Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
Contact Us

Why aren't women and men treated the same in Judaism?

Why aren't women and men treated the same in Judaism?

 Email

Question: Why aren't women and men treated the same in Judaism?

Answer: In Torah, a woman has every obligation of a man, and a man every obligation of a woman.

Torah doesn't know of man and woman as separate beings. They are a single whole, whether they are cognizant of one another or not. Each act is performed once through a single body. A body that in our world may appear as two, but to the Torah is seen as one.

This is actually a statement of Rabbi Isaac Luria, the greatest of the kaballists. He explains that the man and woman are a single body—and that is how they are considered in halacha, as well. So, for example, a woman also puts on tefillin--only that she puts them on with her male body. If everything is working right, that should be her husband.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
46 Comments
1000 characters remaining
Yitzhak N NY January 5, 2016

The explanations given are downright insulting. Also, someone said that the extra privilege given to men is actually an extra responsibility given to men and a reprieve given to women. Now, who asked for the reprieve? The notion of giving women a reprieve itself is discriminatory. Reply

Averch Colorado February 16, 2015

I read a lot of the comments here and am sad to report that mostly everybody commenting has no idea what their talking about.

I understand that many people can become very impassioned when talking about women's roles is Judaism, but you need to do the reasearch first and learn all about it.

While some of the stricter rules seem like they may be stifling on the outside (to women) you have to look at it through the correct lense.

For example not letting a woman wear teffilin is not saying that they are not as important and should be stopped from davening as such; rather you should understand that they don't have the obligation. It's not meant to be a privilege tor men, but rather a reprieve for women.

I could go on and on about other situations where this is apparent, but I don't have enough space! Reply

YEVGENIY FURMAN SCARSDALE September 22, 2014

I am no expert on the subject but by that logic you can rationalize arbitrarily unequal treatment of men and women in general. Let's go back to traditional role of a woman as a housewife and claim that man is actually is a housewife himself through her body. I doubt my wife would agree to splitting responsibilities based on the premise above. Reply

sigal April 27, 2014

why are not women given free choice in Judaism?
I don't necessary mean that they should put on a yarmulka and tfillim but why can not women take on men's roles in prayer? why are all world religion so rigid and not open to change in gender roles? Reply

Scott September 27, 2017
in response to sigal :

Because we that love and fear God find it more important to fulfill his will than our own knowing that he is wise in his heart to know what is best for us, that there is a way to gain peace and joy and love, happiness, harmony between men and women and it’s found by setting aside our own egos our own pride, ideas, philosophies... etc and simply trust that he knows what is best at heart for us, after all, He created man and woman. He knows His creation better than all of us together Reply

Chaim Cinncinnati February 11, 2014

To Karen, whose legacy will be her husband and children Every person's legacy includes his/her spouse and children or other people.

A professor's legacy may include the loving teaching experience given to his/her students. Should females be debarred from including this in their legacies?

The legacy of one who writes an inspiring or informative book should include many generations of readers. Should females be debarred from including this in their legacies?

What if the writer needs to read so as to know what to say? Should competent intelligent wise females be debarred from writing inspiring and informative books on Talmud because girls schools refuse to include this material in their curriculum? Boys learn Talmud from before the age of bar mitzvah, and so are enabled to learn a great deal of Talmud during their post-bar-mitzvah years, i.e., their adult years.

A gifted woman trying to learn Talmud may not be able to find, nearby, a non-frum college class (watered down or distorted) in Talmud.

Her legacy to the ages is, sadly, lost. Reply

Hanalah Huntsville, Ala February 11, 2014

Tzvi does not invent answers There are more than 2000 years of teachers who derived meanings both from the written Torah and from the oral Torah.

That is where Tzvi gets most of his answers.

And he gets some from the Rebbe, who may get some directly from Gd. I would not be surprised if the Rebbe got information and wisdom directly from Gd. Not saying, just considering the possibility.

But in any case, the answers which are not obvious from the Bible are faithful to the Source, rather than invented Reply

Meira Shana San Diego January 21, 2014

Now I better understand the TRINITY When the Christians made their NT bible, they had to have a basis ... and they seemed to take from the Hebrew bible what they wanted and then made what they didn't want as if it was no longer valid.

A man is not a woman and a woman is not a man - even though each has both male and female traits or cells or whatever.

Each is an individual. However, in early Hebrew bible and day to day living it was WOMEN (woe men) who were chattel. Men could have multiple women -- until the laws changed and "marriage" came into favor. Reply

Steve E Abraham New York January 20, 2014

you did not answer the question? I don't see that what you said is an answer to the question. A woman cannot read from the Torah on shabbos on the Bimah. There are so many things a woman cannot do that a man does in Judaism. What about a woman who is not married? What about a widow? What about a young girl who has not married yet? How does male/female.. one body... affect the laws that they cannot do? Why can't a female be a Rabbi? Why can't a female go to the alter in the temple for quorbonot? It would be ok if you answered, "I don't know, but I still follow the directions of Hashem". If you make up an answer like this, and we find that your answer is wrong, then the original question becomes even stronger! It seems like this is another example of the "Tzvi fantasy" answers that you make up to avoid saying you do not know the answer. Reply

Anonymous toronto January 12, 2014

prayers The fact is, submission can only be given; it cannot be demanded. The biblical term for submission is always dependent upon a response of will on the part of the individual being called to it. Be clear that the Bible does not say God intended women to be submitted to men. It says that a wife is to be submitted to her husband. Submission is not the reduction of either a wife’s personal fulfillment or realization of her own potential. It has to do with her acceptance and support of the husband’s place in the divine creative order to provide leadership in their lives together.
For a couple to become “heirs together,” it also takes an understanding, sensitive, and responsible husband who does not interpret “submission” to mean he has the privilege of being a tyrant, or to think that he has been made superior. Marriage is important for some because they are co heirs in the grace of life , so that prayers are not hindered. Not all are called to married life .For some single life is good. Reply

Becky Pittsburgh January 14, 2013

what about single folks? At 46, I'm still single by chance, not choice. What about men and women without their 'other half'? I'm sure you get that a lot. I respect that some mitzvot are fulfilled primarily by one gender or the other. Still, singles are left out of this equation. Reply

Rachael Chicago December 26, 2012

Exemption and obligation My understanding is: The wearing of Tefillin is a positive, time sensitive mitzvah. Women are exempt from many such mitzvot, since other things may also be pressing for her. For example, if a woman is caring for small children in the morning, she is exempt from the mitzvah of tefillin, and her husband would perform this for them both (the way a chazan davans on behalf of a congergation during some prayers). It is not a sin for a woman to wear tefillin in the absence of a man, just as it is not a sin for a man to light Chanukkah candles in the absence of a woman. I have read of women in Medieval France who wore tefillin regularly, and I am told it has made a resurgence among some women today. My husband is non-observant, and I have considered putting on tefillin with my son when he comes of age as a way to share that tradition and to let him see that it's good to carry on traditions. It is better to celebrate the positive mitzvot than to let the traditions die out. Reply

Yonah Moshe Austin, TX December 26, 2012

Why is this controversial? Women are not required, nor forbidden to fulfill the mitzvah of donning tefillin and tallit. Does that not make this then and optional mitzvah? What is so controversial about a woman performing an optional mitzvah? Is it not still a mitzvah none the less? The more light brought into the world through mitzvah observance, the better. That's just my opinion. Reply

Ari Canada December 26, 2012

Interesting... Interesting. So, if a woman wants to get married, she should buy tefilim and leave them in the shul. Then, she has just to find who put them to know who will be her husband ... Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma December 26, 2012

One Body and yet, it seems women in Orthodox Judaism are treated less well, in terms of being heard, in terms of allowed certain privileges, that go to the men. So I am not so sure about the One Body. Is there some fear women are too, "bawdy". They have to be so covered up, and there are many who also cover their hair. This is modesty, and yes, there are many ways to see this. I do not judge, but i do say, there were great women Judges in Biblical History, and Deborah was one. I think it's time for a sweeping change, and maybe women, being very smart, are more than, just the other half of the whole. Other branches of Judaism do worship together, do dance together, and do not avert their eyes in greeting each other and hugs are perfectly OK. Reply

Karen Pty May 4, 2012

I think what Rabbi Freeman meant with the wearing of the tefillim is that when women and men are married, they become one (before marriage, neither the man nor the woman is whole). It's as much a responsability for the man to put on the tefillim as it is for the woman to convince him to do so, because in the end, this man IS his wife.
We, wives, have our own responsibilities just as we have special traits to achieve them that men dont have. Just as they have their own responsibilities that we don't.
This "gender equality" probably stems from women feeling repressed and enslaved. But repressed from what? Enslaved in the house? Taking care of your kids and husband? Why is that enslavement? Why is the grass greener on the men's side? I'm a professional who works, but what am I leaving in this world when I die? My business? What I'll leave is my kids, the family my husband and I created, and if they do good or bad, that's MY responsibility as a mother and honestly, I find it beautiful. Reply

Meira Shana Vista, CA January 24, 2012

Cross dressing Hmmm, a woman's body is male when he puts on tefillin?

That is a no-no in the bible.

There are certainly sexist remarks and deeds ... but, as far as I'm concerned, it's up to a woman to teach her son the value of women, definitely, and all others, for sure.

No boy should be taught that he isn't a man unless he makes his 'wife' diaper the child or wash dishes and floors.

It doesn't take a man to make a baby - it takes a man to diaper a baby!! Reply

Sarah Miriam Bat yocheved San Diego, CA December 17, 2009

But G-d Allows Women “Tradition does not "allow" women to wear Tefilin or a Talit, because they do not need it.”
The divine 'wings' are said to have the power to protect our divine souls and guard us against evil. Since when is man allowed to go against G-d's command? 'All of the Children of Israel' is further clarified in the Talmud concerning the tzitzit, “G-D commanded all the Children of Israel--Kohenim, Leviyyim, Yisraelim, converts, women and slaves.”
(Tractate Menachot 643a) Reply

Maurice October 15, 2008

Does the world need men? Interesting question.

In a world of cloned women, and no men, would the halachah change such that women would lay tefillin?

Or would laying tefillin become irrelevant?

Hard to say. Reply

Charlotte October 15, 2008

Anonymous you did not read Rabbi Tzvi's remarks Rabbi Tzvi said,

In Torah, a woman has every obligation of a man, and a man every obligation of a woman. Torah doesn't know of man and woman as separate beings. They are a single whole, whether they are cognizant of one another or not. Each act is performed once through a single body. A body that in our world may appear as two, but to the Torah is seen as one. This is actually a statement of Rabbi Isaac Luria, the greatest of the kaballists, who explains that the man and woman are a single body--and that is how they are considered in halacha, as well. So, for example, a woman also puts on tefillin--only that she puts them on with her male body. If everything is working right, that should be her husband.

So said Rabbi Tzvi. But as a widow with no husband, how does she "put on tefillin with her male body"? The remarks of Anonymous are not in consonance with Rabbi Tzvi's presentation. Let's hear what Rabbi Tzvi says Reply

Anonymous FC, Colorado October 14, 2008

She puts tallis and tefillin on her male body To Charlotte:

There is no need for you to "experience this mitzvah". The reason that women are not required to do so is that they do not need it. Men do need it, however.

Halacha states that men MUST wear tefilin. It does NOT state, "women are not allowed". This is a very common misconception, which should be stopped here.

Tradition does not "allow" women to wear Tefilin or a Talit, because they do not need it. By doing so anyway, a woman can literally take away a man's ability to be spiritual, himself. Then where are we? Surely, you do not believe that the world needs no men?! Reply

Related Topics