I have often heard it said that Judaism believes that women are more spiritual than men. This is supposed to explain why men have more religious obligations than women - men need these things to become closer to G-d, women are there already. But do we really believe that? Is it not just a patronising way to avoid the question of the different gender roles in Judaism?
I remember as a child being told that men and women are equal. I had a big problem with this. I asked, "If men and woman are equal, why do men and women never compete with each other in sports? You never see a man playing against a woman in tennis, or women's soccer teams facing men's, or a mixed gender 100 metre sprint. If we are all equal, why can't we compete together?"
The answer I received was unsatisfying. "Men are on average stronger physically than women. It would not be fair for them to compete against each other in sports which require bodily strength, because men would always win. But in every other way, men and women are equal."
This did not sit well with me. If men are superior to women in physical strength, but equal in all else, then men and women are not equal. Men have an edge. Unless there is some other area of human endeavour in which women are superior, we are not equal.
This bothered me for years. Until I learnt Judaism's attitude to women.
Women are more soulful than men. While men may excel in physical prowess, women are far ahead when it comes to spiritual strength. Women are more sensitive to matters of the soul, more receptive to ideas of faith, more drawn to the divine than men. The feminine soul has an openness to the abstract and a grasp of the intangible that a male soul can only yearn for. This is why G-d told Abraham, the first Jewish man, "Whatever Sarah your wife tells you, listen to her voice." She was the greater prophet, her soul more intuitive than his.
When I first heard this idea, it suddenly all made sense. There is indeed a balance between men and women. Men have stronger bodies, women have stronger souls.
Of course there are exceptions. Some women could beat any guy in an arm wrestle. And some men are more spiritually attuned than the women around them. But for the most part, men have bigger muscles, women have deeper feelings.
The Torah gives men more physical mitzvos, to tame the body and give the soul extra power. Women don't need this help. Because although men can jump higher in the air, women can reach higher into the heavens.