Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Men at Their Best

Man at His Best was the title of an essay I wrote about a year ago reflecting on the depleted presence of men in Reform pews. The feminization of Jewish life has either neutered men or driven them to other safe harbors. It is the very same reason why hareidi men in Jerusalem are vociferous, aggressive and verbally abusive when it comes to the touchy subject of women prayer services (minyanim) at the wall. Religious ritual at the synagogue or the “kotel” happens to be the last bastion, the Jewish man’s last stand, and his last frontier where he can be a man. He really has no other place to go. Now, a study has come out on the status of Jewish men in the Conservative/ Masorati movement.

In this particular study certain assumptions were made which are disturbing. For one thing, the study underscores the positive outcomes resulting from the feminization of the Conservative movement, referring to themselves now as gender balanced or egalitarian. This study rejects the premise that men resisted this new “world order”. Had they objected the study asks why is it that these men didn’t fight back, thus concluding, “if men are becoming less visible…it must be for other reasons”. The author of the study misses the point. They didn’t fight back because they weren’t able to exercise their rights. They were neutered long before they were married, most likely by their mothers at the same time that they were circumcised by the mohel. Jewish men have been programmed to be more “sensitive”, more “compassionate” and less aggressive. In short the liberal agenda filtered down to the Jewish family, making it politically incorrect to assume a stance not consistent with liberal values and politics.

Another erroneous assumption made by the author is that men absent themselves from synagogue because of their “religious incompetence”. If men, the study suggests, are given the appropriate “tools” this too can change. The author oddly likens the unschooled Jewish male to an unprepared hunter about to forage in the woods for a kill. Before going out on the hunt the hunter has to check his list of tools (the author never refers to these tools as weapons). Fascinating it is, that the author compares the Jewish man to the hunter, which is odd, since Jewish men traditionally have never been hunters and almost runs counterintuitive to our Jewish DNA. We don’t hunt for sport (against Jewish law – tsar l’baalei chaim and bal tashchit), and reluctantly for sustenance since we were meant to be vegetarians.

One could even make the case that the author of this study seems to be subconsciously struggling with the degree of potency of his “male” identity and thus, not surprisingly chose the hunter as his metaphor. The hunter, in Jewish lore is the quintessential Esau, decried and discredited in the Bible as cunning, wily, aggressive, fearless and takes what he wants. This is the polar opposite of the early paradigmatic version of Jacob, understood as the delicate, sensitive spiritual figure decidedly scholarly, effeminate and dependent on others for physical sustenance.

No matter how many studies come out, the end result will be the same: the feminization of Judaism has led to the neutering of men driving him out from his place of gathering, his natural habitat, the beit kenesset (beit midrash). They have become passive aggressive, as manifested by their absence in the synagogue as well as other programs sponsored by the community. Hareidi men must hold out and keep at bay the feminization of their cultural enclave, the last frontier of the Jewish male. They are the last male Jewish hope.