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Feminism in Egypt

Feminism in Egypt


NBC reported that a recent sleep study found women get less sleep than men primarily because of all the burdens they shoulder…the career, the family, the husband. Life is short, and the load of the woman is long. Very long and tiring, and oh, so heavy. The daily struggle within the woman invariably brings up the needs of the feminine voice pleading to stay heard. It seems that the motto of our times is one must be successful to be feminine. But where does one draw the strength to deal with the endless piles and to-dos that life throws one's way? And so many times we're just not in the mood of dealing with it all.

The feminist.

Almost no one will tell you that feminism is something of the ancient Jews Many equate true modernists with feminist lib. Some connect the dots between being a feminist and 'untraditional Judaism' if any. But almost no one will tell you that feminism is something of the ancient Jews.

No one and nothing that is, except for the Torah. Much is said about Moses, one of the greatest leaders of Jewish history, but what of the women in his life? His sister? His mother? The Torah tells some mind-stopping feminine-led stories of the Jews in Egypt.

King Pharaoh had much insecurity with the Jewish nation living in Egypt. They were rapidly growing and multiplying by the half-a dozen. And theirs was uncomfortably different than the Egyptian culture. But to top it all off, Pharaoh's stargazers prophesied that a little star was to rise from amongst the Jewish nation. A little boy would steal the king's crown and glory.

And believe me when I tell you that Pharaoh reacted with the most unconventional, unheard of plan. He didn't call the Jewish male leaders. Pharaoh, the vulgar insensitive man he was, still recognized the power of the Jewish woman. And so he called upon two simple midwives, Jochebed and Miriam to command them to stop delivering Jewish baby boys. They took up position in the battle of the evil of Egypt, and refused to cave in to the pressure. Putting their lives on the line, Jochebed and Miriam continued to deliver the children displaying incredible inner strength. Ironically Jochebed was the mother and Miriam, the sister of Moses. These were strong women.

And what happened when all the Jewish men convened to agree on a plan of action to deal with Pharaoh's horrific decree of throwing little Jewish boys into the Nile river? It was nothing more than a mere girl at the age of five whose courage was invincible. Little Miriam. Miriam interrupted this "guys only" meeting to tell her father, Amram, her thoughts. The men's plan was for all couples to physically separate so that no more children would be born to this pitiful nation at this despairing time. Miriam insisted that a couple's separation would put an end to the entire future of the Jewish nation. The Jewish couple must continue to conceive. Period. And besides, how would the little Jewish savior be born if all Jews had stopped living the married life? From the mouths of the babes no less… Miriam's parents merited to birth Moses.

They had little mirrors tucked away and on-hand And the Jewish feminine power continued to blossom even under the most horrible and enslaved conditions the Jews were experiencing. It is explained that the Egyptians tormented the men by giving them typical womanly jobs; and tortured the women with manly work. Even though the women and men were all downtrodden, depressed, tired, and bitter, it wasn't the switching of roles that stifled the womanly voice. In fact, commentaries learn that the women could be found - while working in the apple orchards under strict surveillance - sneaking away to beautify their femininity and outer appearance. They had little mirrors tucked away and on-hand. Do you wonder what was wrong with these people? Their lives were miserable, they were slaves and all they could think about was their superficial appearance?

Aha, the story takes on a deeper significance. These little mirrors were later used to build the kiyor, the wash basin, which was placed in the center of the Holy Temple. The kiyor symbolized a ritually powerful tool by which those serving G‑d could clean themselves in order to be permitted to work in the Temple.

But what is it that made these tools of vanity so memorable and holy? It was nothing short of the feminine blood. The Jewish Women of ancient Egypt understood the depression that had taken root with their husband's and their families too. But, being true feminists, they decided to fight it and conquer. And they did.

They beautified their appearance and then went out to the fields to greet their husbands. This act of love ensured that marital life would continue, to the point that the Torah literally gives the credit of the births of all the Jewish children born in Egypt to these women!

But the power of Jewish femininity doesn't end there.

With Moses at the lead, they had but one desire. Get out. Picture, if you will, the victory march of the escaping Jews as they wound their valiant way out of the land of Egypt. They were finally being set free. With Moses at the lead, they had but one desire. Get out. Freedom was nearly theirs. Yet in the midst of all the frantic commotion could be heard dingles and dangles of the sort of noise from the street boy outside the local train station. It was the musical choir of the most feminine Lib Leader of all times. Miriam. Sister to Moses. She composed and led the song "Az Yashir" praising G‑d, and was joined by the voices of all the women and girls singing and dancing with tambourines, while the men did similar in their own groups. She believed that the woman's voice must be heard. It was too vital to be stayed.

So, I ask you, does Judaism support feminism? The voice of a Jewish woman is the precious, modest voice of power. Take it from our feminine sister, Miriam. The key is to keep all of life in sync with one same goal. Our Jewish nation.

Shevy Lowenstein is co-director with her husband of The Jewish Center Of Northern Liberties.
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Rivkah Perth, WA May 23, 2011

To Arden & Jewish Feminist You both appear to be very anti-feminine, you seem to think that being masculine is superior to being feminine. That I, as a woman, only will achieve validity as a human being if I idolise and make superior in my being masculine traits!!

In Jewish mysticism, we attribute the masculine and feminine input into our world using the analogy of gestation. The masculine/feminine half idea (sperm) will only find viability if it combines with a feminine idea (egg), in a feminine environment (womb), and then gestates and grows in that feminine environment. If anything, when you look deeply into Judaism it appears matriarchal!

I fear you pair are drawing your conclusions from reading an English (likely Christian) version of the bible. You are sorely missing out on the reality! May I suggest you google Sara Yehudit Schneider, who can explain Jewish Feminism properly, via the original Hebrew. She also has an article or two on this website, I think. Reply

Melanie Montgomery, Alabama April 19, 2009

Feminism and Judaism I think that people who argue that Judaism "isn't feminist" are busy picking and choosing which topics to focus on...

Let's take Jewish identity as an example. Torah law stipulates that a child is only Jewish if his/her mother is. The father's identity is almost irrelevant.

I can only imagine what people would be saying if the law was reversed -- that Judaism is degrading to women, they don’t count, etc.

Why do "feminists" conveniently overlook this most fundamental issue?? Reply

Anonymous April 19, 2009

To Arden I'm sorry, but you should really really brush up on Jewish law before you spew out statements that are highly misleading.

The law that states that a father receives the restitution that is due to a girl for seuction, rape, or any type of damage for that matter, is limited to a minor, until the girl reaches the age of twelve and a half.

After that point, once the girl is considered an adult, all monies go to the girl herself. Not to the father, and not to the husband either. Reply

Tracy South Hampton, NY via April 19, 2009

Re: The author's response to my comment Ms. Lowenstein,

You write that "It is highly unconventional for a national leader to speak directly to two midwives to implement an important national demographic strategy."

Now, that WOULD be true if it was a plan that was supposed to be public knowledge -- but it is clear (and Nachmanides says this explicitly) that originally Pharaoh wanted his plan to remain a secret, thus his highly classified order only to the people who would be present at the birth.

And indeed, when he saw that this plan failed, he issued a decree to all Egyptians to kill the Jewish boys.

As such, I still maintain that you are reading way too much into the fact that he asked the women to kill the boys.

And, you explain that both the boys and girls were "put to death" -- but the girls' death was spiritual.

Why didn't Pharaoh do the same with the boys -- force them to live in an Egyptian lifestyle. was it because he feared that the boys would be more committed and would offer more resistance? Reply

David Yonkers, NY April 19, 2009

Menstrual Impurity Hi,

A friend just sent me a link to this article, telling me to check out the provocative reader comments that were posted.

Boy, boy.... this is a perfect example of the idiom: "A little knowledge is very dangerous..."

While lots of misinformation has been bandied about in this forum, I'd like to focus on one glaring one:

Yes, the Torah tells us that a menstruating woman is "impure." And, as Rachael points out, in the Torah, almost all forms of impurity are associated with the loss of life, or the loss of potential life.

What I don’t understand is why this is an issue of sexism -- the same Torah that says that the menstruating women is impure, also says (Leviticus 15:16) that a man that experiences a seminal discharge is impure! (Because that too is considered a loss of potential life.)

P.S. See for an explanation as to why the period of impurity is longer after the birth of a girl than a boy. Reply

Jewish Feminist April 18, 2009

To Rachael Levy of Boston If women are considered "impure" for menstruating, becouse of a potential life that didnt happen - then why are men not considered impure for every time their seed doesnt reach its goal to make his wife pregnant? That is also a potential life lost - but on his side. Isnt it all really a double standard when it takes an egg as well as a seed to concieve life (male and female together) and it isnt always the egg that is at fault so why should it only be the women that have to do all the work to purify themselves at the mikvah in this way and not the men? Of course then that would probably mean that a man could end up being viewed as being far more "impure" than a woman - considering all his hundreds of seeds with every attempt compared to just the one or few eggs of a woman. Reply

Rachael Levy Boston, MA April 12, 2009

Response to Jewish Feminist In Hebrew, Tameh, loosely translated as "impure," is from the root "timtum" meaning to be restricted, which is EXACTLY what happens when a woman menstruates from a physical, emotional and spiritual point of view. Menstruation means that potential life didn't happen. It represents the death of possible life that wasn't conceived. And death is impure. Judaism is so sensitive that we mourn when potential doesn't come to fruition. If one takes the time to really learn, I think anyone will find that Torah offers the most liberating and truly refreshing way to live and be a woman in the fullest sense. Not to say there are no rabbis that are degrading to women, but certainly not the ones that I am connected to or the other women on this site I imagine. And I can't think of anyone who respected women more than the Lubavitcher Rebbe. This site is filled with his incredible teachings. I hope you spend some time learning them! If you do I think you will see the beauty of women in Judaism. Reply

Jewish Feminist April 12, 2009

To the so-called True Jewish Feminist Close your eyes and believe what you want but as far as Torah goes - there is enough male dominated idea's to put women down as second class citizens. Of course you can always take as many different views as you want to make yourself feel better about it all but its written down in black & white and weather you use the word "IMPURE" or "UNCLEAN" to describe a menstruating women it makes no difference as the negative connotation is there which ever way you try to look at it. A really true feminist was the late Israeli president Golda Meir, but she would never have gotten to be where she was if she had been raised with extreme religious views that are practiced by the extremist orthodox today and Isreal would probably not have existed if it wasnt for her. The assults on women from the Heredi orthodox are not just bullying but are stemming from the leaders of the Heredi community which outrightly degrade women and preach abusive views. They should be treated like criminals. Reply

True Jewish Feminist Miami, FL April 12, 2009

To Jewish Feminist and Arden It is so sad to read your comments and see every stereotype while you write as if these are facts and a true representation of Judaism and women. Yes, terrible things have happened and women have been mistreated by men dressed as Orthodox. Does that mean that Torah allows for that? If there is a corrupt policeman, does it mean that the police force is corrupt and the law is wrong? So yes, Arden, there are extremely unfortunate incidents where women are mistreated. By no means does that represent the Torah view of women. And Jewish Feminist, where to begin? A woman must agree to a divorce. The same way a man must. If she doesn't he also cannot remarry or receive his divorce. And menstruation is a state of "impurity" NOT being unclean. I guess if you rely on English translations, you will always be left with the wrong impression. An intelligent and curious person will dedicate herself to learning the true understanding. Others will simply post stereotypes and perpetuate hate. How sad! Reply

Mary Melissa M. Canada April 7, 2009

"the key is to keep all life in sync" I think a useful method of interpretation is to realize that it is often not a seamless interpretation of biblical history that can be easily accessed by asserting that "Feminist Theory' can successfully be applied anachronistically .... What one needs here? A divining fork. A measure of what a woman's intention is. If she has spiritual intention; than is it possible that the material substance of a mirror becomes the base of a 'mosaic-like' washing basin ... how was Ruth's contribution 'feminist'? how was it not?

Intentionally speaking, many modern day non-Jewish women have used some of these ancient strategies to raise consciousness about the status & welfare of women throughout the world: one of the great examples of our time: Princess Diana (? was it all vanity that she walked about mine fields; visited lepers in hospital, aided her celebrity status (& $$$) to childrens charities worldwide? Can an alternative point of view reach beyond either/or status & into the "I AM" .. Reply

Basya Sharon, Ma April 7, 2009

Don't confuse secular society's views with truth I think the problem is your definition of feminism. If feminism to you means that women should stop being female, and should start being men, then no, Judiasm is not a feminist religion. Here's the thing, feminism is NOT about women being men, it's about women being women, and being respected, loved, and admired for it. In this sense, Judaism is the ultimate feminist movement. There are two kinds of power, external and internal. Most external power is male dominated, for good reason. Internal power roles are female dominated. Western society views external power as the only valid power; you get paid for being a CEO, but not for making a real difference in a person's life (ie external vs. internal) In Judaism the home is the source of the presence of Hashem, not the synagogue. Hashem's presence only descends on a home when husband and wife are together in a holy way, guarded by the wife. True Judaism revolves around the HOME, which is run by women. Is this anti-feminist? Reply

Jewish Feminist April 3, 2009

Response to Renee Myers I suggest you go learn more about jewish law as it seems obvious that you havent heard of the laws of the "get"- that only a man can decide to issue a divorce from a women. Women are not allowed by jewish law to issue a man with divorce. Its also obvious that you should learn more history as it was not untill the 1970's when a small group of jewish feminists started praying at the western wall (to the absolute dismay of the Rabbi's) that finally women were than allowed to pray there as well. And as far as menstruation goes - read the 613 mitzvot on ritual purity and impurity. Mitzvot number 572: That a menstruating women is unclean and defiles others (Lev 15:19-24). This is just a small part of the dark side of how Judaism views women. There is the light side as well as you mensioned above about women being the foundation to the home and family but thats about all there is to give women any credit at all. Reply

Arden April 3, 2009

uncleanliness Renee, a woman's period was most certainly considered "unclean". Although you probably won't find much about it on this site, you will find it in the Torah itself. Also the thing about "women being compared to cows" is not at all without basis either, the Torah clearly shows many times how females were treated like property, being sold and passed on from the father's house into the husband's possession.

In Leviticus 15:19-30 it says that menstruating women should be avoided so much that one must not even touch something that the woman has touched.
In Leviticus 12:1-8 it explains how after giving birth a woman is "unclean", and if she gave birth to a female then she is twice as unclean.
Exodus 22:16-17: The first seventeen verses of Exodus 22 deal with restitution in case of stealing, or damage to, a person's property. Verses 16 and 17 deal with the case of a man who seduces a virgin. This was viewed as a property offense against the woman's father. Reply

Arden April 3, 2009

allowing abuse As far as I know, traditional/Orthodox Judaism DOES promote this kind of thinking about women, and it can get out of hand as well. I don't know if you've heard of this before, but there was a Jewish woman from America who traveled to Jerusalem and got one of the buses. She sat on what was considered "the men's side", and refused to get up, which angered the orthodox men who wanted her to go sit somewhere else, so the lady was shoved out of her seat, spat on and repeatedly kicked and beaten on the floor. The women in the back and the bus driver did absolutely nothing to stop the violence, and actually believed it was her fault for "not knowing her place". There has also been many cases where things were being thrown at women by Orthodox communities if they were walking around and not dressed a certain way. Men have also thrown rocks and threatened the drivers of buses that weren't enforcing segregation. This Haredi violence and contempt for women has not been getting any better. Reply

Renee Myers LA, CA April 3, 2009

Response to Jewish Feminist If Judaism actually promoted ANY of the misconceptions and stereotypes you write about, then yes, I would also be angry. But what you describe not only isn't Judaism, it is antithetical to true Judaism where the woman is considered the greatest blessing and the foundation of both the home and world at large. Women have ALWAYS been allowed to pray at the Western Wall and there has always been both a men and women's section as women and men pray separately in Jewish law. Menstruation has absolutely nothing to do with being unclean (try reading the articles on mikvah on this site) and women have the right to grant a divorce or agree to one if they desire. And the cow? Something you heard? I really hope you spend the time learning the truth about Judaism as it is so sad and unhealthy when women put down other women and accuse them of allowing "abuse" when Judaism is incredibly empowering for women. If only the rest of the world recognized the way Judaism views women... Reply

Jewish Feminist April 2, 2009

Definitely - sort of an oxymoron! Thank you Arden for your comment above. I completely agree with what you said as i had tried to put a similar comment on here much earlier on but this site refused to publish it. Instead i got an email questioning and misinterpreting everything i had said. Im glad that finally the truth has been published on here. There was never any such thing as feminism for ancient Hebrew women and this article is very manipulative and misleading. The sad thing is - many degrading idea's of women today are still believed by many male dominated orthodox communitie's - and it is the women in those communities who allow the cycle of abuse to continue. Untill fairly recently women were not even allow to pray at the western wall. Women are considered to be unclean becouse they menstruate & ive heard women being compared cows & women not having the right to testify in court or divorce all shows the darker side of judaism and i predict if this continues women will eventually turn away. Reply

Arden April 2, 2009

sort of an oxymoron No one tells you that feminism is something of the ancient Jews because sadly, their culture was really no where NEAR being feminist. It is quite misleading to claim otherwise. As a feminist myself, I can assure you that delivering babies against some pharoh's will, contributing vanity mirrors to a holy wash basin, or celebrating an important event with music, has nothing at all to do with feminism and everything to do with religion. I am disappointed that this is what you decided feminism was about.

Feminism does not mean the will to serve a religion no matter what, it is the belief in equality and peace between women and men, that neither is superior to the other. That's basically it. Also, if the ancient Hebrew women ever tried to be feminists in such a male dominated, pro male superiority culture, they would have no doubt been punished for it. Severely.

What else would you expect from a society that didn't even allow women the basic right to testify in court or divorce? Reply

J. Johnson Compton, Ca. March 23, 2009

Hello, I'm assisting my daughter in doing some research on, "Women of the Bible ", for a class she is teaching. Though we're Afro-American, and of the Christain Belief, I really found your infomation on Jochebed very enlightning. G-D always has a "Ram-in-the Bush for His People. It is so enriching to learn from the Jewish Sages, Teachers and Historians. After all, the scriptures are Jewish originated, about mainly the Jewish People, inspired by a G-D who chose a people to Himself (Abraham), and gave them His name, covenant, and commandments. Thankyou Reply

Lori Alter Beaumont, TX January 1, 2008

Jewish Feminists Hooray! I have been doing research to prepare for a D'vah Torah on BeShelach. I wanted to include Miriam's voice as she helped lead the slaves out of Egypt. This article helps tremendously! Reply

Shevy Lowenstein December 25, 2007

Ancient Jewish Feminism Thank you for your comments. Here are some further thoughts that I hope will help.

The Torah records that Pharoah gave the order directly to Miriam and Yocheved. It is highly unconventional for a national leader to speak directly to two midwives to implement an important national demographic strategy. In fact G-d rewards Yocheved and Miriam with dynasties of priesthood and royalty because of their great stature and for defying the king's orders.
More so, Pharoah's desire was to destroy the entire Jewish nation! Pharoah ordered that the boys be thrown into the Nile River, and the girls should be made to live. (in hebrew, "tichayun") It is explained that the girls should be forced to live an Egyptian lifestyle which would kill them spiritually.
So we see that Pharoah did decree the deaths of both the boys and the girls, but in different ways. Reply

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