The Jewish Woman's Progress

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk



A Jewish Woman Today and Yesterday


“Es ist schwer zu sein ein Yid” is an expression many of us European Jews heard throughout our early years.  It was difficult then and more difficult  now.  The persecution that we suffered throughout our childhood was unimaginable.  The remnants of its tentacles reached far across the ocean.  Additionally, we of the female gender learned in our prayers, “thank G’d I’m not a woman”, thanking the Almighty that the reader should be grateful for being a man.  All of this and some additional gems of wisdom put woman in her place.  On the other side of the proverbial coin we felt some security in knowing what we had to do in order to remain a good Jewish woman.  We learned to please our parents, to follow the ten commandments, and to say our daily prayers beginning with the “Mode Ani” and ending with the “Krischme”. We did not have to attend synagogue as much as men, we did not count as the tenth man, thus we learned that the attendance at prayer services was hardly our responsibility.  We did not have to appear on the Bimah to perform and were able to keep our reticence – our shyness.  We learned to make it comfortable for our men on the Schabbat and otherwise, to cook, to keep the kosher laws and in short to service and to adhere to as many of the Karyagim Mitzwot (613 directives) as possible to be included in the set Schabbat table where we would eat Leviathan to our fill.  We knew it was the “thing” to go under the Chupah with a religious male, to honor and respect him, to bear children for him and to behave in a befitting manner for a “good Jewish wife”.  The change over the past century has been enormous!

Everything has changed – we no longer have the certainty of who we are and what the prescriptions are for being “good” Jewish women.

Along with our gentile sisters, we have “raged, we have aged”.  We have fought to gain equality.  We have stepped out of our role as subservient females, have fought to reach equality and have struggled to and sometimes surpassed the other half of humanity.  We have joined the ranks of physicians, attorneys, professors, teachers, Rabbis, Cantors,  are members of the House and the Senate and are proud to be women.  As Jewish women we have won and we have lost.  Our identity is blurred.   We have intermarried and we have donned taleisim (prayer shawls).  Our divorce rate has reached enormous proportions.  We no longer need a “get”, where only the male partner in the marriage could qualify for a divorce. We are not infrequently heads of households and have taken on new outlooks and new responsibilities as well as uncertainties.  There is a price to pay for those of us who are no longer young.  We started our careers to early and got squashed or started too late because we took time away from our positions to raise children and got blocked when we resumed our professions. We have confronted the inevitable failures that can occur in a full life: not getting hired, getting shoved to the side, getting eased out.  There is a price for changing the rules.  However, there is strength and satisfaction in this “raging sisterhood” and in our very ambitious Jewish sisterhood.  We are no longer the “Nebisches” who needed permission from our men to achieve a number of our goals.  The majority of  us love, cherish and admire our men.  We take pride in each other's accomplishments are supportive partners to one another, sharing the failures and successes of one another.  Hopefully we can achieve the essence and the comfort of being Jewish women, not casting away the beauty of our religion, of appreciating the peacefulness of the Schabbat, the satisfaction of being a part of our Jewish Community, the uniqueness of being different of being special, and much much more!  


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of  Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).

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