Adding Misogyny to a Modern List of the “Seven Deadly Sins”

Yesterday, I began teaching a new miniseries at St. Ambrose College on the Seven Deadly Sins. With thirty + students in the class, we had some great discussions. One of the assignments I gave the students was to think about composing a more modern list of the Seven Deadly Sins. Well, I started composing my own list and at the chief of the list today, I would have to say misogyny probably is one of the most serious sins of our age–and who could deny its ubiquitous effects?

In Turkey today, the Turkish police discovered a grizzly sight.  They discovered the body of a young 16 year old girl who was buried alive by her relatives in the city of Adiyaman, southeastern Turkey. Her name for the moment remains for now, anonymous. The police found her body in a  sitting position with her hands tied, in a two-metre hole dug under a chicken pen outside her home in Kahta. Police believe it was an honor killing because she “shamed” her family by talking to teenage boys. So far, the father and and grandfather  have been arrested and held in custody pending trial.  The girl’s mother was arrested but was later released. An autopsy shows that she was alive and conscious as she was being buried. Even more shocking is the fact that 200 such honor killings take place in Turkey a year. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that the annual worldwide total of honor-killing victims may be as high as 5,000, however even these statistics may not reveal the actual number of cases since most families who commit these crimes do not  exactly volunteer information to the local census Bureau.

When I discussed the incident with my good friend named Gloria, who lives in San Fransisco, she made several some poignant remarks relevant to our story.

What punishment was given to the boys who she supposedly consorted with? Probably nothing…fits right in with what I was saying about how men feel they have to control women at any cost…even to destroy one’s own child if she gives any appearance of impropriety. No issue is as important to men as that of controlling the sexuality or what passes for the sexuality of women…I got that message loud and clear when the orthodox rabbi once told me to stop singing…you probably remember how that ended up…I told the imperialistic rabbi at a boy’s hair cutting event I attended once (I also recall how he likened the boy’s hair to the first fruits. Really? Since when is hair a fruit?!) to wear ear plugs or to leave if he could not stand how he was aroused by the sound of my voice. It is always the men who want to control the women. As far as charm goes, these men have nothing to worry about, for it is highly unlikely any women will find these men the least bit appealing. ”

My friend Gloria also thinks one of the reasons why men hate women so much in these cultures is because men are wholly dependent upon women for their lives. Without a mother, they could not exist; they depend upon a mother’s care for the most vulnerable part of their lives. In addition, a woman’s sexual ability far exceeds a male, making these men feel inferior in so many other ways. So, they commit themselves to controlling the feminine because they resent their dependency on women. The image of God as “Father,” may indirectly contribute the exploitation of women, according to some scholars.

Carl G. Jung writes that every man has a feminine aspect to his personality that is in touch with the  inner feminine side of a man he refers to as the “anima,”that is always present in the unconscious of the male. The “anima,” stands in contrast to the animus, which represents masculine characteristics. Assertive women, according to Jung, are generally more in touch with the masculine aspect of their hidden personalities.

Misogyny is a transcultural and transhistorical phenomena. Among many religious societies, we see how gender barriers tend to be reified and rigid. Men are men, and women are women; a psychological integration of the genders is considered taboo because it is so threatening to the  diminished male ego.  Consequently, when we observe the conflicts in Israel between the Haredi, Hassidic communities and the secular world, in almost every instance we find men attempting to control the women of their lives; weak people with puny egos will always try to exert power over people they perceive to be “weaker” than themselves. Continue reading “Adding Misogyny to a Modern List of the “Seven Deadly Sins””

A British Synagogue Bans a Famous Hassidic Text!

As of late, I have taken interest in reading the British Jewish news. After perusing through a number of articles, I came across a fascinating new-story. It isn’t every day a synagogue bans a classical Jewish book, but in one of Britain’s largest synagogues, that’s exactly what happened.  Several students at an adult education class took offense to a mystical tract on self-improvement, better known as the “Tanya,” because of “racist” comments found in its early chapters.  For newcomers, the Tanya is the Bible of the Lubavitcher movement. This book was composed toward the last half of the 18th century, at a time when Russian Jews struggled mightily against the czarist governments who showed little love or tolerance when it came to the Jews. Despite the questionable passages we are about to read, it was one of the 18th century’s first self-help books and most of its teachings are for the most part fairly appealing.

Here are the controversial passages that have created the controversy this past October.

In the Tanya.  the author attempts to explain why the souls of Jews are different from the gentiles: “The explanation of this matter is according to what the Rabbi Chaim Vital OBM wrote … Every Jew, whether righteous or wicked, has two souls, as it says, ‘And the souls I have made’ — that is, two souls: one soul deriving from the side of the kelipa and the side that is antithetical to holiness… also naturally good character traits that are found in every Jew, such as mercifulness and charitable deeds, stem from it, for in a Jew, the soul of this kelipa derives from kelipat noga which also contains good…But it is not the case concerning Gentile souls, for they stem from other impure kelipot which contain no good…and the second soul of the Jew is surely part of G-d on high…” [1]

And shortly afterward, the author adds, “The kelipot are divided into two levels…the lower level consists of three impure and completely evil kelipot which contain no good whatsoever … from there the souls of the Gentiles are influenced and drawn, as are the bodies and the souls of all impure animals which are forbidden to eat…However, the vital animalistic soul in the Jews, which stems from the kelipa…and the souls of pure animals, beasts, birds, and fish which are permitted to eat…are influenced and drawn from the second level of the klipot…which is called kelipat noga…and the majority of it is evil, combined with a slight amount of good…”[2]

As I have pointed out in earlier posts, it is the nature of oppressed peoples to bolster their self-esteem and image by putting down the Other. While this is certainly not the kind of behavior any moral person ought to endorse, it helps to see this passage from the writer’s perspective. Often, tragic circumstances distort the way one spiritually looks at the world. Continue reading “A British Synagogue Bans a Famous Hassidic Text!”

“Where’s the beef?” or, “The Theology of Flavor”

Like Maimonides, the 20th century Reconstructionist theologian Mordechai Kaplan believes that we should stop identifying God as a “personal” or “loving” Presence. Simply put:  God does not possesses sentience. Kaplan contends that anthropomorphism is on par with “animistic fetishism.”

Kaplan explains:

“We cannot conceive of God any more as a sort of invisible superman, displaying the same psychological traits as man, but on a greater scale. We cannot think of Him as loving, pitying, rewarding, punishing, etc. Many have therefore abandoned altogether the conception of a personal God, and prefer to think of ultimate reality in terms of force, energy and similar concepts…[1]

… Modern man is able to conceive the godhead only as immanent in the world; man is incapable of entering into a relationship with the supernatural” (emphasis added).[2]

Note the cognitive metaphors Kaplan uses in making his point: conceive, psychological, think. According to Kaplan, there is no Divine Mysterium, nor is there any intimation whatsoever about a God Who is always present when human beings turn to Him in moments of prayer or crisis. In Kaplan’s model of faith, religion always serves the dictates of reason and logic.

We might wonder: Why is this (allegedly) so?

Mystery is annoying to rationalists who insist on neat solutions, precision, and exactitude. Uncertainty, shades of gray, paradoxes all tend to unsettle and beguile a rational mind. Aspects of faith that embrace the symbolic, the intuitive, and the transpersonal are completely excluded from Kaplan’s spiritual world view. There is no joy, humor, no irony, no sense of wonder, or mystery. Nor is there a cadence of poetry; nor is there any kind of radical amazement in Kaplan’s metaphysical system.

Despite his disdain of anthropomorphism, Kaplan does not hesitate using them when describing God as the source of all positive human affections. With a touch of irony, one critic dubbed Kaplan’s theology as “pan-anthropomorphic.”[3] According to Kaplan, God is an amalgam of human virtues— in effect, he has deified “certain aspects of the human personality.”[4] Despite eschewing anthropomorphism, Kaplan feels compelled to utilize familiar religious metaphors when it comes to explaining why God is necessary for human salvation. Kaplan defines the belief in God “as the power that makes for salvation.”

But how does Kaplan define salvation? Salvation is another way of describing how people grow toward their fullest potential. What Kaplan and his followers fail to notice is that any depiction of God as the source of human values is no less anthropomorphic than the traditionalists Kaplan criticized.

It would seem that Kaplan’s opinion is indebted to his older contemporary, John Dewey, who like Kaplan, attempted “to reconstruct” and redefine the meaning of God for his time.[5] One of the criticisms made against Dewey could be applied to Kaplan:

Is not Mr. Dewey, in effect, attempting to exploit the traditional prestige of words that he has emptied of nearly all their traditional meaning? Certainly his religiousness will strike the orthodox as something extremely attenuated, the extract of an extract, having the same relation to old-fashioned religion as beef bouillon poured through a filter has no beef.[6]

Who can forget the brilliant 1984 commercial spearheaded by Wendy’s hamburger restaurants, where actress Clara Pellar looked at a competitor’s hamburger called, “Fluffy Bun,” that consisted of a massive bun with almost no meat. Peller angrily demands, “Where’s the beef?” Well, this catch-phrase has come to signify our disbelief about the substance of an idea, event, or product–or in this case, theology!

The bland analogy of “diluted beef bouillon extract” is more perceptive than Dewey’s critic could have imagined, for the Tanakh characterizes the spiritual life by flavor: טַעֲמוּ וּרְאוּ כִּי־טוֹב יְהוָה “O taste (טַעֲמו = ta`ámû) and see that The LORD is good” (Psa. 34:8). The Hebrew word טָעַם (tä’am) may connote reason, discernment, understanding or flavor.

According to the laws of kashrut, the flavor is typically (but not always) the defining factor whenever there is a questionable substance.[7] If the flavor is excessively diluted, radically altered, or destroyed, the character of a forbidden substance is considered changed. In terms of prohibited food stuffs, the flavor must be intact in order to be considered asur (forbidden.)

As a spiritual metaphor, once faith is purged of all of its taste and sensuality, whatever remains is of negligible value. Faith really has much more of a “noetic” quality, i.e., an “inner knowing,” a kind of intuitive consciousness—direct and immediate access to knowledge beyond what is available to our sensory perception of the world. Where discursive thought ends, that is when the journey of faith begins–and now you know, the rest of the story . . .


Notes:

[1] Mordechai Kaplan, The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion (New York: Jewish Reconstruction Press, 1962), 87-88.

[2] Ibid., 26.

[3] Eliezer Berkowitz, Major Themes in Modern Philosophies of Judaism (New York: Ktav, 1974), 182‑184.

[4] E. Berkowitz, Major Themes in Modern Philosophies of Judaism, op. cit., 182.

[5] According to Dewey, the definition of God should be redefined to stand for all forces in society that bring about an ethical transformation of humanity. “It is this active relation between ideal and actual which I would give the name ‘God.’ I would not insist that the name must be given. There are those who hold that the association of the term with the supernatural are so numerous and close that any use of the word ‘God’ is sure to give rise to misconception and be taken as a concession to traditional ideas” (John Dewey, A Common Faith Later Writings 1925‑1953 edited by Jo Ann Boydston, [Carbondale: IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990], 79‑80). In the same manner, Kaplan attempts a definition of God that can accommodate even the most agnostic point of view.

[6] Cited in James Campbell’s, Understanding Dewey (La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1995), 278, n. 20.

[7] See TB Hullin 97a, Shivii’t 7:7, Terumot 10:1, MT Hilchot Ma’acalot Arusot 15:1, Tur Yoreh Deah 81: 1, Sefer Hachinuch Mitzva 368; Hullin 8:30 and Shach Y.D. 95:4.