I was just reading Alan Cumming’s “Pauline Christianity and Greek Philosophy, a Study of the Status of Women” from the Journal of the History of Ideas, where he parrots the view that because women are in the same sentence as oxen and asses in the command not to covet, women are therefore like oxen and asses.
First, if women were really like oxen and asses, why mention them at all? They’re mentioned because they are not like oxen and asses; they are a different category.
Second, I fundamentally agree that women are “property” in some sense in the Torah, but to say that because women often “belong” to men in the Torah, they are useless chattel is a herculean stretch of the imagination, one that disregards completely the Torah’s view of what exactly property is and what respects are due it, especially since even chattel are never treated as useless chattel to be disposed of without moral consideration!
Yes, today, property is violated, plundered, traded, and stolen with little consequence, but that is not so in Torah. All property ultimately belongs to God, and he expects man to care for whatever “belongs” to him and also to care for and be mindful of whatever “belongs” to his neighbor. God forbid that women would be delineated as outside of the scope of protection, care, and security that comes with properly belonging to a man, whether that man is her father, husband, or in the case of widows and orphans, the Lord himself, who gave instructions to the community for how to care for them.
If ever women became fully independent of men, men would shirk their responsibilities toward women. Men would feel no obligation to care for or protect or see to the well-being of women. Women would be treated as whores. Children would be abandoned by their fathers–or worse, slaughtered by abortions. Is this liberation? The liberty to be used and abused without consequence?
By removing women from the Torah’s moral perspective of “property,” these liberators have turned women into exactly the non-moral “chattel” they found so thoroughly degrading.
[originally posted on Sunday, May 3, 2009, on http://movefromthismountain.blogspot.com/2009/05/chapter-3-gods-property.html]