In 1953 the Rebbe founded the Lubavitch Woman's
Organization, opening a revolutionary chapter in the history of
Jewish and Chassidic womanhood. In a marked departure from an entrenched
tendency to limit high-level Torah education to men and boys, the
Rebbe addressed his teachings equally to both sexes, maintaining
that woman share the obligation to study and master the esoteric
"soul" of Torah and thereby achieve knowledge, love and
awe of G-d.
When he sent a young married couple out to the
frontlines of his war on assimilation, he expected the wife to wage
the battle alongside the husband, reaching out to fellow Jews and
reintroducing them to their heritage. When he sent the students
of the Chabad yeshivot out into the streets to put on tefillin with
Jewish men, he also sent the young women to shopping malls, schools
and hospitals to distribute Shabbat candles to Jewish woman. At
the same time, he insisted that his female Chassidim uphold the
tzniut ("modesty") in dress and manner that has been the
hallmark of the Jewish woman through the ages.
"Feminism", in the commonplace sense
of the term, was not a new concept in 1953, though its primary gains
still lay in the future. The sundry Feminist movements rejected
the traditionally domestic role of the woman, and sought to wrest
from male dominance the “public” social, economic and
What was unique about the Rebbe was that he was
not a revolutionary in that sense. On the contrary: he was a fervent
advocate of the woman’s traditional role as mainstay of the
home, arguing that men and women were charged by their Creator with
different roles, in keeping with their distinct talents and qualities.
For a woman to reject her intrinsic femininity in an attempt to
realize herself in a male role, said the Rebbe, is to deprive herself
of her choicest potentials and venues of fulfillment.
Rather, the Rebbe effected his “revolution”
by a return to tradition. Drawing from the teaching of Kabbalah
and Chassidism, he demonstrated how that the woman's role is of
equal--and in many ways superior--importance to that of the man.
He also showed how the Torah-ordained role for women includes and
encourages an “outward” exercise of a woman’s
talents that is fully in keeping with the traditional ideal, “The
glory of the king’s daughter is within” (Psalms 45:14).
The woman, too, said the Rebbe, is to venture out
to develop the world into a "home for G-d." But she is
to do so in her characteristically feminine way: not as a "conqueror,"
but as a nurturer; not by "transforming darkness into light"
but by revealing the divine luminance implicit within all of G-d's