Mike Feder: Yes, this is Mike Feder, your resident skeptic and seeker, and I’m here with Simon Jacobson live in the studio.
Simon Jacobson: Hello, resident skeptic and seeker.
Feder: Thank you. We are going to continue tonight where we left off two weeks ago talking about men and women. It’s a program that we’re titling “Battle of the Sexes: Round II.” Is that correct?
Jacobson: Yes. I don’t know how many rounds we’re going to have…
Feder: To the finish. It’s a never-ending battle. What we want you to do very much is to call in as we go along, because I know that everyone listening is either a man or a woman, and you can call us at 212-244-1050.
Let’s just go right into it. It’s hard to do this, but last time we talked, you talked for approximately 20 minutes just briefly starting on the subject of men and women and how they were created and what the differences are, but if we could have a brief, if possible, recapitulation before we get into the program…
Jacobson: One of the reasons we’re doing a continuation of this particular show is that there was an unbelievable response, by email, by phone, and people who have communicated with us in other ways. Obviously it’s a topic that touches so many people—the Battle of the Sexes—however you articulate it, whether it’s “Men Are From Mars and Women Are From Venus,” there’s a whole man and woman dynamic, and one of the main points I made on the last show was, briefly, the essential approach that the first thing we have to determine is, who is a man and who is a woman: the quintessential man and the quintessential woman?
Are we products of society, of being programmed, of media pressure, of peer pressure, and who is the essential male inside of the man, and the essential female inside of the woman?
So I thought it would be very interesting and important to begin with trying to trace, as I said, the quintessential personality of the masculine energy and the feminine energy.
Feder: Which could be in either the male or the female.
Jacobson: Exactly. Because once you abstract it from its particular manifestation, it’s clearly a personality, it’s a quality that both men and women have, which isn’t surprising with medical breakthroughs today: we know that in the early stages of pregnancy, male and female are barely distinguishable, yet they clearly become two different entities, and it’s also been documented that there clearly are biological and even psychological differences which in no way makes one better than the other, just simply different.
Feder: I read in some article that there are even differences in the brain.
Jacobson: Right. And the point is that even in tennis, for example, we see that in male tennis and female tennis, no one sees that segregation as some type of problem. It’s reflective of their particular bodies and physical strength and so on.
So to sum up what I essentially said then was that these are two forms of energy, that one first has to disassociate it from the man that you think you are or the woman that you think you are, or the man you know or the woman you know, because that may be a product of parental influences, schooling, media, and all kinds of other stuff.
We clearly live in a male dominated hierarchy, and women are trying to level the playing field, and rightly so. Men, simply because of their physical position and physical strength have dominated. And that is not necessarily healthy, it’s just the way things are, so therefore, it very much clouds our perspective on the issue because of the imbalance created by the male hierarchy.
Both are necessary for every human being to function in this world.
Feder: But you’re saying that these are natural qualities.
Jacobson: Natural, quintessential qualities; one being predominantly feminine and one being predominantly masculine. And actually you’ll find this at length in Jewish Kabbalistic mystical thought, but I’ve seen it parallel in other systems, like you mentioned, the yin and yang for example. So let’s not even call it “man” and “woman,” let’s just say they are two forces in nature, two forces in existence
Feder: Internal, external… But you also mentioned receptive and communicative.
Jacobson: In some ways the manifestation of inward energy is about the power to listen, so to speak, the power to step back from your own ego and be able to receive, to be able to take in something greater than yourself. Whereas our expressive mode is the power of giving.
Now take a simple example, a chronological example. In our younger years, we’re more in the state of receptivity. You are impressionable, you listen, you receive, you absorb. Later in life you begin to give, to return.
Obviously, it’s not exclusive, but in the educational years, you’re studying or you’re sitting in a class or you’re reading a book. Any intelligent person knows that there’s a necessity for receptivity or else you’ll never learn anything new. If you’re always smarter than what you’re reading or listening to then, just like a full cup can’t be filled, you can’t grow. But receptivity is not a passive state at all, in a way it’s a very aggressive state, except it’s aggressive silence. It’s like you are intentionally willing to absorb at this point. That is a feminine energy in its quintessential form.
Expression is that after you’ve absorbed and internalized whatever it is, you then choose to express it to someone else. As they say, good speaking is always good listening. If you know how to listen well, you know how to speak well. I don’t mean oratory skills or the power of a loud, resonating voice, but what I mean is the kind of speaking that people will listen to.
If you never listen to someone, you haven’t really earned the right for anyone to listen to you, no matter how wise you are. So I intentionally ask the listeners, and yourself, Mike, to separate these two forma of energy from the man and the woman that we are familiar with, and then we can juxtapose the conceptual male and female to the male and female we experience. Here’s the exercise: once you define what masculine and feminine energy is—and you can read more about it in the chapter on Men and Women in my book Toward a Meaningful Life—once you’ve defined that quintessential energy, so to speak, then look at yourself and compare. Where do you stand in your ability to receive? Where is your inner dignity? Are you overly dominant and aggressive—whether you are a man or woman?
And what about the other side? Some people are very inward, and rarely express themselves. Is that healthy? So there’s a necessity for a balance. The imbalance that exists in society today is a direct result, in a subtle form, from the beginning of time, from a Biblical point of view: Adam and Eve were misaligned when, in the original story, they ate from the Tree of Knowledge and they became, so to speak, self-contained, where they no longer had mutual respect for the feminine and the masculine; that is, now we’re each on our own. And the fact is that men and women need each other, so in a sense we mutually consent, or mutually agree that since I need something from you, then I’m ready to give you something. It becomes more like a business deal rather than a deep respect of the spirit of the individual.
Feder: Like a partnership or a cooperation.
Jacobson: And I would say that this is reflected in a broader sense not just in the battle of the sexes, but in a general trust between human beings. When you don’t have a good sense—you’re not really confident of your own position of what you are about—you tend to protect yourself, and that usually creates a wall that doesn’t allow for communication with another type of person.
Between men and women, obviously, it’s much more overt and exaggerated simply because of the sexual relationship, the issues of romance and love, and all that comes with those politics.
Feder: So this is a pretty fair approach to a recapitulation of what we said last time, even though it’s hard to do a thing like this in such a short time. But now let’s bring this more down to the flesh and more up to date—we’re all walking around here on the planet. Men in the world seem to think (and this could be just cultural training or they act this way for the last who knows how many years) that men do certain things and women do certain things. You remember the phrase, “A woman’s place is in the home” while men are out there in the world. Yet all these things are changing tremendously in the last 20-30 years to the point where you have almost a national plague of a lack of identity.
A lot of men experience this sort of “float,” they don’t even know if they’re men, or how they’re supposed to men, are they supposed to stay home or go to work, and then there’s women in the workplace. All these things are floating back and forth and affecting a lot of relationships in a very negative way.
Now, you say it’s a battle of the sexes. If this is a battle of the sexes, it’s a massacre, in other words, for the last several thousand years, women have been downtrodden, overridden, put in a position of almost slavery in many places, and are still second-class citizens in most places.
How did it all go so wrong if this was the original plan of a benign Creator? And is there a place for men and a place for women that really is different?
Jacobson: Well frankly, as soon as you say “How did it go so wrong?” it rubs me in a very bad way. Not so much your words but that it sounds very much like fire and brimstone. I would rephrase that if I may in my own words (but it’s good that you said that because it represents many people’s feelings).
Feder: That’s the skeptic part of this.
Jacobson: I’d rephrase it and say that it’s not so much how things went wrong, it’s how things were put into place. We do suffer from an identity crisis, but this is not something that we should be afraid of, because that’s exactly how G-d intended to create us.
G-d “threw” a soul into this world, and I’m emphasizing the word “threw,” because when you study the roots of creation, the roots of birth, we usually put it this way: that a soul, a spiritual entity, which was unfettered, like a bird with no nest, upon conception is put into this container, into this material word, and once it’s put into this world it’s made to forget consciously where it originates from, in the sense that it can deceive itself into thinking that all there is to life is the material, the here and now.
Feder: Well, maybe we’re getting off track here, but why would somebody put a soul into the world and deliberately give it amnesia?
Jacobson: Because there would be no purpose to existence, no meaning to life, if we were not true partners in this search. In other words, if we were puppets, put here just to play out a script, and there was no free will and no challenges, it would be similar to a parent who holds onto his child’s hand and never lets it walk. So why would a parent ever let go of the hand of his child? Very simple. Because the child has to become independent. And this does require a separate discussion and this theme will come up many, many times of free will, human independence, autonomy, and, without getting into an explanation, suffice it to say it’s a necessity. Life has no meaning if there isn’t a challenge of that nature.
So the amnesia is only on the conscious level, not on the subconscious one, because on the subconscious level, we do search for this identity, and part of that search is the search for love. That’s why sexuality and love are so confusing, because essentially love is your search for identity. And your search for higher identity is very enigmatic, very elusive, because we have no tools. Our tools are very materialistic, very tangible, very sensory. So to come back full circle to our topic, where you ask, “What went wrong?”—no—life was made in a way that we will be faced with challenges. Are you going to live your life based on being a product, or even a victim, of circumstances, including being a man or a woman who has been shaped by society, or are you going to discover what makes you truly you, what makes you male, what makes you female, what’s your masculine side, what’s your feminine side, and access that?
In a culture and environment where we are not sure about this, what we usually do is rely on mass mentality. It just seems easier to go with the flow; that’s the way it is. So when you talk about the massacre that you were describing, the problem is this: that when you solve the problem, you’re not going back to the root, we’re just solving the basic problem. Okay, so women have been in the home and men have been at work. Or okay, so women go out to work, and men go back home. It doesn’t work that way. You have to really get to the root of the issue here.
What does it mean exactly that the woman’s place is in the home? Her physical place is in the home but her mind is in a soap opera on television and she’s thinking about why can’t she have a career like her husband?
And when the man is at work, does that mean that his life and his entire investment is at work, and home is an incidental necessity?
Feder: Well, you know, very often it breaks down that way in the world.
Jacobson: Yes, in a world that is unclear as to its true priorities. I was, as we all were, reading and watching the events of the JFK tragedy, but at the same time, the reporting of it has become a story in itself: how many hours are being spent by the media and the millions of dollars it’s taken to cover it, and people are gobbling it up, and hungry for more. And I’m not getting into an analysis or media critique, or anything like that
Feder: That’s a whole separate thing…
Jacobson: Right. But I do want to say something that struck me, and I was talking to a friend this morning, who made a good point: People distract themselves in life, and they’re busy with many ways of distracting themselves, whether it’s through entertainment, through money, through status, through music, through watching celebrities. Then you suddenly see a person who seems to have it all struck down, and you see mortality, and it forces you to suddenly look at yourself in the mirror and ask, so what exactly am I valuing, and what exactly is important to me?
Now, when things go well, or at least ostensibly well, we don’t ask that question. But it forces one to think about it, and I think it’s a good point, which is directly connected to the issue of the Battle of the Sexes, of men and women. Because the question is, “Who are you? And how do you identify yourself?” And that’s one of the points we made two weeks ago which was: the center of life between a married couple, man and woman, has to be the same center. If there are two centers going on in their lives, they cannot have an intact marriage.
Feder: What would you define as two centers?
Jacobson: Career and home. The woman is taking care of the home and the children and the meals, and the man takes care of a career. It’s two centers. You can’t have two centers of a circle.
Feder: You know, when I was growing up in the fifties, the entire generation of America was like that. My entire neighborhood was like that. All the women were home, and all the men went to work, and actually most of those households stayed together and the marriages stayed intact.
Now, that is not the way things usually are, and a lot of marriages and relationships are falling apart. There is more divorce now by 100% than there was in the 50s.
Jacobson: So there are two ways to analyze that. One way is that women started making too much noise. They should stay home and men should go to work and we should turn the clock back to Mike’s younger years.
Feder: Wait! The opinions of this program are not necessarily…
Jacobson: No! I’m just using you as an example.
Feder: Okay. Use me as an example.
Jacobson: So one approach would be that we should turn the clocks back: there’s too much talk and women have been given too much freedom and perhaps they should just be satisfied with what’s going on at home, a simpler life, men should do their work and come home, and things are fine.
But one may argue that what you were witnessing was simply a festering problem that just took a little while to explode. Because what were men doing at work? If they were creating another hub, or center, for their lives, it is inevitable that the women would ultimately rebel and say, “Hey, the guy’s having fun out there. He doesn’t have to deal with crying children, with all the trials and tribulations of home life. He’s having fun with the guys, drinking at night, and who knows what else is happening there…”
Feder: I don’t think a lot of the jobs these guys were doing were necessarily fun.
Jacobson: No, but the point was, if they both saw life as one center, that the man simply saw his work and career as being a means to a spiritual end: I’m working because I need to make money to be able to provide for a family, for a home, my mark on this universe is not what kind of name I will make for myself on Wall Street, but what kind of children I will leave.
Feder: Which would be the shared center.
Jacobson: Exactly. And the husband feels that he’ s half of the picture. His wife is the other half, and perhaps even the more important half, because she’s dealing with the end itself, the family upbringing. And the man saw it as that. Not just in words, as lip service, he felt it within, internally. Now I don’t know if that was the case where you grew up. If that’s the case, then the priority then is different than it is today.
What I think is happening, and again, I don’t like to compare generations because I don’t really know what was happening then, maybe women were being silenced when they complained, and they just weren’t allowed, or didn’t have the nerve to complain. And yes, men did create a second center, I don’t know. That’s why I’m not just ready to say we should turn the clocks back.
But what is definitely happening is that the center has shifted away from family and children and the home, and I think women have also moved toward the new center that the men have created.
Feder: So what you’re saying is that the joint center, to look at it in a positive way, has moved away from the home into the world, and that may be the problem.
Jacobson: Part of the problem. But more importantly, the reason that the center has shifted is a result of the source of our security. Ask yourself the question: where do I get my confidence from? Where do we get our security from? If your security comes from your teddy bear, or from your money or from your status, that’s going to be your center. You’re going to work toward maintaining that security. If you don’t really feel secure in your relationship, or if you don’t feel secure that you have something to leave your children with, or that there are real values at home, clearly you’re going to find another center.
So I think what we’re dealing with here is not really a marital crisis or a crisis of family, it begins much earlier. It’s a spiritual identity crisis that begins from day one when you’re born: why are you here in this world, what is your purpose, and what will ultimately satisfy that purpose.
People are afraid of their own destiny, so destiny gets very much caught up in a vicious cycle of demands that are placed upon us to succeed. We climb the ladder, and when we succeed, we think we are satisfying that “security,” but we’re really not. That’s why I mentioned JFK, Jr., because suddenly when you see the “security” stripped away you suddenly realize, hey, is that really where it’s at, is this material success, good looks, youth, having everything, is that really what’s going to make my life important?
But it seems that way, because if you ask people to make a list of the five most important things that would make them happy, I don’t know how many people would answer spiritual harmony.
Feder: Maybe it depends on the age of the people you ask the question to. Like 17, or 37, or 57…
Jacobson: Well, when G-d offered King Solomon options of what he wanted, King Solomon asked for wisdom. Wisdom gives you the wisdom to find the answer.
You know the story they tell about a fellow who was struck with every problem: he lost his family, he lost his money, his health, and finally the only thing that was left was that at least his body was intact, and then he was struck with some terrible leprosy where his body did not stop itching. So they say that the angels came to G-d and said, “Have mercy on this man.” So G-d said, Okay, let him make one request, and I will grant him whatever he asks for.
So at the moment that he was offered the opportunity to have one request granted, he had a terrible itch on his back so he said, “Give me a shard, something with which I can reach this itch on my back,” like a backscratcher.
So he had his request fulfilled.
And often that’s what happens when we don’t have that peace of mind or wisdom to really know what to ask for. That’s why there’s even a prayer where you pray to G-d, “I pray that You give me what I really need because I don’t always know what that is.”
And in a way (I don’t want to make this simplistic because it’s very difficult to talk about a topic like “the battle of the sexes” because it touches so many different issues) but I must say that I was trained to think in terms of getting to the root of the issue. But clearly we also need short-term solutions, so I am therefore in complete support, where women are discriminated against in any particular area, that there should be that equality.
Women are definitely equal and in many ways far superior to men particularly in certain areas. Men of course have their strengths. But to just satisfy women with offering them opportunities that are available only to men is dealing merely with the short-term, that’s dealing with a particular situation where a woman gets a job, or she’s in another situation and she should be given an equal opportunity.
But getting to the root of the issue is really getting into spiritual identity: who are you as a man or as a woman? Ultimately, that’s where happiness lies. If you’re happy with your feminine side, with your masculine side, you will be able to co-exist and respect others and will not need to get into the rat race of trying to replicate or emulate someone else to find your own identity.
Feder: Okay. Let’s take a quick break here. You’re listening to Rabbi Simon Jacobson, and this is Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson. My name is Mike Feder and we’re here every Sunday night from 6-7pm and you’re listening to WEVD, 1050AM in New York City.
This show is an outgrowth of the Meaningful Life Center in Brooklyn, and this show is also based very much on Rabbi Jacobson’s book called Toward a Meaningful Life, in which almost every subject that you hear discussed on the air here is discussed in the book.
We really want to thank everyone who has emailed us or written or called us. Here are some of the ways you can get in touch with us, and we want to hear from you. The most important thing is the telephone number: 1-800-3MEANING or 1-800-363-2646. You can also email us at email@example.com. You can always write to us at The Meaningful Life Center, 788 Eastern Parkway, Suite 303, Brooklyn, NY 11225.
I’d like to also tell you that we have a new website where you can download transcripts of this program, and previous and future programs. It’s www.meaningfullife.com.
Let’s keep moving right along here, now let’s be frank: you’re the one who came up with the idea of a “battle of the sexes” so do you perceive it as a battle, or are you just stirring up the pot when you say it? I mean is there a natural antipathy between men and women?
Jacobson: Well, both. I am stirring up the pot, but you can’t stir the pot with something that doesn’t stir, so you need to have a legitimate reason.
I think it is a battle, particularly in what they call “bedroom politics,” where you find a battle in the area of conquests, so to speak: who ultimately is in control. Remember, men and women need each other, simply on an emotional, romantic, sexual level, so there’s something you want from somebody. So the question is, what do you do to get what you want and need?
Feder: And this could result in a struggle.
Jacobson: And clearly does. You probably know about the book The Rules, and other books similar to that about women striking back, whatever it is.
Feder: Sorry to interrupt…It looks like we have a call. Let’s go to the caller.
Caller: Hello. I hope you don’t mind: Last week you said that Rabbi Akiva was the only one who was saved, but in the Kinus it states (Hebrew spoken here)…
Jacobson: He’s talking about last week’s show where I mentioned a Talmudic story where four people went into the Garden and only one came out intact. The four were Ben Azzai, Ben Zuma, Achair, and Rabbi Akiva. One died, one became insane, one became an apostate, and it says Rabbi Akiva entered in peace and left in peace.
So this gentleman is asking, “What do you mean intact?” You find later that he was barbarically murdered by one of the Romans as one of the Ten Martyrs, and his soul departed with the words “Shema,” as he was proclaiming the unity of G-d upon his death.
The gentleman is suggesting that I made a mistake, but essentially these are two Talmudic statements, and they don’t contradict each other, because we were discussing the story in the Garden, that “Rabbi Akiva went in in peace and exited in peace.”
Later in his life is the story that this gentleman is referring to, and I appreciate his call. Let’s continue with our topic, even though his call may have some connection…
Feder: I don’t know what it is…
Jacobson: We can talk about the battle of the sexes entering in peace and exiting in peace.
Feder: You know what, I think that’s a thing that a woman would never do. Let’s just say it, all right? Here we are talking about a subject for the benefit… I mean I’m not saying anything about this particular man, I’m just saying generically. I’ve been on the radio for 20 years and I’ve taken a lot of calls from a lot of different people. All my life I’ve been getting calls from men and they have an opinion to give you. It sometimes has nothing to do with the group effort or what you’re talking about or any enlightenment that you’re approaching.
Women will frequently call up and be receptive. They heard what you said and they’ll respond to it. Seventy-five percent of men will call up a radio show, it happens all over the city, and all of a sudden just step into the middle of something just because they have an opinion. It just happened!
Jacobson: So let’s take it a step further. You as a man, how do you respond to that, and how would a woman respond when a man does that? Let’s go, Mike.
Feder: I think, now I’m responding as a man because after all I don’t want to get personal but I appear to be a man, I think that this man is displaying a kind of masculine energy and I’m responding in a masculine sort of way by saying, “Look…” Or maybe I’m responding in a female way. I don’t know.
What I’m reacting to that makes me so angry is that he is interrupting the receptive flow of an enlightened kind of program here. He’s putting his big foot in the middle of something and squashing it.
Jacobson: And I don’t feel that way at all, frankly. I feel it’s an open show and I feel that if we invite calls, we can take it in stride. A person asked a question, and he’s not being offensive, and not insulting, but it’s a good example that you’re bringing up.
Feder: But if he had any respect for his female essence, or any knowledge of it at all, he would be listening to what we’re talking about…
Jacobson: But maybe a woman wouldn’t be so critical of the man. Maybe she would find some sort of merit. Maybe this has been bothering him for a week and he wanted to share that with us. I don’t know.
Feder: Well, that’s a good point.
Jacobson: Look, I’m not suggesting that what you’re saying is wrong or what he’s doing is wrong. I think that in general what happens is that we respond in kind.
Feder: Well I just did, that’s for sure.
Jacobson: I’ve often been confronted and instinctively one wants to respond aggressively. But I think what you learn in life, and maybe this is a big part of feminine energy, is that there’s a bigger picture. It’s not all about your reaction, even if your reaction is justified. However there are times when your reaction won’t be justified. Let’s say that this time you’re right, Mike, but there may be some times that you’re not.
Feder: You mean that kind of reaction.
Jacobson: Right. So I believe that the attitude should not be driven by your reaction, your emotional response, but by what is the right thing to say. This episode is a good example of the difference between a stereotypical male and female repsonse. The masculine and feminine do overlap and there’s a time for each.
There’s a time to be silent and there’s a time to speak. But to go back to our topic, here, the point I was saying is that we are in an identity crisis, whether it’s male or female, it’s an identity crisis and I think that though we’d like to have some short-term solutions and say “Okay, here’s what you do, here’s five exercises,” I will make some suggestions, but first and foremost is the focus: what is the priority, what is the center of your life?
Feder: Okay, we’ve got a call from Sue in New York.
Caller: How does a person accept her identity as a woman? Because of my family background I’m just having a problem with that. My father was more or less very dominant and so I really rejected men and I rejected being a woman.
Jacobson: What other options are there? Well, listen, Sue, let me just say this. I hear you but this obviously is a big topic. If your father was dominant, which is a negative type of experience, perhaps that’s why you should embrace your femininity more than anything.
Caller: I don’t, I really rejected it. I became much more like a man, you know? Being a woman is a part of me which I find very hard to accept.
Jacobson: I will say this briefly, and then I invite you, Sue, to email me further, but I really want to say that if there’s a part of a person that one finds a problem with—like in your case about being a woman and you become too dominant because of your father—you could spend the rest of your life hating yourself and trying to run away from that, but what’s much healthier is to find virtues or qualities, something about being a woman that you can embrace, that makes you feel strong.
I would suspect that part of what you’re afraid of is that being a woman is for you is negative and that by embracing that will make you weak or vulnerable or others may hurt you. And I appreciate that, because given the world we live in, that is definitely a reality, that women can be hurt.
But I think that being with the right people, with friends and people you can trust, that can help you to cultivate and embrace that part of yourself is critical.
I have some other suggestions that I would like to give you if you communicate with me on email so please follow up.
Feder: Thanks for the call. By the way, we have a few calls right now and when you call in, please make sure to turn your radio down or even off because it reflects back over the air.
Our next call is Mark from New York.
Caller: Hi, just to enlarge the subject, instead of it really being a subdivision of the battle between the sexes, we have a large topic of a battle among humanity, in that we each battle each other, regardless of sex, for our own self-preservation, going back millions of years of evolution. And maybe we need to address that, and then we could move on to the battle of the sexes, battle of color, battle of height, size, religion, and all other types of battles that we have.
Feder: It’s a very good question.
Jacobson: Mark, I definitely agree with you, the problem is that if we spend the rest of our time on this show dealing with that battle, we’ll never get to the battle of the sexes because it’s such a large topic. I think it’s very much interlinked, and I couldn’t agree more that the issue is respect of another individual.
Ultimately, if a man does not respect a woman, or if a woman does not respect a man, I would tend to say that they don’t respect members of their own gender as well.
Caller: Or themselves.
Jacobson: Or themselves, exactly. And I think it gets down to a point that I’ve made on this show which is the idea that “You matter.” That you have something valuable and indispensable to contribute in life and when you wake up in the morning knowing that you have a mission to accomplish, that sense of self-respect spills over in how you respect others.
Caller: And you get it back at least equally or double most of the time when you behave well.
Jacobson: Great point, Mark.
Feder: There it is. Thank you for calling. We have Cindy on the phone. Go ahead.
Caller: I have a question but first a comment that women have made tremendous strides in helping to free themselves from the constraints that we feel men have imposed on us, but to me it seems that in the religious world, in the Torah world, I don’t see the strides that have been made. Women still feel that if you’re going to live an observant life, you will be constrained, you will not have the freedom that seems to be out there. Not that the freedom has brought more happiness to families, we still have not found the solution to that, but if we are going to live according to a narrow way of life, where does the woman come in that there should be this sharing, this partnership, and so on.
Feder: Can I ask you a question about your question? Could you be more specific, like give me some examples of what you mean?
Caller: Well, take the traditional Jewish home. The woman is still the one who, of course, has the children (that happens in every case) but for example, it seems to be that in religious observance, the man takes the initiative, the man is the one who gets an aliyah, he goes up to the Torah, in the synagogue it’s visible that the men reign supreme and it seems to me that a woman from a traditional Jewish home does not have the freedom that other people seem to have. People are going away from tradition because they feel that they’re not given that freedom within their religion.
Feder: Okay. Fairly put. Thank you.
Jacobson: Thank you for your question, Cindy. I would say that Cindy’s touching upon a very sensitive topic that I personally have been dealing with with many, many women growing up in observant homes, observant communities…
Feder: Observant meaning what?
Jacobson: Orthodox, but…
Feder: Right, it’s a word you don’t like to use.
Jacobson: Right, but observant meaning traditional, following the letter of the law in Jewish tradition.
Feder: Which, by the way, this could apply to other Orthodox fundamentalist traditions of other traditions.
Jacobson: Exactly. And they don’t want to rebel against their tradition, yet they find their tradition being constraining or claustrophobic in some ways. It doesn’t allow for the feminine expression of leadership and so on.
It’s clearly a problem…
Feder: You’re saying it’s true.
Jacobson: It’s definitely true because you know you can’t argue with people’s feelings. People do feel that way. I know women who have left observance and who have left Jewish tradition just for that reason alone. I’m sure there are always deeper reasons as well, but that’s a strong one and there are many movements in the traditional world where they attempt to reconcile how to deal with it. There has been criticism of how much power to give to women, and then of course there’s the other extreme, which is, women should be silent, stop rebelling, stop complaining, just keep doing what they’ve been doing for thousands of years, and not cpm;ian when they see any injustices. I think both approaches are unhealthy, and the key is to allow for the emergence of the true leadership of women within tradition, within the power of thousands of years of the timeless tradition of Judaism. If you go back to the basics of the Divine system of Judaism (as it is unaffected by human institutions and by materialistic priorities), women always had a prominent position in the community. It is critical to distinguish the baby from the bath water.
There is clearly a certain male dominance that has affected even traditional circles and it is not necessarily healthy nor G-dly. And one has to acknowledge that. And at the same time, the way to deal with it is clearly to introduce women with a certain pride and dignity to assume their true role as leaders. And it should be valued. Clearly in a world where the center of people’s lives becomes career and materialism, clearly in a world like that—and it’s affected traditional circles as well—women are going to become very second class, because if the spiritual value of the home and the family is not the number one priority for all people, there’s going to be suffering.
Feder: Let me put you on what may be ignorance or may be the spot here for a second. In an observant community, and let’s take for example, in a Roman Catholic church, women cannot be priests, and priests are recognized as spiritual if not other kinds of leaders of the community.
In certain observant Jewish traditions (maybe I’m wrong) women are not rabbis. Is this part of the problem?
Jacobson: No. This is a symptom, not part of the problem. Because the question is, is a rabbi the boss? Is a rabbi the leader of the community? A rabbi plays a role. A rabbi can be the legal authority, he can be the academic, the pulpit rabbi, the leader in certain respects.
The question is, what is leadership? And who assumes that leadership and how is that leadership experienced?
Clearly, in a situation where women are not given power, or they’re not respected for what they do contribute, then if you go into the synagogue, which is the conventional environment for traditional observance (Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, Shabbos, holidays) the man is the one who’s sitting on top there.
But that is a misunderstanding of what Judaism is all about. Is the center of Judaism the synagogue? No, that’s incorrect. The center of Judaism is the home. The synagogue is an area to complement the environment of home, of family.
A synagogue that becomes an end in itself is a bureaucracy, a country club. A synagogue is the place where you cultivate your prayer, your study, your personal relationship with G-d, so you can go back home and build a family that is G-dly and sacred.
As a matter of fact, let me make one more statement about that, in case we have some traditional people calling us disliking what I’m saying. The Torah says, the Bible says that when G-d says, “Build for Me a sanctuary and I will rest among you,” it doesn’t say I will rest in it, in the building, but I will rest among you. Because the whole point of the Temple, and clearly a synagogue is a mini-Temple, is that G-d rests among the people.
A synagogue that creates some type of splintering, or distrust, or one that creates an environment where women are seen as second class, is not creating a place of “G-d’s resting among you,” among the home, the families, the human beings, the people.
But this is really a bigger topic, and I would even dedicate part of a future show to this because this is not something I can easily address in a few minutes.
Feder: So, Cindy, again, we’ll ask you to communicate by email to get more specifics.
Jacobson: But I want to reiterate that it’s a large topic and I have some practical suggestions. I just spoke about the general thrust and gist of it, but I would like to give more suggestions (by email) as to what can be done with the tradition tools to allow women their proper prominence and leadership in the community.
Feder: Okay, thank you Cindy.
Caller: Thank you.
Feder: Okay, we have one call. John, thanks for your patience, you’re on the air.
Caller: Yeah, I’m calling from a cellular phone. I agree with you that the gender roles and the way things are represented are very messed up, giving power to one side over the other keeps things separated and not together.
I definitely think men and women should be equal in the full spectrum of things. Here are a couple of thoughts I want to get your opinion on. This thing about power, I personally think it’s a class thing. It’s money, it’s the top 1% of the males that are controlling most of this power that you see out there. I don’t think physical power is real power over a person. I think women have a lot more power than they claim that they don’t have. Just in a lot of areas. One or two examples, there’s definitely a representation of a lot more violence in the media and in magazines that happens more to men than women, just in movies, television, cartoons: these figures are all male figures. All the cartoons that get beat up are males, boys from when they’re small are given guns, girls are given dolls and all these things set up a lot of things that happen later on.
And let’s not forget that women are a part of raising some of these males that later on…
Feder: One of the constraints of a radio show is that we’re nearing the end of the program so maybe we can leave it up to the rabbi to respond to you.
Jacobson: Well, John is making a very good point, basically that symbols of aggression in our society are very much associated with males, and you see it in video games and many other areas. It definitely continues to foster that type of male aggression, and there’s no doubt that that comes as a vicious cycle that continues to perpetuate itself.
I couldn’t agree more that the women, and this responds to Cindy’s question as well, a woman has power far beyond what is imagined and what is respected in our society, and it’s critical that we focus on that, and essentially it’s very connected to spiritual power, spiritual power meaning something you cannot measure with ammunition, with money, and other material ways. It’s something Pharaoh did not respect when he said, “Kill all the Jewish males,” referring to throwing all the male babies in the river Nile. He thought the challenge to his great Egyptian army would be a Moses, a man. He did not realize that the power of faith, the power of optimism, the power of perseverance, which is very feminine, was really what his real challenge was. And even if he would have known that, he wouldn’t have any way to destroy that, because armies cannot destroy faith.
Feder: We have one final call, and I’m going to have to ask you to make a brief statement or question because we’re right at the end of the program. This is Baruch from New York.
Caller: I just wanted to bring up that I’ve heard certain rabbis and people, theologians, claiming that the Jewish religion believes that women are on a higher level spiritually than men, and first of all, I did read a whole book from Feldheim, Targum Press, that explains how this is wrong. I researched this very thoroughly. But also I’d like to think this is also very dangerous because it is exchanging the perception (which is wrong) that a lot of people put down women and exalt the men, and it’s going all the way to the reverse, which is putting down men and saying that women are higher.
I think both of these ideas are very dangerous and it should be clarified and just like it’s not good to put down women, certain people should not be preaching that women are on a higher level, which implicitly says that men are lower creatures. I’d like you to address that.
Feder: Okay. Well thank you for your comment.
Jacobson: It’s a good segue. Baruch’s point is a very legitimate one. That’s why right at the outset of the first program we did on this topic, which I reiterated here as well, in the eyes of G-d, G-d created male and female, as it says in the Bible, “Male and female He created them.” So clearly there is no such thing as inferiority and superiority either way. Clearly they both complement each other spiritually. Each has virtues that the other may not or does not have and when they come together in a marital union in a sacred way, they both become greater than the sum of the parts, they are definitely two parts of a larger picture.
I think it’s wrong to say that a man’s virtues (and clearly a man has virtues and qualities) that a women does not have makes him better or higher spiritually, or that a woman’s virtues make her higher or superior. One has to look at it that each have something that is necessary and indispensable, and respect means that the respect goes both ways, recognizing that both under G-d have something unique to contribute, and together they can do more than each can do on their own. That’s the way I would put it and I would agree that it should not be counterbalanced in any other way.
Feder: Now, reality intrudes (is that a masculine way of putting it?).
Jacobson: A feminine way would be that “reality emerges.”
Feder: Okay, thank you very much. I’m learning a lot here tonight. So anyhow, moving right along, you are listening to Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson. This is Mike Feder and we thank you very much for your calls. Write down the number, engrave it somewhere, 212-244-1050, because we want calls on all these shows that we do from now on. We’re here every Sunday from 6-7pm.
We’d like to mention that this program is based very much on the book Toward a Meaningful Life, written by Simon Jacobson and available at bookstores everywhere. These programs are brought to you by you, by the listener, and our underwriter for tonight’s program is Barry Hartheimer, who we’d like to thank very much for doing so.
Jacobson: Thank you, Barry.
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We have about a minute and a half left. Do you want to sum up the whole idea of men and women and the battle of the sexes? Has anyone won this battle, will anyone ever win this battle?
Jacobson: The key is to realize that it’s not a battle.
Jacobson: That’s the key. As long as you see it as a battle, it will never be won. And it’s not a battle as you essentially put it, we are in the same boat. It’s that men and women each have something unique to contribute. Practically speaking, this can be implemented in many ways, both by men and by women, and that in general first of all, it’s paying attention to themselves, whether as a man or as a woman, whether it’s at work or at home, and how we speak to our children, how we speak to each other. The respect for “the Divine image,” the G-d inside each one of us is critical for the respect of each other, whether it’s men to men or women to women or it’s the different genders.
Just talking about it makes me very sad, but at the same time very optimistic, because I think people can sometimes stand right near a treasure and because their back is to it, they don’t see it.
The power that a man has and the power that a woman has is so profound and there’s so much to accomplish in this world, that it’s sad that we get so distracted with the material pursuits, the career pursuits, status, the battle. It would be unbelievable if you were able to find your own, let’s call it the man finding his own feminine side and respecting that, including his own masculine side, the ability to listen, the ability to be receptive, gentleness, majesty, and a woman feeling the same and trying her way of expression, her way of leadership.
Feder: Next week on Toward a Meaningful Life: Reincarnation and the Afterlife. Thank you very much.