The Future of the American Jew

By Mordecai M. Kaplan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWENTY
THE STATUS OF THE WOMAN IN JEWISH LAW

Few aspects of Jewish thought and life illustrate so strikingly the need of reconstructing Jewish law as the traditional status of the Jewish woman. In Jewish tradition, her status is unquestionably that of inferiority to the man. If the Jewish woman is to contribute her share to the regeneration of Jewish life, and if in turn Jewish life is to bring out the powers for good that are in her, this status must be changed. She must attain in Jewish law and practice a position of religious, civic and juridical equality with the man, and this attainment must come about through her own efforts and initiative. Whatever liberal-minded men may do in her behalf is bound to remain but a futile and meaningless gesture. The Jewish woman must demand the equality due her as a right to which she is fully entitled. That right is conceded to her in other civilizations where she is treated as a full-fledged person. There is no reason why the Jewish civilization should persist in treating her in this day and age as though she were an inferior type of human being. 1


1
THE STATUS OF THE WOMAN IN ANCIENT TIMES

As a prerequisite to her self-emancipation, the Jewish woman should be on her guard against being misled into believing that all she need do to improve her position is to carry out the spirit of Jewish traditional teaching. The first step in her struggle for equality is to open her eyes to the truth concerning her position in Jewish life and teaching of the past. She must be made aware that her status, as defined in Jewish tradition, is not only incompatible with enlightened opinion, but also prejudicial to her material and spiritual interests. Too much of what has been said and written about the Jewish woman is apt to act as an opiate, instead of arousing her to an awareness of the disabilities which are imposed upon her by traditional law. Numerous discourses have been delivered and essays written on the glorious role of the Jewish woman in the past, the implication being that, if there is anything wrong with her present condition, it is entirely due to her unwillingness to play an identical role in our day.

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