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Sample essay topic, essay writing: Role Of Women Within Orthodox Judaism - 1878 words
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The Role of Women within Orthodox Judaism 1 Since the beginning of the Jewish religion, women have had what seems to be a marginalized role that encompasses almost every facet of life. In many cases within the body of Jewish texts, clear misogynist statements and commentary are made dealing with every aspect of what it means to be female. Within the Orthodox movement, these restrictions appear to be the most prevalent. Through examination of the role of women within the key elements of the Orthodox Jewish life cycle: birth, adolescence, adulthood, and death, I hope to discover whether the female discriminatory point of view of Jewish Orthodoxy is founded or if the traditional ways of the Orthodox community are simply misunderstood. BASICS OF JUDAISM It is difficult to understand the role of women within a religion without a basic understanding of the religion in question; especially if talking of Judaism. It is now important to recognize that for faithful Jews, everything, whether within religious or secular life, revolves around religious laws or mitzvot (singular mitzvah).(1) The Jewish way of life encompasses every aspect of human endeavor.
There is a verse in the Book of Isaiah: God desired for his righteousness' sake to make the Torah great and glorious." (Isaiah 42:21) This verse was interpreted in rabbinic Judaism to mean that God provided many opportunities for people to acquire righteousness by giving them a multitude of commandments covering every situation in life. Orthodox Jews recognize 613 mitzvot. Whether a Jew is conducting business, preparing a meal, or doing any other thing a person might do, there is a mitzvah to give direction to that activity. In understanding this, it becomes clear why it is so difficult for women to question Orthodox Jewish beliefs. Historically, Judaism began around 2000 B.C.E -1600 B.C.E. during what is commonly called the Age of the Patriarchs
It began in the Middle East around the present day state of Israel. Since then, it has spread to every corner of the globe. Today, there are about 18 million Jews world-wide. Jews believe in one God (often referred to as Adonai or Yahweh in Jewish texts). God chose the Jewish people to carry out his laws and beliefs and to share them with the rest of the world.
God sought the Jews for an ongoing relationship of rewards in return for recognizing the sovereignty of God-a relationship known as a covenant. It is believed that the Jews were not chosen because they were perfect above other peoples, rather that they were chosen because they agreed to take on the burden of faithful service to God. This relationship has proven to be a source of strength and hope through the most turbulent times of Jewish history. The Jewish Bible or Tanakh, is the sacred book that interprets history as the Jews have experienced it. Although it is proper to think of the Bible as a single book of scriptures, it is more accurate to describe it as a library of books assembled under three major headings.
The most important is the Torah, which means "devine instruction and guidance." Torah is also known as the Five Books of Moses; the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. The second portion is the Nevi'im meaning writings of the Prophets. The third section of Tanakh is referred to as Kethuvim or "the Writings." By the late Middle Ages, there was a distinction between what is known as Written Torah, the Tanakh, and Oral Torah. Oral Torah consists of commentaries and instructions written by rabbis concerning how to follow Written Torah. Examples of Oral Torah include Talmud, Halakhah (the body of rabbinic law), and Mishna. Today, it is only the Orthodox Jewish movement that believes that both Written and Oral Torah are valid to the practice of Judaism.Orthodox Judaism Orthodox Judaism is on of four movements of Modern Judaism including Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist.
All of these movements trace their origins to traditional Judaism as it was practiced in pre-Enlightenment Europe. They arose principally in Germany during the 19th century as part of the civil emancipation of the Jews in that country as well as a response to the process of modernization. Jewish immigrants brought these differing viewpoints with them to America and today, over half of Jews define themselves based on one of these movements. Orthodox Judaism is the closest to traditional Judaism. Today, 2 million Jews consider themselves Orthodox; 1 million of those being in the U.S.
Unlike other Jewish movements, Orthodoxy in America is not a unified movement. There are many degrees of Orthodoxy. Each Orthodox movement has it own day schools, yeshivas (Jewish schools), seminaries, rabbinical, and congregational organizations. As discussed earlier, law is a large part of Judaism. Orthodox Judaism is rigidly based on the total of 613 mitzvot which cover every aspect of Jewish life. They believe that the Torah was given to Moses at Mount Sinai and cannot be subject to historical analysis, since it is the divinely inspired word of God. This is also true for the Oral Torah.
This would account for the difficulty Orthodox feminists have in contesting many of the misogynist statements found in these text; even though their points of view may be dated, they are still considered binding. Many Orthodox sects feel that it is necessary to limit contact with the Gentile world in order to preserve their traditional beliefs. The Hasidic sects keep themselves segregated as much as possible. English is only learned to conduct any necessary business with the outside world. Men wear the traditional black and white attire worn in Europe.
Women must dress modestly with the head covered at all times. For the purpose of this analysis, the basic principles and general beliefs binding to all Orthodox Jews in terms of the roles of women will be discussed. Birth The beginning of the life cycle of a Jew and devotion to faith is the ritual dealing with birth. The very moment a Jewish child is born, an immediate distinction is made between the sexes. In a ceremony known as b'rit milah is performed on a son's eighth day of life. (Wylen 1989, 71) At this ceremony, the newborn male is circumcised and given his Hebrew name which consists of the child's name, plus ben (son of), plus the name of the father.
This name is only used for religious purposes in the setting of the synagogue service. The foreskin of the penis is removed by a mohel (an individual trained in this ritual and surgical procedure). The b'rit milah is a representation of the Covenant God made with Abraham. The term literally means "the covenant of circumcision." Orthodox Jews do not follow the modern practice of counting a circumcision done at the hospital by a medical physician as fulfilling this mitzvah. It is customary for this ceremony to occur in the home or in some cases the synagogue; representing the importance of family and ritual at the very moment of existence.
(Biale 1995, 29) During the ceremony, women, including the mother of the child, are not permitted to witness or participate. (Baskin 1991, 20) Within the Mishnah this separation is clearly defined. It is said that "women are a separate people" aside from men who are the ones who are "fully-fledged partners of God in his divine Covenant." According to this passage, the only reason for women's exclusion is simply different anatomy. Therefore, since the b'rit milah symbolizes the connection of Jewish males in the Covenant, it is only males who can experience the joy of a newborn male's first religious experience. (Baskin 1991, 31) Newborn Jewish girls are also given a Hebrew name (using bat or daughter of in the formula) informally a month after birth.
This practice is so overlooked, it does not have a specific name attributed to it. (Wylen 1989, 70) Very little is written about this ceremony, probably due to the facth that it is not required as a fundamental part of the beginning of a Jewish female's life. (Davidman 1991, 147) In recent years, the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and only a handful of Orthodox congregations, have implimented similar blessing ceremonies welcoming newborn girls into a relatioinship with God on the eighth day of life; ceremonies in which female participation is essential. These are referred to by a number of names: b'rit bat (daughter of the Covenant), Shalom Bat (blessing of the daughter), or simcha bat (joyous occasion). Obviously there is no circumcision involved; blessings are made over the child welcoming the girl into the community. (Cohen, 1995) In the few Orthodox communities these ceremonies are performed only by women's prayer groups, also known as women's tefillah groups. (Haut 1992, 142) However, these groups have not received a warm reception by Orthodox traditionalists.
The main concern and argument against them is that they weaken the fabric of the family by placing women in a role that takes them out of the home into the public religious sphere. (Haut 1992, 143-46) Strict Orthodox communities have formally voiced great opposition against these female-oriented ceremonies. The Orthodox view these acts as a "twisting" of the b'rit milah into something it is not. (Cohen 1995) The b'rit milah is viewed as a renewal of the Covenant of Abraham and a promise made long ago to be faithful to God and his mitzvot. Within the law is the mitzvah of circumcision of the male child and not the female, therefore omitting them from the practice. (Davidman 1991, 149) Since Jewish law is considered infallible, Orthodox Jews have yet to permit a formal naming and blessing ceremony for females.
It is clear to see the importance of the b'rit milah to the Orthodox community. It represents the foundation of the child's spiritual beginnings. It is also understandable for some parents to wish this deeply significant experience for their daughters. However, keeping in mind the emphasis placed on Halakha (the entirety of rabbinic law) which prohibits female participation I this life cycle event, it will prove to be a difficult road ahead for those proponents such as the women's tefillah groups who are striving for women to gain an equal footing in the b'rit milah tradition. IV.
ADOLESCE A. TORAH STUDY B. BAR/BAT MITZVAV. ADULTHOOD A. MARRIAGEB.
POSITION IN THE HOUSEHOLD1. KOSHER LAWSVI. DEATH A. DEATH RITUALS (KADDISH, SHIVA)VII. CONCLUSION A.
RESTATEMENT OF THESIS B. OPINION/ANALYSISBibliographyBiale, Rachel. 1995. Women and Jewish Law: The Essential Texts, Their History, and Their Relevance for Today. New York: Schocken Books.Davidman, Lynn. 1991.
Tradition in a Rootless World: Women Turn to Orthodox Judaism. Berkeley: University of California Press.Grossman, Susan., Haut, Rivka. 1992. Daughters of the King: Women and the Synagogue. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.Rudavsky, T.M. 1995.
Gender and Judaism: The Transformantion of Tradition. New York: New York University Press.Sacks, Maurie. 1995. Active Voices: Women in Jewish Culture. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.Wylen, Stephen M. 1989.
Settings of Silver: An Introduction to Judaism. New Jersey: Paulist Press. Zuckerman, Francine. 1992. Half the Kingdom: Seven Jewish Feminists.
Montreal: Vehicule Press.Electronic ResourcesCohen, Debra Nussbaum. 1995. Women Carving New Place in Orthodox Judaism. Accessed: January 19, 2001. http://www/jewishf.com/bk950901 /1woman.htmKaye, Sara.
Women's Role in Judaism. Accessed: January 19, 2001. http://www. sholem.org/SaraKaye.htmOrthodox Judaism. Accessed: January 28, 2001. http://philtar.ucsm.ac.uk/ encyclopediaKeele, Lisa. Hidden Worship: The Religious Rituals of Orthodox Jewish Women. Accessed: January 19, 2001. http://www.utoronto.ca/wjudaism/ contemporary/articles/a keele1.html.
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