Dear Rabbi,

On the verse (Genesis 31:17), “So Jacob rose, and he lifted up his sons and his wives upon the camels,” I read that the sages contrast this with Esau’s actions in a later verse (ibid. 36:6), “And Esau took his wives, his sons, and his daughters and all the people of his household,” concluding that Jacob “placed the males before the females, but Esau put the females before the males.”1

I don’t understand why Esau’s action in placing women before the men was less moral than placing the women in the rear, as Jacob did.


I have sincere doubts that Esau placed his women in the front row out of his respect for them. And I also doubt that the Romans—to whom the rabbis are most likely alluding—had any such intent.

Two examples I know from present-day experience of men placing women to walk before them: Joggers, who do it to enjoy the view. And terrorists, who shield themselves with women and children.

Come to think of it, the same was done by certain warring groups when the territory was mined, or where there may have been an ambush.

I’ll leave it up to you to choose which of the above was Esau’s intent.

From my understanding of Roman history, the ethos the Romans had inherited from Athens would appear to us quite misogynist. Gradually, women’s position was elevated, but I would conjecture that this was due in large part to the judaization of Rome.

See Ladies First from our selection on Judaism, Women, Femininity & Feminism.