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On Being a Woman in Shul

July 25, 2016 | By: Lucy S. Dawidowicz

In this 1968 Commentary article, a self-described feminist reflects on the virtues of separate gender roles in the synagogue and in the Jewish family. Separate gender roles prevent women from relieving men of their communal obligations, lowering the risk of alienating them from religious service and synagogue life. Separate seating and complementary but distinct duties enable each gender to concentrate on prayer, rather than members of the opposite sex. How do men and women balance their responsibilities at the synagogue and at home? How does the traditional vision of men and women relate to biology, to sociology, to the purposes for which God created man from the dust of the ground and woman from his side?

If ever men abdicate their synagogual responsibilities to women, the synagogue will, I fear, succumb either to Italianization or to Hadassah-ization. Women, when passive, can turn the synagogue into something like a provincial Italian Catholic church. The rabbi assumes all sacerdotal functions: the women become his dutiful parishioners, whose religion is part devotion, part ignorance, and part superstition. Religion, then, becomes a womanish thing. Men stay away out of contempt. . . . But even more forbidding—to me at least—is the threat of female power, female supremacy in the synagogue. Women are efficient: they can organize, raise funds, bring order out of chaos. They can turn the shul into a Hadassah chapter. Not that I disapprove of Hadassah, its activities, or its ladies. But I do not like the idea of their taking over the synagogue.

Read the whole essay in Commentary.

More about: Jewish Political Thought  • The American Jewish Experience  • The Jewish Family