Women in Judaism

By Edith E. Yanez

The basis of Judaism is found in the Bible and the Talmud. Jewish women’s contribution is evident in the Bible, even though they are mentioned less than men. After the Diaspora, Jews formed many communities throughout Europe; however, they have had to relocate due to changes in rulers and their acceptance of Judaism in their region. Jewish women’s role in religion focuses on their participation in the domestic sphere since women’s main responsibility was that of wife and mother. While men prayed in public and studied the Talmud, women prayed at home privately.

As discussed on the topic of conversas, women’s participation was essential to the retention of the Jewish religion. Responsibilities included teaching the children their faith, but keeping it secret as well (Crypto-Jews). Other traditions and domestic rituals included the baking the hallah, the separation of the dough, Hadlaqah, the lighting of the candles and fasting. Judaism survived due to the courageous efforts of women to not shy away since the repercussions were great.

Judaism is contradictory in regards to women: While the Bible is a basis for their belief, stating, “He who has no wife dwells without good, without help, without joy, without blessing, and without atonement.”[1] Yet, the Talmud states, “A women is “a pitcher full of filth with it mouth full of blood, yet all run after her.”[2] Women have traditionally risen to the occasion when required. According to Chava Weissler in the Voices of the Matriarchs, she writes extensively on the subject of tkhines and the value contributed and compared to a “women’s bible.[3] Their participation in religion as learned scholars and knowledge of Hebrew was limited, but the tradition tkhines (originally passed down by women orally generation to generation) helped to keep Judaism in the face of adversity many times throughout the medieval and early modern European times.

Women were exempt from religious learning since the Talmud did not require it[4] as their primary focus as mentioned before was the domestic sphere. However, ordinary women and not necessarily Rebetzins or Fitzogerins were but an exceptional few, the women of these households were precisely learned and spiritual human beings performing their religious duties such as the baking of the bread or performing their household duties. [5] Performing domestic duties was seen as a celebration, honor and virtue.

[1] Leonard Swidler, Women in Judaism: The Status of Women in Formative Judaism (Metuchen: 1976), iii.

[2] Ibid. iii.

[3] Chava Weissler, Voices of the Matriarchs: Listening to the Prayers of Early Modern Jewish Women (Boston: 1998),

[4] Swidler, 95.

[5] Weissler, 3.