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Popular gender stereotypes are not merely incorrect, they’re outright harmful.

Jews are from Sinai, Not Mars or Venus

Jews are from Sinai, Not Mars or Venus

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Jewish men are often described as gentler and more spiritual than the general male population; gentleness and spirituality are viewed as more feminine characteristics.   Similarly, Jewish women have been described as more assertive and intellectual than the general female population; assertiveness and intellectualism are viewed as more masculine characteristics.

Historically, Jews have been mocked and derided for these androgynous qualities. For example: What is the point of nearly every Jewish American Princess (JAP) joke?  A J.A.P. joke is an anti-Semitic attack on essential Jewish values, whether told by a Jew or Gentile, whether by a man or a woman. Those jokes ridicule Jewish men for being too gentle, in the face of Jewish women who are characterized as too demanding and sexually non-subservient.  The integration of masculine and feminine qualities that has been the pride of the Jewish people is distorted into ugly caricature.

Such jokes can have insidious consequences for young Jews' self-image and behavior. There are young Jewish males today who are probably less nurturing than were their fathers, as many have assimilated the values of the majority culture. They are more likely to suppress their gentleness and assume a persona that is physically tough, interpersonally demanding, and sexually exploitative. As a result, many  young Jewish women are less trusting of men, less willing to devote themselves to the family, because they distrust that they will be loved and respected for doing so. They may delay or avoid marriage. Conversely, they may decide that in  order to attract a man they must subdue their intellectual or spiritual powers and hyper-project their sexual desirability. The negative stereotyping of the Jewish genders has contributed to the fact that people will blame their marital problems on the Jewish ethnicity of their ex-spouse. Thus, a significant percentage of inter-marriage is due to Jews who have divorced a Jewish spouse and go on to look specifically for a non-Jew as their second  spouse.

What does the Torah, which has guided and molded Jewish life for 33 centuries, say about the differences between men and  women?

On the one hand, the Torah states that there are clear, inherent differences between the masculine and feminine forces of the universe. For example, the feminine forces have more of a connection to G‑d through profound faith that is beyond  rationality, that is trans-rational. In comparison, the masculine forces achieve more of their connection to G‑d through rationality and flashes of insight; the experience of ecstatic insight in learning Torah ultimately leads men to mystical faith. Endurance and breadth are characteristic of the feminine forces, while intensity and focus are masculine.  In computer terminology, parallel processing is feminine, whereas serial processing is masculine. In football, the wide receiver is feminine, while the quarterback is masculine. The transcendental number pi is feminine, while logarithms are masculine.  Analog is feminine, while digital is masculine. My favorite metaphor for the difference is that gravity is a feminine force, while lightning is a masculine force.

Notice that in the preceding paragraph I used the words "feminine and masculine forces" rather than "women and men". For while it is true that a majority of women (but not all women) will tend to have more of the feminine forces, and a majority of men will show more of the masculine, all of these characteristics are found in both men and women.

According to the Kaballah, any characteristic that appears in extreme form, unmodified and unmitigated by a different or opposite quality, belongs to "the world  of chaos." By way of analogy, the chemical elements sodium and chlorine, when they are in their pure form, are extremely  unstable and toxic.  However, when they combine as sodium chloride, or table salt, they become a stable ingredient that is necessary for human survival. In the realm of personality, it can be harmful when a person is always gentle; sometimes love requires that we honestly confront the person we love. Similarly, it is harmful if a person is always critical, even in the guise of "constructive criticism" designed to bring out the best in others.

By the same token, our task as individuals is not to inflate gender differences, thereby becoming physical or spiritual Ken and Barbie dolls. Rather, the Torah encourages us to pair and integrate the universal forces of male and female within ourselves, as well as on the communal and cosmological level.

On the most basic level, this is achieved through the mitzvot (Divine commandments) that we marry and have children. In fact, those two commandments are among the very first to appear in the Torah! (see Genesis, 1:28 and 2:24)]

At the same time, however, Torah law insists that we appreciate that there are systematic differences between men and woman, and, as a consequence, to accept that women's special contribution to the world tends to draw more on the female forces, such as enduring faith and symbolism, while men's offering draws more  on intensity and rationality. To accept that the genders have arenas in which their roles are equal in importance but different in substance.

Despite this equality in the male-female partnership, there appears to be an area in which one gender is superior to the other.  That is, the Lubavitcher Rebbe has commented that ultimately it is the feminine quality of trans-rational faith that must guide the masculine quality of rationality. The Rebbe quotes from Jeremiah's description (31:21) of the Messianic era, during which "the female forces will be superordinate over the male forces" ("u'nekayvah t'sovev gawver").

May it be that we fuse the force of enduring, extensive, female faith with the energy of immediate, intense male insight, such that we experience a personal, powerful, emotional connection to G‑d, which then elicits G‑d's desire to bring about the Redemption, with the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our day.


Excerpted from an article by Dr. Yisroel Susskind published in Ascent Magazine
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Anonymous Monsey February 12, 2015

Thank you so much Thank you so much for this.
You have brought me a sense of relief. Reply

Yisroel Susskind Monsey , NY September 27, 2009

Mona's post lovely comment. Reply

Mona Garden Grove, CA/USA September 26, 2009

Woman and Man Thank you. Instead of "playing" on "differences" and superiority/inferiority of one over the other, this shows how we are all more like each other as G-d's creations. Together, more is accomplished than separately. Allowed to grow and progress instead of being confined to be as narrow-focused people try to mold us to be, we can be a blessing to one another and to our G-d. Reply

Ed Yisroel Susskind Monsey, NY January 15, 2009

TAHARA'S POSTING 1/15/09 thak you for your appreciative comments Reply

Tahara malibu, ca. January 15, 2009

u'nekavah tsovev gawver This article brings such clarity!. The alchemical marriage of forces of male and female. A unity that roots itself in faith,"being female." with intense "male insight"
I will keep this article and reread it,For every
bit of it is a profound truth. Thank You,Thank You and may the moshsiach come speedily Reply

anthony edwards December 6, 2008

mars venus sinai yes all is in one Reply

Yisroel Susskind April 13, 2008

reply to Sandra Greene's thank you for taking the time to express your appreciation. Reply

Sandra Greene Poplarville, MS/USA April 13, 2008

Awesome wow! very interesting! LOVE LOVE LOVED..It Reply

Patricia via chabadpasadena.com March 24, 2008

Mars Recently Mars was found to have salt deposits on it. I think it reflects the anger and hostility in the world today.
I think there will be an increase in pancreactic and liver Cancers. There are a lot of angry people who are not being guided as consciousness shifts into the next milenium. Reply

Ed Yisroel Susskind (author) March 25, 2008

reply to Saul in Ottawa In saying that (according to kabbalah and chassidism) women , as a group, have greater access to trans-rational faith and that trans-rational faith is associated with the feminine forces of the universe, I am in NO WAY relegating women to a passive role. Such faith is an incredibly powerful motivator for ACTION. When a man draws on such faith, he is accessing the feminine side of his soul. Similarly, a woman is in no way limited or restricted from the domain of insight through learning; since she too has a masculine side to her soul, which draws upon the masculine forces of the universe. Some women may have a better developed masculine side than a feminine one, in terms of their intellectual makeup. Our task as individuals, and certainly as spouses, is to learn to draw on both our feminine and masculine strengths, while still recognizing that as gender groups we have innate predispositions and strengths. Reply

saul ottawa, canada July 4, 2005

It seems that the notion of trans-rational faith as female, and insight as male, merely relegates women to a passive role. By asserting innate faith as a woman's strength, it puts women in a position of honour, but in such a way that removes what impetus they may have to encroach on the male domain of insight through learning. Reply

Ed Yisroel Susskind (author) March 25, 2008

reply to Shlomo Kostenko Mr. Kostenko writes that "The author, by his wording, also suggests that this is entirely a modern trend, concurrent with the loss of female modesty. I think on both counts this is a rather naive view - there have always been men, Jews included, who are inclined toward anger, or are even just insecure, and feel the need to secure their own identities through forceful means. In such cases, gender roles serve only to define the terms of how to express that force. Physical assertiveness in that respect is certainly nothing new or foreign."

I fully agree with Mr. Kostenko that there have always been insecure men who feel a need to be excessively forceful in their relationship with women. However, I think that it is absolutely the case that we are currently seeing a radical increase in the frequency of that behavior and that the increase correlates with a decline in feminine modesty. This point is thoroughly presented in Wendy Shalit's excellent book "A Return to Modesty." Reply

Shlomo Kostenko Boise, ID October 26, 2004

An excellent article, with one reservation... Overall, a very good article, particularly in its point of not stereotyping the genders to simple poles. My only concern is in the third paragraph, where the author talks about Jewish men becoming less nurturing, perhaps more physically overbearing, in an attempt to fulfill a stereotype they believe is expected of them. The author, by his wording, also suggests that this is entirely a modern trend, concurrent with the loss of female modesty. I think on both counts this is a rather naive view - there have always been men, Jews included, who are inclined toward anger, or are even just insecure, and feel the need to secure their own identities through forceful means. In such cases, gender roles serve only to define the terms of how to express that force. Physical assertiveness in that respect is certainly nothing new or foreign.

It's on the outside edges of the larger point of the article, which is why I hesitate to approach the issue at any length; I do feel a bit pedantic. But at the same time, I just don't think it's fitting to call readers to look deeper at the nature of gender while at the same time passing off problems in gender roles as entirely modern, goyishe corruptions. Or even just posing such problems in overly simplistic terms. Addressing the issue fully and properly in the present means owning up to when we, as individuals and as a people, have failed to address it fully and properly in the past. Reply

Anonymous NY, NY October 25, 2004

men and women One of the best metaphors to describe how the relationship should be between a man and a woman married together is how a man and woman dance together. Quite simply, one person has to lead, and one has to follow. Otherwise they will dance in different directions. Who leads and who follows can change. But I find the classic highly masculine man and the highly feminine woman is the most gallant of Jewish couples. A woman needs a strong lead, and a man needs a strong partner who is on his side. This is the essence of a good relationship and can be found throughout the Torah. Reply

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