The Jerusalem Talmud was written during the 5th century CE, hundreds of years after Jesus lived and ministered here in the Land of Israel in the first century. Tractate Sotah 47 of the Jerusalem Talmud tells a story about how Rabbi Joshua Ben-Perchiah threw Jesus out of his yeshiva (religious academy) for being a chauvinist who disrespected women. There are several contradictions in this tale, the main one being the chronological contradiction, since Rabbi Joshua Ben-Perchiah lived long before Jesus did. We have dedicated another piece to the contradictions about Jesus in the Talmud, but this time, we would like to focus on Jesus’ revolutionary approach toward women, especially in contrast with the rabbis of the Talmud.
Today, we are witnessing serious oppression of women among rabbis; for example Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak, currently the most famous proselytizer, recently claimed in his lectures that women should not be allowed to drive a vehicle, and even worse, that a “woman cannot be a part of the resurrection from the dead, only men can.”
If the phenomenon of women’s oppression in Israel today scares you, try to imagine how serious it was during Jesus’ time, 2,000 years ago. Jesus was a true revolutionary, and most likely was seen by some as a feminist, because he opposed the religious chauvinism and discrimination against women so radically in his time. But in order to understand the extent of just how revolutionary Jesus was, we first have to understand the cultural and religious background of that era.
Rabbi Bahya Ben-Asher said: “The female is irrelevant in creation, as she is only like a leech, clinging to the main thing, taken from it for its usage. She is made special for its usage as one of his special parts for its own usage.”
Tractate Sanhedrin 11: “Woe to him whose children are females”.
Midrash Genesis Rabbah 17: “Once Eve was created, Satan was created with her.”
Tractate Sotah 21: “Whoever teaches his daughter Torah, teaches her obscenity.”
Rabbi Levi Ben Gershon said about the woman: “She has no more qualities than animals, if she even has a brain.” He also said: “She was created in order to serve.”
Later on in the Middle Ages, the Rambam wrote that a woman is ready to have sexual relations at age 3, and to give birth at age 12 (Ishut 3:11). He also declared to the husbands: “The husband should prevent this and not allow his wife to leave the house any more than once or twice a month if needed. Since the beauty of a woman comes from sitting in the corner of her house” (Ishut 13:11).
In the Jerusalem Talmud, Chapter 6, page 33 of Tractate Shabbat, it says that it is also forbidden to give women jewelry, since they are arrogant. Rabbi Yitzhak Luria, one of the greatest minds in Kabbalah, used to also spit on women that he considered to be dressed incorrectly: “Therefore, the Ari Hakadosh would spit every time he saw a saucy woman. It was considered a great virtue to spit when you see an immodest woman.”
The Rambam said that in the case of a trial, “women are invalid to testify” (Edut 9:2) In contrast, in the New Testament, Jesus highly appreciated women’s testimonies. In Matthew 28, Jesus, after his resurrection, chose to reveal himself first and foremost to two women.
The Sages warned that it’s better to stay away from women: “Do not speak excessively with women, for all women’s conversations are lewdness” (Minor Tractates, Derech Eretz, Arayot, Halacha 13). In contrast, Jesus encourages two of his female friends, Miriam and Martha, to stop doing household chores, to sit down, relax, and to study the Word of God with Him (Luke 10). Also in the New Testament, the apostle Paul recommends a woman as a deacon in the community, and asks that they take care of all her needs. In another case, the New Testament glorifies a woman named Tabitha from Jaffa, for her good deeds and charity. (Acts 9:63) These are only a few examples of how Jesus broke the patterns of discrimination against women in the name religion.
Now pay attention to His revolutionary approach. While the rabbis forbid any physical contact between men and women, and even encourage men to avoid the company of women altogether, as it is written: “One who excessively converses with a woman causes evil to himself, neglects the study of Torah, and, in the end, inherits purgatory” (Mishna Avot 1), Jesus did the exact opposite. The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 9 describes it: “A ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose.”
Jesus, who loved women, respected them as God’s creation, and refused to treat them as objects, but the Rambam said: “Any woman who refuses to do one of the chores she is obligated to do is forced to do it even by the rod.” (Ishut 21:10) Rabbi Abraham Ben David takes it further, and says that it is permissible to starve a woman until she surrenders. In contrast, the New Testament commands men: “Husbands, love your wives even as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it.” (Eph. 5) Instead of hitting their wives, the New Testament commands men to give their lives up for them.
Jesus dared to stand-up against the social, cultural and religious norms that were occurring in the name of God and in the name of religion. In the New Testament, Jesus’ friend John describes a situation in which the rabbis threw an adulteress woman at Jesus’ feet, in order to obstruct Jesus: “The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”… He stood up and said to them “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”… When they heard it, they went away one by one… and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8)
In another incident, Jesus broke yet another religious norm of no less significance when he struck up a conversation with not just any woman, but a Samaritan woman. She was surprised that a Jewish man would be willing to speak to her and said: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (John 4). Both the Samaritan woman and the lady in John’s story clearly had a colourful past but Jesus offered them grace, forgiveness and kindness nonetheless. For 2,000 years now, the rabbis have been trying to hide the Messiah from you, suggesting that he was a chauvinist and a dis-respecter of women, when in fact the opposite was true. He not only loved and respected women, but also gentile women, and the kind of women that Isaac Luria would only spit upon.
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