All women will be interested in this story, so you might want to share it with your family members and friends.
The United Nations continues to knock down Israel again, again, and again. Last Friday, this end-time, often anti-Semitic organization, used “women” as their hammer and nail.
On March 9th, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women blamed Israel for the plight of Palestinian women.
An outrageous resolution was drafted stating that the “Israeli occupation” remained “the major obstacle for Palestinian women with regard to their advancement, self-reliance and integration in their society’s development.”
That absurd resolution came on the heels of International Women’s Day and the Festival of Purim, which had both been celebrated the day before.
On Purim, one of the most joyous and fun days on the Jewish calendar, many communities present Purim Spiels, a traditional type of Jewish play, in which the central text and narrative revolves around events found in the Book of Esther.
Women often play a central, but unglorified role in many stories of the Bible, although the Book of Esther is an exception to that trend. In fact, it’s one of the only books in the Bible named after a woman.
Although Queen Vashti is something of a footnote in the Book of Esther, many today cannot help but be sympathetic to her situation.
After days of partying and drinking, her husband, King Ahasuerus, demanded that she appear before him and entertain his guests wearing her crown.
“On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him … to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at.” (Esther 1:10–11)
Jewish tradition holds that she was commanded to come wearing only her crown. Because only the crown is specified, rabbinic tradition extrapolates that this beautiful woman was to appear naked, though not everyone accepts this interpretation.
Seemingly valuing her dignity more than her position, she refuses and is banished. Of course, Scripture is silent about her reasons for refusing.
Esther, who remains faithful and obeys her husband the king, is chosen as the queen who replaces Vashti. She eventually saves the Jewish People of the Persian Empire from annihilation.
While Esther has been conventionally endorsed as a role model to emulate, Vashti has been cast as a rebellious woman.
The story of Purim, however also reveals how little power women in the ancient Persian Empire had, and that they were little more than objectified property.
They were so subordinated to men that even a queen could be banished simply for disrespecting her husband’s wishes.
UN Slams Israel for Impeding the Advancement of Palestinian Women
The intersection of Purim and International Women’s Day seems like an apt time to examine the status of women in ancient and modern Israel, and Messiah Yeshua’s attitude toward women.
This seems all the more pertinent in light of the UN’s draft resolution, which was approved by a vote of 29 in favor and two against (Israel and the United States), with 10 abstentions (Belgium, Colombia, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Spain, and Sweden).
Speaking after the vote, Israel’s representative said that although the situation of Palestinian women “may not be ideal,” by adopting the eight-clause resolution, the Commission was sending a message that other women were “not as important.”
Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the resolution failed to denounce “honor killings” in Palestinian society and to discuss the repression of women in Gaza by Hamas.
The decision brought “levels of absurdity and cynicism to new heights,” he said, noting that “under the protection of the European states’ abstaining, the [CSW] turns its back on the tortured and murdered women of Damascus and continues to obsessively deal with Palestinian women.”
“The thousands of Syrian women butchered, tortured, raped and trampled under Assad’s iron boot don’t even get a passing mention in the panel’s decisions,” he said.
It is obvious that if the United Nations can trample on Israel, they will.
Women in Israel
Although Israel has once again been demonized by the UN, Israel is concerned about the status of women both in Israel and around the world.
In fact, Israel did send a delegation of senior government officials and NGO representatives to the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
Israel’s “Foreign Ministry together with Authority of the Advancement of Women in the Prime Minister’s Office have in recent years significantly increased Israel’s involvement in the advancement of the status of women at the United Nations and around the world,” according to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
As a general trend in Israel, women are fully integrated into almost every sector of society and the economy.
There is a growing social cohesion and prosperity in Israel that is especially notable in light of dismal economic forecasts, the election of extremist Islamist forces from Morocco to Egypt, and Israel’s neighboring states that are torn by rebellion and revolution.
Despite the largely egalitarian nature of Israeli society, in the past several months stories of gender segregation and inequality have hit the newsstand bringing the issue to the forefront.
In December 2011, when Israeli police in Beit Shemesh removed a sign ordering the separation of men and women in public spaces, a 300-person protest about gender segregation was ignited, pitting the ultra-Orthodox against secular Jews. Similar protests were sparked across the country.
In Judaism, gender segregation can at least partially be explained by the Scriptural concepts of tahor and tamei, ritual cleanliness and uncleanness.
For instance, contact with the dead, sexual relations, a man’s nocturnal emission, a woman’s menstrual period, and giving birth could render a person tamei (ritually unclean).
The Status of Women Under Mosaic Law
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17)
Many believe that under Mosaic Law, a wife was considered property belonging to her husband, along with his house, slaves, ox, donkey and possessions.
Since a woman was considered unclean for the duration of her menstrual flow, men were forbidden to even touch a woman in case they be rendered unclean as well.
“When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening. Anything she lies on during her period will be unclean, and anything she sits on will be unclean.” (Leviticus 15:20)
According to the Book of Leviticus, if a woman gave birth to a male child, the duration of her period of uncleanness would be one week; however, after the birth of a female child, that period of uncleanness would be doubled to two weeks (Leviticus 12:1–5).
Due to a concern that they will be rendered unclean, today Orthodox Jewish men still will not shake a woman’s hand or sit next to her on the bus, park, etc.
Women in Ancient Israel
In ancient Israel, women were forbidden, according to Jewish tradition, from studying Torah with men or being called up to the Torah.
Even today, in Orthodox Judaism, women cannot read from the Torah scroll on the Sabbath, although many Conservative and all Reform synagogues allow women to share in this privilege.
In ancient Israel, as in other ancient and some modern cultures, a woman’s status and freedom were severely limited by law and custom.
Most women were not allowed to occupy positions of any real authority. They were usually confined to the realm of their father or husband’s home, under whose authority they had to remain.
Divorce was easily accessible for a man but impossible for a woman.
From the period of the Second Temple, women could not go out in public unless they were doubly veiled. They were not allowed to testify in court trials.
Chauvinism in Israeli Society Today
Some of the second class citizen status of women carries over even today among some members of the Orthodox Jewish community.
For instance, although a quorum of ten, which is called a minyan, is required to hold public prayer, women are not allowed to make up one of the required ten of the minyan. Only Jewish males over the age of 13 (Bar Mitzvah) qualify.
In many non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, however, adult females do count in a minyan.
On special buses for religious Jews, while the men take the front seats, the women are relegated to the back of the bus, even though they are the ones who are usually heavily burdened with babies, strollers, small children and their bags of shopping.
Of course, wrongful attitudes toward women do persist in the world at large. It seems a universal rule that the more religious and legalistic a society or culture’s attitudes, the more it oppresses women.
Yeshua: The Role Model of How to Treat a Woman
When it comes to women, Yeshua (Jesus), who was perfectly Torah observant, is an excellent role model for any person confused about how to treat a woman.
Several examples in the New Testament reveal that He challenged the attitudes and norms of His time, and treated women as individuals who were created in God’s image and deserving of human dignity.
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)
We see an instance of Yeshua breaking through cultural and religious constraints when He spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. Not only was she a woman, but she was a Gentile woman.
And not only was she a woman, and non-Jewish, but she had also been married several times and was currently living in a common law relationship. Of course, Yeshua knew all of this before he spoke to her.
“Yeshua said to her, ‘You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.’” (John 4:17–18)
And it was to this particular woman that Yeshua chose to openly assert that He is the Messiah for whom they were waiting!
“The woman said, ‘I know that Messiah’ (called Christ) ‘is coming. When He comes, He will explain everything to us.’ Then Yeshua declared, ‘I, the one speaking to you—I am He.’” (John 4:25–26)
Whereas women were excluded from the worship and teaching of God, Yeshua permitted and even encouraged women to learn from Him, contrary to the Jewish religion, culture and tradition of His day, as we read in the story of Mary and Martha.
In the account of the two sisters, Mary and Martha, while Martha occupied herself with providing for people’s physical needs, Mary simply sat at Yeshua’s feet, listening to Him teach (Luke 10:39).
When Martha complained to Yeshua that her sister should be in the kitchen helping her, He diffused the situation by telling her that Mary had chosen something better.
“But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:41–42)
Obviously Yeshua recognized that women had value outside the domestic sphere.
He treated women as intelligent human beings who were also capable of learning spiritual truths.
Considered even more scandalous to some people in His day was the incident where Yeshua allowed a sinful woman to touch Him, wet His feet with her tears, wipe them away with her hair, and anoint His feet with perfume.
“A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Yeshua was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind Him at His feet weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” (Luke 7:37–38)
Another woman, Mary Magdalene (Mary of Magdala), who Yeshua had cleansed of seven demons, became one of His most celebrated disciples. She was present when Yeshua was crucified, even after all His male disciples, except John, had fled. She was also present at His burial and the first person to see Yeshua after His resurrection.
The honor, therefore, of being the first eyewitness to the resurrection of the Son of God was given to a woman.
That same woman was the first to share the good news of the Gospel that “He has risen.” Perhaps because she was a woman, however, she was not believed.
“When Yeshua rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Yeshua was alive and that she had seen Him, they did not believe it.” (Mark 16:9–11)
Yeshua revealed through His teaching and example that God considers every person precious and valuable, regardless of gender, race, or nationality.
He came, in part, to restore dignity to all people, including women, and to break the yoke of oppression.
This is one of many reasons why the followers of Yeshua love him.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6)