(This blog is a continuation of the previous blog: Part I: No, I'm Not Satisfied with Women's Role in Judaism.)

A cursory study of the history of civilized society shows that women have always gotten the short end of the stick. And even nowadays, when the contemporary woman has achieved great strides in opportunities, studies still prove that her long sought-after equality has not yet been realized.

In the workforce women are plagued with sexual harassment, lewd or condescending comments, a paycheck that is smaller than her male counterpart's, a feeling that in order to succeed she needs to put aside her feminine qualities, and a glass ceiling that makes her realize that no matter how much she sacrifices personally, her efforts will never be fully rewarded. At the home front, too, today's woman can expect to confront the bulk of the household responsibilities, even after putting in a full day at the office.

So, life for the contemporary, modern feminist is not as rosy as was once hoped for. And that's where I believe that modern society and Torah values can mesh to improve our world for all of us.

There are many areas where Torah values can improve our society, but the following three encapsulate what I feel are most essential and most defining about the Torah's attitude towards women:

I. Value of Children & Family Life

What I love of about Torah Judaism is the central position given to children, who are our future. As a family-based religion, the ideal of raising children is considered most significant. It is a responsibility that is shared by both parents, but Torah realizes the unique talents, techniques and intuition that women bring to the fore.

The value of family life and a woman's special touch in this arena is best demonstrated, I believe, in women's exemption from time-bound laws.

The 613 mitzvot in the Torah are comprised of 248 positive commandments ("you shall"s) and 365 negative commandments ("you shall not"s). Men and women are, for the most part, equally bound to abstain from the negative commandments. From the positive commandments, however, women are exempt from those mitzvot that need to be performed within specific time limits. (For example: Saying the Shema prayer at a specific time, wearing tzitzit, or hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. On a practical level, women have voluntarily taken upon themselves to do many of the time bound mitzvot, to the extent that some of them are today considered obligatory.)

There are different reasons suggested for why women are not obligated in time-bound mitzvot. The most commonly accepted explanation is that the adherence to a rigid schedule that these mitzvot generally demand might conflict with a woman's primary responsibility and threaten the tranquility of the home environment that the Torah considers of great import.

I love that concept. We've come to idealize a world where success and the bottom line has become the most important drive in our lives. Career and achievement takes precedence over the home and family life. The feminine role of giving life and nurturing life is seen as secondary and insignificant. Sadly, we relegate raising our children and tomorrow's future to something that, of necessity, needs to be dealt with, rather than a cherished opportunity. If pay scales can determine society's value system, child care givers are a dismal indication of our society's lost priorities.

While some might encourage women (including mothers) to abandon these fields due to their low monetary rewards and seek more lucrative pastures, this is no solution. Instead our society as a whole must gain a stronger appreciation and regard for those who care for and educate our children—professionals and homemakers alike—and this must be reflected in both the status and pay given to those who dedicate themselves to these ideals.

By exempting women from time-bound mitzvot, Torah reminds us that essential to our relationship with G‑d is the understanding that building a Jewish family life is a priority that can never be sidestepped. It also encourages us to take a more holistic approach to defining personal success and to reevaluate our idea of success as a society.

At the same time, while it is crucial that this role is given the status it deserves, I believe that we also need to make opportunities available for women who are single, women who do not have children, women whose children have grown, or women who for whatever reason feel that they have extra time, energy or abilities to contribute more, so that at every stage in their lives they too can find a fulfillment in their spiritual growth. While circumstances in the past might have required all women's time, energy and resources to properly fulfill these roles, with today's comforts and technologies, extra talents or energy may be untapped. We need to open up opportunities for women, in prayer gatherings, in the educational arena in becoming proficient in all areas of Judaic studies, and in areas of communal influence. Men (and women) should not fear or feel threatened by this new level of participation. It should not "push" men out of their roles or positions, but to the contrary, women's involvement should, and must, make Jewish life more vibrant by introducing fresh perspectives and voices.

When encouraging women to become learned in all areas of Torah, the Lubavitcher Rebbe explained that this study involvement will serve to further encourage discussion. The women will learn, question and research thereby also encouraging their husbands, sons and all members of their families to become even more proficient and reach even higher levels of study.

We need to welcome women's achievements in all areas of life—and through their abilities to enhance our communities.

II. Value of Individualism

Another thing that I love about the Torah's approach to women is the fact that Torah views me as a woman. A distinct being and creation who is not just another form of man.

Just as the male and female are biologically different, we have specialized psychological, biological, emotional and spiritual qualities and needs. Kabbalistic teachings approach the masculine and feminine as distinctive, yet equally important, cosmic forces necessary for our world to function. Just as the heart and brain are both vital for the function of the human body, so too, are man and woman for our world. This cosmic approach in seeing the masculine and feminine on all levels of reality resonates with my soul.

I love the concepts of feminine receptivity, nurturance, intuitiveness, revealing the essential divine spark within the physical, releasing and unpackaging the Divine energy from the bounds of our world, and the beautiful role of the feminine Shechinah. These concepts are readily found in the esoteric dimension of the Torah, and we need to teach the world to value these feminine qualities. From the very beginning, from our Matriarchs, from Sara to Rebecca to Miriam to Chana and many others, women have played a strong role in the formation of our nation. Men and women alike need to cultivate the feminine voices, rather than silence it or abandon it for the more apparent male role.

I find it demeaning in secular society that women have to twist themselves into a mold to feel that they can succeed. We cannot lose our feminine qualities in an overwhelmingly male defined society, or our world as a whole loses out. As well, precisely because in Judaism the male role is so much more evident as an external/outer role, and takes on so much more of the public and ceremonial duties, this inner feminine role needs to be nourished, preserved and safeguarded all the more.

III. Preservation of the Inner Self

One of the most glaring aspects in traditional Judaism is the division of the genders. Boundaries are put up almost everywhere to prevent the two from meshing too closely—from synagogue divisions (mechitzahs) to strict rules about a male and a female being in seclusion.

There is also an entire body of law governing the appropriate dress for both men and women. Jewish tradition is a strong believer in the necessity of preserving personal dignity—which includes keeping covered different areas of the body that the world sees no problem with exposing.

As a Jewish woman, living in a secular society where the sexualization of women accosts me at every turn, I don't resent these boundaries. I see them also serving as a preservation of the feminine and of the inner self. I see the lack of these boundaries as a very slippery road to feminine exploitation which has happened far too much—in the blurred boundaries within office settings, in the dissolution of family life, and in the increase of sexual aggression against women.

In our secular society, women's sexuality has become so debased that women feel a need to flaunt their feminine wares and to reveal more and more skin in order to feel attractive or desirable. Secular society seems to say that a woman needs to become cheapened in order to express her sexuality and accommodate to male lusts.

Judaism requires women to dress modestly, but, unlike Muslim societies for example, it doesn't require formless robes or burkas.

Islamic society seems to tell women that they need to disappear in order to accommodate male lusts; Torah's concept of modesty couldn't be more different. Judaism actually encourages women to dress beautifully

Because it's not about the men at all—it's not meant to "protect" them from their lusts, nor is it to protect women against unwanted advances. Torah recognizes the male's urges and failings. Yet it demands of men to rise above reacting like an animal. Women need not disappear, it seems to say, in order for you to control your urges and behave morally.

At the same time women need to preserve their inner dignity and not resort to demeaning themselves by flaunting their physicality to satisfy the male lust and to feel a sense of self-worth.

I see Judaism's boundaries as teaching both men and women to respect one another, to respect their differences and to see beyond the outer dimension of the physical form to the inner soul of the person. Torah recognizes the innate attraction between the male and female and views it as a healthy tension, but only when expressed within appropriate boundaries and parameters.

And, yet, while I appreciate these necessary boundaries – and I would never feel comfortable with anything that violates Torah law– I also feel we must ensure that women do not feel they have been relegated to "behind" the mechitzah. They should never get the feeling that the "action" – or all the important decisions and roles – are being taken care of on "the other side," in the arenas from which they are excluded, whether it be in a synagogue, in communal life, or in any type of activism for Jewish causes.

True respect for the tensions of attraction between the male and female means setting up appropriate boundaries between the two, but not fences of exclusion. Respecting the feminine means respecting her for all aspects of her being—as a physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual being, who has much to contribute to all arenas of our lives.

Notwithstanding all the above, however, an honest discussion on the role of women in Judaism, clearly points to many junctures in time when her voice was limited. How are we to understand this? Stay tune for "Part 3—The Moon's Diminishing Radiance."