Privacy: Is it a Feminine Trait?
By Mrs. Feige Twersky
In Psalms, King David writes that the honor and beauty of a Jewish woman
is contained in her unique quality of inwardness. By contrast, today with
rare exception, we have come to value only that which is public. The more
public something is, the more worthwhile it is. Success in our society is
often associated with public attention. Our business and political
leaders, athletes, performers and authors dazzle us with their celebrity,
and we keep our eyes on headlines, magazine covers and talk shows in order
to stay abreast of who's who. Publicity and media have become conclusive
measures of success, eclipsing more legitimate ways of validating or
The allure of public roles creates misperceptions when it comes to the
roles of men and women in Jewish life. Take prayer for example. Judaism
mandates that men should pray in a quorum of ten ("minyan"). Such a
gathering often takes place in public - most often in a synagogue. Women
on the other hand are not required to pray in a minyan and, therefore,
have fewer organized opportunities to pray in public. This remains a
source of frustration for those women who perceive the public aspect of
male prayer as an opportunity for positive group support or a special
chance to get closer to G-d. They see how a man receives a great deal of
positive reinforcement for reading the Torah in synagogue, with pats on
the back, congratulations and the like. They feel left out by not having
access to the physical props for enhancing male spirituality - the prayer
shawl, tefillin and contact with the Torah scroll, for example.
In reality, today's Jewish woman has reason to feel that public attention
is the only barometer of success and the only meaningful route to personal
satisfaction. Society validates public performance and neglects the
importance of the private, inner aspects of life which women so naturally
command. Recognizing the value of her innate inner strength and embracing
the Torah path based on this underrated gift remain among the most awesome
challenges facing the modern Jewish woman. The truth of the matter is
that, in spite of abundant misperceptions and misleading conclusions about
the role of the Jewish woman, Torah has always valued her ability to forge
a profound relationship with G-d and to build the Jewish Nation in a style
that is unique, private and understated.
It is worth exploring the Torah concepts that validate the feminine trait
of privacy. According to Judaism, achievements that are not subject to
public scrutiny are among mankind's most precious. Moshe Meiselman in his
book, Jewish Women in Jewish Law (Ktav Publishing/Yeshiva University
Press, 1978) states that our internal landscape, rather than external
events, is more valuable than the image we project in public. Our public
conduct is often based on personal agenda. By contrast, our character
traits, our feelings and our unspoken acts of kindness remain unaffected
by ulterior motivation. Women more than men have a natural mastery of this
inner level of life (as discussed in previous classes). Since women are in
touch with their most private selves, they have the ability to relate to
others on a profound level and to function effectively in this unseen
Given her innate sense of privacy, the Jewish woman's enormous potential
for accomplishment accompanies her wherever she goes. Thus, Torah assigns
her the responsibility of sanctifying any space she inhabits. At home, at
work or in the community, a woman is charged with transforming every
physical space into a spiritual domain fit for G-d's presence. In the
Jewish tradition, a married woman visits the mikvah, a pool of natural
water in which she immerses after every monthly cycle, according to Jewish
law. She sanctifies this womb-like environment, a close companion to the
first space a baby inhabits and one of the most profoundly private spaces
in the human life cycle.
Each of us wants to leave an indelible mark on the world. Society
encourages us to do so with a maximum of showmanship and public attention.
In traditional Judaism, the more externally focused rituals assigned to
men are easily misconstrued as more important than the more private path
that Torah assigns women. If we turn our backs on secular measures of
accomplishment, however, we understand how Torah recognizes a woman's
ability to pray and to establish a deeply personal relationship with G-d,
independent of the more proscribed route assigned men. Privacy is the
hallmark of a woman's spirituality as well as the tool with which she
creates sanctity in this world.
Responses to this and any other "Women in Judaism" classes are welcome.
Material may be reprinted on the bulletin board at the Jewish Renaissance
Center website (www.JewishRenaissance.org).
Lecture by Mrs. Feige Twerski, adapted from "Privacy: Is It a Feminine
Trait?" published 1993, in The Jewish Women's Journal. Mrs. Twerski
provides insight into the challenges facing the family today, with
emphasis on the role of the contemporary Jewish woman. For a listing of
her cassette offerings, please call 1-800-878-5000.
Text Copyright © 2004 by Mrs. Leah Kohn and Torah.org.