Oz Torah: Ask the Rabbi – Put-down of women.



Why does Judaism put down its women?


I don’t agree that it does. There are uncomfortable things said about women, but there are also wonderful poems in their praise in both the Bible and rabbinic literature.

Social mores denied a broad education to many women and tried to limit them to the domestic scene.  Yet tradition (inspired by the famous chapter 31 of Mishlei) constantly praised women’s wisdom and understanding.

In answering your question the thought of my own late mother vividly comes to mind. An educated woman, an acclaimed high school teacher, after she got married she concentrated on her home and family… but at the same time she had a good brain and her businessmen brothers came to her for her advice and ideas.  I don’t know whether she knew of Donna Gracia or Glueckel of Hameln, but Gracia and Glueckel were examples of what a Jewish woman could do.

These days women occupy high profile roles in society, and in Judaism there are outstanding woman scholars of Torah.



Why is the shofar blown during the month of Ellul?


There is a danger that people will not be ready for Rosh HaShanah.  Hence the whole of the month of Ellul is a time for spiritual preparation.

This includes commencing the spiritual wakefulness that the shofar symbolises.  The prophet Amos says,

“Shall the shofar be blown in the city and the people not be afraid?” (Amos 3:6).

To leave it to Rosh HaShanah to be shaken by the sound of the shofar may be too late for adequate introspection.  We need the extra time beforehand to get our affairs in order, to recognise our sins, to repent and to perform deeds of loving kindness and charity.

There is a historical precedent that reinforces the value of hearing the shofar in advance.

When Moses went back up Mount Sinai to secure forgiveness for the sin of the Golden Calf, the shofar was sounded in the camp to warn the Israelites not to sin again.

Since it was 1 Ellul when Moses went up the mountain the second time, it was during Ellul that the shofar was sounded, and it was only because the Almighty saw the sincerity of the people’s penitence that he sent Moses back on 10 Tishri (Yom Kippur) with the message, “salachti”, “I have forgiven”.



I know you are against mixed marriages, but do mixed marriages really not work?


Some do, some don’t, but a mixed marriage can encounter special strains.

It is not only that Judaism is weakened when a Jew marries out of the faith but the marriage itself can be more fragile.  Marital stability is more likely when a couple have the same religious and cultural commitment.

Even if religion means nothing to them, mindsets and attitudes which arise out of their background can create tensions.  In moments of stress there is sometimes an almost total inability to understand where the other is coming from.

There are additional problems caused for the children of mixed marriages.  Who are they?  Where do they belong?  How do they negotiate the differences between two cultures, two ways of life, two sets of commitments?

credit: chaimgoldberg.com

70% of children from mixed Jewish/non-Jewish marriages are not brought up to regard themselves as Jews.

The more mixed marriages there are, the less Jews there will be, and that imposes additional pressures on the Jews who remain.

Obviously the majority of Jews believe Judaism is a great asset for them and for the world, and we should all be doing everything we can to ensure that the Jewish way, the Jewish idea, and the Jewish heritage will not come under threat.

There are some who argue that we should be breaking down the barriers between human groups and cultures.  In reply, Lord Jakobovits wrote,

“What we place before the world is not an effort to divide brother from brother. Certain things we share in common with everybody, and other things are unique to our people, to our community, and to the family.

“It is only through this diversity of existence, without breaking down all barriers, but retaining distinctions and expecting different faiths to make their separate contributions to the overall enrichment of human society, that we can ultimately reach the goal of what we understand by the brotherhood of man.”


Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com


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