Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson
Radio Show Transcript - May 14, 2000
Rabbi Simon Jacobson: Good evening. This is Simon Jacobson and welcome
again to Toward a Meaningful
Life. Were on every Sunday evening (WEVD 1050AM)
from 6-7pm. Its been very gratifying to receive emails
and communications from you, particularly in light of last
weeks show which was touching a pretty controversial
issue: the Torah view on homosexuality. This show is only
possible and only successful due to the synergy and the cooperative
give and take effort of the listeners and myself, so I continue
to welcome your calls and communications.
the spirit of generally dealing with contemporary issues,
and particularly ones that we hear a lot aboutand as
it also happens to be Mothers Day on the secular calendarI
felt it would be appropriate to do a show on women. After
looking for a really extraordinary guest who can discuss the
issue in a way that sometimes a limited male perspective like
my own could not (as a male discussing womens issues
sometimes lacks complete credibility), we asked Rebbetzin
Leah Kohn from the Jewish Renaissance Center to be our guest
and were very honored to have her here. Thank you for
those who may not know her (I hear about Rebbetzin Kohn from
so many people that I know many already do know her), but
theres always one or two who may not, so Rebbetzin Leah
Kohn is the director of the Jewish Renaissance Center, a unique
institute that is focused entirely on Jewish studies devoted
to women. I find that extremely encouraging because of the
many different misconceptions and attitudes about women in
Judaismand to have something that really focuses on
women and their particular issues is just a testimony to the
universal and relevant appeal of Torah in general.
also heard rave reviews of her classes. The Renaissance Center
does offer a complete range of classes for women, afternoon
and evening, summer and winter. I see from the program here
that it covers the entire gamut. And there will be a Jewish
Womens conference taking place next Sunday, May 21st
at the New York Bar Association, which Ill give you
more details about later on.
the main thing is that Im honored to have Rebbetzin
Kohn here, and I thought that it would be really valuable
to have a discussion with a woman who lives in the modern,
21st century, coming from a traditional background,
but at the same time able to communicate so well to women,
and for that matter to men as well who are interested and
want to know about this important issue: the role of women.
topic doesnt need too much background and explanation
because I dont know if theres anyone on this earth
who hasnt been affected by womens issues, whether
in the United States as the search and aspiration for equal
rights, the ERA movement and the general feminist movement,
or in other societies and communities where people feel that
women have not been treated properly or in an equal fashion.
its a topic that is personal (and not just a theoretical,
philosophical topic) and Id like to begin first by introducing
set the tone, when you talk about this issue of women, in
general, the perception that people have of women in Torah
is somewhat of an archaic, old-fashioned one. So I would begin
by asking you, how would you articulate the role of a woman
in contemporary society from a traditional Torah perspective?
How would you define that, particularly taking into account
the many misconceptions and stereotypes that this usually
Rebbetzin Kohn: I would say that the role of the woman in many, many
ways is not any different from the role of the man. We are
here to live a life that has meaning and a life of self-development,
of contributing to othersand in this way there is no
difference between a man and a woman.
to Torah, though, there is a division of responsibilities,
the concept of a team, where certain responsibilities are
distributed more to men and others to women. This doesnt
mean, however, they cannot help each other or shouldnt
be involved in each others areas of responsibility,
but in every team, each member is responsible for a particular
any Jew today can be involved in any part of society and at
the same time be a Torah observant Jew, it is true for women
Jacobson: I was reading today that Mothers Day was instituted
in the beginning part of last century as a result of some
of the feminist activism. Reading that I realized that growing
up in my own home, coming from a Torah background, every day
is Mothers Day. The value and the preciousness of a
womans role and a mothers role is always apparent.
You dont need one day in 365 days to make that point.
at the same time, when many women see, so to speak, a traditional
Orthodox Jewish woman, their attitude is that they dress in
an old-fashioned way, their role is seemingly exclusively
motherhood, and they look down upon them as being career people.
Living in a masculine-oriented society, many women feel that
if theyre not treated as a man, with equal jobs or equal
opportunities, they essentially become second class.
many feel that Judaism has done that. Many women have shared
that with me about growing up in traditional homes where the
girls were always treated as the ones who didnt have
to be educated and so on. So Im glad to hear that its
not that way, and I know its not that way myself. So
how do you speak to a person like that, because Im sure
many of our listeners have that attitude. What do you say
to a person who has such an experience?
Rebbetzin Kohn: I think we have to understand a little bit some historical
background. Jewish women, during history, definitely concentrated
more on home and raising children. But lets understand
that raising a Jewish child is not just taking care of his
physical needs, but its being a psychologist, a person
who takes care of his spiritual development, and that is very,
always say at my classes, You know, I have one daughter,
and shes wonderful, but still, I was challenged by her
much more than by any of my students, ever. Because
when youre with somebody for 24 hours and its
your sole responsibility to make sure that he or she grows
up to be a good, productive human being and a good Jew, its
a very, very challenging mission.
generations, this was very valued, and not only by Jewish
people but by non-Jewish people too. Unfortunately, in our
time, family is not valued as much as it should be, and we
suffer for it in society. But it doesnt mean, on the
other hand, that the woman has to be in the family all the
time, at home, and not have a career outside.
we would emphasize is that family is important, and raising
the next generation to be a healthy, productive and good generation
is essential for us, for society, and there is no greater
contribution. But it doesnt mean that the woman has
to do everything. Technical things could be delegated to others.
There are different stages when children are at home, different
needs of children, and the woman can definitely develop herself
and her career side by side with the family. At certain points
she may develop her career part-time or do it in a way that
wont interfere with the major task that she has at homeand
this is not necessarily the cooking or the cleaning, or this
aspect, which can be done by somebody elsebut making
sure that her children will grow up to be good human beings.
This is a very challenging job.
Jacobson: I couldnt say it any better than that, but my question
is, we do live, as you said, in a society that doesnt
value home the way it should. And this is especially true
in New York, where they call it an epidemic of single life
(the mecca of singles). Being in the situation that we are,
where family is not honored the way it should be, and therefore
the womans role is also seemingly undermined and compromised,
how do we address that? How do you begin to turn the tide
and address it once society has fallen into that type of situation?
Rebbetzin Kohn: I think the secret is education. In order to do the
job properly, a woman has to know her stuff, and this was
taught all throughout history. But in history, this was transmitted
by osmosis, mother to daughter, but you cannot be a good Jew
without knowledge. Women, men, it doesnt matter. You
have to know what you believe, whats your view of life;
you have to know how to live a Jewish life, you have to know
current issues in order to know how to relate to them and
react to them. You cannot be separated from the reality and
be a good Jew at the same time.
only within the last hundred years that life for women in
general has changed a lot, and we have to respond to it in
the Jewish way of life as well. And thats why Jewish
education for women today is a prime concern of every Jewish
community and a lot is invested in it.
myself, even though I grew up traditionally all my life, I
am teaching already for over 30 years, all ages, not only
in the framework of school but after college as well, all
ages of women are encouraged to come and study in a stimulating
way. You cant do your job as a mother, as a wife, or
if youre single, as a member of a community, and live
Jewishly properly if youre not inspired yourself, if
you dont know what it is all about.
being that today the way to educate is formal, women have
to get a formal education as well. And youll find that
women today are very involved in learning. Wherever they are
in every society, even the most right-wing societies in Judaism
put a very strong emphasis today on Jewish education for
Jacobson: You were born and grew up where?
Rebbetzin Kohn: I grew up in Jerusalem. My family is there for 12
generations on one side, six on the other side. It took my
family a year to come from Europe to Israel with a lot of
self-sacrifice. Here I am outside of Israel only because I
feel that its a mission to teach outside of the land
of Israel where assimilation is more of a threat than it is
there. But it was not a simple decision for me to leave Israel
and come here.
Jacobson: Did you ever face any resistance from traditional men to
what you do, essentially as a woman leader?
Rebbetzin Kohn: I dont think its a problem in any way
today. Maybe 60-70 years ago when it was new, but women were
leaders in the community even before. Maybe not in terms of
teaching and educating, but they were always leaders of many
organizations that helped in the community, like helping the
sick or the poor, or helping people to get married or in any
way or fashion, women were leaders but in a different area.
they are leaders in education as well.
Jacobson: I do find sometimes that men are intimidated by that, not
necessarily for any good reason. Now Im sure you hear
this as well: Women go into certain synagogues and they feel
uncomfortable. They dont feel that theyre treated
equally, whether its an issue of an aliyah, which means a traditional way of calling someone up to the
Torah, or some other things.
of all, its very encouraging to hear, Rebbetzin Kohn,
that you teach. That in itself makes you a role model and
shows that you are at the forefront of the single greatest
crisis which is the spiritual crisis, the educational crisis,
knowledge of why were here on this earth. This is not
exclusively men, in many ways Im sure women can contribute
in some ways even greater than men, but at least equal, this
is really a joint effort.
women have these experiences of going into the synagogue or
Jewish life in general, where they do feel condescension,
of not being treated quite
the same way as men. I hope that tide turns, and the
more success you have the more that will change.
what do you tell someone who goes into a synagogue like that
and says, I cant have an aliyah, and gives a list of questions
that you usually hear: I cant put on tefillin,
or at some synagogues they lock me up behind a mechitzah, (which is a partition like in the back or locked
up some people call it in a cage). I dont want to put
you on the spotthere are so many questions and its
hard to answer every one in detailbut how do you respond
to that, particularly of course when the issue here is not
an academic one, but an emotional one.
Rebbetzin Kohn: Well, first I would generalize the question to go
beyond the synagogue. All experiences that women have when
they feel that women in Judaism are treated as secondary are
real and need to be explained.
once had a student who knocked on my door at 10:00 at night
with red eyes. She just happened to read something and it
seemed to her that it was very discriminating against women.
I opened the door and she told me, Mrs. Kohn, let me
tell you. If I would have been a man, I would have had no
problem with Judaism. Being a woman, I dont think I
can make it.
obviously I hear a lot about all those issues, and the reason
I take it beyond the synagogue is that we have to first understand
something before we go into the topic itself. Id like to tell a story that I heard
once from Rebbetzin Heller from Israel. She once said in a
lecture the following analogy: Somebody was on a train and
next to him was sitting a person by the aisle, and a huge
suitcase was next to him in a way that was really an obstacle
for people to go by. One person went by and almost fell down
and then another person. So the person next to him told him,
Please move it a little bit so people can pass by.
But he didnt respond.
twice, three times, and the person really got angry. He said,
Listen, you see whats going on. If youre
not going to take the suitcase away, Im going to throw
it out the window.
another person came and he also stumbled over it, so the neighbor
picked up the suitcase and put it halfway out of the window
hoping that now hed move it. No response. So he really
meant business and he threw it totally out the window.
he looked at him and hes still totally indifferent so
he said, Now you also dont say anything?
And the man replied, No, because its not mine.
gave this analogy to explain that many times women judge Judaism
and the place of the woman in it based on what makes a woman
important in the secular world: fame, money, equal salaries to man, and so on, positions
that they can have.
even though those are important issues (Im not minimizing
the fact that if a man and a woman work in the same positions,
they should get the same salary) but this has nothing to do
with judging the place of a woman in Judaism, because what
Judaism is all about is spiritual growth, bringing G-dliness
into this world, the connection to G-d.
if they want to check if men and women are equal in this,
we have to ask, do they have an equal opportunity to be close
to G-d? And they do. Because the highest level of connection
to G-d is prophecy, and there have been both men and women
prophets in our history.
if this is so, why is it that when we go into a shul,
many times we feel secondary?
have to understand that the synagogue in Judaism is not really
the heart and soul of Judaism. Its an obligation for
a man to pray three times a day in a group of ten men. Its
an obligation for a woman to pray every day, but she can do
it individually between herself and G-d.
are reasons for it that are beyond our scope of discussion.
We cannot discuss it in five minutes, but there are reasons
for it. Judaism, in other parts of the synagogue, in other
parts of Judaism is really what Judaism is all about. Its
the place where all Jewish activities are taking place, and
besides going to the synagogue, there are very few obligations.
So when a woman comes with this perception to Judaism, and
sees that in the synagogue shes not treated exactly
the same as the man, to her it means that shes secondary
if we remember that praying in the synagogue is a very small
detail in the Jewish experience of a woman, it will take on
a different perspective. Even more than this, a few hundred
years ago, there were no womens sections altogether.
Its a new phenomenon which is to be encouraged, because
with changes in the womens place in history in general
and in society in general, they need it today. Being that
it is okay according to Torah to be there, why not? And I
definitely agree that a womens section in a synagogue
should be respectful and she should feel comfortable there.
I think this is changing in many synagogues already and will
change more in the future.
you walk into a synagogue where you dont feel comfortable,
try to create a connection with the people. Maybe through
this youll feel better, and if not, just change to another
synagogue where you do feel comfortable and where the womens
section gives you a really good feel.
Jacobson: The problem is that some people dont have anywhere
else to turn for their religious needs so they go to their
local synagogue. I know that when Yom Kippur comes, many people
who are not necessarily members go to the closest synagogue
they see and just walk into it. Sometimes its not even
a synagogue. But they may think it is.
its an issue, I assume, of creating that awareness because
your point is very well taken. What is the center of spiritual,
religious life? But what do you tell someone who did walk
into such a synagogue? If you are going to tell them, you
should know that this is not the center. So where should they
Rebbetzin Kohn: To a place of study. And there are places of study
today all over the country. If you are in a place that doesnt
offer learning, there is learning over the web, there are
tapes, phone numbers that you can call for a class which cost
only one local call, there are partners in learning over the
phone, and many, many other opportunities of learning that
use modern technology if you dont have real learning
in your area.
you need information about learning in your area and what
is available, you can call us at the Jewish Renaissance Center.
We are in touch with many different organizations that teach
all around the country, and if you call 212-580-9666 well
be very glad to direct you to a learning place in your area.
can call from any background. We know about more advanced
classes and beginner classes.
Jacobson: What do you do when men call? Do you treat them equally?
Rebbetzin Kohn: We try!
Jacobson: Listen, I have to represent the underappreciated male. So
thats great to hear. As a matter of fact, Ill
be referring plenty of people to you.
would you say about the actual concept of an aliyah?
Should I assume that you answered that question because an
aliyah is just an extension of the synagogue?
Rebbetzin Kohn: Right. And what I would say is as follows: As I said
before, the obligation of prayer is also put upon a woman.
With men its only the form of prayer that is the different
for them, and it goes together with the role as it is perceived
for a woman and a man.
are two aspects of spiritual growth. There is the persons
spiritual growth. Every human being needs to materialize his
potential spiritually to the utmost, and grow constantly in
his life as long as he is alive.
is also the aspect of the community or the Jewish nation as
a whole and its relationship to G-d. Both are important for
every human being, meaning, every Jew has to grow personally
and also interact with society, with the community, with the
nation, and with mankind at large.
being that not everybody can be in charge of everything at
the same time, well accomplish more if we divide responsibilities
between a team, so men are more responsible to the communal,
national aspect, while women are more responsible for the
personal development of themselves, people around them, whether
its their own family or people in the community.
that this is the case, there will be some differences in the
performances of mitzvos, commandments, between men and women. And in prayer it will
express itself as well. While a woman is obligated to pray
individually in front of G-d, men are obligated to pray three
times a day in a form of ten, what constitutes a community.
obviously, men should approach G-d personally as well, and
women, whenever they desire, or if it gives them a better
connection to G-d, should obviously go to the synagogue as
well and pray in this fashion too.
everything that has to do with the communal service, according
to Jewish law, is given to men. Now I know that women sometimes
feel really bad about the fact that they dont go up
to the Torah and read from it. They are going very sincerely
in order to have a spiritual experience and feel deprived
by not having it.
me tell you, a woman might have many, many other spiritual
experiences that men dont experience, or other things
that are mainly for women, like giving birth to a child. Nursing
a child is definitely not just a physical experience; its
definitely an experience on a spiritual level that can change
a persons life. You really stand in front of G-d at
that moment and see His wonders first hand.
cannot have this, so obviously we are a team. Its not
a matter of being better or being less, but everyone is responsible
for his area and we are all together. We refer to ourselves
as one body. Its not two sides, where one is on one
side of the table and one is on the other side and we try
to get the best for ourselves.
are working together, harmoniously, hopefully, on a job. And
we are very happy that we have our own assignment that we
are doing, and somebody else takes responsibility for something
else, as long as the job is working well and we interact with
each other and make sure that we communicate and that we do
the job as a whole properly.
is also true of the Jewish nation, not just of men and women.
We have kings, we have Kohanim (priests), we have the Levites, we have the regular Jewish
people, each of whom has a different role. Everyone is responsible
for his own role, and together we accomplish our mission.
Jacobson: I think a big issue is that once roles have become distorted
in a society, and its become already a second and third
and fourth generation, not just for Jews, but religious, spiritual
values in general, and who does what and what does it mean
to have a relationship with G-d. I guess once it becomes distorted,
it becomes so difficult to sort it out. How do we get it back?
people say, maybe we shouldnt get it back. Maybe we
should just start some new order, like creating a philosophy
based on an illness instead of seeing it as a symptom.
just frustrating because as I hear you speak, and I relate
obviously coming from an education that teaches what youre
saying, at the same time, the frustration is, how do you capture
that in a short show like this?
may be people who are listening to this show for the first
time. They may never have heard anything like this. I think
it comes down to, if anything, to try just to shake somebody
up that there may be a different way of seeing things from
the perspective that most of us are accustomed to. Because
thats what growth is ultimately all about, that there
is some opening.
Rebbetzin Kohn: Right. I would also suggest, maybe, not to go by the
stereotype, but to check for yourself. And it doesnt
have to be just through education, which is obviously the
best route, but just to meet Jewish women who are lawyers,
doctors, teachers, bankers, in any profession, who are definitely
successful in their jobs, who are totally involved in American
life, and at the same time lead a Torah way of life in the
you speak to them, theyll tell you that the real meaning
of life, as important as their job is, is not their job but
their role as a Jewish woman in Jewish society. And I think
just seeing it is an opening and a way to maybe see it in
a different light and have the desire and the stimulation
to learn it on a different level.
Jacobson: What Id like to do now is to open up the phones and
invite the listeners to call in and ask Rebbetzin Kohn a question,
whether its a topic that weve touched upon or
something we havent touched upon, or some particular
challenge that you may have, particularly if youre a
woman. The number here is 212-244-1050.
have Leslie on the line.
Caller (a male caller): I always thought the Jewish woman was higher
up on the ladder than the male, and I really dont see
the argument of aliyahs other than once a month a woman
is impure. I dont know whos making the argument
and why they feel its so important. Is it the Conservative
or the Reform Movement thats making that argument? I
know it cant be Chabad or Ultra-Orthodox. Can you please
explain that to me?
Jacobson: Youre asking why people have a problem
Caller: With a woman not being called up to the Torah for an aliyah.
Jacobson: Its hard for me to answer that Leslie because I dont
have a problem with that. We need to get someone else on the
phone who does have a problem. The Rebbetzin explained it
quite well and so its hard, were all on the same
think, Leslie, to be honest, the reason people have a problem
is due to a misconception. The fact is, if you know nothing
about the issue at hand, you come to a stadium, for instance,
you walk in and one person is honored and one person is not,
and you have no idea why, then of course you can be offended.
The same with Judaism: If you have no idea what Judaism is,
as Mrs. Kohn pointed out very clearly, then of course youd
be offended that some people get an aliyah and some do not.
How come Im never invited to come up to make a blessing,
or whatever it is. So I think its a result of a misconception,
and it shouldnt be judged, because a person who asks
that question sincerelythere are many who doit
may be out of ignorance, and it may be out of limited experience.
not trying to address malicious people, someone who has some
other agenda. And the answer to that, as Mrs. Kohn said, if
I could sum it up, is that we have to have a better understanding
of what Judaism is and what the synagogue is. Yet, of course,
if youre invited to the White House and youre
not honored like a Senator is honored, you wouldnt be
offended because youd know that thats a Senators
position and youre a guest in that type of situation.
comparison is not exact, but the point is you have to have
perspective when you come to a place like that. Thats
the issue. So thank you for the call.
every generation has its unique challenges and everything
is Divine providence. Id like to believe, and I think
any thinking Jewish person likes to believe, that even sometimes
things that seem like negatives turn out to be challenges
for the positive.
a way, the fact that theres a call to women today to
assume that type of leadership position you described, the
need for education on all levels, is ultimately a blessing
we have to believe, because although 50-60-100 years ago it
may not have been necessary, today it is an absolute necessity.
would you define the unique challenges of our time, and how
can the woman take not just a passive, but really an active
leadership role once they do of course get some education?
live in a global village. Twelve generations ago in Yerushalayim,
they knew about their little shtetl. Im sure my grandparents had
their little place. Today we live in an environment where
both women and men can have influence on countless people
due to technology, communications, people know about things.
Information flows freely. So my question is, how would you
define (I dont want to lock it to one challengeIm
sure we have many challenges) a way that women in particular
can play a role in shaping the future?
Rebbetzin Kohn: I think that even though the feminist movement has
had some very positive achievements, like opening up positions
for women, giving equality in terms of salary and other things
as well, I think there is one thing that did not change, and
this is that women are still perceived as an object, being
other than a human being with a personality, etc.
think maybe thats the calling today of Jewish women,
because as much as we are out there and can get to the highest
level in terms of career, still, when a car has to be sold,
a woman is placed next to it in the advertisement as if thats
the selling point.
we still have sexual harassment and all the other issues as
we had before, and maybe even more, because there is more
access on some level.
think if there is a place were the woman is appreciated for
who she is, for her personality, for her essence, for her
attributes and not just for being an object, it is in Judaism. I think thats the contribution that we can
make with education through discussions with people that we
know. Each discussion with any friend or co-worker is an opportunity
and your personality comes across. I think that if there is
dignity to women, it is in Judaism because one thing is for
sure, by the way Jewish women dress, even if it sometimes
looks old fashioned, we emphasize what is revealed, not what
is covered, and what is revealed in a woman is the face, the
reflection of her soul, of her intelligence, of her personality.
We make sure in Judaism to give the woman the place that she
deserves as a builder of the nation and I think this message
could be transmitted to the rest of society through Jewish
why its essential that women study about Jewish role
models. Our first foremother, Sarah, was already a teacher
to tens of thousands of people. When Abraham and Sarah came
to the land of Israel, they came with tens of thousands of
people and they taught them about monotheism and changed their
way of life, and we still feel that contribution until today.
We all can do it, each one in her way in her society in her
environment in one way or another.
Jacobson: Okay, lets go to the phones again.
Caller: Hi. My struggle for women in Judaism is my perception that
its disempowering in terms of marriagethat they
are acquired, and in terms of divorce, that their power in
getting divorced in Jewish marriage
Rebbetzin Kohn: It definitely is a topic that needs to be discussed.
Its perhaps one of the most painful issues, the issue
of women who are locked into a marriage. Their husband does
not want, for whatever reason, to give her a divorce, sometimes
just because hes not a good person, and hes definitely
taking advantage, and they cannot go ahead with their lives
because they depend on him to give a divorce.
first we have to say that the same way that the woman cannot
go ahead with her life if her husband does not divorce her,
today, a man can also not go ahead with his life; it depends
on the agreement of his wife to receive the get, the divorce.
yes, you are right, there is a difference in Jewish law between
men and women.
me explain a little bit that the problem we have today is
not on the same scale as it was in the past. In the past,
a woman was unable to remarry usually when her husband disappeared,
sometimes in a war or in any tragic way and there were no
witnesses. So being that she could not get a divorce, and
she did not have any evidence that her husband was not alive,
she could not remarry. It was obviously a very rare situation
but it did happen.
we have big numbers of women who are married and who cannot
receive a divorce, and their husbands definitely take advantage,
either from money or some way to take revenge that they will
not give a divorce.
have to understand why is it so, why it is so common today,
or so much more common today than it was in the past. We have
to understand that the Jewish community today is not what
it was in the past. In the past, the community had the authority,
sometimes even given to them by the non-Jewish authorities.
The Jewish community was a close-knit community, and when
a person did not want to do what he was supposed to do, there
were ways to bring him to it without force.
problem according to Jewish law is that the divorce cannot
be forced. It has to be dealt with very delicately until the
husband does want to give the divorce. Communities today are
not communities. We live among many Jewish people but its
not one community with one authority that has the ability
to enforce things that have to be enforced and its a
we have to understand that much of it came because of our
own choice; not necessarily the choice of the women who are
suffering, but we went through different changes some of which
were chosen by us because we wanted more freedom and we have
the consequences, meaning, the fact that there is not enough
structure in the Jewish community is the choice of the people
who make the community and thats unfortunate.
coming back to the woman. We can say that thats what
the Torah says and thats the law. Obviously, the solution
is not by changing the law because thats not in our
hands; its G-ds law. We have to understand only
that if we live according to Torah will there be more emphasis
on educating people not to do something that is wrong. Maybe
thats the way to work on it. Especially we women as
mothers, we have the education of the next generation in our
hands, and I think it should start at a very young age that
no matter what you have against a person, it does not allow
you to do something that will hurt.
You have to teach that you dont have to have
a connection to the person if you dont want. You can
get divorced. But you cannot take revenge or treat a person
in such a way.
why is it that the Torah did it in this way? Maybe one way
to look at it is as follows. Torah does tell us that marriage
is not a trap, meaning,
under certain circumstances, when its not working, when
you tried, tried hard, and it doesnt work, you should
go out of the marriage and you dont have to be locked
the other hand, when a way out is given, its also important
to make sure that it wont be taken lightly or that people
wont try hard enough. So by making sure that one person
can give the way out and the other person cannot, maybe the
Torah wanted to tell us that at least one of the two people
in the marriage should be more concentrated on keeping the
marriage. Yet, even with this being the case, there is still
an option to get out.
Jacobson: Well, the last call was definitely a great call and I think
its an important question. I just want to qualify that
in a show like this, its hard to exhaust such a topic.
Id like to see this show as a stepping stone, leading
to further dialogue either through the Renaissance Center
or, if somebody wants to write to us, Ill give you some
numbers as well.
a topic is brought up here, Id like to see it turn into
a larger dialogue, because you have to remember, Jewish thought
is 4,000 years of scholarship. Literally hundreds of books
have been written on just these and related topics, and there
are many explanations, addressed on many levels particularly
on this issue of who acquires whom in a marriage and the rights
of divorce and who can get out of it. And ultimately, in a
way, the question is addressed to G-d.
G-d, who created human beings in a fair and equal manner,
create inequality where one person has power over another
with the potential to abuse another? The question could also
be asked about parents who can hurt their children. Thats
a fact. Children are vulnerable naturally. Why would G-d put
children in a situation where the parents can abuse their
when you take it from a Torah perspective, one really has
to understand and go deeper into the mind of G-d, so to speak,
to understand how G-ds system works. And I find that
these questions are very important, because the controversial
questions force us to dig deeper. And as the Mishnah says,
if you dig deeper youll find the answers; and youll
find deeper understanding of the dynamics and the psychology
of men and women. As Rebbetzin Kohn said, to tamper with the
law itself because we may not fully understand it is like
tampering with the DNA of the universe.
are many things that scientists once thought were so logical
and they played around with it and it actually created a lot
of damage. I think this is a great opportunity to really understand
what is the dynamic of a man, what is a woman, and why would
G-d make it that way that a man, so to speak, acquires a woman?
Why can a man initiate more in particular areas of marriage,
and of course there are other areas where women initiate,
and I think just to round it out, this is really an opportunity
for more discussion on the topic and by no means should anyone
think that weve closed the issue. There will be much
more said on this.
me just take a small break to reidentify who we are. This
is Toward a Meaningful
Life with Simon Jacobson. Im here talking to Rebbetzin
Leah Kohn from the Jewish Renaissance Center. You can call
us here live at the studio at 212-244-1050 or you can send
an email either on the topic of this show or any show to email@example.com
or visit our website at www.meaningfullife.com
and I would really love to hear from any listener who has
some issues or questions to address on the topics that weve
Jewish Renaissance Center, which focuses on Jewish education
for women, makes available an extensive array of classes.
You can call them at 212-580-9666 and I should also mention
that if any of you are looking to have a true woman Torah
experience, as a leader in our generation, in being part of
shaping the future in a very profound way, the Jewish Renaissance
Center is having its third international Jewish womens
conference this coming Sunday, May 21st, at the
New York Bar Association and you can get more information
for that at 212-580-9666.
go to Sarah on the air.
Caller: Hello. Mrs. Kohn, I want to tell you that I totally disagree
with your position. I do not attend a synagogue even though
Im an educated Jew. I left the synagogue because Ive
always found it a demeaning experience. I can give you many
examples but there isnt enough time for that obviously
on the phone. But Ill tell you briefly Ive been
to synagogues where women sat so far away from men they could
not even hear the cantor, so that the women among whom I sat
began to chat among themselves and the men would shush them.
It was very annoying.
been to a Rosh Hashanah service where I sat behind a dirty
curtain, I dont even want to call it a mechitzah, and I saw one woman, a very
pious woman, placing a romance novel on top of her machzor and reading it, because we couldnt hear what was going
on. And there too the men said shh!
because the women chatted.
dont see why a woman who is Jewishly educated, who knows
Hebrew, cannot have an aliyah, whereas a man, who has to read the berachot from a card with the English transliteration, because hes
so abysmally ignorant gets an aliyah
and a woman doesnt.
are just two or three examples that Ive given you. That
is why I dont attend service and I would love to but
I dont know where to go and many women feel the same
way I do.
Jacobson: Sarah, thank you for the call.
Rebbetzin Kohn: I would love to try to help you to find a synagogue
that would give you a very positive, wonderful experience.
Ive been in synagogues like this too and I can relate
to what youre saying, but Ive been in others as
well that gave me a great experience. I invite you please
to call me at 212-589-9666 and after you tell me where you
live, I would try to direct you to places that Im sure
will change your feeling about it.
aliyah has nothing to do with Jewish knowledge. Men can really not
know Hebrew and still get an aliyah.
It has to do with responsibilities that the Torah divided
between men and women. Its the idea of a team effort
and it has nothing to do with qualifications or connection
to G-d or importance in Judaism. Please do call me tomorrow
or any other day and I will give you some addresses so that
you can have a very positive experience.
Jacobson: So we have Sam on the air.
Caller: I would like to make a comment on the aliyahs. Not only do I feel that women are classified according to
a man and Im Jewish and I can if I want to feel like
a third-class citizen. You know why? Because I never, ever
can be called in the first place to the Torah. I have to be
the third one. Because Im not a Kohen
and Im not a Levi, and Im a peshutah
(simple) Yid, Yisroel. I can never go up to the bima to bless the congregation because Im not a Kohen. So we have it not only in the world
of women, we have it in the world of men also. There are differentiations
in the whole world. Why can women not accept it? And that
is my comment.
believe it should be emphasized. It was touched a little bit
but the differentiations are all over. Thank you very much.
Jacobson: Thank you Sam. I couldnt agree more. Im sure
the Rebbetzin agrees as well.
Rebbetzin Kohn: Yes, but I still can relate to the negative experiences
that women have and I think they have to be addressed. They
come from a painful place and there are explanations that
need to be given and more has to be understood.
Jacobson: But clearly Sam, theres no question that on a philosophical
level, diversity is what makes life beautiful, and unity doesnt
always mean everything is the same. Beauty means that theres
diversity, but theres harmony within that diversity,
which has been the eloquent message of Rebbetzin Kohn throughout
the show, which is that in the relationship with G-d, everyone
has his or her particular path.
are many areas where were similar, but there are many
areas where were unique, and to compromise that uniqueness
would be to undermine who you are as an essential human being,
whether its a man or a woman.
have a few more minutes. So many questions come to mind and
one thing leads to the next. But Id like to first thank
the sponsors of this show, Ivan Stux and James Garfinkel and
James and Anne Altucher and some of the others who make this
show possible. Its made possible only by grants and
your donations so I encourage anyone who finds this show interesting
and wants to have future such programming to please call us
at the Meaningful Life Center at 1-800-3MEANING (1-800-363-2646).
We offer classes for men and women, and I welcome anyone wanting
to attend every Wednesday night at 346 W. 89th
St., corner of Riverside Drive in Manhattan at 8pm.
would definitely encourage the women listening to this show
or if you have friends, to join or participate in some way
in the Jewish Renaissance Center headed by Rebbetzin Leah
Kohn. Youve heard her live on the show so you know what
kind of sensitivity she has that would welcome any person
from any background, whether a skeptic or a seeker, whether
youre a believer, whether youre questioning or
you have no questions, you are definitely welcome at the Jewish
have time for one more call. We have Ronnie on the air.
Caller: My question is that we have been recently hearing a lot that
theres some Reform Rabbis who are approving gay marriages.
I want you to comment on that.
Jacobson: Actually Ronnie last week I dedicated an entire show on
that and that was the Reform movements approval or endorsement
of gay unions. I addressed it somewhat last week and the truth
is, theres really not enough time to address it here.
I could just say this. That the Torah, if you want to see
it as a Divine blueprint for life, is basically as if somebody
would tamper with your computer: you buy a computer and you
come home with the computer manual. The manual tells you how
to operate your computer. The Torah tells one how to live
ones life. And whether someone calls themselves a Rabbi,
or a layman, we cannot tamper with that Divine manual or that
discussion on that would really require more time and I would
really welcome you to call or leave your number here with
us and Ill call you back or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
we wind down, Rebbetzin Kohn, would you like to say anything
to the women or men listening? You know, we live in difficult
times but at the same time we have radio to communicate.
Rebbetzin Kohn: I think its a very interesting observation.
On one hand we are bombarded with information. We have computers,
we have email, we have the Internet, and we are bombarded
with information. We know a lot today and we have access to
unbelievable amounts of knowledge. Women and men are really
educated today and can go as far as they want with their education.
On the other hand, when it comes to Judaism, many times all
that we had the opportunity to have was an education on a
childs level. Most of us, when we come to the age of
bar or bas mitzvah, thats the end of our Jewish education
and it will be really a pity, that we have a limited education
in what is essential in life.
really encourage youits fascinatingto delve
into the wisdom of almost 4,000 years of Jewish wisdom. It
addresses every aspect of life, including being a woman and
acting as a woman in modern life, as interesting as it is.
Even though its an ancient Torah, it does address all
the modern issues, and I would encourage anybody and everybody
to seek Jewish knowledge. And as I said before, I would be
very happy to connect you to places of Jewish learning wherever
Jacobson: Thank you very much Rebbetzin Leah Kohn. This has been Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson.