Is what leads some women to want a larger role in Judaism is merely a type of copy-cat feminism?

May 9, 2022 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Ask the rabbi.


Rabbi Raymond Apple

Q. Do you agree that what leads some women to want a larger role in Judaism is merely a type of copy-cat feminism?

A. No, I don’t think so. It is because this is the best-educated generation of women in human and Jewish history.

If a woman gives a “shi’ur” it is not because she wants to make a feminist statement but because women are giving public lectures, lessons and speeches every day of the week. If a woman gives a “hesped” (eulogy) at a funeral or in the house of mourning it is not because she is a feminist but because she has insights and articulateness.

If a woman makes “motzi” at the table after her husband has made Kiddush it is because men and women are partners in Jewish observance. If she wants to recite one of the “sheva b’rachot” at a wedding reception it is because both men and women are obligated to bring joy to a simchah.

While some of these examples may be halachically controversial, some men feel threatened by women’s presence and participation at religious events. I say “Baruch HaShem” that we have such an opportunity.

Some critics say it is all a gimmick and want the women to go back to the kitchen and hide behind the mechitzah; I say we should be proud that it is a new era. Enjoy your anti-women polemics while you can; the women will have the last laugh.


Q. What is meant by “pilpul”?

A. The word comes from a root that means spicy or peppery. Applied to methods of argumentation or debate it indicates that the reasoning is very sharp.

It is recommended as a method of Torah study in Pirkei Avot (6:5) where one of the 48 ways of acquiring Torah is “pilpul hatalmidim”, i.e. argumentation with students.

While originally the word had a positive connotation, in later centuries, after “pilpul” as a method of Talmud study was popularised in Eastern Europe in the 15th century in the time of Rabbi Jacob Pollack, it came to mean such highly complicated reasoning that its detractors regarded it as mere hair-splitting.

Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem where he answers interesting questions.


One Response to “Is what leads some women to want a larger role in Judaism is merely a type of copy-cat feminism?”
  1. Liat Kirby says:

    Re women and their more energetic and participatory role in Judaism, I applaud your comments, Rabbi Apple. Very refreshing indeed. Judaism has a long way to go to recognise women and men as ‘people’ together, as Jews on a par with one another, who should not be designated by rules separating them from one another and from how they practise their religion.

    Nobody born into this world should, as the natural order of things, be delegated to the kitchen or forced to hide anywhere.

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