Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Why Women Are Exempt From Prayer In Judaism – A Jungian Explanation

Synopsis: Men and women experience the development of the ego differently, Jewish law judged the psychic needs of each gender correctly - but that judgment has become outdated. (Word count = 1135)

In the previous post we determined that the purpose of prayer is to express and strengthen the connection between the Ego and the Self. As we explained, this must be done because in the process of maturation , a barrier is erected, separating the Ego from the unconscious, and thus from the totality of the personality, the Self. This is a grave loss, since the unconscious is the source of abundant energy, and it is also the only situation where the Ego has known a life without any tension or stress.
But if this is true, than it would seem that men and women have exactly the same need for prayer. If so, why would Jewish law differentiate between the two? If the need to pray is as great as we believe it to be, than Halacha would not need to dictate to men a thrice daily prayer, and, on the other hand, surely it would encourage, or at least allow women to participate equally in the prayers since they have the same need.
In this post I wish to show that there was a valid psychological reasoning behind both the exemption from prayer for women and the opposite, positive injunction for men.

Development of Consciousness in Pre-Modern Man and Women
The ego is born from the unconscious and emerges from it slowly and painfully, to a harsh, stressful world of light and awareness. In this psychic process the ego must fight constantly against falling back into the unconscious and losing it's self-awareness and control. The ego perceives the unconscious in a variety of ways during this process – from an all-encompassing, indifferent sea of plenty, to a benevolent mother of creation, and then, as the separation continues and deepens, as an unreliable ally, and finally as an enemy, a threat to the ego's existence, and an obstacle in the way to it's independence. In the beginning the ego identifies completely with the unconscious, and at the later stages it disassociates itself completely from it's origins.
The important thing to remember here is that the ego is the experiencing agent, and this experience varies with the gender of the ego. In other words the path to consciousness we have just outlined is experienced differently in the male and female.
This is because the human ego invariably sees the unconscious as a female entity. The ego will identify, usually, with the gender of it's body, whether male or female. This means that in the ego's struggle for independence a woman will find herself struggling against a female principle that is to her like a sister or mother, while the male is struggling against something that it perceives to be alien to it – a much simpler accomplishment. This is why men have a much easier time developing their ego, and becoming detached from the unconscious.
For the female this is far more difficult. It is true that the female ego develops – and that a barrier is too built between the female ego and the unconscious just like in the male psyche. However – this barrier is hardly as tall, as strong and as sturdy as the male one. In fact, until recently, it was more like a sieve. In the female, the ego never completely loses touch with the unconscious, the separation is never complete or final. I will go even so far as to say that most women never experience the horrible sense of loss that men do, the enormous gap between their reality and the Self, God.
Since women have not become separated from the unconscious, and the totality has not been completely broken, they have at their disposal the enormous energies of the unconscious, along with the very strong emotional and sensual powers that reside there.

Why The Halacha Was Correct
Since women never separated completely from the unconscious, and they still remain in touch with important parts of the psyche, and live them consciously – there is no need for women to pray – they are in touch with God all the time.
But then, if men need it so badly why force them? My guess is as follows: the biggest danger in the development of the male ego is that it will become detached to such a degree that it forgets completely about the unconscious, and begins to believe that it created itself, and everything it sees. I believe that in an attempt to avoid this tragedy, Judaism wisely commanded men to pray three times a day, each prayer consisting of a considerable stretch of time lest men forget who they are beholden to.

Why The Halacha Is Wrong
First of all, it must be admitted that the efforts to restrain the soaring male ego and get it to acknowledge it's Creator have not been a spectacular success. Many people say the prayers with an out of hand attitude, praying by rote, and completely disengaged emotionally from the meaning of the words. Halacha failed to take into account the degree to which the ego can become disassociated with the physical and emotional reality of the body it resides in.
Second, female consciousness has undergone a drastic change in the past few centuries. Under constant pressure from the dominating patriarchal point of view, women have been forced to adapt and as a result developed their egos to an unprecedented degree. Today one can find many women that are just as disassociated from their bodies and feelings as men are. This means that they too have lost the sense of the Self, and so, they are in just as much need of reconnecting as men once were. Today there are many women who do need to pray in order to express and strengthen the connection between their Ego and their Selves.
In my view, since the sole purpose of religion is to enable us to reconnect to God they should be allowed to do so. Their need should be recognized and catered to, since it is exactly the same psychological need that brought forth the idea of prayer in the first place.
Psychological needs change in time, and religious practices should be adjusted to accommodate them. Personally, I believe that it is the individual's responsibility to decide what are his or her own needs in this respect - we can no longer generalize on the sole basis of gender. The duty of society today is to raise it's members to be sufficiently independent and self aware to understand their own spiritual needs correctly. The rest should be up to them.

Next Week:What We Can Learn From The Story of Genesis about the Creationism debate, our psyche and what really happened 5767 years ago.


Alex said...


Please consider writing news pieces or an op-ed for Jewrusalem: Israeli Uncensored News. We strive to present different views and opinions while rejecting political correctness. Ideally, we try to make the news "smart and funny." Thus, your input is very welcome.


Jerusalem Joe said...

Thank you for your comment, Alex.
I would do so gladly. Please contact me via E-mail with further details such as - who are you, what this publication is, who publishes it, what is the target audience and what topic you were thinking of for this op-ed.

Karma said...

Hey Joe, I'm happy that this post might turn into getting published somewhere else on the net.

But, this piece is very essentialistic. You do critique to some degree halachaic traditions of misunderstanding women, although I think its really problematic to talk about this unified female experience.



I believe Ivan Pavlov found more solid ground with his dogs and a tinkling bell, than any of those early theorists! But, I'm an old Hum-bug & Horsefeather guy!

To exclude or exempt women from any
facet of life is to diminish & deny
one's own completeness. reb

Jerusalem Joe said...

"To exclude or exempt women from any
facet of life is to diminish & deny
one's own completeness. "

I couldn't have put it better myself.Thanks for stopping by!