A Woman for All Seasons

Commentary, September 1991.


One often hears it said, and not only by outsiders, that Judaism is a male-dominated religion that does not properly appreciate its women. The blame for this attitude, say many critics, lies with the Bible itself, which, they allege, is written prejudicially from the male point of view. They point the finger especially at the book of Genesis, which teaches, for example, that the loss of Eden through willful disobedience was the fault of the primal woman, and which attributes the founding of God’s new way to the deeds of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—all of them men, all of them looked after directly by God.

One cannot deny that the text centers mainly on the adventures of the males—though this alone proves nothing—but it is simply wrong to say that the Bible does not esteem, appreciate, and honor its women. On the contrary, one could argue that the main burden of the Jewish way, beginning with the stories of the patriarchs, is to elevate—in the eyes of male readers especially—the dignity of family life. To this end, it seeks to redirect male attitudes and ambitions away from wealth and glory and toward the proper rearing of the young for the noble work of transmission and sanctification. Indispensable for this transformation of the natural ways of mankind is an elevation in the status and dignity of woman. A careful reading of Genesis shows this to be a major purpose of the text, and nowhere more clearly than in the second generation, the generation of Isaac, the hero of which is the marvelous figure, Rebekah.