I work with a nurse in my office every day. I can confidently state that she's not my equal, and not just because I'm the one that signs her pay cheque.
Well it would be absurd to think that we are equal. After all, I've got a lot of schooling, medical knowledge and skills that she doesn't have. I can also lift more weight than her. What's more, I don't have to spend time shopping in a certain aisle in the supermarket for... ahem... monthly needs. I can impregnate a woman if I so choose (only with my wife, of course) but there's no way I'll ever carry a baby. I'm also much hairier than her, something she has no problem agreeing with.
So there's all these inequalities and more between us but tell me, does that make me superior to her? Well actually in some ways I am superior to her. She can suture but not nearly as well as me. I also make a way better pot of coffee (she uses decaffeinated, I mean, what's the point?). On the other hand, she can take blood samples a lot quicker than me, she's much better at doing dressings for wounds and she's a whiz with renovations. Me, I'm lucky I know which end of the hammer is which.
Okay, so in many ways we're unequal. In some ways I'm superior whilst in other ways she is. Which of us is a better person? Which of us is more important to my practice?
The trick answer is that both of us are important, of course. We work as a team with the goal of providing good health care to the patients in the clinic, something we manage to get done a lot of the time (B"H). I contribute to that care by using my skills and knowledge and she does the same with hers. We are unequal and in some ways superior and inferior to one another but we complement each other's abilities and the overriding goal is reached.
Somewhere along the line, many folks have forgotten that Judaism is also about teamwork. In an attempt to imitate the unattainable egalitarian values that are espoused by secular Western liberalism, many outside the Torah community, as well as some on the left fringe of the observant world, have made it their goal to declare that "equality for all" is a virtue that Judaism should strive to adopt.
Right. And the Toronto Maple Leaf's goalie and 2nd line centre should also switch jobs once in a while in the name of equality. (Wait, never mind. They might do better if they did)
It's not suprising therefore to read this article and see that many of the people surveyed viewed egalitarianism as an essential part of Judaism.
Asked whether Judaism is egalitarian in its attitude towards men and women, 47% answered it was not; 29% replied there was a moderate level of equality; and 24% said Judaism was egalitarian.
Analysis shows that the haredim (79%) and the religious public (58%) believe there is equality while the seculars replied there was none (58%). A gender analysis revealed that 29% of men believe that Judaism is egalitarian as opposed to only 19% of women.
How does Judaism measure in comparison with other faiths? 42% said it was very egalitarian; 31% stated it was the same as other religions; and 27% said men were favored more in Judaism than in other religions. Haredim (87%), the religious (77%) and traditionalists (52%) believe that Judaism is more egalitarian than other faiths while most seculars either believe it is as egalitarian or less than other faiths.
Let us be clear. There is no concept of equality between men and women in Judaism. However, whilst secular Western liberalism seems to conclude that inequality demands a superior-inferior model and then criticized Torah Judaism for assigning all the important roles to men, this is completely at odds with how the Torah would seem to want men and women to inter-relate.
There is no questiont that within Judaism men and woman are different. Each gender has its strength, its skills, its ability to contribute to the development and survival of the faith and the nation as a whole. The differences are not just physical but also spiritual. This does not mean that men are superior to women any more than that apples are superior to oranges. Both men and women are needed in order for the Jewish nation to thrive. Each has something to offer that the other does not. Yes there is inequality but through working together the overriding goal is reached.
It is often sad to see what happens when this concept is missed. For example, Conservatism changed the age of the bas mitzvah a couple of decades ago to 13 in the name of equality. Never mind that this was one case where Jewish law saw women as superior to men in terms of intellectual, religious and physical maturity. Equality uber alles was the goal to be achieved even if it meant telling every 12 year old girl in the movement from then on that she still had one more Yom Kippur she could eat on!
Now there are those who will bring up certain elements of the Chareidi community as a counter-example of how misogynistic Torah Judaism can be but they make a strong error when they do this. To be sure, it is deplorable to see how certain Chareidi elements treat the women in their communities. However, this behaviour is, despite all the claims of tahara and religious zeal to the contrary, a perversion of Torah and how to develop a positive relationship between men and women in Judaism. Women are not chattle or sources of evil to be isolated and avoided at all costs as these Taliban wannabe's would have people believe. Despite their claims we must remember that while Judaism does in fact preach inequality, this need to differentiate is no more controversial than ensuring that the chef cooks the meal while the waiter serves it, each playing his role in optimal fashion.