The Growth in the Status of Women

 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA)
In wake of the results of the international PISA tests (a worldwide study by the OECDof 15-year-old school pupils’ scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and reading), some radical, semi-Hellenistic leftists leveled serious allegations against the State of Israel’s educational system. The ‘Haaretz’ newspaper even devoted an editorial to the topic. To summarize their remarks: The Zionist vision has failed! The Jewish state was established to fulfill the vision of democracy, whose main objective is to equate the level of the Arabs to that of the Jews, and it has failed. The educational system has failed to raise the level of the Arab students to that of Jewish students, resulting in a huge gap between them.
In reality, however, the educational budget invested in Arab students is more or less equal to that of Jewish students, even though the Arabs pay way less taxes. According to Member of Knesset Fania Kirschenbaum, “The Arabs in Israel pay 400 million shekels in taxes, and receive benefits totaling 11 billion shekel.”
Arab supporters should in fact commend the State of Israel for this. Had they compared the situation of Arab students in Israel to that of students in other Arab countries in the Middle East, they would discover just how much their educational level has risen thanks to the establishment of the Jewish state, and by publicizing this fact, could promote peace. Instead, they make grave accusations and encourage hostility, hatred, and war.
It must be pointed out that Jews all over the world excel academically in comparison to their fellow citizens. This was true in countries where the educational system was uniform for all students, such as the Soviet Union, in many European countries which have equal educational opportunities for all students, and in countries like the U.S. where education varies. But radical left-wingers, such as the majority of writers for the ‘Haaretz’ newspaper, who deny Israel’s specialness, are unable to discern these facts. This is how they attempt to enhance peace – by inciting war and hostility.
Testimony from the Home of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef ztz”l concerning Mixed Singing by Family Members on Shabbat
Two weeks ago, I publicized testimony from the home of the former Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, the Gaon Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank ztz”l, that on Shabbat, family members – men and women together – would sing z’mirot Shabbat (Shabbat songs), even when the men were not first-degree relatives of the women, such as son-in-laws.
Rabbi D’vir Azulay from the “Merkaz HaRav” Yeshiva sent me supporting evidence from the custom of the great posek (Jewish law arbiter), Maran, the Rishon LeTzion, HaRav Ovadiah Yosef ztz”l, and may these words be l’iluey nishmato (an ascent for his soul). This is what the present Rishon LeTzion, HaRav Yitzhak Yosef, shlita (Rav Ovadiah’s son) wrote to him two years ago: “In the house Maran, our master, teacher and rabbi, the custom at all times was that the entire family would sing together on the eve of Shabbat, and during Shabbat day, together with the son-in-laws and all the brothers. Maran told them that since a woman does not sing solo, but rather her voice mixes-in with all the other voices, there is no prohibition – even though her voice, as well, is heard – in other words, not in an exceedingly loud voice, but in a normal voice – but not in a high tone”. Afterwards, he also wrote this in his book Yalkut Yosef (Part 1, Vol. 3, pgs. 368-371).
Two weeks ago I wrote that I was not sure if I would change our minhag (custom) and be lenient, but it seems that after this additional testimony, which complements the custom of God-fearing German Jews, as written in S’ridei Aish (1:77), that those who wish to sing Shabbat songs together with their families are permitted to do sol’chatchila (ideally).
The Status of Men and Women
Last week, I began to clarify the difference between the status of men and women, the basis of which stems from the creation of the world and man, explaining that the self-awareness of Adam HaRishon remained with man, whereas woman, who was created from man, expresses a secondary type of awareness. Therefore, man is more inclined to lead and initiate, whereas the woman continues his initiative. In a certain respect, nevertheless, woman is on a higher level seeing as man was created from dust while woman was created from man in an advanced stage of development, therefore her ability to perfect what man initiates is greater and more superior. Thus we find many loving and devoted couples where initially, the husband’s leadership was exceedingly clear with his wife following after him, but overtime, the wife’s status gradually increases, to the point where often it seems her influence is greater than her husband’s.
A Tale of a Pious Man and a Pious Woman
“It once happened that a pious man was married to a pious woman, and they did not produce children. They said ‘We are of no use to the Holy One, blessed be He,’ whereupon they got divorced. The former went and married a wicked woman, and she made him wicked, while the latter went and married a wicked man, and made him righteous. This proves that all depends on the woman” (Bereishit Rabbah 17:7).
In both these cases, apparently, the woman’s influence was hidden. Had they argued among themselves about the proper way, the man would have rejected the words of his wife, and insisted on going in the opposite direction. But the women’s influence was hidden. Out of humility and love, the pious woman responded positively to every one of her wicked husbands’ good actions, taking joy in it, nurturing, and developing it. The man was influenced by her, because everything she nurtured in effect came from the man himself, until his positive sides became his essence, and his negative traits were overcome and vanished, and he became a tzaddik (pious man). The wicked woman, on the other hand, failed to grasp the good ideas of her pious husband, but when one of his initiatives contained a negative point, she gladly accepted, expanded, and developed it, until gradually, the tzaddik turned into a rasha(wicked).
In general though, there are usually no big gaps between a husband and wife, with both sharing a common goal. Through their mutual enrichment, they increasingly grow, with the man initiating ideas and the woman following-up, deepening, and developing them. Consequently, he once more initiates an idea, and she develops it all over again. At times they alternate, with the development emerging as an initiative, and the initiative as development. Nevertheless, the main roles of male and female – initiator and developer – remains in most couples, while over the years, the value of the woman’s role and her status, increases.
The Historical Process in the Rise of the Status of Women 
Just as within every couple the status of the woman increases, the process within history is similar. In the beginning of history, man’s status was significantly higher, but in a gradual process, the status of woman increases.
This process is designed for tikun olam, (rectification of the world), for God created the world incomplete so that people could be partners in its perfection.
The First Stage: in the Present World, Man’s Status is Higher
In the beginning stage, it is necessary to define good and evil, and determine the primary direction. In this stage, the male characteristic is more useful, because man is more inclined to separate between the various fields, between the intellect and emotion, while focusing on the challenge ahead of him. The female characteristic, which tends to integrate these fields, is likely to interfere, since emotions and various passions are liable to intervene in intellectual considerations and negatively divert them, as happened in the Sin of Adam.
An additional explanation is that in the stage of decision-making, men are more inclined to the intellect, which is inherently more objective, while women are inclined to make considerations incorporating emotion, which naturally is more subjective.  And therefore in the beginning it is necessary for man to lead, and he does so with the help of Torah study. Nevertheless, the world is in a process of advancement, and as the values of good and evil become clearer and more accepted, we progress to the stage where the values must be understood on a deeper level, with all their nuances, and brought to complete fruition in our daily lives, and then the female characteristic becomes more important.
This is what is hinted at in the Kabala, that in the present world, man’s status is higher, in the future there will be equality, and in the World to Come, the status of women will be higher. The present world is full of evil, conflict, and wars; in order to fight its negative aspects, man must learn Torah, clarify the foundations of truth and goodness, and impose these values in all orders of life. In the period of time called ‘olam ha’zeh’ (the present world) an advancement process regarding the status of women is also occurring, and as the values of good and bad become clearer, the status of women will continue to rise; however, man’s status will remain higher, because there will still be a need for struggle to impose the values of goodness.
The Second Stage: In the Future – Equality
The second stage, la’atid la’voh (in the future), is the period of Redemption, in which Israel returns to its land and the Shechina (the holy Presence) is revealed through them, in the land. The Holy Temple is built, the light of the Torah and emuna (faith) illuminates the entire world, and Mashiach ben David rules over Israel – “And He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4).  At that time, the status of man and woman will be equal. There will still be a need to delineate between good and evil and enforce the good, and as a result, there will be a greater need for the male characteristic. But on the other hand, we will already have reached the stage in which the values of emunah and the positive aspects of everyday life in all their features will be truly evident, and for this, there is a greater need for the female characteristic; thus, the status of women will be equal to that of man.
The Third Stage: In Olam Ha’ba, Woman’s Status will be Higher
The third stage of Olam Ha’ba (the World to Come), which is the world after techiyat ha’maytim (resurrection of the dead), there will be no need for struggle between good and evil. At that time, feminine traits will be able to be revealed completely, and the status of women will rise beyond that of man, as is hinted in the verse: “For God has created a new thing in the earth: a woman shall court a man” (Jeremiah 31:21).
Apparently, however, men will always remain in the primary role of the one who defines the principles, courts his wife, sanctifies her, is responsible to take care of her well-being and pleasure, and leads the family. But then, people’s perspective will be deeper, and it will be clear that the female trait is of greater importance – she is capable of absorbing and revealing everything hidden within man’s initiative – far beyond what he himself understands. This capability also allows for the absorption of the Divine sparks of Creation, which are hidden in a deeper, richer, and more complete way.
There is still a need to clarify the halakhic significance of this rise in the status of women throughout history and our present-day situation, which, with God’s help, I will write about next time.
This article appeared in the ‘Basheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

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