Saturday, February 06, 2010

Gender Roles and Religion, part III

It's been a while since I wrote the first two parts to this discussion, part I being a general overview of gender differences in religion, and part II focusing on how we see G-d. I figured it was time to expand a little on the rationale behind "separate but equal", as I myself struggle to form an opinion on the matter.

Now, most of my readers know by now that I'm an ardent feminist. Growing up I was thankfully taught that I could do anything I set my mind to. Judaically, it manifest itself as wearing a kippah and tallis to services (the former practice I only took up during undergrad). Yet why is this important to me? Do I get something additionally spiritual out of it, or is this simply a reflection of "if he can do it why can't I?" On the other hand, I will always wear a skirt on Shabbos, because for me, it's a time to celebrate being female. As my recent convos with the new Rabbi and Rebbitzin examined, is there something different between the sexes in their sense and practice of spirituality and religion?

The most convincing example of this was the first time I met the Rabbi, who's a big kabbalah guy and often offers classes on Jewish mysticism. His rationale for the different obligations of men and women included a description of women being inherently more spiritual, and thus men needing additional religious obligations. This notion was reinforced by looking around the room at the gender ratio (in this case, about 20 women and 3 men), which is apparently the case in a number of the classes that he leads. Is this a reflection of actual gender differences, or just a freak coincidence?

Within traditional Judaism, there are religious tasks ascribed solely to females: lighting shabbos candles, making challah, Rosh Chodesh (new month) celebrations, that can be particularly meaningful. If I want to keep observing these traditions as a female, isn't it a bit hypocritical to deny men their own roles? As a side note, this contradiction is reflected in a number of non-orthodox synagogues, where the women's club plans events solely for women and the men's club plans events anyone can participate in. Likewise, while some women read torah, few men light candles. It seems to me that we need to choose one: separate but equal, or equal and equal.

Yet I still have difficulty with the concept of different obligations, for the differences between the genders are not discrete, rather a continuum. There are men who have a strong caring and "maternal" instincts towards family and friends. There are females who want nothing to do with raising a family or caretaking. Let alone any in the LGBT community.

Do any of my readers have strong opinions on the matter?

As an update (since the initial draft was written in December), for the past couple of weeks I declined to wear a kippah at services as an experiment. While no one else seemed to notice, I couldn't shake the feeling of nakedness without my head covered. Guess at least to me there is something spiritual about it.


Kirk said...

Generally speaking, men are more prone to try to understand the physical world and less likely to tackle abstract and intangible concepts like religion and emotion.

Anonymous said...

I'm really not sure how additional religious obligations are supposed to help men compensate for their inherent lack of spirituality as compared with women. But I do agree that women do generally tend to be more spiritual beings than men, in that they seem to be more in touch with whatever cosmic energy drives the world. I think women should be allowed to perform any of the traditionally male-only mitzvot, but perhaps in allowing them to do so, we rob men of some of their opportunities to become more holy.