The "great matriarchs" have died. Dinah has disappeared. The wives of the 12 sons of the third generation did not attract the attention of the Biblical narrator.
Woman, half-woman, quick glance
As a matter of fact, there is one woman in this Torah portion, half a woman, half a verse, and another half. She serves as a reminder that the world could not exist without women. In the absence of any other woman being recognized in the portion, one woman is explicitly mentioned by name, however it is a fleeting reference made by virtue of the man she was given to for marriage and the children to whom she gave birth.
Genesis 41:45 and 41:50 reads: "And Pharaoh called Joseph's name Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him to wife Osnat the daughter of Poti-phera priest of On. And Joseph went out over the land of Egypt... And unto Joseph were born two sons before the year of famine came, whom Osnat the daughter of Poti-phera priest of On bore unto him."
I do not know what to be more surprised from, the Biblical narrator's ability to describe fourteen years in the life of our ancestors without any mention of women, or from the fact that Osnat's name bursts out for a brief moment from this large graveyard in women's history. What was so pressing for he who decided to conceal the Biblical women, to mention twice the Osnat's name? And if he has chosen to mention her, why make her then disappear so immediately thereafter?
Footnote: Womanly Joseph, Joseph's women
The Bible offers for Joseph a complex and surprising masculine character. Already in his youth it is said of him (Genesis 37:2): "... (Joseph) being still a lad even with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah..."
Joseph's father prepared for him a special garment, a many colored coat, described in another place in the Bible as an article of clothing typically worn by women: "A garment of many colors upon her; for with such robes were the king's daughters that were virgins appareled" (2 Samuel 13:18).
Joseph, attractive and good looking, resists all of the sexual advances of Potiphor's wife. Despite his status and beauty, his life is very void of stories with women. What the Bible does not say explicitly, classical and contemporary commentators do. They offer varied solutions to the riddle of Joseph's sexual orientation.
It is likely that the marginal mentioning, extraneous when considered in hindsight, of Osnat is added to the Torah portion in order to clear the clouds of doubt from Joseph's sexuality, and to join him to the family of men, men who are attracted to women, sleep with women, grow children in women's wombs, and enjoy women's daily hard work, but do not think that they have real lives, and even worse – that their 'lives' are not worthy of telling.
Israeli 'at the end of women' portion – chapter 1
Thousands of years have passed since the days of Egypt's skinny and fat cows. Human society has succeeded at creating electricity and landing on the moon. Yet despite the many years and the advancements in understandings in other areas, it still has not been discovered that women have real lives.
The Feminist regions of the internet were abuzz in light of an additional halachic ruling that at its core is an effort to put an end to a new and frightening phenomenon – women that speak, that think, and even dare to give Torah sermons in public.
This halachic response was written by Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, one of the leading rabbis of Religious Zionist movement, the chief rabbi of Ramat Gan, who was a candidate for the office of the chief rabbi of the State of Israel. For the benefit of whomever has not had a chance to be updated regarding the halachic response's status in the community, I will cite it below (in the exact same language it was sent to my e-mail address from www.yeshiva.org.il):
"At a quorum I pray at on Shabbat, it is a practice to let women give Torah sermons from the stage: 1. In the Winter, on the eve of Shabbat between the prayer services of welcoming the Shabbat and the evening prayer. 2. In the Summer, before the additional prayer service. It is important to note that sometimes the woman does not cover her hair and wears minimal to know arm coverings, let alone the short length of her skirt or exposed cleavage.
"1. Is it at all permitted to pray in this quorum? 2. If so, is it permitted to leave when a woman is giving a Torah sermon, an action that would offend the woman, others present, and disgrace God's name? 3. Is it permitted to pray when no Torah sermon is being given by a woman? With blessings on your great work and with the blessings of Torah."
"Throughout the entire prayer service there must be a complete separation between men and women. There is no place for a Torah sermon given by a woman even if she is modestly dressed. All the more so when her appearance and dress is not modest. This is a desecration of the holy. You should search for a different house of prayer."
Regretfully, I am not surprised that Rabbi Ariel, who eats of my bread and drinks of my wine, defines a Torah sermon by a woman as a "desecration of the holy." Regretfully, he also is not embarrassed to publicize this. Regretfully, he does not have any reason to be afraid that his words will put his public office at risk, his public office funded by my money and the money of my holy-desecrating, female friends.
From the Torah portion “Miketz” all the way through Rabbi Ariel, there are too many people who think they can use women's bodies and at the same time throw away women's souls to the margins of human existence.
Hope, half a hope
The rage and pain from Rabbi Ariel's response is diluted with a spark of hope. From the response that recommends to the inquirer to find a new house of prayer, we can learn that even Rabbi Ariel himself understands that it is impossible to change the winds of freedom that even in the Orthodox community are blowing.
Rabbi Ariel does not sound surprised by the description of the women who give Torah sermons on the stage. He also does not suggest changing that house of prayer's customs. It seems to me that Rabbi Ariel understands that he is waging a futile, rearguard war, and that he is waging it in full retreat.
Back to true religiousness
Because I pay for Rabbi Ariel's salary, I feel a sense of responsibility. As a responsible woman, even if I am a "desecrater of the holy," I want to propose to Rabbi Ariel an alternative response, a response that will restore the responsibility to its proper place and try to put an end to the "ending of women." Rabbi Ariel, what is your opinion of this following halachic response?
"Throughout the entire prayer service and the Torah sermon, every person praying is obligated to focus his or her heart for the lofty sake of Heaven, therefore I am surprised, even distressed that during the Torah sermon you are preoccupied with measuring the sleeve-length and cleavage of the woman giving the Torah sermon, rather than with the Torah sermon itself.
"There is an explicit prohibition from the Torah against objectifying women, who exactly like you are created in God's image, merely as sexual objects. All the more so when she is giving a Torah sermon. I suggest that if you are not able to respectfully listen with the appropriate level of seriousness to a Torah sermon being delivered by a woman (however she is dressed), you should urgently search for help from a rabbi, psychologist, or anyone else capable of helping you.
"Remember, even though you have the option of searching out a new House of Prayer, you do not have the option of searching out a different world and a different set of ethics. Therefore it behooves you to regain your composure."
Israeli 'at the end of women' portion – chapter 2
Today, while I searched after an article by the important researcher and philosopher Dr. Meir Bozaglu, I serendipitously came across the book, "Multiculturalism in the Israeli Test" edited by Ohad Nachtumi from the Tel-Hai Academic College published by Magnes Press in 2003.
I would generally not bother you with these type of technical details were it not for the fact that out of curiosity when I was reading the list of included articles and authors, I was saddened, but not surprised to discover that a book dealing with multiculturalism in Israeli society did not have even one female author. And so it is that even a book edited in the academic world, dedicated to multiculturalism, women have again been made to disappear. Even the one article dedicated to feminism is written by a man.
Guess who else is excluded from the book? Male and female Arab authors of course. The table of contents that I was exposed to in passing while standing next to the photocopy machine comes to teach us a few things:
- There is a high probability that whomever excludes women will exclude other populations as well.
- The exclusion of women that begins with the "Miketz" Torah portion has still not concluded, not in the religious world, nor in the scientific community.
Sometimes values wear you down
Yes, there is no comparison between intentional and accidental errors, and I am well aware of the categorical difference between the ideological discrimination of Rabbi Ariel, and the serious mistake that the editor and publishers of the book "Multiculturalism in the Israeli Test." Together with that, beliefs and values really are tests, sometimes very difficult and tiring ones.
Today, when I stood next to the photocopy machine, I wanted to break it. I wanted to tear the book. I wanted to scream in the middle of the library. I wanted to say that Me and my female friends are sick and tired of being the babysitter of "Tzelem Elohim," "God's Image," and that we are sick and tired of having to remind the world that we exist, and that on our voice falls the responsibility to fix thousands of years of injustice, and that if we all would be more moral people, the pain would be less and the change would happen faster.
However I do not vandalize property or burn books, me and my female friends believe that a just struggle must be a nonviolent struggle. So at the end of a day that began with the riddle of the exclusion of women from the "Miketz" Torah portion, passed on to the expulsion from the house of prayer by Rabbi Ariel, and ends with a women-free academic book, I want to ask, almost beg for all of us to pay attention, not to silently acquiesce to discrimination, and that we not think that the equality is our second name nor assume that equality is an automatic phenomenon.
Translated by Uzi Bar-Pinchas
Click here to read this article in Hebrew