Panel explains gender differences in religion


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Photo by Nelsom Morales |

Rabbi?Esther Reed, associate director for Jewish Campus Life at Rutgers Hillel, speaks about gender equality yesterday at the Douglass Campus Center.


A panel of representatives of Judaism, Christianity and Islam discussed gender roles in religion yesterday at the Cook Campus Center.

Rabbi Esther Reed, associate director for Jewish Campus Life at Rutgers Hillel, said followers of Judaism do not believe that a man and woman are inherently different.

“I personally do not believe that gender is a fixed thing,” Reed said. “I don’t believe God made human beings so that men are made one way and women another way.”

Reed said gender disparity is an ongoing sin in society and is not a reflection on Judaism.

“How we construct gender is different in different societies,” she said. “It’s something that’s culturally imposed. There can be a society where women are perceived as sexually aggressive, and societies where men can be viewed as sexually aggressive. These are gender roles which are culturally evoked.”

Imam Moustafa Zayed, who represented Islam on the panel, said his religion recognizes the importance of women, a belief represented in the text of the Quran.

“The only holy scripture that speaks to readers in the male and the female term is the Quran,” he said. “The first scripture that rectified how it was the mother Eve that helped deceive Adam is the Quran — it said that the devil deceived them both.”

Zayed believes Islam’s advocacy of women’s rights is reflected by the Prophet Muhammad himself, who stressed the value of women in his time.

“If you look at the position of Islam toward what women do, it actually tells a story severely to the side of women,” Zayed said. “A man came to Mohammad and asked, ‘Who’s the most deserving of my companionship?’ and the prophet said, ‘Your mother.’”

Although Islam encourages gender equality, it does not consider men and women to be the same, Zayed said.

“One gender can do what the other does, but the two elements cannot fill themselves and their worth unless they complement each other and complete each other,” he said.

Jonathan Walton, assistant professor of African-American religions at Harvard University, believes Jesus should be a role model for human relationships and recited a poem reflecting this idea.

“He is the ultimate bridegroom, who died for me and you,” Walton said. “And though he couldn’t bend his knee, because of the nails in his feet, he dropped his head and proposed, will you marry me?”

Walton said the Bible is often misconstrued and should be read after accepting Jesus’ love to be understood accurately.

“If you believe Jesus loves you, then it completely changes the way you read his word,” he said. “If you believe that God doesn’t love you, if you believe you should be on the outside, if you believe you’re less, when you read the Bible, you’ll search for those things.”

Walton said reading the Bible in context is the easiest way to understand the Christian perception of gender roles, and that the responsibility of its truths might be frightening.

“It’s a dangerous thing to do,” he said. “You might just love somebody a lot. You might actually lay your life out for them.”

Reed said Judaism has an oral law separate from the Bible and cannot be understood by simply analyzing the text at face value.

“Judaism is not a literal, Bible-based religion,” Reed said. “You can’t just read the Torah and understand everything that Jews do today.”

Zayed said Islam is also misrepresented and should not be judged based on its representation in the media.

“You see these horrible pictures they bring from refugee camps,” Zayed said. “This information is not just wrong. It’s like somebody describing Shaquille O’Neal as ‘that short, white, skinny guy.’ It’s totally the opposite.”

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