I’ve been encountering more and more Jews who are not Orthodox themselves, but have Orthodox Jewish relatives. It is always interesting to hear their opinions of their decision to live Torah observant lives; although the remarks are not always positive.
Not too long ago, I was speaking with a woman who was absolutely baffled at women who were baalat teshuva. She just could not understand why educated, modern women would opt for a lifestyle where their activities and actions where regulated by their gender. I didn’t bother to explain that women are regulated in life biologically; and should G-d be considered sexist because he designated women to be the carriers and bearers of babies? Not to mention that different people have different expectations in regards to fulfillment. Yes, Orthodox Jewish women cannot leyn Torah or become rabbis. But this “loss” is recovered by the Orthodox Jewish woman’s strong role in the home and the refinement of her children.
Well, if you are married at least.
And that’s the real problem. While feminism focuses on equality with men, it also proposes a life that should be lived independent of men. I came across this great blog post about a Black woman who became proud to embrace the notion that she “needs” her husband. While feminism is not officially against marriage, it would be very disapproving of marriage as seen in most religious contexts; where the husband’s and wife’s responsibilities and expectations are very different.
Orthodox Judaism has no real alternative in its social structure to accommodate single adults; especially single women. An Orthodox Jewish woman is to find fulfillment and social status attainment through marriage and a family. If you don’t have this in place, then there is really little for you to do; except search for a husband. And my observation is not a novel idea; the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance has this article by Hagit Bartov on the subject available on their website. The article also points out that unmarried women have about the same status as children in Orthodox Judaism.
Marriage is important; I’ll go even as far to say that it is the ideal state for people to be in. But it does not happen for everyone. Single Orthodox Jewish women are actually far more powerful and useful than they are given credit for. They are free from the obligations of the time-bound mitzvot. They don’t need to go to daily minyan. They have few of the physical ties to Orthodox Judaism such as a wig, beard, or a kippah/tzitzit. This makes them good potential emissaries to represent Orthodox Judaism to outsiders. And when push comes to shove, they can still produce Jewish children…independently (through artificial insemination) or even with a non-Jewish man.