Question: As a Jewish woman raised in a nonobservant household I am attracted to Orthodox Judaism. However, I must say that I am repelled by Orthodox views on women’s roles. I’ve tried to be a homemaker but as an intellectual and spiritual person I find that being with my children 24/7, cleaning for Passover, and cooking for Shabbos are not very satisfying. I’ve always been hurt and offended when I attend Orthodox events and see there isn’t even a partition set up for women for most prayers because they’re all in the kitchen. I don’t like to cook, I’m a lousy housekeeper, and although I love my children to distraction I find I need a lot of peace and quiet in order to keep my brains about me. Instead, I love prayer and study. I feel like an Orthodox man trapped in a woman’s body! Do you have any suggestions as to how I could proceed?
Answer: I received your question regarding women and their role in Judaism. I understand your frustrations. It is not really possible to properly address this complex issue in one written response so I will limit myself to a few thoughts that you may find helpful.
Being an Orthodox woman who was educated in the Orthodox system, I can tell you that I was given a very good education that was both spiritually and intellectually stimulating. The Orthodox girls’ school system is very focused on producing Jewish women with an extensive understanding of the spiritual and intellectual depth of Judaism.
That being said, there is much that needs to be understood concerning the woman’s role; specifically their increased involvement in housekeeping, cooking and domestic matters and less involvement in the Synagogue.
The question has been asked: where is the focal point of Jewish life? Is it in the Synagogue? The true answer is surprising. Judaism could last for a while without Synagogues, but it can not last without the Jewish home. Clearly the most central location in Judaism is not the Synagogue; it is the Jewish home.
It is the Jewish home where Jewish life is practiced in all its glory. The goal of the Jewish Homemaker is to create a round-the-clock center for Torah and Gemilus Chesed (Helping others). The person who is most responsible for the day to day activities in this center is the woman of the home.
Her unique talents and capabilities make her particularly qualified for this task. And if this lofty mission takes a bit away from involvement in the Synagogue, it is a small price to pay.
I know many Jewish women who are not great cooks and their housekeeping is not spectacular but their home is a beautiful one. One specific woman comes to mind. She doesn’t cook very much. She cooks the “basics”; her home is simple. She made her home, together with her family, one that is filled with guests and a place where one feels secure and happy. It is a center for Judaism.
Our goal is to transform our home into a Mikdash Me’at (a small sanctuary). In the Beit Hamikdash (our Holy Temple) the spirituality was centered around burning flour, meat and incense…...some cooking on a grander scale. Yes, it probably was easier to feel the spirituality when doing the service in the Holy Temple.
However, with the right understanding and focus feeling spiritual can be accomplished. I hope some of the ideas above could help bring some clarity to a very complex issue.I would be happy to discuss this with to you further.
Mrs. Tzippy Sommers
Denver Community Kollel