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I have come to the conclusion that the rabbis exempted women from certain mitzvot to ensure that men are free to serve God through mitzvot, and that the mitzvot not lose their status and, therefore, their power to inspire awe. The impact of this exemption on women’s spirituality and ability to serve God was acceptable, in their view—if the question of women’s spirituality was even considered.
Today, however, women are equal citizens in secular society (at least officially) and are not expected to sacrifice their self-fulfillment for men. The rabbinic model of women’s exemption from mitzvot no longer makes sense. Even as I have come to value homemaking and other nurturing activities once considered more feminine (such as communal work), I am still not willing to consider them “women’s work.” To be full, balanced human beings we all need to be engaged in both the public and private spheres, in nurturing acts as well as acts of self-fulfillment. Men, therefore, should take challah and women should wrap tefillin, and vice versa. If we value both of these experiences, and if we see neither gender as subservient to the other, we should settle for nothing less.