D’var Torah: Male and Female God created them
Written by Rabbi Josh Levy — 25 October 2019
Over the last couple of months I have received a series of invitations from my former college to a special day of celebration.
The cause of this excitement? The 40th anniversary of the admittance of women. In 1979, after a mere six and half centuries of existence, and after a decade of campaigning by students, my alma mater became co-ed, accepting its first 15 female students.
Just last week, while sat in the office, someone’s phone got one of those annoying news flash sounds. In such a busy news time surely it must be something huge to be worthy of an alert?
Two women, Jessica Meir and Christina Koch, had carried out the first all-female spacewalk. Five and a half decades after the first woman had gone into space.
There are two ways of viewing these milestones. One is to be self-congratulatory (as my old college, and NASA seem to be). And it is true – how far we have come in so little time.
But the other is to recognise how recent and therefore how fragile this journey to equality is.
And that these developments also hide real cultural challenges that remain – the sort of everyday sexism that remains within our society; the fact that death threats and threats of deselection disproportionately target female MPs; that about 100 companies in the FTSE 350 either have no women or just one on their board. To name just a few.
These cultural challenges exist in our community too. A couple of Fridays ago, Rabbi Hannah told a wonderful story about a young boy who said to his mother ‘do you know that boys can be rabbis too’. This is heart-warming. But it should not mask how fragile even our equality is. We still encounter families who are resistant to a woman rabbi (or what we here like to call, a rabbi) officiating at their life-cycle event; we still have a visible marker of gender difference every Shabbat morning in the wearing of tallit in our community.
These challenges reflect deep seated assumptions in our tradition and in the stories we read. No story exemplifies this as much as the story of Gan Eden that Leila will read for us in the morning. A story in which woman is secondary, subservient and dangerous.
Our task as we read these stories, as we build our Judaism and our world, is to remember the other voice in our text. The voice that is there in our creation story, built into the very fabric of the universe in our foundational myth that we read on Simchat Torah. On the sixth day of creation, “Zachar u’n’keivah bara otam – male and female God created them.”
We do not – as we are sometimes accused – impose a belief in equality onto our Judaism. Rather, it comes from the very DNA of our creation story. The fact that equality has been suppressed in our tradition is the deviation, not the norm.
So, may this be the year that we not only celebrate anniversaries and acts of equality, but a year in which we find the ability to make it real. To make it real in law and in our culture, in the world, and starting in this community.