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Is There a Male-Female Hierarchy in the Torah?

Published on Wednesday April 7th, 2021

With modernity in full swing, the status of women in the secular world, and indirectly, in the religious Jewish world, is changing dramatically.

Maintain A Right Balance

Women hold important professional positions, earn degrees in multiple areas and therefore no longer depend on their husbands for Parnassa. These significant changes often spill into the couples' personal lives. The emphasis on careers and the "emancipation" of women often have a very negative impact on the sustainability of relationships, and on the gender roles that each party is expected to assume. Confusion related to traditional roles is palpable and many spouses, men, and women are clueless regarding how they ought to maintain balance in their marriage. What is the Torah's view regarding this phenomenon? How does the Torah perceive the changing roles of women in the religious and modern world, and how do these changes influence the relationship between spouses? This is a complex question, which we will try to answer as concisely as possible.

The Status of Women 

To determine the role and status of women in the Torah and the new and evolving outlook on the latter in the modern world, it is fundamental to refer to the original sin of Adam and Chava. According to the Torah's literal meaning, the Pshat, in the book of Bereshit 3: 6 (Genesis) the Torah explains that Chava sinned by eating the forbidden fruit, and she then gave it to her husband. Since the blueprint of all souls was contained in the first man and the first woman, all future generations must suffer the consequences of the original sin “they” committed. However, although the "Chet" (fault) has had many repercussions on our present situation, one of its aspects, the curse of Eve, given by God, serves as a basis to answer our question.

The Torah says: "I will aggravate the pain of your pregnancy; you will give birth to children in agony; desire will draw you towards your husband, and he rules over you"(Bereshit 3: 16). Four consequences are listed in this verse: the pain of pregnancy, the agony of childbirth, the desire that a woman feels towards her husband, and the control exerted by men on women. To date, it seems that all these curses are still relevant. All but one: the curse that stipulates that a man has control over his wife. This is precisely the issue we must reflect upon and explain; although male control is to a certain extent, a thing of the past.

An Emotional Dependance

There are layers of meaning related to men's control over women. But let us focus solely on the economic, emotional and spiritual aspects of male dominance. In her book "The Moon's Lost Light", Rebbetzin Devorah Fastag states that a first derivative of the fault manifests in women's dependence on the man for her sustenance. Before the Chet, sustenance and survival needs were non-existent. Everything was on offer at man's fingertips in the Garden of Eden. After the Chet, women were cursed to rely on their husbands for sustenance. Secondly, women's emotional dependence on men manifests in the physical and emotional desire they can feel for a man. Finally, the spiritual aspect of men's control of women is reflected in women's “less luminous” spiritual light, resulting in a limited ability to study Torah. These phenomena have been present throughout history since Chava's sin, but, as explained in the introduction, the latter have evolved staggeringly today. Women have achieved unprecedented financial independence. Our generation bears witness to a feminine trend not to marry, or in many cases, to postpone marriage indefinitely. And women have access to the world of Torah in ways that would have been unthinkable one hundred years ago. How does the Torah interpret these drastic changes?

According to Kli Yakar, women will enjoy material and spiritual privileges at the dawn of the Geula-the final redemption. This concept is called Nekeva Tisovev Gever in Hebrew and can be simply translated as equality between men and women. Thus, we understand why modern women can be financially independent, and why they have greater access to Torah study, among other privileges. Inequality between men and women, a consequence of original sin, will be eradicated with the coming of Geula, and this phenomenon is obvious in our day.

Two Kings and A Crown

Secondly, we may further examine the status of women according to the Torah, and how it is viewed in other nations through a passage in the Gemara dealing with the dimming of the light of the moon on the fourth day of the creation of the World. A poignant passage from the Gemara describes a conversation between the Master of the Universe and the Moon. The passage explains that Hashem created two great stars, the Sun and the Moon, described as "the great star and the small star". Why is this so? This excerpt from the Gemara explains that Hashem faded the light of the moon after the latter complained that "two kings cannot share the same crown."

Thus, the Gemara informs us that the sun and the moon were initially created equal, but that the moon's light was subsequently diminished and devalued. Its light was dimmed. Light corresponds to the Torah. And the word for moon in Hebrew, Levana, contains the word Lev, which means heart. The Sun, which is called "Chama", contains the word Moach, which means brain. The Michtav MeEliyahu offers a magnificent explanation of the subject. It states that the two stars allude to the two avenues for serving Hashem: one with the heart, and the other with the intellect. At the time of Creation, God desired these two types of Avodat Hashem (Divine Service) to stand on the same pedestal; that is, to be perceived as equal: the intellect's grasp naturally engulfing the heart. Of course, in our world, the intellect is on a higher level than the emotions. The Zohar reveals that the Levana, the moon, represents women, since feminine power rests on emotional traits, while the Chama, the sun, refers to the masculine gender, whose intellectual capacities are generally at the forefront.

Messianic Times

However, as we previously stated, this situation will be reversed at the dawn of messianic times and concerns us directly. The light lost by the moon will be restored when redemption occurs. The first signs of this redemption are already palpable and evident. Thus, the two points above enable us to grasp, through the Torah, the critical changes that are transpiring in the status of women in the religious world, in the modern world, and in marital relations. The Torah, which is a source of Truth has been graciously given to us by the Creator of the World, allowing us to illuminate all of life’s issues, our essence, and our behavior. May we study and integrate these gifts to perfection and merit “Olam Haba!”

Liora CHARTOUNI - © Torah-Box

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