The woman’s role in Jewish tradition is significant due to the gender roles generally assigned women by Jewish culture. Domestic affairs, like cooking, have usually been considered the woman’s domain, and since many Jewish customs, rules, and traditions revolve around food, this puts women in charge of a significant part of Jewish culture. Indeed, many Jewish customs are defined by the food that is eaten, or not eaten at all, during the customary event. During Purim, for instance, the traditional meal is vegetarian to remind participants that Esther, the hero of the story, maintained a vegetarian diet to not break the rules of kashrut while living in the palace.
Yom Kippur is the day of atonement. It is one of the two High Holy days in the Jewish Calendar.
Hannukah is the Feast of Light, usually falling in December, and commemorating the victory of the Maccabees in 167 B.C.E.*
Purim is the festival commemorating the victory of the Jews over their would-be murderer, Haman, as described in the biblical Book of Esther.**
In many ways, Jewish women have nurtured and maintained cultural identity over the years simply by completing their day to day tasks. Everyday food preparation, for instance, does a lot to maintain Jewish traditions because it invokes several religious ideas and customs through the ways people prepare and eat the food. This can be seen through the laws of kashrut and the idea of eating kosher foods. During certain holidays, this responsibility is taken to a whole new level. For Passover, the women are in charge of cleaning the house and making the meals, all of which are governed by strict Jewish law. Food plays roles in other holidays as well, such as Yom Kippur, Purim, and Hanukah.
Much knowledge about these traditions is passed along generation after generation through the women of the household. While informal, this education is just as important as the traditional, formal, Jewish male education, for while the men may have the most visible part in certain holidays (communal prayers, reading the scrolls, etc.), it is women who provide settings for these holiday rituals. Without this informal, gender specific education, much of Jewish culture would be lost.
*Quoted in Kertzer, Morris. What Is a Jew? Simon & Schuster: 1996. pg.
**Quoted in Kertzer, Morris. What Is a Jew? Simon & Schuster: 1996. pg. 295.