Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Hadassah. My uncle Mordechai submitted my application to a beauty contest for the chance of a lifetime to become Queen of Persia, a kingdom that rules over 173 countries. The indoctrination process includes one year of extensive beauty treatments, a special detox diet, and royal etiquette training. Estheticians, nutritionists, and physical trainers promise to transform me from everyday Hadassah to Queen Esther.
However, there is a problem, the glossy brochure for this glorious pageant has no faces of the women on it. How can this be possible? If the megillah (book) of Esther would have played out in 2021, there would be a Queen with no face in view. If this occurred in the USA, she could not be listed as a woman, only a non-binary individual.
It appears that in 2021, Jewish women, and all women, are under attack. However, for Jewish women the extremes are enormous in the religious and secular worlds. The loss of our identity, as Hashem (G-d) designed us, is currently under “reconstruction.” Our lives are bombarded with messages of gender fluidity combined with the current definition of the female species, leaving women lost in translation.
Even the government has deleted female words because they tell us it is more “gender inclusive,” further digging the grave of the authenticity of G-d’s creation. According to the current administration, all uses of gender identification are moot. People need an extra 20 minutes to fill out medical forms due to the countless questions about “how you are, or are not, currently defining yourself.”
On the Jewish front, newspapers, publications, and a growing number of Rabbis, no longer allow the faces and sometimes full names of women to be seen. I watched a documentary on Israeli television about this subject recently. What happened in the last fifty years to lead us to this dangerous space, or lack of space? When did the faces of Jewish women become so highly sexualized that they must be forbidden to be seen?
The old Yiddish newspapers of Israel’s ultra-orthodox used to publish photos of respected Rebbetzins and women’s gatherings. Beautiful and holy women, smartly dressed, posing for a photo. Currently, the same publications will not even print their full names.
How did we evolve into this? When did equal rights turn into a disappearing act of no rights?
In true Torah (Bible) living, any extreme is a playground for disaster. For Jewish women, the stakes are extremely high who we are. This is dangerous by politically and socially robbing the very core of our identities. The twisted and confusing terrain of gender identification defined by the outside world only diminishes us individually, potentially leaving us with no identity at all. In the religious world, our fading images are creating the need to find a safe space to be yourself.
Where do we go?
Are we rearranging the Aishes Chayil (woman of valor) into a faceless creature? Are we over protecting Jewish women by hiding them away?
Recently, I participated in a baby naming ceremony for the granddaughter of childhood friend. As we gathered by Zoom for their (COVID-19 lockdown) party, I started my speech by commending the parents for defying cancel culture and proclaiming the baby a girl. Who would have imagined ten years ago that this would be an issue? What do we want to impart on the next generation of Jewish women?
As I lovingly look at my own daughter heroically comforting me at my bedside, while I recuperate from another demonic round of chemotherapy, I grow more concerned about her future.
Does she know how glorious she is in G-d’s eyes? Does she know that her G-d created femininity is highly cherished by her Creator? Does she know the power she has as a Jewish woman? Does she know that no government can cancel her identity to fit into their perverted redefinition of gender.
On the sixth day of G-d’s masterful creation of world, He formed the first human out of earth and breathed life into his being. There are several different explanations as to what Eve was created from. The Torah (Bible) declares that she was formed from one of Adam’s “tzelas” Bereishit (Genesis) 2:21. The word tzela means “side” as a structural term.
Based on this, many of the commentators understand that Eve was created from Adam’s side (one opinion in Bereishit Rabbah 17:8, Rashi 2:21, Ibn Ezra 2:21, Rambam Moreh Nevuchim 2:30, Ralbag 2:21 various commentaries). This follows the opinion in the Talmud (Brachot 61a) that Adam and Eve were initially created as a single being with male and female halves, having both genders fused together. G-d determined that it was “not good” that man be a complete unit should he feel he is perfect and needs no one else, so G-d turned His creation into two incomplete halves (Rashi to Bereishit 2:18). There is also an opinion that tzela means rib (alternate opinion in Bereishit (Genesis), Rabbah 17:8, Onkelos, Targum Yonatan, Chizkuni 2:21, Seforno 2:21 / various commentaries). G-d initially created Adam with an extra rib so it could be used for this purpose (Targum Yonatan, Arbarbanel). There is a third opinion (Talmud Brachot 61a) that Eve was created from a tail or better explained as a tailbone.
On the fifth day, G-d created all the animals male and female. He did not follow through in the creation of woman (Eve), because He foresaw that Adam would complain against her manipulation upon eating forbidden fruit [he would tell G-d angrily Bereishit (Genesis) 3:12: “The woman You put at my side.” He therefore waited until Adam requested that she be created. G-d had all the cattle, birds and wild beasts pass before Adam two by two, G-d instructed Adam to name all the species. Adam said, “Each one has a mate, but I do not have a mate?” Once he demanded this with his own mouth, immediately Bereishit (Genesis 2:21), “the Lord G-d cast a deep sleep upon the man and, while he slept […]” Bereishit (Genesis) Rabbah 17:4. In this midrash, Eve’s creation is part of G-d’s initial plan of creation.
My favorite in depth explanation of the creation of Adam and Eve comes from the brilliant and innovative mind of Rabbi Soloveichik. In his book, The Lonely Man of Faith, he discusses the two versions of Adam 1 and Adam 2. One is a male and female together as a team. The other, a man finding the world too lonely to navigate without a counterpart. I can read this masterpiece repeatedly and still fail to capture the genius in every sentence.
The Rabbis proclaim that Eve was the most beautiful woman ever. To illustrate this, they say that all humans resemble apes in comparison with Sarah’s beauty, while Sarah, in turn, looked like an ape in comparison with Eve. Only Adam was handsomer than she, beside whom she, in turn, looked like an ape (Talmud BT Bava Batra 58a). This Midrash has Adam being the most beautiful creature in all the world, since he was created in G-d’s image, and directly by Him. Eve was also G-d’s handiwork, and therefore no woman was as beautiful as she, even though she was lesser than Adam, for she was a secondary creation, from Adam’s body.
Another midrash (biblical exegesis) is about the physical appearance of the woman’s body, which differs from that of the man. Bereishit (Genesis) 2:22 states, “And the Lord fashioned the rib,” from which the Rabbis learned that Eve was designed as a storehouse (for fruits). Just as a storehouse is narrow at the top and broad at the bottom to hold the fruits, so, too, the woman is narrow above and broad below so that she can bear the fetus (Talmud BT Berakhot 61a). Eve’s body structure is presented as functional, for purposes of pregnancy. This explains the different physical structure of man and woman as part of G-d’s wisdom in Creation. Each body serves a particular need of its gender. We can also see this in the punishments each received for disobeying G-d’s instructions about dwelling in the Garden of Eden. Pains of pregnancy are exclusively female.
Hashem (G-d) created a male and female in almost everything, from linguistics to spiritual plateaus, mitzvot obligations, to valued roles, ceremonial ages, to marriage contracts. G-d had no interest in creating genderless, description less, depiction less, characterization less, portrayal less, specification less, distinction less beings.
What are we teaching the next generation of Jewish women? How are we respecting our mothers and grandmothers that birthed and paved our way?
You can start by never giving in to the new “progressive” nonsensical human definitions. WOMAN, GIRL, FEMALE, SHE, HER, MOTHER, SISTER, AUNT, WIFE, and GRANDMOTHER are words of power and recognition. They are not meaningless concepts that no longer fit into a progressive ideology. By losing our individuality, we lose our purpose. We did not struggle to obtain women’s rights only to be categorized as unmarked specimens. We are the mothers, daughters, and sisters of thousands of generations. We are G-d’s design for we were created by Him alone, both male and female. We are the children of our four mothers, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah. We are the singers in the dessert with our leader Miriam. We are Shifrahs and Puahs (biblical doulas) that defied Pharaoh and his evil regime to give birth to a nation.
The song still stands as Helen Reddy declared. “I am woman, hear me roar.”