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A Feminist Commentary on the Portrayal of Women In The Bible: What Would Rashi’s Daughter Say?
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A Feminist Commentary on the Portrayal of Women In The Bible: What Would Rashi’s Daughter Say?

As a young Jewish woman, there are definitely parts of the Torah that are harder for me to reconcile, yet there are also plenty of examples of strong women that resonate with me.

Courtesy of Vivienne Rachmansky
Courtesy of Vivienne Rachmansky

“I will not create her from the eye, lest she be coquettish; I will not create her from the ear, lest she be an eavesdropper; I will not create her from the mouth, lest she be a chatter-box… I will not create her from the heart, lest she be jealous.” (Bereshit Rabbah 18:2)

This passage, which serves as an interpretation on the book of Genesis, stands out to me as a modern, young female. In particular, it’s striking because it notes how women should not be created rather than how they should be. The glass here is not only half empty, but spills over with sexism under the guise of reasoning.

In fact, these lines emphasize the all-too-common practice of criticizing women’s bodies and gender-based double standards.

Why, when there are so many other ways to approach female creation, do the rabbis record this cynical version? 

Growing up exposed to Jewish stories that often revolved around strong female leads such as Sarah, Miriam and Esther, I witnessed a positive representation of women who held leadership roles or wielded their influence with the powers that be. But, at the same time, numerous Jewish texts (with the Torah being no exception) are largely flawed when they explore the topic of gender. For instance, in the text above, female body parts are assigned negative and potentially dangerous attributes–a temptress vs. a  romantic, a babbler vs. a conversationalist; an eavesdropper vs. an observant listener. Ironically, some could argue that these traits can be beneficial under certain circumstances, and of course that these body parts have positive features. In the heart, for example, there is kindness and compassion, not jealousy. In the eyes, women read and see — there is no limit of potential that the body holds. 

Today, women are often confronted by these same, arcane depictions. For generations, women who voiced their opinions have been labeled as loud, annoying, and bitchy. In this text, we see this concept clearly: I will not create her from the mouth lest she be a chatter-box. But we read nothing of the fact that women who are created from the mouth hold and assert their power. These women can speak out about important matters, persuade people, share kind words, teach, and chant brachot.

A “chatterbox” has the potential to change the world, but a Jewish woman who is not created from the mouth is most likely a passive, quiet person–one that is  too-often silenced by the power of pure, unadulterated sexism. 

And while hundreds of years have passed and we have made progress on so many fronts, women are still admonished for being “chatterboxes,” or “bossy”– today’s version of the same sentiment. Even our president perpetuates these stereotypes, calling women “nasty” and a slew of other horrible names. In 2015, Trump asked the American people, “Can you imagine that [being] the face of our next president? I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not supposed to say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?” This sexist and objectifying language delivered by a “modern” leader alludes to the very same repressive themes of the ancient text above. 

As a young Jewish woman, there are definitely parts of the Torah and Talmud that are harder for me to reconcile, yet there are also plenty of examples of strong women and other relevant texts that resonate with me.

Given the fact that these texts were recorded well before the modern era, it’s fair to place them in context, especially when analyzed from a perspective that continues to evolve. Much like many complicated things, there’s no black and white, so I have to accept the imperfections.  But I also won’t ignore them, because recognizing these faults is a step in the right direction of gender equality in  religious communities.

Vivienne Rachmansky is an incoming high school Freshman who lives in downtown Manhattan and is passionate about issues of the day.

Posts are contributed by third parties. The opinions and facts in them are presented solely by the authors and JOFA assumes no responsibility for them.

If you’re interested in writing for JOFA’s blog contact dani@jofa.org. For more about JOFA like us on Facebook or visit our website.

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