More Courage Needed
Former president Jimmy Carter and other world leaders issued this statement: "The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable." What's your reaction to these statements? Are 'male interpretations of religious texts' to blame for the 'deprivation of women's equal rights?'
My father, who passed away just two months ago, took a great deal of heat in his rabbinate for hiring the first ordained female rabbi in the Conservative movement as his assistant. Although he provided textual justifications, I think it is fair to say his rationale was simple: he thought it was just, and it was about time.
To attribute discrimination to the way we interpret texts has some justification. But surely there is also discrimination not because of the way we interpret, but because of the texts themselves. In sacred literature men are portrayed as the active agents, the 'norm,' and almost always as the principal religious figures. It is not an interpretation that the Priests in the Temple were only men, or that the apostles of Jesus in the New Testament were men, or - well, the reader can provide her or his own examples at leisure.
The decision makers in Jewish tradition are rabbis. So long as women are not rabbis, they are disenfranchised, to different extents, from the power center in shaping traditions. This is not to discount the idea that women and men are different, or that they find different roles more congenial to their gifts. As a rule, I think that is true. But congenial is a long way from proscribed. The gifts of women, their voices, their abilities, have been lost to the world for too long. We are impoverished.
Impoverished as well, in so many ways, are those societies that subjugate women. In the religious world, this is today a malady of many Islamic societies. So long as this division is seen to be rooted in timeless texts, the President is exactly right, it will only be upended by authoritative interpreters of the text. Ideally, I would favor those who both interpret and uproot, recognizing that there are things in our sacred texts that we simple cannot accept.
In a world where change is valued for its own sake, where its consequences are gauged only in retrospect, there is great value in religious traditions that stand athwart history yelling 'stop!' There has to be a calming voice on the rapid fire reconfiguration of institutions that have served for so long. Yet faith too has a place to play in change, even in revolutionary change. Surely we have reached the point in history when the idea that women are somehow less reliable, less capable, less precious, should be regarded as a sad relic in the museum of antiquated notions. Our traditions are wise enough, broad enough - and yes when they need to be progressive enough - to help ensure that no society takes up that pernicious myth ever again.
Posted by: Farnaz1Mansouri1 | July 28, 2009 3:32 AM
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