Gendered Expectations and the Experience of Children, Guest Post by Dr. Alan Krinsky

Gendered Expectations and the Experience of Children

Alan Krinsky


Something critical is missing in the impassioned discussions over tensions within the Orthodox world. Beyond the philosophical and halakhic divisions and debates over the she-lo asani ishah blessing and women’s participation, little or no attention has been paid to the actual experience of people, especially children.

What do children experience in regard to gender and appropriate gender roles? Do they truly believe or understand that God created men and women with differences, with different roles, but that neither men nor women are “better” than the other in some fundamental sense? That God is neither male nor female? Now, I could be far off the mark, but I do not imagine that most of our children have absorbed such sophisticated theological concepts.

What, instead, do they think and experience? Do young boys and girls genuinely hear the she-lo asani ishah blessing and understand it according to the most common explanation, that it refers to the additional mitzvos incumbent upon men? Or, do boys and girls alike learn from this and other words and practices that men are better than women in an essential sense? That, while we are all created in the image of God, men are more so than women? That at the banquet in the next world, men are sitting at the table and not women? That only a man has the potential to achieve the status of a Gadol in any sense? 

In brief, when boys say she-lo asani ishah, do they really believe they are better than girls? And do girls also believe this when they hear it?

As a member of an OU shul with a YU Rabbi, with a daughter (in an Orthodox Jewish high school) studying Gemara in the same class and at the same level as boys, I can only guess at the gender expectations of my daughter’s peers, the ones with whom she went to elementary school, a mixed Haredi and Modern Orthodox one.

As far as I can tell, the normative, expected course for these girls is graduation from high school, followed by a year at seminary, possibly a college degree part-time, and marriage and children not too long after the completion of high school. They will not become Talmudic scholars, even if more capable and inclined than many of the boys. (And these girls, even the most brilliant, will not become doctors, neither of Medicine nor of Philosophy.) In a world where this is the epitome of a life in this world, what does she-lo asani ishah mean, and what effect does it have on girls and boys?

At the least, I would suggest, we not rush to condemn Rabbis or laypersons who express their discomfort with a blessing like this and imagine a different world—one remaining squarely within the four amos of halakha, if not quite adhering to what most of us feel is traditional. We should dan lecaf zechus, give the benefit of the doubt, and take these people at their word, that they are committed to a life of mitzvos and Torah. That their concerns, even anguish, is not unreasonable. That they not be pushed out of the tent of Orthodoxy. 

The last question, one for which I have no answer, is whether or not—if such experiences are genuine—whether or not these facts should influence how we understand and even rule on the matter? And maybe, I might humbly suggest, the values our children experience and learn could be considered, even by poskim, in determining whether or not reciting the she-lo asani ishah blessing is necessary for men to remain within the tent of Orthodox Judaism, on an equal level with keeping kosher and keeping Shabbos. If this blessing, in fact, contributes towards inculcating a set of beliefs none of us hold—including that men are in some essential way “better” than women—is that itself reasonable cause for its reconsideration?



Alan Krinsky, PhD, MPH, works full-time as a Senior Analyst in the field of healthcare quality improvement, and is also a writer. He was previously a monthly columnist for Rhode Island’s Jewish Voice & Herald, and his essays have been published at The Huffington Post, in The Providence Journal, and on the online version of The Forward. He lives with his family in Providence, RI and currently serves as the President of Congregation Beth Sholom.

5 Responses to Gendered Expectations and the Experience of Children, Guest Post by Dr. Alan Krinsky

  1. Toby Katz says:

    Women want to look up to men, you cannot change human nature no matter how hard you try. You can, however, create a cadre of women for whom no man is ever good enough.

  2. ruth says:

    i hate those words, they make me feel sick in the stomach. obviously it makes most people think that women are garbage and according to the way so many men act in the religious world they get the message that we women are lower than them. beat us up, now dont even want us to walk on the same street as them, here in jerusalem where i live.

    i am not interested in hearing that they are the minority. that makes no difference. they are thugs in religious clothing and i have seen to much violence and been attacked myself. its disgusting.anything that feeds the feeling that men are able to dishonour their women should be thrown out now. i like many women am a battered wife and these words just make me want to be ill.

    next what about the rights of children to far more basic things, like the right to be protected from pedophiles in the community. and i am right in the centre of the nachlaot pedophiles who walk outside my house looking for new victims and are protected by our corrupt legal system.why does the jewish world avoid dealing with this.????

    i will not forgive or forget, we are talking about babies and tiny tots here. why are you(not you personally the collective you) not writing about them and turning the world upside down for their rights or is it just my job. no problem i will continue but everyone is going to give an answer about their silence one day and if you cant answer a jewish mama how will you answer to hashem.??? just asking

    what about the rabbi’s protecting the perverts? or taking bribes to accept them into the community? or telling the parents to shut up?the haradim here whose children have been raped horribly and i am not one of them obviously, hate the words lashon hara and modesty. all the words,blessings that encourage violence to our children and that criminals hide behind should be stopped

    and why are wicked perverts allowed in mikvas and bet knesset. maybe you can write about these things if it bothers you the way it bothers us. but then who is listening. the rabbi’s are far too busy with being famous peacocks or splitting words to bother with the real issues – like saving lives of the most innocent

    disgusted in jerusalem
    the unholy me in the holy city
    ruth cohen harif

    by the way my maiden name was also krinsky, my saba was pinchas krinsky from poland. wonder if we are related

    anyway thanks for writing this at all. about time the issue is addressed and have a great shabbat and spread the word we must save the children. and some of the most dangerous perverts from here are back in the usa so your children are in new danger again.

    • Natan Ophir says:

      Dear Ruth, I mention your grandfather in a biography that I wrote about Reb Shlomo Carlebach and I am looking for someone to help me check the information. Here is what I wrote:

      In 1950, the Rebbe sent Shlomo to Boston where he was hosted by the Krinsky family, a prominent local Lubavitch family. Pinchas Shmuel Krinsky was 22 year old at the time and had returned to Boston after studying at the central Chabad-Lubavitch yeshiva in Brooklyn. He would visit the local B’nai Akiva group on shabbat to bring them close to Chabad and teach Tanya. When Shlomo came, Pinchas arranged for the B’nai Akiva group to come over to the Krinsky home on a Friday night and they sang and studied hasidut. Another Krinsky son, Chaim Yehuda (Yudel) Krinksy, became a most influential assistant to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

      Please tell me if this is accurate… and what are the names of the parents of Pinchas. Thank you, Dr. Natan Ophir,

  3. mike says:

    Are children really even aware of this stuff? At most shuls you have to arrive early and be paying real good attention to even notice the opening blessings (such as shelo asani isha). And I would imagine that’s even more true for minyans in day schools. So I would guess that most children don’t even know this blessing even exists. Am I underestimating them?

  4. > Or, do boys and girls alike learn from this and other words and practices that men are better than women in an essential sense?

    Boys and girls up to a certain age equate anger with hate. You get mad with them and they really feel that your love for them is gone. Does that make their feeling valid?

    Boys and girls up to a certain age don’t understand that inequality does not mean better vs worse. Heck, many adults don’t get it. The onus is therefore on educators to ensure that at the correct developmental point this is what is communicated to the children. But allowing incompletely developed intellects to guide halachic behaviour? Are you serious?

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