Sunday, August 1, 2010

Chochmas Noshim

We have a posuk that states: "chochmas noshim, bonsoh baisoh"--the wisdom of women builds their houses. The draft of a speech on this topic came my way for editing and I was taken by a few of the points made, hence my sharing them with you.

First, to what does the posuk actually refer? We can take it on its most literal level to mean that a woman's wisdom builds her personal household. She is both wife and mother and her wisdom creates for her family a solid home. We can look at the statement as applying only to one woman and her highly personal home.

We can also expand the way we look at the posuk. We can look at "baisoh" as being a family line. Thus, it is the wisdom of a wife/mother that builds up a family, for now and for the future.

Expanding even further we can generalize across Klal--it is the wisdom of women that have built/are building/will build the House of Israel, that will build Klal Yisroel.

The posuk assumes the following: 1)women have chochma, 2)they can/do use that chochma for building up, a positive action, 3)women have responsibility for building up Klal Yisroel, not only men.

Even were you to apply the posuk only to the first case--building up an individual home--the chochma of women would be of incredible importance. Without the individual families of Klal having strong homes and families there would be no Klal. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Women keep those links strong and firm. And because of the relationship necessary among those links, if there is to be a chain at all, the wisdom of women has to extend outside of their own personal homes to build the greater home that is Klal.

There are so many pieces written today and so many words spoken today about how frum women have overstepped their bounds, how frum women have no place in the public arena, how frum women have no place in communal life. There are those who see the place of women as neither being seen nor being heard. There are those who question why frum women should be educated--after all, how much education does it take to cook and have babies? Even those rare few who admit that if women are going to be financially supporting their families while the husbands sit and learn they should have some "training" are quick to point out that they might be bringing in the parnoseh but that should not give them swelled heads about their importance nor should it give them ideas that they are "equal" to the menfolk.

Not be seen and not be heard? Do we hire a contractor to build us a house and then take away the tools he could use to do so? Of course not. We expect that contractor to not only have all the tools necessary to build a solid house, but to have those tools be the most modern ones available. No one today builds a house using a stone for a hammer and tiny shards of iron as nails. We expect that that contractor will be experienced and will have gotten the full training necessary.

How much more important is the building of the homes and families of Klal. For us to survive as one "house," we have to have solid foundations that will support us, that will allow us to grow as we should. All those "contractors" who put down the role of women in building Klal? They're building houses on shifting sands, missing huge chunks of the foundation.

Yes indeed, chochmas noshim bonsoh baisoh--an idea to be celebrated and to be thankful for.


Trudy said...

The problem with the points made is that if you already believe them to be true then this is nothing new. And if you don't believe they are true you aren't going to be persuaded differently.

My young niece once gave a little dvar Torah that she had learned in school on just this posuk. Only thing is that her morah interpreted it to mean that the ONLY place where a woman's knowledge is useful is inside the house, that the house is a woman's only domain. Thought my sil would bust a gut when she heard that. But then that's what you get when you have teachers in an MO school who come from a hashkafa community waaaay to the right of MO.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that our society is very much based on what my neighbor will think.

It's a miracle that orthodox Jewish girls even won the right to have a basic Bais Yaakov education in the early 20th century. I guess that "oversight" was so egregious, that it became indefensible when attention was focused on the problem.

"All" it takes is for a highly regarded segment of the orthodox community to begin shifting its attitudes, and like-minded communities will begin doing so as well.

The challenge with giving women a more visible place in communal Jewish life, is that there isn't a problem perceived in its absence, as girls' education was.

I would say that women are still making baby steps, but it's very, very incremental. I was heartened to say the Star K's stamp of approval on female mashgichim, for instance.

Again, perhaps the solution is to position the lack of women in positions of authority as a problem, not an optional indulgence. Perhaps, for example, we need to suggest that women would feel more comfortable asking shailos to women rather than men.

If we continue giving women better Jewish educations, we will probably reach a point where the status quo will be increasingly unacceptable. Who knows? Fifty years from now, we might wonder what all the fuss was about.

Women won the right to vote and hold property only recently in American history, so it should surprise no one that orthodox Jewish society is slow to change.