Jewish Attitudes Toward Women Essay

1437 words - 6 pages

Urania, daughter of Abraham sang before female congregants in Worms, Qasmuna of Spain wrote rhymed verses that complemented her father’s poetry, and Benvenida Abarvanel the Italian daughter of Spanish refugees was a patroness of Jewish scholars and ventures. While today the positions these women held hardly seem shocking, these women lived during an era when, as has long been historically accepted, women held little power, leadership or communal roles. This view is changing but a discussion of Jewish attitudes toward women in the Middle Ages in both Ashkenaz and Spain is limited by the sources about women’s lives that survive. There are almost no books written by women or specifically for them. Instead, women’s lives are reflected primarily in legal writings, including codes of Jewish law, response literature, contracts related to betrothal, marriage, inheritance and business correspondences. The nature of these sources suggest that women were not viewed as participants in Jewish legal discourse, nor did the rabbis for the most part feel the need to provide women with literature that would allow them to make study a part of their religious life. At the same time, the rabbis felt that women were within jurisdiction of Jewish law and felt obligated to protect what they received as women’s rights and interests. Being so,the women of Ashkenaz enjoyed a significant improvement in their status compared with the talmudic era, and with Muslim countries. Economic, religious, and education advances for women in Ashkenaz was through the Jewish community’s transformation from an agrarian society to an urban bourgeois one. As women became more powerful economically, their status improved. Another important factor was the surrounding Christian culture. With the Christian societies’ relative openness toward women, the women of Ashkenaz were granted freedoms unknown to the women of the Muslim lands of the time and facilitated their personal development.
Although the main expectation for a Jewish women of either Ashkenaz or Spain was domestic, evidence shows that women were also active in transacting business, often supporting their husbands and families.The women of medieval Ashkenaz had many domestic responsibilities and had substantial work within in the family framework. The task of running the household and taking care of its needs like laundry, cooking, and cleaning were many and due to the huge amounts of work many households, even poorer ones, had servants to help with these chores. However women were not only involved in domestic jobs, but many were also involved in different business ventures. They engaged in traditional work such as weaving cloth and embroidering and were then traded at the marketplace. Others worked as midwives helping women during birth and helping people in their community during illnesses. Others were considered “wise women”, nashim hakhamot, and while they were not recognized as true doctors they were famous for their haling...

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