The Bible Says What? ‘Women are the property of men’

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The Bible Says What? ‘Women are the property of men’

Rabbi Pete Tobias takes a controversial topic from Jewish texts and applies a Liberal Jewish response

Rabbi Pete Tobias

I always knew the Bible was pretty tough on women (because it was, quite clearly, written by men). 

But some of the rules towards the end of the book of Deuteronomy take Ancient Israelite misogyny to a whole new level.

 The Biblical reality is that women were regarded as items of property to be owned by men. The regulations regarding women as they appear in the supposedly enlightened laws of Deuteronomy are appalling.

I’m not giving a full list of some of the dehumanising and offensive rules in the later chapters of the fifth book of the Torah. 

Just the opening sentence of a particular scenario is enough of an indication of the position of women in the Bible’s patriarchal society: 

• “If a man takes a woman and she becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house…” (Deuteronomy 25:1);

• “If a man takes a wife and, after sleeping with her, dislikes her…”
(Deuteronomy 22:13); 

• “If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death – the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help…” (Deuteronomy 22:23-24).

 Such extraordinary prejudice against women would be utterly unacceptable in a modern, tolerant society. 

Yet our ancient text has set the scene for so many of the difficulties and challenges faced by women through the ages.

I am fortunate and proud to belong to a Jewish movement that honours, values and acknowledges the important contribution women can and do make to our lives and our world.

  •  Rabbi Pete Tobias serves The Liberal Synagogue Elstree

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