Did women play a passive role in the synagogue congregations of antiquity? Were they separated from male members of the congregation during prayer and study, as is the case today? According to Professor Shmuel Safrai, the answer to both questions is a resounding “No.”
After reading Marvin Wilson’s “Jewish Laws of Purity in Jesus’ Day” (Jerusalem Perspective 37 [Mar.-Apr. 1992], 11, 17), I must admit to finding the reality of the situation of women (e.g., anyone touching anything she sits on during menstruation, to be also unclean) depressing. How did women express their spirituality? Did they have any power?
In the infancy narrative found in chapters one and two of Luke’s gospel, Luke has provided excellent character references for Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Jesus’ mother and father show piety far beyond the usual, and the young Jesus is eager to be in the temple studying Torah with the teachers of Israel.
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