consonant with female subservience. This is precisely what most Orthodox rabbis vehemently deny as well as many Orthodox women. They go to great pains to explain that the secondary status of women within the synagogue setting is compensated for by the predominant stature of women within the home setting. The argument is men and women are indeed separate, but equal. And I suspect that any Orthodox rabbi that preached female subservience would not long be on the shul's payroll. Female subservience is embraced by many Christian fundamentalist preachers--but not rabbis or Jews in general. To the contrary, we sing Eishet Hayill [A Woman of Valor, see the last chapter in Proverbs] in praise of women each Shabbat, we have a God who tells Abraham to listen to his wife, and any man who abuses his wife may find himself excommunicated from the community. Female subservience? Not in the Jewish community.

Secondly, if you maintain that subservience is God's will and therefore not to be tampered with, is pain in child birth also God's will and not to be tampered with? Shall we deny women in childbirth any such measures that would lessen their pain? I would hope not. Such a decision would be immoral.

Finally, let's not forget about the men--they get punished in this scenario too. We have to earn our bread by the sweat of our brow. Now I don't know about you but I'm not fond of breaking into a sweat at work. In fact, I buy every labor-saving device known to man--palm pilot, automobile, lap top, etc. Am I desecrating God's will? I don't think so.

The story of Adam and Eve is an etiological tale. It explains why things are the way they are. And it rightly defines back-breaking labor and female subservience as punishments--and they are defined as punishments not in the eyes of mankind, but in the eyes of God. If God sees His children doing everything possible to finally relieve themselves of these punishments, I can only imagine a God who sighs with relief at the amazing perseverance and ingenuity of the children whom He made in His image.

I'll be calling a woman to the Torah next Shabbat, doing so proudly, and as for God's response to all this-I think that She'll be very happy about it.

The CyberRav

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