Faith Doesn’t Justify Discrimination Against Women

Sep 8, 2015

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

By Eric Segall

Last winter my wife and I attended a Bar Mitzvah at an orthodox temple in Atlanta, Georgia. Once we entered the sanctuary, it became apparent that we would have to sit on separate sides of an ornate barrier. I had heard about this practice but thought it had been abandoned everywhere but Israel. I noticed as the services went on that the women’s side was filled with people in colorful dress engaging in conversation and even a bit of merriment. This atmosphere was quite different than on my side, where the men were either reading silently or praying.

I wondered why men and women would sit separately in temple in 2015 and engage in quite different activities (at least at this temple). So, I did some research. Historically there were two primary reasons for the separation of men and women in temple. First, the temple is a place to pray and think about God, not the opposite sex. That explanation seems reasonably non-sexist. The second reason, however, is that under the Torah women are supposed to be the primary caregivers and managers of the household. Married women or women with children do not even have to attend temple in the first place. Thus, their prayer obligations and how they are supposed to participate in the services are quite different than the obligations placed on men.

These differing roles did not strike me as innocuous so I did more research into gender and religion. Here are just a few facts: Women cannot be ordained in the Catholic Church and of course the Vatican’s views on contraception and abortion (not to mention divorce) don’t do a lot for the cause of equality; women cannot be rabbis in Orthodox temples, and in Orthodox communities women still labor under numerous discriminatory rules such as a man may force a divorce upon a woman but the reverse is not possible, and only sons, not daughters, may inherit property.

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17 comments on “Faith Doesn’t Justify Discrimination Against Women

  • 1
    Miserablegit says:

    It is more of a surprise if there is any gender equalisation in the main religions, these have always been about putting women in their place.

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  • alf1200
    Sep 8, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    “Faith doesn’t justify discrimination against women”.

    Faith allows discrimination against anyone and anything – and is justified – in the eyes of the fundamentalist faithful!

    That is why faith-thinking is so damaging to communities, and minorities within those communities.

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  • I live in the US and am a minority. I don’t feel like this is my country. I feel like I woke up in a Christian theocracy twenty years ago and I haven’t woke since.
    There is a civil war going on in the US. Just it hasn’t been declared. The shots have been fired however.

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  • alf1200

    I used to think that this was some sort of aberration with tension building over the past years and society splitting into progressives vs reactionaries. Then I noticed the art of the mid 1800’s and there is a similar feeling in that art that betrays a pessimism and a discouragement over the forces that divided us then.

    I know how you feel though. In my worst moments I rue the day that the north won that civil war. Would things be better if we had divided at that time?

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  • I firmly believe the US should split. The southern states and the Midwest seem to be against progress and will never be a willing partner in the future.
    They have their own ideas and will never change.
    However, they don’t want to secede, they want to have the US become a theocracy. And only a “Christian” theocracy.
    Ok, here is how to deal with these folks.
    They want to kill infidels, The Islamic fundies want to kill them.
    Every year, they each donate their children to come to a stadium and kill each other.
    They both seem to be itching to dominate the planet.

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  • The ‘Daily Beast’ article glossed over Islamic views on women-
    I suppose all here know the following?

    Inheritance and legal testimony- both worth HALF that of a man.
    Rape- she must have FOUR MALE witnesses, otherwise it is
    considered ‘adultery’ and she can be stoned to death.
    Divorce- instantaneous for the husband but she must get his
    ALL men are superior to women. Muhammad said women were
    created ‘deficient in intellect’ and that the majority of those
    condemned to hell were women.
    The sole concern of a married woman is her husband’s needs,
    and she must consent to intercourse at any time. He is her
    master in every aspect of life.
    She may be beaten for refusing sex or ‘answering back’

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  • Faith Doesn’t Justify Discrimination Against Women

    I suspect that in the 21st century as world religions, notably Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism, along with outliers like Mormonism and Orthodox Judaism,’ loose their traction with younger generations, religious reformers will jettison those parts of the faith tradition that have taught the divinely ordained subordination of women to men while mandating traditional gender discrimination. The reformation will try to co-opt the secular, progressive trends sweeping across the globe but will find the effort too little too late. Clerics and theologians, religious teachers including an impressive component of women, will stammer out that the true God of the true faith never held those nasty old views about women. Those misinterpretations sprang from misguided church leaders held captive by the benighted, authoritarian, punitive cultures of the past. Today we realize that God has always loved women on an equal basis with men and furthermore…Sorry. Too little too late. And just plain bullshit.

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  • 12
    fadeordraw says:

    Religions are an evolutionary phenomena of homo sapiens dealing with sex (marriage/birthing) and death (negation of one’s existence), involving community gatherings and ritualistic performance and the governance over societal behaviours. The sexism, whereby women in almost all cases get the short end of the stick reflects, in almost all cases, the male dominance in the governance of communities and countries to date (it might be changing). Men war for possessions (for survival) and claim a trophy wife or a harem. That’s what happened/is happening. That our current, sophisticated judiciary leave these non-equalitarian, gender-based practices in place is also of interest; in Canada, for example, the gender-based practices of the Jewish, Islamic and Catholic religions are clearly in contravention of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Yet a challenge has yet to be made.

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  • I rue the day

    The North, historically, is almost as racist as the South. It is almost as reactionary, and almost as sexist. It is probably as religious. Let’s not delude ourselves.
    As for the Civil War, we have a role to play; we (the Northerners) never wanted reconstruction, and that mind-set exists today. Back then, the Northerners (who were, as I said, horribly racist as well) were afraid the former slaves would spread en masse to the North. Today they fear an enlightened south would undermine the exploitation of Southern labor which our economy is dependent upon.
    I am no historian (and correct me if I said anything inaccurate), but there are some misapprehensions about the South. I myself understand less than five percent of what makes the South tick, as it were.
    The South also made it difficult for reconstruction to come to fruition. I am not apologizing for them.
    And they always vote Republican! Shame on them!
    Why do you rue that day at times? I am confused.

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  • Dan
    Sep 14, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    I am not apologizing for them.
    And they always vote Republican! Shame on them!
    Why do you rue that day at times? I am confused.

    It’s like the proliferation of black evangelical Xtians, and peasants kow-towing to, and copying, the styles of, aristocrats, royalty, and millionaires, in the hope that some “superiority” will rub off on them by association!
    Mind-slaves loyally support their masters!

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  • It’s like


    Good point about people (“minorities”) voting Republican in order to identify themselves with the “elite” class. But is that why the South is predominantly Republican? I wasn’t clear about what you said re the South and its conservative (reactionary) aspect.

    In the sentence that starts with “it’s like” what and who does it refer to? I suspect that you’re making an excellent point. That is why I want to understand it better.

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  • Dan
    Sep 15, 2015 at 7:30 pm

    In the sentence that starts with “it’s like” what and who does it refer to?

    It refers to the peasants in feudal systems and feudal estates, along with servants in the stately homes of the rich, who see their loyalty to, and association with, “important people” on whom they depend, as conferring an elevated status on themselves.

    You see it in people fawning over royalty, popes celebrities etc.

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