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Publisher's Foreword


Liberating One's Femininity

A Woman Called Esther - What's in a Name?

The Feminine Dimension

A Priestess in G-d's Sanctuary - Sinai and Servitude

Rights and Priorities - Discrimination?

Motherhood - Family Planning - Decision-Making

Three Mothers - The Hand That Rocks The Cradle

Study & Observance - The Right to Know-Roles & Questions

Actions Speak Louder - Three Pivotal Mitzvos

A Lifetime Renewed - Descent for the Sake of Ascent


A Partner In The Dynamic Of Creation
Womanhood in the Teachings of
the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson

Rights and Priorities - Discrimination?

by Malka Touger

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  A Priestess in G-d's Sanctuary - Sinai and ServitudeMotherhood - Family Planning - Decision-Making  

At [1] first glance, the call for equal rights is a persuasive one.

Men and women alike are created [2] "in the image of G-d"; why should anyone be subject to unjust and unequal treatment?

Yet Judaism, it is argued, discriminates against women both in lifestyle and in religious observance.

While men have pursued their careers, women have traditionally kept the home and raised the children. And on the religious front, women are not called up for an aliyah to the congregational reading of the Torah, nor are they counted as part of a minyan. Does this constitute discrimination?

Equal But Different

In the Divine plan for creation, men and women have distinct, diverse missions.

These missions complement each other, and together bring the Divine plan to harmonious fruition. [3]

The role of one is neither higher nor lower than the role of the other: they are simply different. And measuring from a certain perspective, the woman's tasks would rank higher, in terms both of self-fulfillment and of objective importance.

For G-d in His infinite wisdom has granted the woman the ability to bring another Jew into the world, thereby securing the perpetuation of the [4] "holy people".

He has entrusted her with the responsibility of raising her children in the ideals of our heritage, thereby securing the perpetuation of the Torah and its teachings, the word of G-d.

And he has empowered her to be the mainstay of her entire household, [5] setting the tone for herself, her husband, and her children. Is there any mission worthier than this?

It is an unfortunate misconception of our times that this mission can be regarded condescendingly, as if inferior to earning money, or to any of the alternative life-goals proposed by society.

Women have been given G-d's most precious gift, and they are being urged to exchange it for mere baubles.


If the cry for equal rights is aimed at persuading girls that they will be fulfilled only if they imitate men, it is misguided.

To persuade a girl that she should first enter the business or professional world and only afterwards, if she wants to, should she establish a family and a home, is to deprive her of her natural right.

This set of priorities implies that raising children and running a warm and vibrant home is a secondary course of action, worth turning to only after one has first tackled something else.

In the Torah view, to be a good mother and homemaker in itself needs solid preparatory study, as well as the firm conviction that this role is one's primary function.

This is not to say that for women to work is always wrong. It is more a matter of priorities, of knowing what is one's primary and Divinely-ordained role.

Rather than being regarded as a goal in itself, a business or professional career can serve, for example, as an indirect means of upgrading the Torah atmosphere of the home.

Indeed, there is a long Jewish tradition of women working to enable their husbands to devote themselves totally to studying Torah. Even then, of course, this has never been allowed to interfere with the primary role of raising a family.

Separate Paths

In a similar vein, the fact that women are not called up to the Torah for an aliyah [6] or are not counted as part of a minyan [7] is irrelevant to their worth.

To demand such "rights" is simply to misunderstand what they mean.

Having an aliyah and being part of a minyan are indeed lofty matters.

Aliyah literally means "ascent", referring both to the physical ascent up the steps to the platform where the Torah is read, and to the spiritual ascent that accompanies it.

Through a minyan, G-d is sanctified both in this world and in all the spiritual worlds. But sanctity and spirituality are not man- made matters, to be toyed with at will.

Holiness is attained by cleaving to G-d, and it is He who has established how one becomes sanctified and how one sanctifies.

There is not just one way in which to approach G-d: the Torah has prescribed different routes for men and for women. When two travelers arbitrarily exchange itineraries, neither arrives at his desired destination.

Liberation, Not Indignity

Ironically, the movement to liberate women can do the opposite: it can debase women.

Liberation means being oneself.

People who are sure of their own worth, secure in the conviction that they are equal to others, do not feel driven to imitate them.

Having no reason to feel inferior to a man, a woman has no need to try to resemble a man.

For a woman to adopt the lifestyle of a man is not only contrary to her nature and Divinely-given role, but betrays a lack of self-respect and self-esteem.

Just as diversity does not imply inequality, equality does not entail uniformity.

Just as the Torah commands that [8] "A man shall not wear a woman's garment," so equally does it command that [8] "A man's garment shall not be upon a woman."

This applies not only to the clothes we wear but also to the way we present ourselves.

Neither men nor women carry out their G-d-given tasks or achieve self-fulfillment by imitating the other.

Who Determines a Child's Identity?

The blurring of the essential difference between man and woman is even robbing women of their basic rights as mothers!

Jewish law affirms that a child belongs to the people of which his or her mother is a member, so that a child is Jewish only if the mother is Jewish. [9] One of the reasons for this is that the embryo is formed and nurtured in the mother's womb.

Flying in the face of this indisputable fact of nature, there are those who are currently proposing that the father should be the determining factor in establishing the child's identity.

This is not only unreasonable, but in effect - as in child custody suits - robs the mother of the child whom she carried in her womb for nine months, for whom she went through the pain of childbirth, and whom she willingly brought into the world.

Women throughout the world, Jewish and non-Jewish, should protest strongly against this unjust distortion of the natural order.

It is time to restore balance to a world where light is called darkness and darkness light. [10] Above all, it is time to restore to women the dignity of their sacred role as molders of young Jewish lives - when and where they are most needed.



  1. (Back to text) To mark the twentieth anniversary of the passing of his mother, the saintly Rebbitzin Chanah Schneerson, the Rebbe addressed a Crown Heights women's audience on 6 Tishrei, 5745 [1984].

  2. (Back to text) Bereishis 1:27.

  3. (Back to text) In the Torah, the words "male and female He created them" are immediately followed by the words, "And G-d blessed them" (Bereishis 1:27-28). On this juxtaposition the Zohar (I, 165a) comments that it is only when a man and a woman harmoniously fulfill their cosmic roles together as a married couple, that G-d's blessing fully rests upon them.

  4. (Back to text) Devarim 7:6.

  5. (Back to text) The phrase akeres habayis, borrowed from Tehillim 113:9, is popularly understood to mean "the mainstay of the household," from the root-word ikar.

  6. (Back to text) Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 282:3, citing Megillah 23a; the Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 282:5, and sources there.

    A wealth of primary halachic sources on this and on scores of related issues has been amassed and organized, in the original and in translation, in Women and the Mitzvot, Vol. I, which is entitled Serving the Creator: A Guide to the Rabbinic Sources, by Rabbi Getsel Ellinson.

  7. (Back to text) Beis Yosef 55:a, citing the Mordechai; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 55:1, 4; the Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 55:5. See also Mishpetei Uzziel, Vol. II, on Orach Chaim, ch. 13.

  8. (Back to text) Devarim 22:5.

  9. (Back to text) Kiddushin 68b on Devarim 7:4; Kiddushin 68a on Shmos 21:4.

  10. (Back to text) Cf. Yeshayahu 5:20.

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