Culture clashes · Religious life

Patriarchy and Religion


In observing many Jewish male and (previously or on the way to converting) non-Jewish female couples, I notice that there is often a lot of patriarchal ugliness going on.


The Jewish spouse (or spouse-to-be) finds it so important that their spouse or spouse-to-be Jewish after having established the relationship. The case seems worse when the man gets religious after the two are together. Why is it worse then? Because they are new to the religious thing and the first thing they worry about is “Me.” “Ooopsies, I am (going to be) married to a non-Jew. Gotta change that!!”


I think the “patriarchal ugliness” tends to happen because Judaism at first glance seems to allow for a guy to boss around “his” woman. Systematically, it actually does. Judaism is a patriarchal religion and there is no doubting that. On the hand, it is my opinion that if you were to eliminate all the “patriarchal elements” from it, it would be so drastically different from its traditional form that it would be difficult to recognize it as Judaism (which has happened in some communities).


What the newly religious selfish guy does not realize is that, if you listened to many rabbis and what the folk Jewish tradition says, you will quickly notice that the consistent message is that “The one who has the legal authority (=the man) must to be benevolent.” That is, you can’t be a jerk to your wife because you are the guy. Quite to the contrary; because you have the authority, you have to make sure you don’t abuse the power that you have.


This is what I take away from the sermon that was given to us on our wedding day.

This is the gist of what Misha was told under the chuppa: “If your wife wants ice cream at 2a.m., even if you don’t feel like it, you have to go and get it. The love that you should show your wife should be as unconditional as Jacob showed to God (that had something to do with that weeks Torah portion).” This was the sermon given to us at the moment I was “being purchased” by Misha as a wife.


Religious law is meant to make you a better person. Not a big jerk who bosses around his wife (whether she is Jewish or not). The men who don’t force their wives/fiancées/girlfriends to convert win my respect. I have seen couples where the women converted, but when it was not by coercion, it took a long time. Sometimes the option included a baby-conversion.


With those couples where the woman was not forced into conversion, the woman had an opinion and a sense of self-hood and the man had the strength to respect that. The couple seemed to remain mutually respectful and loving towards each other. It is a two-way street after all.


7 thoughts on “Patriarchy and Religion

  1. Dear Kaguya:

    I am not sure what branch of Judaism you are looing to convert to, but there seem to be many misconceptions about Judaism in your blog notes.

    There are a number of branches of Judaism, the mainstream ones being Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox. There are also fringe groups which appeal to a few, such as Chassidism, etc.

    The above mainstream religions treat women as fully equal in every way to men; and in the Reform and Conservative congregations, women participate fully in the services, and are also Rabbis and Cantors.

    Please don’t judge Judaism by a few individuals behaving badly that you see, who may simply be Jews by accident of birth.

    We, liked all religious traditions, have our “bad apples”!

    Judaism is a wonderful religion with a rich culture and humanitarian ethics.

    I hope you have the opportunity to attend services, holidays, and festivals in either a Reform or Conservative Jewish congregation. I am sure you will meet a lot of very nice people, some of whom I hope may become friendly with you.


    Ronald W. (Ron) Ginson

  2. Hi Ron,

    Thanks for your concern.

    If you read the above entry a little carefully, or had refer to any of my other entries (particularly, “How Jewish Are You? Common Questions”) you might realize that I am one of those who has no option to convert to Judaism. As far as I know, a Jew cannot convert to Judaism. The fact that I got married under the chuppa might have been another clue. Why the misunderstanding happened, I am not quite sure.

    As for the term “patriarchal” I am not using that as a simply derogatory term. It’s meant to be descriptive. A few face-lifts by “allowing” women to be like men in some areas of worship does not in fact change the very core values and entire system of Judaism, which is systematically patriarchal (as much as most things in this world are).

    This is also another point that I have made in the entry, but perhaps it didn’t come through clearly: Judaism’s “legal system” (that is, halakha) might appear to justify bad male behavior towards women, but the tradition around it does not. That is one of my main points. It would be great it you can again review the part where I wrote that my rabbi told my groom under the chuppa on our wedding day that “you should treat your wife with the same kind of unconditional love with which one serves God.” There’s no kidding around there. That’s pretty serious.

    Also, if you read my entry again, it might become clearer that I am lamenting the malpractice of Judaism perpetuated by a few individuals. I am not by any means judging Judaism by those individuals. Again, please give the entry a little more attention if you are going to leave a comment. If you are not going to leave a comment, then zip through it as fast as you like.

    In any case, thank you for your comment Ron.

  3. Jewish men should only marry Jewish woman and leave the shiksas alone. The majority of non-Jewish women only convert to please their man or in-laws. This causes a lot of stress and confusion in a marriage not to mention how messed up the children come out.
    Intermarriage is destroying the Jewish community because most children of these marriages won’t identify as Jews because their mothers aren’t Jewish.
    Say no to intermarriage and save the Jewish people from extinction!

  4. Hi Lisa,

    First of all, thanks for your comment.

    I just want to clarify that I am not talking about intermarriage here. Let me rephrase this, I don’t call a marriage between a born-Jew and a converted Jew “intermarriage.” Only a marriage between a Jew (however they are Jewish) and a non-Jew can qualify as that. Can we agree on that?

    From your tone, I am guessing that you don’t know any intermarried couples, their children, or any couples with a converted spouse well. I know of many personally. Couples with converted spouses can have quite a happy marriage. Also, your notion that all marriages with a converted spouse is only to please the husband and in-laws is wrong. Out of the many couples that I know, I would say that half converted for their spouses (initially) and the other half met their matches after having converted. In other words, their conversions had nothing to do with a Jewish guy or woman.

    Whether people convert for their spouses or not is beside the point, however. Even if that is the original reason, as long as the originally Jewish spouse has remained kind, caring and respectful of their converted spouse, and they have not neglected Judaism, the marriage remains healthy and Judaism stays an integral part of the marriage. I know of many couples that I admire that are like that.

    What I am talking about here is instances where the Ba’al Teshuva guy who has already committed to a non-Jewish woman finds justification in Judaism to be disrespectful towards their partners. And how systematically halakha has room for that, while culturally that is seriously discouraged.

    I hope you understood what I meant.

  5. Lisa, do you realize it’s assur to distinguish giyorot tz’daqot from other Jews? Or any other convert, for that matter? Let’s not get into your usage of the word “Sh’qetza”.

    Formerly non-Jewish spouses who convert to marry are Jews nonetheless, and their marriage is no less Jewish. To say otherwise is, frankly, quite racist.

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