Thursday, July 1, 2010

Discrimination Against Women

This week's Parsha, Pinchas, talks about the situation with the daughters of Tzelafchad. Their father passed away and he had no sons. They approached Moshe and asked why they should not inherit their father's property. Moshe inquired of G-D and Moshe told them that G-D concurred with them and they should inherit their father. This, seemingly, shows the inherent bias against women found in society. Interestingly enough, the Torah Temimah talks about this by the verse in Bamidbar 27:1,

א. וַתִּקְרַבְנָה בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד בֶּן חֵפֶר בֶּן גִּלְעָד בֶּן מָכִיר בֶּן מְנַשֶּׁה לְמִשְׁפְּחֹת מְנַשֶּׁה בֶן יוֹסֵף וְאֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת בְּנֹתָיו מַחְלָה נֹעָה וְחָגְלָה וּמִלְכָּה וְתִרְצָה:

1. The daughters of Zelophehad the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph, came forward, and his daughters' names were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.

The Torah Temimah brings in a Sifri that says, "Since the Daughters of Tzelafchad heard that the land would be divided among the tribes and not among women they all went to seek advice. They were told that G-D's mercy is not like that of flesh and blood. Flesh and blood have more compassion on men than women, but G-D has mercy on everyone equally as it says in Tehillim (Psalm 145) "And His mercy is on all his handiwork."

The Torah Temimah says that he was unable to find a place that explicitly says that flesh and blood is more compassionate to men than women. However, he does bring several Gemoras that prove this point.

He says, "The Gemora in Horayos on 13a says that a man is ransomed before a woman. This is most probably[, according to the Torah Temimah,] because he has more kedusha (holiness) since he is obligated in all the Mitzvos and the greatness in a man due to his role in settling the land. Also, in Baba Basra on 16b it says that praiseworthy is the person that has male children and there is the Gemora in Niddah 31b that says when a boy comes into the world peace follows." There are many more, but these are just examples that prove the bias against women.

The question here is why does the Torah Temimah bring up this Sifri and what can it teach us about this bias against women? Is the point here that we should treat women differently than they are being treated by the Gemora or that women should be treated like this?

First, let's explain some reasons why these Gemoras are not as bias as they seem. The Gemorah is speaking about why men are redeemed before women. Now, the Torah Temimah says it is due to their holiness, that might be true, but it is mainly because the man will be sodomized whereas the woman will be raped. The Gemora is telling us that it is worse for a man to be sodomized than for a woman to be raped. The Next Gemora, Baba Basra, speaks of having male children vs female children. The reason why it is better to have male children is mainly because a father has to worry about his daughter much more than his son. The daughter usually costs more money, needs more protection by the father and other things that create a lot of stress for the father. However, with a son, there is a lot less stress and worry for the father.

However, even though the Gemorah is not as biased as it would seem, there are still problems. The point of the Sifri, I think, is that men should not be biased against women. Obviously, this has been a problem for a long time, throughout the history of man. It was not until recently that women have had the right to vote and other such privileges (Still, in some places in the world women still do not have these rights). The Sifri is telling us an important lesson, all people are created by G-D, no one is more special than anyone else. Discrimination is something more abhorrent than any of the abominations talked about in the Torah. We should all strive to be like G-D, merciful and charitable on ALL creations equally.

However, because of all this discrimination against women for the past 5000 or so years, there has been a turn around. Women do not just want to not be discriminated against, but some want to change the role of women completely. They want to make women into men, which makes no sense. Obviously, men and women are different. Their emotions are different, their bodies are different and their capabilities are different. G-D made Adam and Eve and meant for them to live eternally in the garden of Eden. However, they sinned and were banished. The Torah tells us (Genesis 3:16-17) that Eve was now to have pain in child birth and Adam was to live by the sweat of his brow. These punishments highlight the very different roles of men and women.

It is truly remarkable that Moshe did not know the law in the case of the daughters of Tzelafchad. Why did Moshe have to ask G-D for the ruling in this case? It seems obvious, in light of the Sifri, Moshe did not understand the difference between the role of the women and discriminating against women. I mean, even today we think they are the same thing, but to the opposite extreme. People say, "How can you say a woman should raise her family, that is sexist!" What these people fail to understand is the same thing that Moshe failed to understand, just because women have specific roles and purposes in life does not mean they are to be discriminated against. Women have just as much right to a fair trial and to their opinions, but G-D endowed them with the capabilities to raise children and nurture a family, among other things. G-D did not give these abilities to men, but to women. A woman's physiological makeup makes her more capable to raise a family and properly care for them. This could be the reason why it is so rare for a father to win sole custody of a child in court when there is a divorce. However, just like women are made to compliment men where men are lacking so too men were made to complement women where women are lacking.

This is not to say G-D does not want women to get jobs. I am not speaking about that at all. I am talking about the different roles within the Jewish religion for men and women. Men have an obligation to perform all time bound commandments as well as non-time bound commandments. Women have no such obligation. Why is this the case? Aren't men and women supposed to be equal? The answer is yes, but G-D, in his infinite wisdom, realized there are needs of children that demand a lot of time. The woman was given the special capabilities to raise the children and nurture them. This is why women are allowed to perform all time bound commandments, but are not obligated to do so, because they have a different purpose in the Jewish family. No one should prevent a capable woman from performing time-bound commandments, but it would be ludicrous to COMMAND women to do such things. As hard as all of the commandments are on men, imagine if women, who usually have less time if raising a family, were forced to perform all the commandments that are required of men. It would be disastrous.

In the end of the day it seems like the message from G-D to the children of Israel is this: True, men and women have very different roles in the Jewish family. However, this in no way effects their rights in court or how they are to be treated. Men and women are supposed to be equal in matters of law. Just because a woman is a woman does not mean she should lose her court case to a man. Everyone has the same rights and the judge has the responsibility to recognize these rights and act accordingly.


Mike S. said...

100 years ago it was usual for the father to have sole custody in the event of a divorce. In talmudic times the mother had custody of very young children, the father of older ones. The notion that the mother should have custody is quite recent.

E-Man said...

Yea, and Women's sufferage also is a recent development. I meant that it is appropriate that women get the children and are not cut off from them. This is because women are more capable of raising children than men because of innate ability. True, there are exceptions, but that is the rule.

Also, the reason men were given custody was because women had no rights. This is the discrimination that I speak of and that the Sifri is talking about.

Mike S. said...

The custody matter was partly (or even mostly)discrimination, but it was also partly in the belief that children need discipline (provided by dad) more than nurture (provided by mom.) So conceptions of gender roles does not necessarily point to maternal custody.

E-Man said...

I changed the post a little bit. Maybe now it is more to your liking.