International Women’s Day is a good time to celebrate what religious Jewish women have achieved, and at the same time think about the next steps in women’s overall fulfillment and happiness. Writing from Israel, I know Religious Zionist women who are accomplished judges, members of Knesset, activists, journalists and of course, growing numbers of female Torah scholars. These talented women are succeeding at work in addition to being actively involved mothers, wives and daughters, with all of the challenges that come along with family life. Then there is the common expectation for women to volunteer their time in their local schools and communities. All together, the expectations placed on women (often by ourselves) can be overwhelming. International Women’s Day is a good day to consider the pressure many women feel to keep juggling all of these roles, sometimes at the cost of their own well-being.
Giving to others is a significant Jewish value, often identified with women. This week’s parsha, Vayakhel-Pekudei, highlights the unique trait of volunteering associated with the women of Israel. The Torah emphasizes the women’s enthusiasm for generous giving to build the mishkan when it states: “The men came with the women.” (Shemot 35:22) Several biblical commentaries explain that the men came to donate at the women’s urging (as opposed to the episode of the golden calf where the midrash teaches that the men wanted to donate but the women refused). Chesed and tzedaka are central aspects of Judaism and part of what makes Jewish communities so special. But while we strive to do good, we should also take time to check on ourselves, to see not only what we have to give, but also what we might need. [Read more…]