Gender and Judaism: A Sophisticated View From Within

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10 Responses

  1. YbhM says:

    “In the separation and distinctions of gender within halakha, Jewish law, Kosman sees a sophisticated system that distinguishes male and female archetypes from one another in order to enable a sort of dialectical relationship between them. As she says, “the goal is not the proverbial melting pot, nor yet the multifaceted picture that includes many colors. The goal is a powerful, proactive crash between opposites, who, by maintaining their disparity even as they meet the other, create something entirely new.”

    Along these lines, see R. Shlomo Wolbe in Alei Shur, as well as in some pamphlets for hatanim.

    To me it’s strange that the general culture (and to a lesser extent Jewish culture) somehow got the idea that men and women are in essential aspects identical.

    • Thank you for your comment. Actually, I have a very strong aversion to the idea that men and women are necessarily essentially different. Instead, I see the two forces as archetypes for different ways of interacting, which once understood can be consciously chosen or activated. Interestingly being born a female in no way guarantees an understanding of or an affiliation with feminine (circle) values and virtues (and vice versa). In fact, I think that femininity is a conscious choice—and as representative of an ideal in Judaism is often incumbent on men as well as women. Notice that not only the woman is compared to the moon, but the Jewish people are as well

      In many ways, I see the mission of the Jew as being exquisitely aligned with the feminine circle; both are charged with being the “secret agent” who keep the circle voice aloud in the “deafiningly overwhelming Western [male] world”, as Sarah puts it above. And on the other hand, both men and women, as Jews often find themselves in the position of the ‘mashpia’ towards the rest of the world.

      In my experience, an essentialist approach, that claims women are like this and men are like that, at the end of the day, always paints itself into the corner. We are just too complex as human beings to be pigeonholed in any way and there are so many other axis of comparison—level and type of intelligence, interests, social standing, country of origin, familial background—that one wonders how much weight gender should even play in the equation.

      I always think about the young newly married man at one of those marriage classes, shrinking into the corner because he is the type who yearns for a high level emotional relationship with his wife, but is married to a matter of fact, down to earth practical type, who can’t for the life of her understand what he wants to talk about so much.

    • david f says:

      “To me it’s strange that the general culture (and to a lesser extent Jewish culture) somehow got the idea that men and women are in essential aspects identical.”

      The only person who can make this claim with a straight face is someone who long ago stopped caring about the facts and will say anything to advance a political agenda. Males and Females may be equal, but they most certainly aren’t identical.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      That is one of the many false premises of feminism-that men and women are the same-with the only difference that women give birth to children.

      • Actually, even if that WERE the only difference it would still have very wide ramifications. Birthing a child (and even the theoretical ability to birth a child) can change the way a person looks at the world, the way they interact with the world, what their dreams and aspirations are, etc. (see Sara Ruddick for some of the ways in which what she terms ‘maternal thinking’ changes how we view things). On the other hand, we are not like animals who react instinctively to physiological phenomenon. Human beings react to the physiological in vastly different ways (think about how the physiological experience of death has impacted various societies and civilizations, resulting in vastly different philsophies and world views.)

        In fact, a feminist thinker is the one least likely not to acknowledge the impact that our bodies have on us–feminist epistimologists have long argued against the wishful thinking that caused rationalists to think that it is possible to divorce knowledge from the subjectivty of a person. But even as we acknowledge the impact of physiology on all of us, we are also aware of myriad other influences which interact with the physiological, and more importantly, we are very cognizant of the difference that uniquely human factors such as free choice, self-awareness, introspection, etc. have on how much influence the physiological will have on any given person.

  2. dr. bill says:

    your comparison to the Rav’s ztl Adam I and Adam II is debatable on any number of levels; a public shiur the rav gave in 1968, beginning with the gemara in kiddushin 30-31, and i believe included in ‘Family Redeemed’ may be a better example of similar ideas.

    • Thanks for pointing that out. I will try and follow up on that source. While it was actually Sarah who made that parallel and not me I admit to having had the same thought when reading The Lonely Man of Faith though I don’t really know enough about Rav Soloveitchik’s work to have an opinion.

      But the Majestic Man, in his imposition of self on the world, and his utilitarian relationship to relationships did seem to me to parallel the male paradigm in my book (many facets of which could not be elaborated on in a short review). While Covenental Man, whose main concern is bridging the gap–and suffering from its ultimate unbridgeability–whose goal is not progress but preserving and nurturing what is, seemed to me to present an exquisite–and stunningly beautiful– parallel of how I see the feminine (circle) force (in ways which also might not be obvious from reading the review). And I do see these archetypes reinforced, for example, in Rav Soloveitchik zt”l’s exposition of Eve giving Adam to eat as an act of inclusion which an aesthetic experience invites.

      This didn’t seem to me to contradict these being two aspects of Adam because of the fluidity of these two forces in every human being. In fact, I would have thought that extending the polarities to male and female metaphorically, would only strengthen the dialectic. But these are just the thoughts of an avid (and grateful) reader of his works, and I am happy to be enlightened if I am wrong….

      • dr. bill says:

        Thank you for your thoughtful response. My major concern in relating Adam I and Adam II and male and female roles is that both men and women (should) possess aspects of both Adams and vis-a-versa. However, I agree with you that men (not specific to any group) tend to reflect more of Adam I, and women tend to reflect more of Adam II. Nonetheless, I don’t believe that the Rav ztl was differentiating between men and women in the Lonely Man of Faith. I don’t remember how (or even if) the Rav dealt with the lack of distinct male/female roles in the first chapter of Berashit, versus the second.

  3. Steve Brizel says:

    FWIW, those who subscribe to and read Mishpacha look forward to Mrs. Kosman’s always thoughtful and fascinating columns. Yet, I would suggest that one of the most fascinating books by women for women which is written without any apologetics would be the The Spice of Jewish Cooking ( approximate title) that three Chabad women published with the encouragement and advice of the Lubavitcher Rebbe ZL.

  4. Yonah ben Shlomo says:

    Thank you for this important and helpful article, and to Miriam Kosman for her work, which clearly deserves to be read. If there is ever a “strategy” to transcend the bitter divisions in klal yisroel of our time, it should be by returning to the true gadlus of Torah and Chazal, knowing full well that such gadlus is not supposed to make anyone with small-minded views, on either side, feel self-satisfied. One can feel this derech at work here, B”H, in our fraught theme of the day.

    In addition to the midrash on the moon I expect that the teachings on the nature of Avram and Sarai’s impotence could fruitfully enter this picture. You can be mefaresh however you want, but that doesn’t take away the great pathos we are called to have for a man, and a woman, who just frankly aren’t “working” like their gender should. This call for compassion from us, you could say, is as important a foundation for am yisroel as the emunah that is called from them and normally applied as the lesson here.
    Thank you again to Mrs.(/Dr.?) Kosman and Professor Rindner.

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