U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton compared Israel to the darkest of countries over women's status and their exclusion from the public arena. It is very unfortunate that Clinton formulates her views on these fundamental issues on the basis of headlines in an Israeli newspaper whose main interest is to discredit the state of Israel in every respect. We can only hope that on other issues she exerts more thought, seriousness and study, since the U.S. currently leads the West against other civilizations that seek to subdue it.
More than 800 years ago, while Native Americans roamed the American continent, one of our greatest religious authorities, Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon (Maimonides) said, "Our sages commanded that a man honor his wife more than his own person, and love her as he loves his own person." (Mishneh Torah, Book of Women, Personal Laws, 15:19). Thomas Aquinas, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, the greatest philosophers of Western civilization, did not even come close to Maimonides in his esteem for women. Anyone slightly familiar with the history of philosophy knows what their attitude toward women was.
Throughout Jewish history, beginning from biblical times, women have held a special position. The forefathers of Israel were commanded to obey their mothers, and it was because of righteous women that we were redeemed from Egypt. The prophetess Deborah led the people of Israel and, in the modern era, pioneer women played a central role in resettling and redeeming the Land of Israel. They also fought in the Palmach, the pre-state military defense group, and served in senior positions leading their country. Meanwhile, there has never been a woman president in the U.S.
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It is impossible to explain what distinguished the Jewish people and enabled us to survive without understanding the role of the Jewish mother. During the worst days in our history, Jews managed to maintain their humanity and sacrificed their lives for their beliefs because their minds were free. Only the sons of queens, for whom awareness of freedom is in their nature, could survive the horrors of exile. The Jewish mother was always a queen, even when her people lacked sovereignty. All the more so when we returned to Israel and rebuilt our kingdom.
Since the Jews were expelled from their land, with no alternative, they were often forced to adopt the practices of their environment. It is not easy to be progressive and enlightened amid a sea of primitiveness, ignorance and darkness. Nevertheless, inside Jewish homes, a woman's honor was preserved: "The glory of a king's daughter is within" (Psalms 55:14).
Jews from more than 108 countries gathered in the modern state of Israel, speaking hundreds of languages and dialects. Israel is the model of a multicultural country in the true sense of the word, with full consideration given to each person's personal liberty and freedom of conscience, religion and speech. Despite the vast differences, Israeli society has learned how to acknowledge the value of the other and exercising exemplary tolerance. A small and noisy group in Israel, with an outsized voice in the media, tries to fan the flames of hatred out of ulterior motives, mostly political. From time to time they get caught up in marginal issues, such as women singing in the military. This empowers those who wish to defame us. Even Hillary Clinton, a very smart woman, fell into this trap.
In the state of Israel, each person lives his or her life as they please. The Jewishness of the state does sometimes force citizens to relinquish a small part of their basic rights, as part of a national compromise. This is the essence of enlightened democracy. Amid a sea of Islamic dictatorships, Israeli democracy blossomed like a rose. No one needs to teach us, after our 5,000-year history, about human dignity, and women's dignity in particular. Respect for women is not something done merely in public settings, as in the U.S. In Israel, honoring women and mothers is rooted in our most fundamental essence.
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