The role of women in Judaism - an introduction
The role of women in Orthodox_Judaism
Orthodox Judaism views men and women as having complementary roles, and thus different obligations. In the area of study, women were traditionally exempted - and often banned - from any study beyond a basic understanding of the Torah, and the rules necessary in running a Jewish household. Women were discouraged from learning Talmud and other advanced Jewish texts. Women are exempt from having to follow most of the set daily prayer services, and most other positive time bound mitzvot (commandments), such as wearing tefillin. (There are a number of notable exceptions). As such, the traditional law codes specify that women are not eligible to be counted in a minyan, as a minyan is a quorum of those who are obligated.
Changes in the Orthodox position
One of the first major breaks with the traditional role of women came from within the Orthodox movement, by the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisroel Meir HaKohen (1838-1933). He overruled the traditional prohibitions against advanced training of women on the basis that times have changed, and that in the modern world it is now important for women to have an advanced Jewish education. Soon after this, the Bais Yaakov network of Orthodox Torah schools for women was built.
Recently, a few leaders in the Modern Orthodox community have set up schools that bring advanced Jewish studies to women, including Stern College at Yeshiva University, and the Drisha Institute (both in New York City). At recent conferences on Feminism and Orthodox Judaism, a small but growing number of Orthodox Jews have proposed that it may acceptable for the Orthodox movement to ordain women as rabbis. In a growing number of places, Orthodox women have established their own tefila (prayer) groups. It should be noted that this phenomenon is still an anomaly within Orthodox Judaism. Even at the flagship institution of Modern Orthodoxy, Yeshiva University, some Talmud teachers publicly denounced and forbade the concept of women praying together in a women's tefila group. Most Orthodox Jews reject the idea of ordaining women as rabbis, as they feel that this is an unacceptable deviation from tradition.
The role of women in Conservative_Judaism
Polygamy, for all practical purposes, is outlawed in Judaism. Jewish law has a principle called dina de'malkhuta dina, i.e. "the law of the land is (Jewish) law". If civil law outlaws polygamy, then polygamy is considered outlawed by Jewish law as well. Even without this rule, Jews haven't practiced polygamy for over a milennia. (Exception: The isolated Yementite Jewish community in Yemen practiced this until the 1950s. [Polygamy in Jewish law].
Tzinut - the rules of modesty Orthodox Jewish men generally do not touch women other than their wives or relatives, for reasons of modesty.