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Anna Leonard Women, Gender, and Religion 10/16/11 Religion 202 Essay #1

Judaism and Hinduism are both patriarchal religions, the main difference between the two religions is that in Judaism the mans role as head of the family is not separated from his role as spiritual leader of the family; in Hinduism the woman is not the head of the family but she is the spiritual leader of the family. This plays a major role in womans relationship with God and their acceptance as fellow participants in the religion. In Judaism women have had to change their rituals to be more inclusive of women. In Hinduism women have had to struggle for the social value of girls rather than their inclusion into rituals; even so the social priority of men has played into a greater recognition of them in rituals. In Judaism men and women perform rituals. An example of an androgynous ritual is the circumcision ritual and the naming ceremony. Men are the only ones who could undergo circumcision. Thousands of years later feminists began the baby naming ceremony for baby girls. Another example of an androgynous ritual is the bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah. Men and women perform the bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah where they are given similar rights of passage such as being able to read the Torah and participate in the Minyan. In Hinduism women perform the rituals because they are thought to be able to evoke the spirits because of their feminine nature. I remember when the students came from Taiwan the first student mentioned that in a certain religious ceremony women were the primary evokers of the spirits.

In Judaism the rituals are primarily patriarchal because in the Torah men communicated mostly with God and they were seen as the head of society. They were the ones who performed the rituals. That is why Miriams cup is seen as such an important part of the Seder. Jewish women are pushing for more and more recognition in patriarchal ceremonies. In Hinduism some rituals are patriarchal but the women must perform the rituals. In Hinduism women are required to pray for long life and good health for their sons, husbands, and brothers. They also have to be present for the evoking of the spirits. In Hinduism having women performing rituals almost seems like a necessary evil. They are shown respect in their relationship with the divine but they are not venerated in the same way men are. The Hindu woman begins her day with cleaning and arranging the area and material for worship of their favorite deities. Jewish women perform a ritual house cleaning in preparation for Passover. Hindu women have the highest fear and respect for their deities and because their job is worship they are responsible for good karma. Jewish women see cleaning the home not as an act for other people but as an act of cleaning out the winter from their soul. It is as much an act for themselves as it is an act for God. By cleaning out their souls they acknowledge the sacredness of Passover. They are a people set apart for God. Women have a spirit of hospitality that it played out in Hindu and Jewish rituals. Every morning Hindu women draw auspicious signs on their houses and temples. These signs besides evoking the spirits, fulfills the Dharmic code of feeding a thousands souls every day. In the same way that Hindu women are hospitable towards nature, Jewish women take care of each other in the monthly Rosh Chodesh ritual. They bake Challah

and have festive of ritual meals. This is all done in veneration to Shekinah in the same way that Hindu women make auspicious signs to invite the spirits. Jewish rituals celebrate menarche and menopause; and mourn miscarriage and widowhood. The Hindu religion is not as open about womens milestones. Women are expected to be quiet and modest when they give birth. Her postpartum bleeding makes her impure similar to mikveh. People who are not of the untouchable caste are not to touch the baby. This is similar to a womans time away from society during menstruation. Three days after birth after the mother and baby are bathed and clothed in clean clothes, purifying rituals are performed such as applying cow or dung manure to the floors.1 This is similar to the mikveh that takes place after menstruation. The difference is that forty days pass before the mother and baby are welcomed back into society. A key difference between the birth of a baby boy or girl is a special celebration takes place if the baby is a boy. This is similar to the circumcision ceremony that marks the birth of a boy. In the Jewish tradition a naming ceremony takes place to honor the birth of a baby girl. In the Hindu tradition samskara, life-cycle, rituals are performed. From what I read, life-cycle rituals only take place to honor boy and men. Of course in Judaism Jews have adapted the baby naming ceremony so that girls may also be recognized. Like I have mentioned earlier, most Hindu women do not question the sexism of their rituals. Just as Jewish women now participate in most of the rituals in the synagogue, Hindu women also participate in the rituals in their temples. Alpna, assists with the preparation and serving of the priti-bhoj. She also rings the bell at the end of the final

Mary P. Fisher, Women in Religion. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc., 2007), 83

arati and reads the English translation of verses in the Bhagavada Gita. In India women also participate in ceremonial dancing in the temple. A difference that differentiates Jewish and Hindu rituals is that Hindu women are less willing or able to change the core rituals in their faith. Hindu women in the East dont question the rituals that their parents perform. In fact in the movie Monsoon Wedding, and all over the world, the mother wanted her low caste son to marry so that she could have a grandson. Jewish women have felt free to change their religion from a patriarchal religion to a more matriarchal religion. The difference between women in these religions is that Jewish women are more educated and have more access to the history of their religion and what their foremothers have done. Alpna believes that women perform the ritual fasts because they have more faith, more passion and love for God than men. This is the central idea behind the reason why women and not men perform the spiritual duties of the family. This idea does not translate into Judaism where headship and spiritualism are intertwined. The idea in Judaism is because God communicates with man. Jewish rituals reflect mans covenant with God. A mans devotion or fasting for God is analogous to a womans submission to her husband. Jewish rituals reflect mans covenant with God. If it is man that is the spiritual leader of the home and the church, woman is not given the opportunity to perform all the rituals for the man. As I mentioned in the last paragraph, women are primarily recognized for their devotion and endurance in the Hindu religion. This is why they tend to do better on pilgrimages. The chapter Women in Hinduism specifically mentions a pilgrimage to Mount Kailash on the Tibet border. When things got difficult, men were more likely to

complain whereas women would look for the positive in the situation. The women who went on the trip had an inner strength or were more determined. The inner strength that women have also makes them better at the very arduous puja performed every morning. Jewish women do not make a religious pilgrimage, but they do have a Passover Seder that celebrates womens journey from patriarchism. It reflects womens determination to change the norm of oppression and strive for independence and self-determination. In conclusion, historically women have fared much better in the Hindu religion, but socially they have fared better in the Jewish religion. Women have made great strides in the Jewish religion in terms of their religions perception of their value in society. Hindu women have not made the same strides probably because of their blind acceptance of their cultures values. Jewish women need continue the struggle of maintaining and furthering their value in Jewish society. Hindu women need to come together and struggle for recognition of the importance of women in society. They also need to use their rituals to grow closer to God instead of indirectly just being the mediators between men and God.