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.