What does it mean to be a Jewish woman? What does it mean to be a woman in Judaism? I began my search with the first woman in the Torah. That woman’s name is Chavah in Hebrew, translated as “Eve” in English. Chavah is referred to as “the mother of all life.” We are told that she was created, after the creation of the first man, Adam, on the sixth day of creation, immediately preceding Shabbat. And woman was created, we are taught, with the purpose of being an eizer knegdo, which can be translated in one of two ways–either “a helpmate to him” or “a helpmate against him.”
It would appear, then, that a woman was created for the sole purpose of helping a man. One may ask, “Is being a Jewish woman defined solely in terms of her relationship with another?” And practically speaking, how would this be accomplished? The obvious responses would be through being married and having children.
Yet we find something fascinating. In Halachah (Torah law), a woman is obligated to do neither. She has no legal requirement whatsoever. But the man does. He is required both to marry and have children. It is pretty clear that he can’t do this without a woman to be his wife and the mother of his children, but she is in no way obligated to do so. The only way he can then fulfill his responsibilities, is if a woman would be willing to help him and fill these roles.
The greatest difference between a man and woman, or more appropriately, between the masculine and the feminine, can be seen in the first two of the intellectual qualities of a human being. Chassidic philosophy teaches that there are three intellectual properties alongside seven emotional properties. The first of the properties is that of chochmah, translated loosely as “wisdom,” which is a male principle.
The next property, that of binah, is the feminine property. Binah, loosely translated as “understanding,” is the desire to attach to the wisdom, and give it meaning. Binah is the formation process, the bonding, the development. In a physical example, binah is the pregnancy. It literally houses the seed, and then, as the seed is within it, causes it to grow, develop and form, until it is ready to be born and exist on its own.
It is the binah quality that desires to receive the potential of the seed and cultivate it into something tangible and meaningful. While it is not compelled to do so, it wants to do so. It is a situation where each is dependent on the other to create a reality. The seed cannot become anything in and of itself. Likewise, without the seed, the binah cannot create anything, for it has not been given the potentials with which to work.
Beito zu isto, a man’s home is his wife. It is not that his house is his wife or that his wife represents the house, but that his literal home is housed within his wife, on a spiritual and emotional level. A woman need not be in the home. A woman is the home.
Extract from “I am a Jewish Woman,” http://www.Chabad.org