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The status of women in the Scriptures

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Question: Publication date: 11-03-2008
Title:   The status of women in the Scriptures
Content:   Could you please give examples from the Scriptures themselves of discrimination against women and belittlement of them? I want to emphasize that they should come from the Scriptures and not the rabbis, Zohar, or the like.


Answer: Publication date: 22-03-2008
Title:   The status of women in the Scriptures
Content:   Dear Danny,

Before I answer your question I want to make an important and significant point about discrimination against women.
The concept of "discrimination" applies only when society considers the woman equal to the man. Go study the treatment of slaves and maids in the ancient world; since slaves were never meant to be equal to freemen any loss of their rights was not discrimination but the result of their basic status, a more serous situation than mere discrimination. In other words, discrimination can only happen between equals.
To illustrate my argument, I will bring an example from one of the revolutionary philosophers of the modern era. Thomas Paine, one of the philosophers of the American Revolution, wrote a book (1791) titled "Rights of Man," in which he wrote "Natural rights are those which appertain to man in right of his existence. Of this kind are all the intellectual rights, or rights of the mind, and also all those rights of acting as an individual for his own comfort and happiness." Note that his work was titled "Rights of Man" and not "Rights of People". Similarly, the Irish philosopher Edmund Burke (1729-1797). When he wished to write about morality he wrote "manly morals" and not "human morals."

Therefore it is no wonder that the American and the French revolutions, which sought equality and liberty, affected men primarily. It is also no wonder that women in the United States were not given the vote until 1920 -- some 150 years after the Revolution, and only after a tough battle by women's groups. Why? Because the ethical norms and the basic view of women was not as equals. Some of the great philosophers never saw any discrimination against women simply because they never conceived of women as equal to men in the first place.

After having clarified that discrimination is a product of equal treatment, you will be able to see that when there are axioms of status: male, female, slave -- laws, being a product of the basic norms, will reflect this and the lawmaker will not notice or feel there to be any discrimination.

Now to your question about the view of women in the Scriptures. You must understand that at the time the Torah was written family structure was patriarchic, and this was the simple, unchallenged norm. Therefore, when the Torah wrote its version of the family tree from Adam to the death of Moses, it generally ignored the females. "This is the book of the genealogy of Adam… and begot Enosh… and begot Cainan…" (Genesis 5). Therefore the division of land in Israel was also according to patriarchic households (Numbers 34). When Moses was commanded to take a census, he counted only the men "Take a census of all the congregation of the children of Israel from twenty years old and above, by their fathers' houses" (Numbers 26:2). According to these norms daughters did not inherit from their fathers. The reason the daughters of Tzelophchad claimed a share in the land was due to the right of the males in their family: "Why should the name of our father be removed from among his family" (Numbers 27:4).
You should also know that discourse and language are formed within the world of basic norms of the nation which speaks that language. This is why you will find the following linguistic formulation in the Scriptures: "There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, with the women, the little ones, and the strangers who were living among them" (Joshua 8:35). All the assembly of Israel was the men only and did not include the women of Israel. From this you can understand the norms in Scriptural times which allowed a man to sell his daughter as a maid but not sell his son, and why the father was the seller and not the mother: "And if a man sells his daughter to be a female slave" (Exodus 21:7).

In summary: Notice, as you read the Scriptures, the treatment of the man as head of the household and head of his tribe of women and children. Thus you will understand how deeply rooted and self-explanatory was the woman's status as "helpmeet and subordinate" during the Scriptural era. In place of ancient times new norms have arisen; man and woman, male and female are merely sexual categories and there is no difference in status or role between them. Any deviation from this norm is considered discrimination.


Daat Emet

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