so lately there has been a lot of media attention in israel on the question of Jewish women and how we view them in the Torah world.
I want to share with you an article that originally appeared in the jerusalem post and is now on aish.com, written by a religious women who eloquently describes a little bit about how we (religious Jewish women) feel about the current situation and about being Jewish women in general. I really recommend taking a look at it:
also, i had kind of forgotten certain stereotypes that people have about women in the Torah world (because they are so far from the truth), but I was recently exposed to a couple and wanted to share my thoughts...
firstly, there is a law in Judaism called "Shomer Negiah" which literally translates as 'guarding touch', which forbids adult men and women from touching members of the opposite sex who are outside of their immediate family (meaning spouse, parents, grandparents, siblings).
so i was recently watching this documentary about this woman who goes all around different middle eastern countries and kind of gets a feel for their cultures among other things, and when she gets to israel, she meets with an orthodox rabbi to get a 'feel' for Torah Judaism... ok so first of all it was totally annoying because you could tell that everything was set up in a way to make it look weird (which made me wonder how mis-represented the muslims were in their interviews)... but anyway, the first thing she does is try to shake the rabbi's hand, and when he says he can't shake her hand, she protests "but i'm clean!"
dude, seriously. that's really what people think?? that when an orthodox Jewish man doesn't want to touch a woman who is not related to him, it is because he views her as 'unclean', dirty, or beneath him??!!
THIS COULDN'T BE FARTHER FROM THE TRUTH!!!!!!!!!
in reality, the real reason why Jewish men do not touch other women (and vice versa) is precisely because of their deep, utmost respect for them! you see, shomer negiah means guarding, or protecting, touch. what does that mean? it means that touch is a powerful, wonderful, valuable thing that has to be protected in order to be utilized in the most meaningful way. now which woman do you think a man should respect the most? is it a stranger he's never met who wants to shake his hand? clearly not- it is his wife. so now we know two things:
1. touch has to be protected in order to be used most profoundly
2. a man should respect his wife above all other women
(please note I am describing shomer negiah from a male perspective because that seems to be where the trouble digesting this concept lies... most people are not outraged by a woman refusing to touch a man)...
so when we restrict the amount that we touch other people, it can take on a whole new level where it matters most, within the marriage... picture for a minute a 14-year-old girl with a huge crush on a boy in her school... let's say he brushes past her in the cafeteria line-up- would she not swoon or maybe (depending on how big the crush is) refuse to wash the shirt where he touched her shoulder so she could linger in that moment much longer? that's the type of excitement we want to feel EVERY time we touch our spouse! you might ask, what's the big deal about a handshake? it's not an intimate gesture and it's so commonplace, why can't you just do it without it meaning something? Is there something wrong with Jewish men that they can't just have a handshake without it becoming a sexual act?
but that's exactly it, we don't even want to become de-sensitized to the power of a simple handshake! when we refrain from even shaking hands with people who we don't need to have a physical relationship with, we allow ourselves to feel excited by that same simple act when it is allowed- with our spouse. and obviously all the more so with other levels of physical contact. but even with the simple acts, whether it's a handshake, brushing past each other, or a kiss goodbye on the cheek in the morning, if we allow ourselves to be sensitive to these types of touching, then each instance will serve to enhance our marriage relationship, bringing us ever closer to the one who truly matters most.
and you should know that the same goes for the way we dress. Jewish women (and men too, for sure) have a modest code of dress which includes covering our chests, shoulders, and arms, and wearing skirts to our knees or longer, and covering our hair (for married women)... this is a whole topic in itself which i love to talk about and perhaps will write more on later, but for now, i just want to say that this allows us to fulfill that same principle:
restricting where it doesn't matter in order to benefit where it does
just like in a non-Jewish society where most women do not go around topless, a man would certainly be excited to see such a sight... well so too in a Torah society, can a man (or woman) get excited by the sight of a body part that is not normally exposed! so really, it's kind of just a case of mathematics... because in that case, the more body parts that are normally covered, the more possibility for pleasure at the sight of them! and now when we bring this back to the case of the marriage relationship, this is particularly empowering to the woman, because now, when her husband sees just her upper arm, or for that matter any part of her, he feels privileged because only he gets this opportunity, and furthermore, he is much more likely to be excited and find his wife beautiful because he is simply not comparing her to other women, since he doesn't see them in this exposure! brilliant! so instead of competing with air-brushed magazine models or worse, a Jewish woman knows that she is beautiful exactly as she is and her husband has the ability and sensitivity to perceive that based on the restrictions of their society...
and so what if you ask, well if a woman is beautiful, why can't she put that on display and benefit from it by showing it off? well again, let's ask what we are trying to accomplish... are we putting beauty on display for its own sake or are we using beauty for the sake of intensifying love? If it's the latter, when a woman 'saves' her beauty for her husband (e.g. only he gets to see her luscious hair, which btw is certainly one of a woman's most sensuous features), she sends an incredibly powerful message that she is devoted to him alone and they are one.
so there you have it, just a few quick insights on why we Jewish women LOVE the way we live and wish other people were also blessed to share in the amazing joy of a sanctified and protected marriage relationship.... please feel free to send me any questions you might have on this topic...