Monday, June 21, 2010

Jesus and the Role of Women pt.2

"In the centuries following the close of the Old Testament, however, the rabbis instituted practices that went beyond the biblical norms and resulted in much greater restrictions of women's privileges. These rabbinical strictures were not inspired by God and often reflect a wrong attitude toward women and their abilities. These traditions of men should not be identified as biblical commands or practices.

Rabbinical writings in the Mishna and Talmud, although written down after the first century, reflect practices that were contemporaneous with the time of Jesus' earthly ministry. The following four social norms were practiced in Jesus' day.

1. Women were to be shunned in public social contact. Consider the following passage from the Mishna tractate Abot, 1, 5: "Engage not in too much conversation with women. They said this with regard to one's own wife. How much more does the rule apply to another man's wife? As long as a man engages in too much conversation with women, he causes evil to himself, for he goes idle from the study of the Torah, so that his end will be that he will inherit gehenna."[Hell.]

2. Women were not to be publicly taught the Torah. This was not true in the Old Testament period (e.g., Josh. 8:35; Neh. 8:2-3). Consider, however, the following passage from the tractate Sota, 10a: "May the words of Torah be burned, than that they should be handed over to women." In Sota 21b it is written, "Rabbi Eliezer says: Whoever teaches his daughter Torah teaches her obscenity." This attitude about women's innate inability to learn the Torah was manifested by having special courts for women in the Second Temple and also in synagogues, where they were separated from men. The latter practice continues to the present time among Orthodox Jews. The idea that women could learn in the same schools with men was not even entertained.

3. Women were restricted from orally communicating the Torah to others, even to children. Consider Mishna Kiddushin 4,13: "An unmarried man must not be a teacher of children, nor may a woman be a teacher of children." This restriction also applied to publicly reading Scripture in the synagogue (Megillot 73a) and even to pronouncing the benediction after a meal in the home (Mishna Bereshit 7:2).

4. Women did not have the right to bear public witness in judicial cases. Baba Kamma 88a declares, "Though the woman is subject to the commandments, she is disqualified from giving evidence." The first-century Jewish historian, Josephus, characterized the general attitude of his time in Antiquities 4,219: "Let not the testimony of women be admitted because of the levity and boldness of their sex."

Such burdensome restrictions certainly went far beyond what the Old Testament taught about the woman's role outside the home. The rabbinic Judaism of the post-biblical period actually involved more reaction than progress. When viewed against this rigid background, Jesus' attitude toward women in His ministry comes as a breath of fresh air on an arid and barren plain.


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