Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Daughter is "Ownerless" Until Married and Not the Property of Her Father ("The Jewish Way")

Comparing patriocentricity to the practice of Orthodox Judaism according to Rabbi Maurice Lamm in “The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage

Under the patriocentric paradigm, daughters train for service to their mates by serving as a type of “helpmeet” for their fathers until they are given to a husband in marriage. The proponents of this view offer Numbers chapter 30 as a proof text to demonstrate a type of “male headship” for all women during all times of life, despite the fact that the passage discusses fiduciary responsibilities of men as guarantors for their wives or for underage daughters (as specified in verses 4 and 17). A modern analogy that involves a pledge of this type might be a married woman or under-aged girl who uses a credit card, vowing to make payment. The guarantor in the person of a father or husband would be responsible for making payment on purchases made with the card, should the woman not have independent funds with which to pay the debt personally. This passage mentions no assignment of personal moral responsibility of the father or husband for the woman. Numbers Chapter 30 also mentions nothing about a directive for a grown, unmarried woman to remain under mandatory “male headship,” care or ownership, though many patriocentrics use this chapter to support the their claims that a woman without male supervision lives “outside of Kingdom architecture.”

The concept of this interpretation of male headship within the patriocentric circles suggests a type of salvific ownership of women by men wherein care (ownership?) of women transfers from father to husband when a woman is given in marriage. This concept bears significant similarities to Saudi Arabia's “compulsory male guardianship of women and other 'grossly discriminatory' policies” and “denial of fundamental rights.” On page 7 of the April 25, 2008 edition of “The Guardian Weekly,” every Saudi woman must have a male guardian that is usually a husband or father, though the duty can be assigned to another male such as a brother or son. Even when the law does not mandate the male guardian's approval for decision-making for the woman, “some officials still ask for it 'because current practice assumes women have no power to make their own decisions' over matters such as medical procedures or discharge from hospital.” In addition, women are “marginalized to the point of total exclusion” through discrimination against them in voting, employment and education.

In contrast, Lamm teaches that prior to marriage, a woman of age is her own, free moral agent. An orthodox Jewish marriage is not a transfer of property in the person of a daughter-turned-wife but is rather an indirect declaration of how God used the law to sanctify the institution of marriage (never the woman as the patriocentrists maintain). Jewish law never makes any overtures or suggestions that marriage becomes a vehicle for the personal, spiritual sanctification for either husband or wife, and this is certainly not a role assigned to a husband for his wife in marriage through either the letter or the spirit of Jewish law.

If a daughter was a type of property and ownership was transferred from father to new husband through marriage, why is a daughter considered to be in a “state of abandonment” and “ownerlessness” prior to her marriage while under the care of her father? If this concept came from Judaism, would the woman not bear the official status of one who was previously owned in regard to her relationship to other men so as to call for the use of language describing the transfer of property from father to spouse? Even Jewish law did not view women in as property or as one who was “owned.” The marital distinction simply declares her change in status from available to all men to unavailable to men other than her husband. Lamm explains that the woman’s status under Jewish law only relates to her status of availability to potential mates, a status that was never held by her father. Prior to marriage, the law never declares that an unmarried woman requires a “male head,” and even the Hebrew language that describes her status (hefker) makes this distinction.

From Pg 150 - 151

Judaism must protect the family from the tempestuousness of sex, the alternating patterns of love, the sudden ups and downs of very close relationships. Just as the buyer of property intends to protect it, develop it, make it productive, and cherish it, this must also be the plan of those who undertake marriage... As the formal acquisition transferred the property from someone else’s proprietorship or from hefker (a state of abandonment and ownerlessness) to his personal care and protection, so the establishment of formal kinyan in marriage rescued family life from hefker. In this way, the formalizing of the marriage bond made it possible for the family to become the foundation of all society and the pattern for all government as well as the governance of the “family of nations.”

Before Sinai, married life was a loose, voluntary arrangement, a sort of ye’duah be’tzibbur (common law) situation. If two people wished to live together, they did. If a woman desired another man, she could not be accused of adultery. If she wanted to move out, she did. Just as in our “living together” situations of today, there were no binding ties. Under such conditions, the legal protections of the family, such as the husband’s obligation of support, honor, and fidelity, are at best fond hopes... The informal arrangement was the old institution of concubinage (pileggesh), which Maimonides affirms was the relationship of a man and his exclusive girlfriend, without benefit of a formal marriage and marriage contract.

By formalizing marriage, Judaism saved marriage. By stamping it “legal acquisition.” it made firm that which was vague and inchoate. It held the family fast – so fast that the family eventually held together the whole exiled and hopelessly dispersed Jewish community.

In the next post:

More on the specific and limited rights of a father concerning under-aged daughters only (and not over daughters of consenting age) under Jewish law.

Copyrighted material quoted hereunder fair use for educational purposes from
by Maurice Lamm. San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row, 1980.