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soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Observance, Marriage, Women in Judaism (4/12)
Section - Question 8.1: What role do women play in Judaism?

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                                  Answer:
   
   The basic answer is that everything that G-d created serves a unique
   and vital role in fulfilling G-d's goals for this world/universe. In
   particular, humanity (man and woman, gentile and jew) is both the
   pinnacle and purpose for the creation in the first place. The details
   of how/if women's roles differ from men's in achieving these goals in
   the various Jewish movements is discussed in the remainder of this
   section. In general, women are exempt from positive (i.e., "do this")
   time-bound mitzvot (Mitzvot Aseh she'ha'zeman Gerama); i.e., if a
   mitzvah is a "do" that is only at a particular time of the day (such
   as putting on tefillin, wearing tzitzit, etc.), women are exempt from
   these. Other mitzvahs still apply.
   
   However, to summarize the position, being a Jewish Woman is the
   greatest gift G-d has given us. Jewish worship is based on the
   homefront. The family. As one of the goals of our lives as Jews is to
   learn how to love G-d, we have been given marriage to guide us in what
   is love. Love is not the self-love of "I love cake" or as can be seen
   in Western cinema where men say "I love you and therefore you owe me"
   to women. Love is the carrying out of the potential of giving. G-d's
   love for us is manifested in all that G-d gives us. We just have to
   open our eyes and pay attention to what is going on -- not an easy
   task at all. It is the job of the woman to guide herself, her mate and
   her family, to teach them selfless love and bring them closer to G-d.
   
   In the traditional view, to do so, she was given 3 basic laws to keep:
   
   The Jewish future is invested in our children and how we raise them.
   Without children -- there is no future. The first step in caring for a
   Jewish child's soul starts before the child is born. This is done via
   the rules of Taharat HaMishpacha -- family purity. Pure (mistakenly
   called Holiness) and impure in Judaism reflect the situation or lack
   of life. When a person dies -- his body is Tameh -- impure. When a
   woman menstruates she has moved from a state of being able to bring
   forth life, to "death" -- the blood and vessels that had been prepared
   for carrying life are now shed by the body. To return to a state of
   purity a woman immerses in a Mikvah -- a ritual bath of water. Water
   symbolizes both life and Torah, and so the water used for the
   immersion is rain-water, water that is life-giving. When a woman keeps
   these laws (which are many, but not at all complicated) she assures
   the purity of the soul of her children (for additional benefits, like
   keeping the marriage interesting, see books on the subject).
   
   The second law is the one of Lighting Candles on Shabbat. Light also
   symbolizes Torah, and in this case the light symbolizes the gift of
   Peace. As the woman lights candles for Shabbat she is symbolically
   bringing peace into her home, into the neighborhood and into the
   world. Why? Because as we spread light, we usually drive out darkness
   and with it hatred and bigotism and all the other things that like to
   hide in the dark. So the woman is in charge of bringing light into the
   home, thus bringing peace and love there -- and into the world.
   
   The third law is the one of Chalah. This is a tithe given to the
   priest from bread-dough that weighs at least 1,600 grams. As we don't
   have registered Priests nowadays who can eat the tithe in holiness --
   this is burnt repectfully. Chalah symbolizes the economic prosperity
   of the home, but also the spiritual prosperity. It has been
   traditional for centuries for women to bake Challot on Friday so that
   besides having fresh bread for Shabbat, they can also give this tithe,
   praying for the prosperity of their family.
   
   Whether we understand why or not, it is our tradition that G-d gave us
   these laws with all the details as we perform them today. As G-d
   bothered with the details--so we keep them, even if we can't always
   make sense of them.

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