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The Feminist Rabbi

The Feminist Rabbi

My definition of feminism is at odds with many. Let the dialogue begin.

by

I am an Orthodox rabbi and an unapologetic feminist. Admittedly, my understanding of feminism differs from that of many others. “The beginning of wisdom” Socrates wrote, “is the definition of terms,” and here is my definition:

Fem-in-ist: A feminist is one who validates, encourages, and celebrates the feminine tendency. A feminist – male or female – is one who recognizes the prominence of femininity in the family unit, social and commercial relationships, and the development of a modern, moral society.

Traditional Jewish philosophy teaches that God made parallel fields of human experience and desire, the masculine and feminine. The masculine seeks power, the feminine seeks harmony. The masculine is naturally suspicious, seeking to uncover hidden threat; the feminine is naturally trusting, honed to uncover hidden good. The masculine is drawn to the exterior, to bricks and mortar. The feminine is drawn to the interior, beauty and symmetry, the happenings of the soul.

Before my ideological opponents draw their verbal six-shooters, please let me add this caveat. While male and female, in Jewish thought, are absolute fields, men and women are not. Each human being is an amalgamation of masculinity and femininity. Most men have some feminine tendencies and most women own some male qualities. The difference between my feminist friends and me is that I believe the healthy man is mostly male and the healthy woman is mostly female, and they believe… that such is a terrible thing to say.

We are not entirely at odds. They and I agree that some women and men buck the trend and excel in the alternate arena. They and I agree that men who are great nurturers and women who are great hunters should be given a seat at the table – or at the head of the table – if appropriate. They and I agree that the female is diminished when reduced to external beauty and that the male is caustic without nurturing ability. They and I agree that character is more significant than muscle tone, intelligence more attractive than figure, and that a wholesome interior reflects beautifully even on an imperfect facade.

Modern feminists respect women exhibiting masculine tendencies, whereas traditional feminists respect expressions of femininity.

The difference is that by and large, modern feminists seek respect for women in growing masculine tendencies, whereas the traditional feminist gives them respect for expressing their femininity. The modern feminist says that breaking gender norms is breaking a glass ceiling. The traditional feminist says it is an individual’s achievement, unreflective of the greatness of the gender.

And, in citing a growing mound of empirical evidence, the traditionalist may suggest that parading the exceptions as the ideal has weakened primal satisfaction for millions of women and led to unattached, disconnected and discontented women the world over.

One of the key missions of feminism is to address the blight of women not being treated properly by men, of unseemly men leaving the mother of their children for younger women. Their solution is to make women independent of men during their naturally marriage-focused years, and to encourage them to look to matrimony only in their mid-30s, when career skills have been refined and, if needed, they can make a go of it without men.

Yet this movement, chartered to help women, often expends a most innate feminine desire, to be a loving wife and mother.

Traditional feminists address the challenge differently. They encourage women to marry young but to choose inspired men who appreciate providing and protecting, whose relationship with God and position in their community doesn’t allow them to be dishonorable. Instead of encouraging women to be as calculating as men, we encourage them to be as nurturing and discerning as women can be, and to demand decency in the men they consider.

Traditional feminist ideology mirrors the human condition. Man and woman are primed to create life. Man provides the seed and woman nurtures it to reality. Man provides the food and shelter and female builds humanity. Individual natures may vary, individual relationships may differ, but the Judeo-Christian ethos is that co-dependent marriage and co-dependent child rearing is the secret to a wealth of human satisfaction.

My dear mother stayed at home while raising 11 children, and my father worked three jobs to cover the bills. My mom, who has a M.A. in Education, began teaching full-time at a college when her youngest began elementary school. If you asked her today, she would acknowledge her career as a professional achievement, but that being a wife and mother were a much more important celebration of her femininity.

My wife and I are blessed with six children, including three beautiful daughters. We are educating them to use their God-given talents to their fullest. If they are gifted in the sciences, we pray they become doctors, with a strong nurturing aspect. If they are gifted in law, we pray they become lawyers, with a generous caring side. And if, after graduating college, they choose to stay home and raise their children, we will be ever so proud of their wholesome feminine contribution to life, community and goodness in the world.

Published: May 25, 2013


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Visitor Comments: 46

(28) Nancy, October 14, 2013 12:15 PM

I have two comments to make. First, we need to stop blaming feminism for the ills of society. The problem here is about violence and misogyny. Second, when it comes to raising our children we need to count on the contributions of both the mother AND the father. Please do not blame the problems in America on "those working mothers who just want their fancy cars." Re: Undermining and delegitimizing the basic differences between men and women. No, feminism is not doing that. Advertising is much more of a contributing factor in that arena. Re: Women and modest dress. I am a strong believer in tzniut. However, I do NOT dress modestly because of what other men dictate. I do it because I want to be respected for what I have to say. To a certain extent I appreciate the separation between the genders. However, I will make my own decisions about my own life.

(27) Susan, July 23, 2013 6:05 AM

Small quibbles

One quibble with the article is the word "modern" instead of the word "radical". I am a modern feminist, & I agree with you as to the importance of traditional women's roles. Another quibble is that women making themselves financially stable has little to do with "fear of being left for younger women". It has to do with not wanting to need a man for money, but only for love. As far as I can see, women not marrying and having children has as much to do with men not wanting to give up bachelorhood as it does feminism!

(26) diana, June 6, 2013 12:16 AM

marriage

Rabbi,
I am an attorney and my husband is an engineer. 15 years ago my husband was working on a construction site. He had a terrible accident and since that time has not been able to work. When we got married we decided when we had children I would continue to work part time. Lucky for us that I kept up my skills as an attorney because after the accident I was able to work full time. We kept our house and both our daughters were able to go to college. They are both professionals with good jobs. In this day and age of inflation alot times it takes 2 incomes just to keep a household running. You need to come into the 21st century

(25) Yehudith Shraga, May 31, 2013 5:59 AM

Nice messages

There is a very good formula for all the women for all the times, the more financially independent you are, the less vulnerable it let you be. It isn't advised to count and hope you will have a "good" husband, the husband is really good, when he knows that you are the equal partner with him. As for all the domestic problems, there is a good solution, you may always pay this work to be done for you, then your time will be divided between your work and time spent with your family, all the rest may be done by other people if you pay well and treat them nicely, there should be no problems, all the troubles start when the woman is expected to work no less than a man and to do all the work around the house, as if her work is the pleasure time, and cooking, cleaning and taking care of children are just her dream and all these may be done at the same time. Dear women, be realistic and count on yourself when you decide yourself, and if you want something to built with the man, don't be afraid to ask him too !!! and find out if he wishes what you wish, including marrying you at this period of time, having children, as much as you do, and what he is ready to make to insure the mutual wellbeing of both of you, and then decide for yourself, if you are alone or you have a partner and the more you ask the man openly about HIS desires the less "surprises" you will have, do not think what the man wishes! ask him and listen to what he says.

(24) Sharon, May 30, 2013 8:27 AM

feminism's contribution

Not so long ago women were completely financially dependent on men. A single woman could not survive and had to accept even unattractive marriage offers. Today a woman can choose to marry and the choice is not one of physical survival. Guaranteeing equal pay for equal work continues to be a goal. Making allowances to enable women to nurture families is also a goal that a healthy society will fulfill.

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