As I entered my 40s, I decided not accept the status quo of things. I chose, in particular, to question Judaism; especially my role in it as a woman and a feminist. I dared to verbalize the fact that my chauvinistic, patriarchal religion simply did not speak to me. But, before I arbitrarily threw out years of family traditions and blind faith, I decided to embark upon a program of study that might answer my concerns and offer some alternative perspectives.
I enrolled in a course called “Women in Rabbinic Literature” to better comprehend (and rage against) the Sages through their discourses in the Talmud; a collection of discussions and analyses of Jewish laws, ethics, customs, and practices. In particular, the syllabus focused on how the topics of Marriage, Divorce, Relations Between the Sexes, Inheritance, and Testimony impacted women of their time. What I learned radically altered the way I perceive and understand my rights as a Jewish woman.
For starters, let’s talk about marriage. According to Maimonides, when a man marries a woman, he is obliged to grant her ten rights. Among these, three of them are from the Torah: She’er, food; Kesut, clothing; Onah, sexual relations. The other seven are rabbinical [according to the rabbis]. They include:
- A marriage contract, including a monetary sum set aside for her in case of his death or divorce;
- Medical care, in case she becomes ill;
- Redemption, in case she is kidnapped;
- A proper burial, when she dies;
- Financial security, in the event that he dies and she remains an unmarried widow;
- Financial security to support her unmarried daughters, born from him, in the event he dies; and
- A commitment that her sons, born from him, will inherit the monetary sum set aside for her in the marriage contract, in addition to their own inheritance that they will receive along with their siblings.
Rabbinic legal mumbo-jumbo aside, I feel blessed and privileged to have the marriage that I do. Our relationship is a true partnership, where we equally care about each other’s needs. My medical coverage has been more than adequate over the years; my funeral and burial wishes are taken care of; our life insurance and wills are in place; money has been set aside for the kids’ weddings; and, perhaps foolishly, I’m not worried about divorce. In addition, one look at me proves that I’m well clothed and fed. I feel grateful, however, that the Sages were ahead of their time and sought to protect women who may have been or may be less fortunate than I. For this, I give the rabbis the credit due them.
Now, what I learned about the Sages’ opinions on sex…well, that’s an entirely different matter…
 By Rabbi Judith Hauptman of the Jewish Theological Seminary of New York.