Women have for centuries played different roles in the society. In the traditional settings, the roles of the women were severely restricted in a number of societies and most were confined to their fathers or husbands homestead. The precipitating factor was that women were considered as inferior to men and as such took roles within the society that were only aimed at supporting men.
In the analysis of the Hebrew culture, women were not allowed to become priests.
According to Good news bible “Leviticus 12:1-5Quotes God as stating that a woman who has given birth to a boy is ritually unclean for 7 days. If the baby is a girl, the mother is unclean for 14 days. “If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days…But if she bear a maid child, then she shall be unclean two weeks…“
This means that the cat of giving birth within this culture was polluting. In addition to the above, this verse reveals that one important role of women in this society was giving birth which unfortunately is not considered as an important role within the society’s customs and culture but is looked at from the point of polluting.
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The role of women in this society was also confined to the precincts of the home. According to Metzger & Coogan (1993), In a Jewish household, the wife and mother is called in Hebrewakeret habayit. This means literally the “mainstay” of the home. It is she who largely determines the character and atmosphere of the entire home”. Women were therefore charged with the responsibility of ensuring that she created an atmosphere of God and acted as the pillar at home. In addition to that, Robinson (2004)illustrates that” G-d demands that a Jewish home – every Jewish home – should have a Jewish character, not only on Shabbat and the holidays but also on the ordinary weekdays and in “weekday” matters. It must be a Jewish home in every respect”.
A number of verses in the Bible have also indicated that women were either the properties of their fathers and transferred to the husband upon marriage
Exodus 20:17lists the last of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbour’s.” It is important to realize that a manservant and a maidservant were male and female slaves. They were not a hired butler and maid. The tenth commandment forbids coveting your neighbor’s house, wife, male slave female slave, animals or anything else that the neighbor owns. The wife is clearly regarded as equivalent to a piece of property.
The differentiating factor between a Jewish home and a non-Jewish home was that in Jewish homes, everything was conducted according to Torah. In the growth and development of the children, women played a critical role in ensuring that children were brought up in accordance to the beliefs and customs of the Hebrew culture and in line with the teachings of the Bible. “In all that has been said above, the Jewish wife and mother – the Akeret Habayit – has a primary role, second to none. It is largely – and in many respects exclusively – her great task and privilege to give her home its truly Jewish atmosphere”. (King James Version of the Bible)
The role of women in the instilling of a truly atmosphere within the home is perhaps best illustrated by Metzger & Coogan (1993) in stating that
She has been entrusted with and is completely in charge of, the kashrut of the foods and beverages that come into her kitchen and appear on the dining table. She has been given the privilege of ushering in the holy Shabbat by lighting the candles on Friday, in ample time before sunset. Thus she actually and symbolically brightens up her home with peace and harmony and with the light of Torah and mitzvot. It is largely on her merits that G-d bestows the blessing of true happiness on her husband and children and the entire household.
One differentiating factor between the Hebrew and the Egyptian culture on the role of the women in the society was on inheritance. According to the Hebrew, women were not to inherit anything from the father or the husband in the case of death of a spouse. According to the Good News Bible, numbers 27:8-11, Moses describes the rules of inheritance that God has stated. If a man dies, his son inherits the estate; his daughter gets nothing. Only if there is no son, will his daughter inherit? If there are no children, then the estate is given to the man’s brothers; his sister(s) get nothing. If he had no brother, the estate goes to his nearest male relative.
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The inheritance question is also put forward in the Good News Bible that succinctly denies women the powers to inherit property from the father or the husband.
If a man dies, and have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter. And if he has no daughter, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his brethren. And if he have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his father’s brethren. And if his father have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his kinsman that is next to him of his family….”
The Egyptians on the other believed that home was on the only source of happiness in life and has entrenched their culture and the role of women in ensuring that home offered the best comfort as much as possible. This remains the reason behind the higher consideration of women in the Egyptian society in comparison to the Hebrews culture. Unlike the Hebrews, Egyptians had more important roles for women in the society. According to Metzger & Coogan (1993),
Egyptian women were fortunate in two important ways:
- While women could become Pharaoh only in very special circumstances, they were otherwise regarded as totally equal to men as far as the law was concerned. They could own property, borrow money, sign contracts, initiate divorce, appear in court as a witness, etc. Of course, they were also equally subject to whatever responsibilities normally accompanied those rights.
- Love and emotional support were considered to be important parts of marriage. Egyptians loved children as people and not just as potential workers and care-takers.
This implies that the Egyptian culture put a lot of weight on the well being of the wife for the prosperity of the home and the happiness and love between husband and wife. Women were therefore in charge of all the affairs at home and were treated with much respect as opposed to the Hebrews.
Available literature and research materials of the roles of women in the society abide in the fact that Egyptians treated women better in the society than all the other civilizations. This fact is buttressed by Metzger & Coogan (1993) in stating that “Egypt treated its women better than any of the other major civilizations of the ancient world because they believed that joy and happiness were legitimate goals of life and regarded home and family as the major source of delight”. The liberated role of women in the Egyptian culture in comparison to other cultures in the world over is buttressed by Haas (2007) in stating that “Unlike the position of women in most other ancient civilizations, including that of Greece, the Egyptian women seems to have enjoyed the same legal status and economic rights as the Egyptian man”
Another notable difference in the role of women between the Egyptian culture and the Hebrews culture is enslavement of women because of their social status. In the Hebrews civilization, women acted as slaves whose duties were to offer services to their male masters and this was mandatory. On the contrary, enslavement of women was considered illegal in the Egyptian culture. “Some women practiced something considered illegal in ancient Egypt, namely, self-enslavement. That is, they would “hire” themselves out for a term of years, for which they would be paid a salary” Haas (2007).
Furthermore, respect for women’s legal rights was a culture that was deeply entrenched in the Egyptian culture of civilization and was part and parcel in the society. This included the capacity to dispose off private property in the form of land, slaves, portable goods and livestock in cases where they owned the same. This encompassed the capacity to discharge duties in regard to the administration of her estate independently, according to her own will and without interference from man. This fact is reiterated by Haas (2007) in illustrating more roles of women in the Egyptian society by stating that “She could appear as a contracting partner in a marriage contract or a divorce contract; she could execute testaments; she could free slaves; she could make adoptions. She was entitled to sue at law”
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It is therefore highly significant within the culture of civilization of this society that women could execute all these duties that are considered preserve for men in other societies without the support and involvement of men. The Hebrew woman on the other hand had no powers legal powers at all within the culture of civilization. They were not allowed to own, administer and participate in either acquisition or sale of property even in cases where their husbands passed away. This is specifically in regard to their social status in the society. In fact cases of women actively participating in legal roles such as divorce were unheard because they had no active role in the engagement and as such could not make decisions in regard to cases of marriage.
The liberated role of women in the Egyptian civilization does not just stop with the above presented points but moves up to their roles in property. In the ancient culture, property was considered one of the most important aspects of life in that it determined a familys social status. The issues of inheritance were therefore considered a sensitive matter within other cultures of civilization. This as not the issue with the Egyptian culture because women had powers to inherit the property of a deceased husband. According to Haas (2007)”A wife was entitled to inherit one-third of that community property on the death of her husband, while the other two-thirds was divided among the children, followed up by the brothers and sisters of the deceased”. The Hebrews culture of civilization denied women the powers to inherit any property from the husband as been illustrated above. Such properties were distributed amongst the close male relatives of the deceased husband. This illustrates the low depth in the social class the Hebrew women were relegated as opposed to the Egyptian woman who enjoyed the most liberated status in all the ancient civilizations.
One notable evidence on the role of women in handling of lawsuits is found in the inscription of Mes. This is a detailed account of women appearing before the bar in the handling of court disputes in regard to land allocation. This illustrates that women had the rights to enter into lawsuits and appear before the bar in solving disputes within the Egyptian civilization. Such was not the case within the Hebrews culture of civilization. Women who appeared before the bar were only those who were involved in cases of adultery and appeared as listeners who awaited their sentences to be read out and as such had no powers to sue or enter into a legal suit even in cases where they were aggrieved by their spouses.
Lastly, the Egyptian women were permitted by the custom of the Egyptian culture to move freely within the territories and carry out her day to day duties without supervision of the male counterparts. She did not wear a veil while working in the fields and estate workshops. Haas (2007) quotes Ramesses III in illustrating that “I enabled the woman of Egypt to go her own way, her journeys being extended where she wanted, without any person assaulting her on the road”. In the Hebrews culture of civilization, women were confined to the homestead and in the event that there was need to attend to an urgent matter out of the compound; they would not only leave in the company of the husband but would also wear a double veil that covered the rest of their body parts.