Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Including Men in Engendered Judaism

Just started Jonathan Kirsch's "The Woman Who Laughed At God", and I'm already enjoying it greatly. He also wrote "The Harlot By The Side Of The Road", another favorite of mine, so I am not too surprised.

Despite the title, the book is not about women in Judaism - neither of them are, actually - but an exploration of "Who is a Jew?" using the famous story of Sarah as a launching point. Sarah's laughter at God's prediction of a child does not incur the wrath that other seemingly lesser infractions do elsewhere; Kirsch leads from that into the multiple authors of the Torah, to multiple interpretations of the material, multiple theologies underlying the variants, and the evolution of Judaisms rather than Judaism. Having said that, he actually does spend a lot of time discussing women in traditional Judaism, starting with the hinted-at existence of Hebrew goddesses and moving through rabbinic Judaism to the modern era.

As he discusses the raw deal women tend to get from the Old Testament and its most fervent followers, I am coming back to one of my personal hot topics; where do the men fit? The single-issue focus of feminism destroyed (mostly) the old definition of what it means to be a woman, replacing it with something new and vibrant. The old definition of what it means to be a man was just destroyed. Nothing new was put in its place. Traditionally male traits are now "bad", and the only thing most men have left to define their identity is, ironically, their relationships with women. I recall a retreat a few years ago where the group split along gender lines to define "male" and "female". Everything the men came up with was some variation of "we are here to support and love you"; they were not able to define themselves independently.

The same issue arises with engendered Judaism; we have created new rituals and opportunities for women, and the men...keep the same archaic stuff we always had? If the old way was flawed and didn't work for women, why do we assume it will work for men?

I especially see this as an issue in Reform Judaism, largely because of the large number of very active, highly talented women at all levels of the movement that are transforming the religion into something more accepting - no, not just accepting; enthusiastic about women. This is good, and as it should and needs to be, but what works better for women does not always work well for men. This has become a problem for our children in the schools, young adults in colleges, and now I see it in religion.

This is a somewhat incoherent rant, I realize. It's late and I'm tired. But Kirsch stirred me, and, as I said, this is a hot topic of mine. More later.

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