WOMEN IN JAINISM
The Jain religious scriptures define religion as a source to attain spiritual uplift, eternal peace and happiness during one’s lifetime. It says “Speak the truth, Practise dharma”. It is a religion of non-violence, which paves the way to universal happiness and peace. It is one of the oldest religions practiced in India. It gives greater importance to the human life. It believes that human birth is the first step towards achieving ultimate liberation.’
In Jainism women need not be necessarily just housewives, but have freedom to renounce the world to attain salvation. Mothers of Jain priests are shown utmost reverence.
The Mahapurana is the accepted sacred work of the Jains. It clearly says that women have the same rights as men, to get educated, take up work and so on. Vrishabha Deva, the first Thirthankara, is said to have imparted knowledge of language and mathematics to his daughter before his sons. He taught the Jain alphabet to his daughter Brahmi, the famous Brahmilipi is named after her. He taught mathematics to his other daughter Sundari. This religion has given equal status to men, women, monks and nuns. A contemporary of Mahaveer, Chandanabale, who was also his aunt, became his first disciple. She built an organisation of 36,000 Aryikas in order to propagate Jainism more effectively, and succeeded in her endeavour.
This religion deserves appreciation for its remarkable high philosophy. It provided an alternative vocation to those women who wished to disassociate themselves from the usual roles fixed for women in the society.
WOMEN IN ZOROASTRIANISM
ZOROASTRIANISM has originated from Persia and under pressure from Muslims, its followers migrated to India. In Avesta, the word women means maiden. Now let us examine their literature, it has written that,
“We esteem and revere the virtuous woman, Time and Leisure, Virtuous, Like Spentas Aaramaiti, the Queen of womanly Ideal, and such as are Thy feminine aspects, O Mazda”, e.g. Aban, Ashish-Vanguhi, Daenaa, and Paarendi (the genious of keen Intelligence!)” (Aiwisroothrem Geh, V, para 9. S.B.E. Vol. 31,386)
Both boys and girls undergo the sacrament of Navjote, without any difference. The Tennysonian statement conveys the idea more clearly,
“For woman is not an underdeveloped man, nor yet man’s opposite!”
The Prophet Zarathushtra, in the Gathas, has laid stress over and over again on the equality of man and woman in every sphere of life. Ahura Mazda, the Zoroastrian concept of God, has been described in terms of six attributes: three male and three female. The God Mind, Moral Strength, and Righteousness are the male attributes, whereas, True Devotion, Perfection, and Immortality is the female attributes.
The strength of the followers of this faith is coming down heavily. 10 years back there were about 90,000 followers in India. Now the number is considerably less. Therefore, this community must think about its survival. It should think about its disabilities and try to work for its greater interest, before it is too late.
Zoroastrianism allowed marriage as well as polygamy. The King awarded a prize, annually, to the subject with the largest family. Judaism, Christianity & Islam were influenced by Zoroastrianism. This ancient culture was practiced at the time of need. Due to the changing situations its philosophy has been accepted by different faiths in various ways but the same faith is on the verge vanish from the earth.
WOMEN IN SIKHISM
Founder of Sikhism Shri Guru Nanak Dev. found to his dismay that woman, who is an essential part of the human society, was considered inferior to man, and treated badly. He protested against this. He says in Vaar Asa:
From the woman is our birth and in
the woman’s womb we are shaped.
To the woman we are engaged
and to her we are wedded.
The woman is our friend,
and from woman is our family.
If one woman dies, we seek another and
Through woman are the bonds of world.
Why do you call her low?
She gives birth to Kings and Prophets.
(Guru Granth Sahib P.173)
As it consider a revolutionary change in the male dominated world, but unfortunately some of his followers are not following his dictate and even they were unable to keep the sacred birth place of Guru Nanak into India. Religious Dictation and use of it in practical life is different as we observe all wrong doing by others are still prevailing among the followers of Nanak dev. which include casteism, killing fetus etc.
A fetus takes shape in the mother’s womb. Her body and soul helps it to grow and took all pain till give birth to the baby. A lot of them died in the child birth related complication in the village. She gives birth to it, she bears the birth pain, and then she cares for her child from its formation her womb. She cares for her child after birth; she helps the child to grow-up. Now if it is a male child he will learn to hate his mother’s community as a whole. He will be loved by his sister, he will enjoy it, but at the same time he will also criticize his sister’s community as he learns the trends of his society.
He will grow-up, he will get married to a woman and will love her, he will enjoy her, but at the same time he will hate the women community. Even several religious leaders who were given birth by their mother, loved by their sister, loved by their wife will not support the cause of their mother, sister or wife. Why has this happened to man?
Guru Amardas did not allow any woman with a veil or purdah to visit him or enter Sangat and Pangat. He also eradicated the custom of female infanticide. He appointed 52 women preachers to preach Sikhism. How the spirit of this broad minded Guru’s views and news not spreading fast in other conservative society in this subcontinent? If I say this is the failure of their followers, will it harm them?
Women were considered impure when they gave birth to a child, but this natural or divine act should not be considered as polluting. A generalization is drawn that even the most saintly individuals are born of women and the process should not be treated as an event bordering on sin:
Man is born of woman,
develops from the foetus in her womb:
He marries a woman;
Life’s activities depend upon woman,
who is man’s true companion.
If he loses a woman, he seeks another.
He can be moral only if he is faithful to his wife.
Such is the place of woman.
The great ones of this earth are born of her;
So how can we talk of her contemptuously!
Women is born out of woman.
None is born out of man.
God alone is eternal and hence unborn.
Saith Nanak: that mouth alone is blessed which
utters words of demotion to God:
Only their faces glow with bliss at the Divine Assembly
(Asa di Vaar)
A house is treated as polluted for a number of days, after a child is born in it. Guru Nanak has said:
If it should be believed that birth renders a place impure,
Then it should be known that birth take place
everywhere and all the time.
Cow-dung is treated as pure but breeds maggots;
Every grain of foodstuff contains worms.
Water is something alive for it imparts life to vegetation.
When the kitchen is full of such births but is considered clean, how can we treat human birth as defiling?
Saith Nanak, defilement is not washed away by rituals; Enlightenment of the soul alone purifies it. (Asa di Vaar)
This above statement is important because women are often treated as the carriers of impurity; menstruation is generally treated in this manner. Hence, Guru Nanak added:
Birth and death occur by divine decree;
Creatures enter life and leave it as God wills.
Food with which God blesses man is pure.
Saith Nanak, No impurity attaches to those Enlightened by God’s grace. (Asa di Vaar)
Whether a man or a woman, the noble and pious path is the same though their tasks and roles are different. The things very from person to person, self-rectification is very much necessary in this case. So Guru Nanak has advised his followers as below:
Some women seek beauty and indulge in pleasures.
Eat betel leaves, use the fragrance of flowers, and chase pleasures of the flesh;
But these are like diseases of the spirit.
Pleasures soon produce suffering;
They alone find fulfillment who seek refuge in God.
O thou, my daughter princess!
Meditate on the True Name, Make thy life fruitful;
Get rid of the lust for worldly pleasures;
Medutate on the Divine word. (Raag Basant)
Also the women are asked to follow the path of devotion:
God asks the happily married wife,
How she and her husband have a joyful life;
(She said) through the decorative ornaments of mental poise, contentment, sweet speech. (Adi Granth, p-17)
A woman who is abandoned, what life does she have?
She is miserable, wears soiled clothes Her nights pass in agony.
(Adi Granth, p-72)
In the above mentioned text the loneliness described for woman is to be similar for man also. If a woman suffers due to her loneliness, then the same may be applicable for a man. As man cannot live without the company of a woman, it is similar in the case of woman. Renunciation of sex does not dim the passion:
By living away from human concourse,
one sheds not the slumber of ignorance,
nor does one outgrow temptation of lust for women.
Without absorption in God,
mind does not find rest nor is desire stilled;
Lord created for me seclusion in my own herewith;
In following the eternal, amidst normal living,
is true commerce with God.
Nanak, with sleep abridged and spare diet can contemplate Essence. (Sidda Goshti)
It is the human nature to appreciate beauty. There is emphasis upon self-restraint and continence, so that men should look at women, however attractive, as primarily either sisters, daughters or mothers except the woman whom one marries, but she is also a mother on one’s children. This excludes a purely romantic or erotic society. Thus, the Sikh saint, Bhai Gurdas in his Vaar, emphasises:
He who forsakes father and mother, and yet listens to religious scriptures, is ignorant of the core of religion;
He, performing austere rituals, wanders in wasteland;
God does not accept his prayers;
His ablutions at the sixty-eight sacred bathing places
Do not win him release from the cycle of birth and death;
His charities, as those of a misguided person, are not accepted;
His fasts and vigils are all delusion,
annulling not his karmic cycle;
He does not know the way of Guru or God.
Guru Amardas, Nanak III, strongly condemned the practice of “Sati”, self-immolation of the wife on the burning pyre of her dead husband and advocated “Widow Marriage”.
Sati is not one who burneth herself on the pyre of her dead husband.
Sati is she who dieth through shock of separation.
Sati is she who bears the shock of separation with courage and lives contented, and embellishes herself with good conduct, and cherishes her Lord ever and called on him each morn.
The word of Guru Arjun describes Sati burning in these words:
The true Satis are not they who burn themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre.
The real Satis are not they who patiently bear the pains of separation from their beloved.
The real Satis are they who live the lives of sweet self-discipline, serve their lord and bear his memory in their hearts forever.
(Adi Granth p787)
Therefore, the Sikh movement had comprehensive, egalitarian objectives. Raising the status of women formed an essential part of its philosophy. The status of women raised by the movement is reflected by the growing atmosphere of social changes, they have participated in the revolutionary struggle on equal footing with men. Social barriers were minimized under the Sikh scripture and traditions played an important role in uplifting woman’s status.
However, despite all the religious injunctions the Sikh chiefs practiced Sati. After the tragic death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh eleven women burned themselves with his dead body. According to Seinbach the queens exhibited the most perfect equanimity but were less enthusiastic. His son Maharaja Kharak Singh left four widows on November 5, 1840, but one of them Isher Kaur, a pretty Rajput woman and a Chadra Dalna wife, and eleven slave women died with him. A large number of similar cases have been recorded, though the British Government had banned the Sati practice in 1829.
WOMEN IN JUDAISM (JEWS) The Role of Women
|• In Judaism, G-d is neither male nor female
• The Talmud says both good and bad things about women
• Women are not required to perform certain commandments
• Certain commandments are reserved specifically for women
• The first of the month is a minor festival for women
• Men and women sit separately in traditional synagogues
• The idea of Lilith as a feminist hero is based on a questionable source
The role of women in traditional Judaism has been grossly misrepresented and misunderstood. The position of women is not nearly as lowly as many modern people think; in fact, the position of women in halakhah (Jewish Law) that dates back to the biblical period is in many ways better than the position of women under American civil law as recently as a century ago. Many of the important feminist leaders of the 20th century (Gloria Steinem, for example, and Betty Friedan) are Jewish women, and some commentators have suggested that this is no coincidence: the respect accorded to women in Jewish tradition was a part of their ethnic culture.
In traditional Judaism, women are for the most part seen as separate but equal. Women’s obligations and responsibilities are different from men’s, but no less important (in fact, in some ways, women’s responsibilities are considered more important, as we shall see).
The equality of men and women begins at the highest possible level: G-d. In Judaism, unlike traditional Christianity, G-d has never been viewed as exclusively male or masculine. Judaism has always maintained that G-d has both masculine and feminine qualities. As one Chasidic rabbi explained it to me, G-d has no body, no genitalia; therefore the very idea that G-d is male or female is patently absurd. We refer to G-d using masculine terms simply for convenience’s sake, because Hebrew has no neutral gender; G-d is no more male than a table is.
Both man and woman were created in the image of G-d. According to most Jewish scholars, “man” was created in Gen. 1:27 with dual gender, and was later separated into male and female.
According to traditional Judaism, women are endowed with a greater degree of “binah” (intuition, understanding, intelligence) than men. The rabbis inferred this from the fact that woman was “built” (Gen. 2:22) rather than “formed” (Gen. 2:7), and the Hebrew root of “build” has the same consonants as the word “binah.” It has been said that the matriarchs (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah) were superior to the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) in prophecy. Women did not participate in the idolatry regarding the Golden Calf. See Rosh Chodesh below. Some traditional sources suggest that women are closer to G-d’s ideal than men.
Women have held positions of respect in Judaism since biblical times. Miriam is considered one of the liberators of the Children of Israel, along with her brothers Moses and Aaron. One of the Judges (Deborah) was a woman. Seven of the 55 prophets of the Bible were women (they are included in the list of biblical prophets).
The Ten Commandments require respect for both mother and father. Note that the father comes first in Ex. 20:12, but the mother comes first in Lev. 19:3, and many traditional sources point out that this reversal is intended to show that both parents are equally entitled to honor and reverence.
There were many learned women of note. The Talmud and later rabbinical writings speak of the wisdom of Berurya, the wife of Rabbi Meir. In several instances, her opinions on halakhah (Jewish Law) were accepted over those of her male contemporaries. In the ketubah (marriage contract) of Rabbi Akiba‘s son, the wife is obligated to teach the husband Torah! Many rabbis over the centuries have been known to consult their wives on matters of Jewish law relating to the woman’s role, such as laws of kashrut and women’s cycles. The wife of a rabbi is referred to as a rebbetzin, practically a title of her own, which should give some idea of her significance in Jewish life.
There can be no doubt, however, that the Talmud also has many negative things to say about women. Various rabbis at various times describe women as lazy, jealous, vain and gluttonous, prone to gossip and particularly prone to the occult and witchcraft. Men are repeatedly advised against associating with women, although this is usually because of man’s lust rather than because of any shortcoming in women. It is worth noting that the Talmud also has negative things to say about men, frequently describing men as particularly prone to lust and forbidden sexual desires.
Women are discouraged from pursuing higher education or religious pursuits, but this seems to be primarily because women who engage in such pursuits might neglect their primary duties as wives and mothers. The rabbis are not concerned that women are not spiritual enough; rather, they are concerned that women might become too spiritually devoted.
The rights of women in traditional Judaism are much greater than they were in the rest of Western civilization until the 20th century. Women had the right to buy, sell, and own property, and make their own contracts, rights which women in Western countries (including America) did not have until about 100 years ago. In fact, Proverbs 31:10-31, which is traditionally read at Jewish weddings, speaks repeatedly of business acumen as a trait to be prized in women (v. 11, 13, 16, and 18 especially).
Women have the right to be consulted with regard to their marriage. Marital sex is regarded as the woman’s right, and not the man’s. Men do not have the right to beat or mistreat their wives, a right that was recognized by law in many Western countries until a few hundred years ago. In cases of rape, a woman is generally presumed not to have consented to the intercourse, even if she enjoyed it, even if she consented after the sexual act began and declined a rescue! This is in sharp contrast to American society, where even today rape victims often have to overcome public suspicion that they “asked for it” or “wanted it.” Traditional Judaism recognizes that forced sexual relations within the context of marriage are rape and are not permitted; in many states in America today, rape within marriage is still not a crime.
There is no question that in traditional Judaism, the primary role of a woman is as wife and mother, keeper of the household. However, Judaism has great respect for the importance of that role and the spiritual influence that the woman has over her family. The Talmud says that when a pious man marries a wicked woman, the man becomes wicked, but when a wicked man marries a pious woman, the man becomes pious. The child of a Jewish woman and a gentile man is Jewish because of the mother’s spiritual influence; the child of a Jewish man and a gentile woman is not. See Who Is a Jew? Women are exempted from all positive mitzvot (“thou shalts” as opposed to “thou shalt nots”) that are time-related (that is, mitzvot that must be performed at a specific time of the day or year), because the woman’s duties as wife and mother are so important that they cannot be postponed to fulfill a mitzvah. After all, a woman cannot be expected to just drop a crying baby when the time comes to perform a mitzvah. She cannot leave dinner unattended on the stove while she davensma’ariv (evening prayer services).
It is this exemption from certain mitzvot that has led to the greatest misunderstanding of the role of women in Judaism. First, many people make the mistake of thinking that this exemption is a prohibition. On the contrary, although women are not required to perform time-based positive mitzvot, they are generally permitted to observe such mitzvot if they choose (though some are frustrated with women who insist on performing visible, prestigious optional mitzvot while they ignore mundane mandatory ones). Second, because this exemption diminishes the role of women in the synagogue, many people perceive that women have no role in Jewish religious life. This misconception derives from the mistaken assumption that Jewish religious life revolves around the synagogue. It does not; it revolves around the home, where the woman’s role is every bit as important as the man’s.
Women’s Mitzvot: Nerot, Challah and Niddah
In Jewish tradition, there are three mitzvot (commandments) that are reserved for women: nerot (lighting candles), challah (separating a portion of dough), and niddah (sexual separation during a woman’s menstrual period and ritual immersion afterwards). If a woman is present who can perform these mitzvot, the privilege of fulfilling the mitzvah is reserved for the woman. Two of these mitzvot can be performed by a man if no woman is present. The third, for reasons of biology, is limited to the woman. All of these mitzvot are related to the home and the family, areas where the woman is primarily responsible.
The first of these women’s mitzvot is nerot (literally, “lights”) or hadlakat ha-ner (literally, “lighting the lights”), that is, the privilege of lighting candles to mark the beginning of the Shabbat or a holiday. The lighting of candles officially marks the beginning of sacred time for the home; once candles are lit, any restrictions or observances of the holiday are in effect. The lighting of candles is a rabbinical mitzvah, rather than a mitzvah from the Torah. See Halakhah: Jewish Law for an explanation of the distinction.
The second woman’s mitzvah is challah, that is, the privilege of separating a portion of dough from bread before baking it. This mitzvah comes from Num. 15:20, where we are commanded to set aside a portion of dough for the kohein. This mitzvah is only in full effect in Israel; however, the rabbis determined that Jews throughout the world should be reminded of this mitzvah by separating a piece of dough before baking it and burning the dough. You may have noticed that on boxes of matzah at Pesach, there is usually a notation that says “Challah Has Been Taken,” which means that this mitzvah has been fulfilled for the matzah. Note that this mitzvah has little to do with the traditional Shabbat bread, which is also called “challah.” See Jewish Food: Challah for more information about the Shabbat bread.
The third woman’s mitzvah is the obligation to separate herself from her husband during her menstrual period and to immerse herself in a mikvah (ritual bath) after the end of her menstrual period. The Torah prohibits sexual intercourse during a woman’s menstrual period. This ritual immersion marks the end of that period of separation and the resumption of the couple’s sexual activities. For more information about this practice, see Kosher Sex: Niddah.
Some sources point out that the name Chanah is an acronym of the names of these three mitzvot (Challah, Niddah, and Hadlakat HaNer). In the Bible, Chanah was the mother of Samuel and a prophetess. She is considered in Jewish tradition to be a role model for women.
Women’s Holiday: Rosh Chodesh
Rosh Chodesh, the first day of each month, is a minor festival. There is a custom that women do not work on Rosh Chodesh. A midrash teaches that each of the Rosh Chodeshim was originally intended to represent the one of the twelve tribes of Israel, just as the three major festivals (Pesach, Sukkot and Shavu’ot) each represent one of the three patriarchs. However, because of the sin of the Golden Calf, the holiday was taken away from the men and given to women, as a reward for the women’s refusal to participate in the construction of the Golden Calf.
How do we know that women didn’t participate in the Golden Calf incident? The midrash notes that Exodus 32 says that “the people” came to Aaron and asked him to make an idol. Aaron told them to get the golden rings from their wives and their sons and their daughters. Note that the biblical verse doesn’t say anything about “the people” getting the rings from their husbands, only from wives and sons and daughters, from which we can infer that “the people” in question were the men. Then Ex. 32:3 says that “the people” broke off the golden rings that were in their ears. The bible does not say that they got the gold from their wives and sons and daughters; rather, it says that “the people” (i.e., the same people) gave their own gold. The midrash explains that the men went back to their wives and the wives refused to give their gold to the creation of an idol. As a reward for this, the women were given the holiday that was intended to represent the tribes.
The Role of Women in the Synagogue
Judaism recognizes that it is mankind’s nature to rebel against authority; thus, one who does something because he is commanded to is regarded with greater merit than one who does something because he chooses to. The person who refrains from pork because it is a mitzvah has more merit than the person who refrains from pork because he doesn’t like the taste. In addition, the mitzvot that were given to the Jewish people are regarded as a privilege, and the more mitzvot one is obliged to observe, the more privileged one is.
Because women are not required to perform certain mitzvot, their observance of those mitzvot does not “count” for group purposes. Thus, a woman’s voluntary attendance at daily worship services does not count toward a minyan (the 10 people necessary to recite certain prayers), a woman’s voluntary recitation of certain prayers does not count on behalf of the group (thus women cannot lead services), and a woman’s voluntary reading from the Torah does not count towards the community’s obligation to read from the Torah. The same is true of boys under the age of 13, who are not obligated to perform any mitzvot, though they are permitted to perform them.
In addition, because women are not obligated to perform as many mitzvot as men are, women are regarded as less privileged. It is in this light that one must understand the man’s prayer thanking G-d for “not making me a woman.” The prayer does not indicate that it is bad to be a woman, but only that men are fortunate to be privileged to have more obligations. The corresponding women’s prayer, thanking G-d for making me “according to his will,” is not a statement of resignation to a lower status (hardly an appropriate sentiment for prayer!) On the contrary, this prayer should be understood as thanking G-d for giving women greater binah, for making women closer to G-d’s idea of spiritual perfection, and for all the joys of being a woman generally.
The second thing that must be understood is the separation of men and women during prayer. According to Jewish Law, men and women must be separated during prayer, usually by a wall or curtain called a mechitzah or by placing women in a second floor balcony. There are two reasons for this: first, your mind is supposed to be on prayer, not on the pretty girl praying near you. Second, many pagan religious ceremonies at the time Judaism was founded involved sexual activity and orgies, and the separation prevents or at least discourages this. Interestingly, although men should not be able to see women during prayer, women are permitted to see men during prayer. This seems to reflect the opinion that women are better able to concentrate on prayer with an attractive member of the opposite sex visible.
The combination of this exemption from certain mitzvot and this separation often has the result that women have an inferior place in the synagogue. Women are not obligated by Jewish law to attend formal religious services, and cannot participate in many aspects of the services (traditional Jewish services have a very high degree of “audience participation” — and I’m not just talking about community readings, I’m talking about actively taking part in running the service), so they have less motivation to attend. Woman’s obligations in the home (which are the reason why women are exempt from time-based mitzvot like formal prayer services) often keep them away from synagogue. In several synagogues that I have attended, the women’s section is poorly climate controlled, and women cannot see (sometimes can’t even hear!) what’s going on in the men’s section, where the services are being led. This has improved somewhat in recent years, but men: if you think I’m lying, ask your wives.
But as I said before, this restriction on participation in synagogue life does not mean that women are excluded the Jewish religion, because the Jewish religion is not just something that happens in synagogue. Judaism is something that permeates every aspect of your life, every thing that you do, from the time you wake up in the morning to the time you go to bed, from what you eat and how you dress to how you conduct business. Prayer services are only a small, though important, part of the Jewish religion.
Lilith is a character who appears in passing in the Talmud and in rabbinical folklore. She is a figure of evil, a female demon who seduces men and threatens babies and women in childbirth. She is described as having long hair and wings (Erub. 100b; Nid. 24b). It is said that she seizes men who sleep in a house alone, like a succubus (Shab. 151b). She is also mentioned in midrashim and kabbalistic works, in which she is considered to be the mother of demons. Her name probably comes from the Hebrew word for night (laila). She is similar to and probably based on a pagan demon named Lulu or Lilu that appears in Gilgamesh and other Sumerian and Babylonian folklore.
In recent years, some women have tried to reinvent Lilith, turning her into a role model for women who do not accept male domination or a rival goddess to the traditions that they think are too male-biased. For example, a number of female musical artists participated a concert tour called “Lilith Fair” a few years ago, and the name “Lilith” was clearly chosen to represent female empowerment.
This revisionist view of Lilith is based primarily on a work called the Alphabet of Ben Sira, which portrays Lilith as Adam’s first wife who was rejected because she wanted to be on top during sexual intercourse. Lilith was replaced with Eve, a more submissive second wife. The complete story is presented here. Many modern commentators describe this as part of the Talmud or midrash, or at least a traditional Jewish source, and claim that this story reflects the traditional rabbinical understanding of the roles of men and women. Feminists reject the negative characterization of Lilith’s actions in this story. They claim Lilith was a hero who was demonized by male-chauvinist rabbis who did not want women to have any sexual power.
Actually, Ben Sira is a much later medieval work of questionable authorship. Ben Sira appears to be a satire or parody, possibly even an antisemitic one. It tells many stories about biblical characters envisioned in non-traditional, often unflattering ways, often with slapstick humor at the expense of traditional heroes. Frankly, to treat Ben Sira as a reflection of traditional Jewish thought is like treating Cervantes’ Don Quixote as a treatise on chivalry, or Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles as a documentary of the American West. See this scholarly critique of the use of Ben Sira to turn Lilith into a feminist hero.
Links for Further Reading
Kresel’s Korner, written by an Orthodox woman, addresses many of the questions that people have about the role of women in Orthodoxy. Kresel is an intelligent, well-educated woman who responds to many feminist critiques of Orthodoxy and illustrates a very different kind of female empowerment.
WOMEN IN CHRISTIANITY
It would be very interesting to study the tenets of the Christian doctrine of marriage which tried to introduce strictures in the Roman laws. In doing so, according to Worsely Boden, ‘there is evidence that the influence of the Church in the Empire led to women’s degradation”. Further, Even St.Augustine, whose ideal of asceticism caused him to regret his own marriage, put polygamy and prostitution in the category of marriage, and described them as being as necessary to man as a sewer is to a palace. At best he regarded marriage as a remedy against sin: it would enjoin upon a married woman a kind of debased slavery, and require her to endure joyfully the debaucheries and ill treatment of her lord”. “The recognition of any divorce went with the implications that every ground for divorce was a crime.
Analysis of the passages in the Bible will highlight the role and actions of women and also the interactions of Christ with women in the events narrated in the gospels.
God created man in the image of himself,
In the image of God he created him,
male and female he created them
God blessed them, saying to them,
“Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and conquer it”. (Genesis 1:26-27)
The second narrative of the creation of man and woman, in the Yahavistic tradition, which is a simpler and anthropomorphic description, shows that woman was fashioned from the rib of the first man, for he was alone and had no companion.
“Yahweh or God said, “It is not good that man should be alone. I will make him a help mate”.
So the writer says that Yaweh sent sleep to Adam, took out one of his rib bones, and fashioned woman as his help mate. The description brings out one thing clearly: woman is the companion of man; she comes out of his side; and stands by his side always. The reaction of Adam after seeing this wonderful creature was amazement, ecstasy and joy.
He says, ‘’This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. This is to be called woman, for this was taken from my flesh. ‘’The writer adds, ‘’This is why a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife and they become one body’’. (Genesis: 2:18-25)
Adam called the woman Eve. They would have lived happily ever after in the beautiful garden of Eden, if Satan had not appeared to Eve and tempted her to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge. He came in the disguise of a serpent and challenged the woman to defy God’s order (Why Satan did not go to man is an unsolved mystery).
“The Serpent said to the woman, ’God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil.
When the woman saw that the tree of knowledge was good for food and pleasant to the eyes and to be desired to make one wise, she ate the fruit and gave it to her husband.’’ (Genesis:3:5)
Then God was angry with Adam for disobeying him, Adam made the excuse, “The woman whom thou gavels to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I did eat”. God expelled both of them from the garden and told the woman, “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception: in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and be shall rule over thee.” (Genesis: 3:16)
In Ephesians 5:22-24 he admonishes the women,
“Wives submit yourselves to your husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church, and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore, as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their husbands in everything”.
In his Epistle to Titus, Paul writes in Chap. 2:4-5,
“That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husband, to love their children. To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their husbands, that the word of God may not be blemished”.
St.Paul dictates to women,
“To adorn themselves in modest apparel with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broidered hair, or gold or pearls, or costly array, but with good works. Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But, I suffer not a woman to teach, not to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression”. (1Timothy 2:9-15)
The present days women must judge this dictate in terms of their act and action whether this is to make them always obedient for a single sin by a single woman. Aquinas went so far as to describe women as ‘defective males’ Marie Assasd in her book “Should We Be Angry? Quotes:
‘Any woman who acts in such a way that she cannot give birth to as many children as she is capable of makes herself guilty of that many murders’. –St Augustine.
‘Are women human’? (In the year 584, in Lyon, France, 43 Catholic bishops and 20 men representing other bishops, after a lengthy debate, took a vote. The results were 32 yes, 31 no. Women were declared human by one vote) – Council of Macon, France.
‘Among the savage beasts, none is found so harmful as women.’—St.John Chrysostom.
‘Women should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children…If a woman grows weary and, at last, dies from childbearing, it matters not. Let her die from bearing-she is there to do it.’- Martin Luther.
‘Woman, in her greatest perfection, was made to serve and obey man, not rule and command him.’ – John Knox
‘The souls of women are so small that some believe they have none at all.’ –Samuel Butler.
Slavery was common among the Hebrews and a father could sell his daughter to another man either as a slave or a concubine. A woman did not inherit her husband’s property unless she had her own, nor daughters acquired their father’s property, unless there was no male heir.
Thus, in the Hebrew and Jewish society of the Old Testament times, woman did not enjoy equal rights with man. Some women played national roles and achieved national status by their strength and political astuteness. The rich widow Judith, by her sheer courage killed Holoferness, the Assyrian General, and saved her nation from defeat and destruction (Judith).
From the New Testament we can learn about the miracles performed by Christ for the afflicted women. For instance, once an adulterous woman was brought before Christ by the scribes and Pharisees. However, Christ put all of them to shame who had accused the woman and wanted to kill her. Later Christ asked,
“Woman where are they: Has no one condemned you?” “No one Sir”, she replied, “Neither do I condemn you”. (John 8:10-11)
In this passage the attitude of Christ is clear; he upholds the dignity of the woman, her person and life. He has accorded an equal status to women with men, and has fought for her dignity and social position. Hence, the New Testament has re-established the lost status of woman in her roles as a companion, helpmate, wife, mother and an associate in the work of Christ.
We assign to woman an inferior position in the scale of being, consider her creation as an afterthought and the cause behind the fall of man, believe her as cursed of God in her maternity, a harlot in the life of Solomon or a Samson, unfit to stand in the Holy of Holies, in the cathedrals, to take a seat as a delegate in a synod, to preach the gospel and administer the sacrament. The Church and Bible make woman a football for all the odds and fears of the multitude.
“The sentiments of men in high places responsible for the outrages in the lower orders in the haunts of vice and on the highways, when in the marriage service woman must promise to obey, she is made the inferior and the subject of the man she marries, when the passages of scriptures are read from the pulpit they make woman a mere football of a man’s lust. All our efforts to suppress prostitution are hopeless until a woman is recognised in the canon law and Church disciplines as equal in goodness, grace and dignity with bishops; archbishops, yea, the Pope himself. We must have expurgated editions of canon and civil law, of Bible, catechisms, creeds, codes and constitutions and of Paul’s toilet directions as to covered heads, long hair, and sitting in silence and subjugation, hanging on man’s lips for inspiration and wisdom. The chaotic condition of society can never become harmonious until the masculine and feminine elements are in perfect equilibrium.” (Mrs.Elizabeth Mallet in the Women’s Question in the Light of the New Testament)
In the ritual of Christian marriage the man is called the head of the physical body and the woman is asked to obey her husband. (It was reported that in her wedding ceremony, Princess Diana stayed silent over the word obey while taking her marriage vows with Prince Charles).
Bigamy, under the English law is a punishable offence as the essence of the English concept of marriage is a ”voluntary union of life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others”.
Section 57 of the 1861 Acts say: “Whosoever, being married, shall marry any other person during the life of the former husband or wife shall be guilty of felony”. Further, in the Outlines of the Criminal Law’, the reason for the punishment of bigamy is given as “the broad one of its involving an outrage upon public decency by the profanation of a public ceremony”.
In France, a prediction, that the European legislation will adopt polygamy in the future, has been made by Bonn. More recently, it has been advocated by Georges Anquetil who says: “A return to polygamy, the natural relationship between the sexes, would remedy many evils; prostitution, venereal disease, abortion, the misery of illegitimate children, the misfortune of millions of unmarried women resulting from the disproportion between sexes, adultery and even jealousy”.
Though some faith practice polygamy since long but the problem as cited is exist in that society also and invite some new problem in the life of women.
According to Section 10 of the India Divorce Act, a husband may seek divorce if his wife has, since the solemnisation of the marriage, been guilty of adultery. Whereas a Christian wife may pray to the court for divorce only if her husband has committed incestuous adultery, which means with someone with whom he could not lawfully contract a marriage, by reason of her being in the prohibited degree relation. If adultery is not incestuous, it should be coupled with other reasons such as bigamy, cruelty, desertion, etc. Adultery alone is not a sufficient ground for a Christian woman for divorcing her husband, though for a husband, it is a sufficient ground for divorcing his wife.
In the Churches there is sexual segregation which makes women sit on one side of the aisle and men on the other. Though women are principals and managers of girls ’institutions, their boards of governors and managing committees are nominated by men with Bishops (all men) as Chairman. In conferences and committees men take the platform and women hesitate to speak, mostly due to inhibitions which culture and society have deeply inculcated in them.
A top Catholic Church official in the eastern Philippines evoked the biblical lesson of Adam and Eve in urging women against tempting priests to abandon their vows of celibacy.
Cebu Archbishop, Ricardo Cardinal Vidal said that women should not tempt them (priests) but instead support and pray for them, for they are only humans and are weak. He also exhorted priests nationwide against following the example of Reverend Hector Canto, who married a 24 year old civil Engineer. Reverend Siva, who officiated at the central Philippines wedding, has announced that he too will marry before the end of the year.
It was the first time a priest got married in his Church garb before hundreds of parishioners and journalists in a ceremony performed by another priest in Asia’s only, predominantly Catholic country.
Vidal said women should give priests the support they need to maintain their strong faith instead of being an obstacle to their vocation. Both Canto and Siva said that they want to remain in priesthood and hope the Vatican will alter its position on mandatory celibacy for clergymen. The two received praise from the Philippines Federation of Married Catholic Priests. However, Church officials in the Philippines said that Canto ceased to be a priest once he married.
Former priest Justino Cabasares, the federation’s President said that the decisions of Canto and Siva will inspire more priests to speak out, who are silent victims and suffering from mandatory celibacy (HT 09.06.98).
Christianity has the largest numbers of followers all over the world. Its zeal for missionary work has earned its name and respect. A large number of women are also involved in serving the poor and deprived class of the society. Christian women are, in general, more forward than their counterparts in other religions. As the trend shows they will, probably, be able to overcome the few disadvantages which these fairer sexes are still facing. Another important fact is that in certain countries the Protestants are comparatively more liberal that the Catholics with regard to the freedom of the fairer sex.