Visual Aids for Hassidim in Prayer

 Hasidim praying opposite Victoria's Secret 112-2013


Hassidic literature teaches that one of the reasons given for Hassidim swaying in prayer is based upon the analogy of the movement that occurs in the act of love making. Prayer is like  “making love to the Shekhinah.” The Baal Shem Tov  is purported to have taught:

  • Prayer is zivug (coupling) with the Shechinah.’ Just as there is motion at the beginning of coupling, so, too, one must move (sway) at the beginning of prayer. Thereafter one can stand still, without motion, attached to the Shechinah with great deveikut (“cleaving to God As a result of your swaying, you can attain great bestirment. For you think to yourself: “Why do I move myself? Presumably it is because the Shechinah surely stands before me.” This will effect in you a state of great hitlahavut (enthusiasm; rapture). [1]

This morning I saw a picture of three  Hassidic Jews praying in front of a Victoria Secret Lingerie store [2] that made me think about this teaching. Yes, these men certainly seemed devout and seriously engaged in prayer. I would imagine that these Hasidim probably felt they needed some visual aid to have this type of experience and close encounter as described by the Baal Shem Tov. [Incidentally, this type of erotic/mystical teaching has very strong Sabbatean  quality. The false Messiah Shabbatai Tzvi (1626-1672) was famous for his free love and ritual fornication, incestuous sexual relations and ritual orgies that he and his followers had during the Purim holidays.]

Any normal person watching this spectacle might wonder: Are these Hassidim so lost in prayer that they are totally oblivious to their environment?

The answer is simple: They are much more consciously aware of where they are praying. According to the psychologist Carl Jung, such behavior represents the shadow archetype.

As defined by Jung, the archetype of the “shadow” represents the hidden or unconscious aspects of oneself—both good and bad—which the ego either represses or never recognizes, as he notes, “The shadow is the thing a person has no wish to be.”[3] The more unaware we are about this darker and amoral side, the less likely we will mindfully confront and change our inner nature. To become self-aware, it is imperative that each of us find a way to integrate our “shadow” nature. This spiritual and psychological task is not without its challenges and difficulties, as Jung explains further:


  • The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the darker aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the real existential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and therefore, as a rule, meets with considerable resistance.[4]


An extreme example of shadow archetype can be seen in Robert Louis Stevenson’s story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In this classic narrative, Dr. Jekyll, considers himself to be a kind, loving, and accepting doctor; yet he remains dishonest in facing himself as he really is. Little does he realize that there are two men who inhabit the same body and personality. At first, he changes in order to indulge in all the forbidden pleasures that were off-limits to Dr. Jekyll, but as his evil side progressively grows stronger, it is Hyde who dominates, until he is totally transformed into the Hyde persona. Had Jekyll been aware of the contradictions in his inner self, he might have been more capable of domesticating his inner savage. Continue reading “Visual Aids for Hassidim in Prayer”

Duck Dynasty, Free Speech, and the American Collective Unconscious

After some reluctance, I decided it was important for me to weigh in on the Duck Dynasty controversy involving Phil Robertson and his off-the-cuff remarks regarding gays and African Americans. Robertson’s equation of homosexuality to bestiality is incorrect. The biblical passages dealing with homosexuality pertain to (1) homosexual rape, or (2) the sexual exploitation of male minors. The Bible has nothing to say about loving homosexual couples whatsoever. Such a social reality did not exist by the time the Bible was written.

“If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.” (Leviticus 20:13). Note that the text does not say “if a male lies with a man …” I believe this is one of the first statements in the Torah against pedophilia.

“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. Nor shall you mate with any animal, to defile yourself with it. Nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it. It is perversion. ‘Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you” (Leviticus 18:22-24.) This passage is reminiscent of what the Sodomites attempted to do to Lot’s angelic guests when he practiced hospitality. Such sexually exploitative behavior is indeed an “abomination.”

Phil Robertson is not a Bible scholar; he interprets the Bible literally like millions of Christians do. It is this writer’s opinion that people are entitled to believe what they wish when it comes to the  Bible. We do not have to agree or accept their interpretations.

Personally, I do not care for the Religious Right and their Christian agenda for America—especially whenever it involves the likes of Sarah Palin and her ilk. In my opinion, people like her give a bad name to conservatives and independents. The political left is actually making Robertson into a folk-hero. I think the religious right ought to think twice about making Robertson into one of their patron saints.

Secondly, I have never watched Duck Dynasty, nor do I have any plans for watching the redneck program in the future. Reality shows like Duck Dynasty and Jerry Springer have no appeal for me whatsoever.

What concerns me is the matter of free speech in our culture. The ACLU blog says it really best:

  • The First Amendment really was designed to protect a debate at the fringes. You don’t need the courts to protect speech that everybody agrees with, because that speech will be tolerated. You need a First Amendment to protect speech that people regard as intolerable or outrageous or offensive — because that is when the majority will wield its power to censor or suppress, and we have a First Amendment to prevent the government from doing that.[1]

Curiously, the ACLU has declined to weigh in on this topic, and frankly, that is surprising.

Some advocates of the A&E station claim that Robertson may have materially harmed the station with his comments from the Bible condemning homosexuality or his nostalgic memories for the Jim Crow era. I think the producers of the station should have apologized and announce that Robertson’s view about gays and blacks does not reflect the view of the station. Instead, they censored him—but they are having a holiday marathon of the Duck Dynasty program. It seems to me that they are attempting to profit from the publicity and that is immoral.

A&E’s behavior is more ethically problematic and cynical.

Most of us (I hope) strongly dislike Phil Robertson’s comments. However, when we consider his personal narrative, what else would we expect  from an American redneck? Clearly Robertson is not Yale or Harvard material.

Noam Chomsky once said, “The freedom of speech is worthless without the freedom of offensive speech. Goebbels and Himmler were for freedom of speech that was inoffensive to the state.”

Fortunately, the State is not involved in this controversy, but it seems to me that Robertson has every right to sound like a moron if he so chooses. We also have the choice not to watch his program either. As a member of the ACLU, I am reasonably certain that the ACLU would agree with my position.

One gay writer offered the following defense of Robertson:

  • Phil Robertson is the modern day Archie Bunker. He should make us uncomfortable. We should be disturbed by the show’s narrow gender views, flagrant gun worship and open hatred of anything refined and cultured. This doesn’t mean that it’s not entertaining or relevant. It’s funny precisely because it challenges some of our sacred beliefs and relevant because it confronts our opposing ideals of masculinity.[2] Continue reading “Duck Dynasty, Free Speech, and the American Collective Unconscious”

Rabbi Akiba’s Hidden Love Life

(Picture: Madam Turnus Rufus probably looked something like Hedy Lamaar!)

One of the most illustrious sages of the Talmudic era is Rabbi Akiva ben Yosef (ca.40-ca.137 CE). His life-story has inspired many legends and in many ways Rabbi Akiva’s approach to the interpreting the biblical text has become the foundation for many of the mystical interpretations that have evolved over the centuries. For R. Akiba, the Torah is a love letter from God; every scintilla of the biblical text contains esoteric meanings.

According to legend, Akiba began as a humble and ignorant shepherd. When he was 40 years old, his life took an unexpected turn. According to one ancient tradition, Rabbi Akiba observed how water-droplets had formed a hole through a stone. He mused, ‘If water could leave an imprint on a stone, then surely the words of Torah can penetrate my heart as well.”

A Love Story for the Ages: Rachel and Akiba

However, a different legend purports that the young shepherd had fallen in love with Rachel, ‘the daughter of Kalba Savua’one of the wealthiest Jews of his time during the final days of the Second Temple. ‘Akiba had worked for Kalba as a shepherd and that is how he met Rachel. Despite Akiva’s unfamiliarity with the Torah, there was something remarkable about him; she agreed to marry Akiva on one condition: He had to study Torah for a period of ‘twelve years. ‘Together, they had a quiet clandestine wedding.

As it might have been expected, Kalba did not approve of his daughter marrying such an ignorant man, and he swore that he would not offer any financial support; the young couple were reduced to poverty. She sent Akiba to study for twelve years ‘under the tutelage of R. Eliezer and R. Joshua. When R. Akiba ventured home, he now as a distinguished scholar who had a following of 12,000 students, Akiba overhears a conversation between Rachel and her friends. They said to her, ‘Rachel, how much longer will you live the life of a widow, knowing that your husband is alive but absent’’ She replied, ‘‘If he would listen to me, he would go back [to his place of sacred studies] for another 12 years.’

Twelve years later, R. Akiba has now 24,000 students who escort their teacher. When the townspeople hear about his imminent arrival, they all come out to greet him—including  Rachel! But poor Rachel looked poor and impoverished, dressed in rags. When she approached her husband, the students try to prevent her from speaking with their teacher. R. Akiba instructs his students to stop and says “What ‘is mine and what is yours—all belongs to her!”

All of the townspeople come out to greet him. So does his wife, who appears in ragged clothes and who refuses to heed the advice of her neighbors who suggest that she borrow suitable attire. When his students catch sight of her, they try to prevent her from approaching Rabbi Akiva. However, he immediately calls a stop to their efforts (using one of the shortest and most beautiful statements to describe their mutual relationship): “What is mine and what is yours – belongs to her!”[1]

The narrative implies that they lived happily ever after as a couple in what appears to be a storybook-like ending crafted in Hollywood.’ Maybe they did live happily ever after.

Deconstructing Rabbi Akiba’s Love Life

Using a hermeneutic of suspicion that is so typical of postmodern approaches to literature in general, and to the Bible in particular, we might ask the unthinkable question that no yeshiva student would dare ask his Talmud teacher: What if Akiba and Rachel did not get along after his return home? What if they had grown apart all these years and now they had become two different people?

Obviously, this approach might sound something like you might read in the ancient Judean equivalent of the National Inquiry. However, the lives of famous people often end differently from what people might expect. [2] A third tradition about Rabbi Akiba indicates that he took yet another wife.

Unfortunately, we do not know when exactly Akiba took a second wife. Conceivably, his beloved Rachel may have predeceased her husband. That is a possibility no reader of Akiba’s biography can deny. Perhaps they might have grown apart.

Enter Madam Turnus Rufus

In the third legend, we discover an altogether different story about R. Akiba’s love life, one that certainly raises questions. The Roman general of Judea in R. Akiba’s time was a man named Turnus Rufus. Despite the Roman disdain for Jews in general, it appears that Turnus Rufus and R. Akiba frequently had theological and philosophical discussions together. They jostle together on topics pertaining to circumcision,[3] the Sabbath[4], and the Jewish concept of ‘idolaters,’[5] as well as to the importance of giving charity to the poor.[6] In the midrashic narratives, R. Akiba always emerges as the victor (How could it be otherwise’)

For whatever the reason might have been, R. Akiba serendipitously meets Turnus Rufus’s wife. Medieval rabbinical exegetes suggest that Madam Rufus heard her husband complain about losing one debate after another to R. Akiba. ‘She says to him:

  • She said to him: “The God of those people hates licentiousness. Just give me your permission and I will trip him up and cause him to sin.” He gave his permission. She put on her makeup and, wearing most attractive attire, she went to see R. Akiba’[7]

To make a long story short, Madam Rufus dumps her hubby and converts to Judaism and marries Rabbi Akiba! Would today’s Haredi rabbis would have approved of such circumstances’ I doubt it. If such behavior occurred today between Israel’s leading  Haredi rabbi and a Gentile woman, the news-story would create shockwaves across Israeli society. In the end, Turnus Rufus oversees the torturing of Rabbi Akiba. For Turnus Rufus, this matter was personal.

Did R. Akiba have an affair’ Did he seduce her’ Yes, inquiring minds want to know.’ Strangely, Rachel is not mentioned ever again. As for Madam Rufus/ Akiba, one wonders whether her husband had her killed as well. We can only speculate.

Mishnaic Evidence’

In the Mishnah we find an unusual discussion:

  • The Academy of Shammai said:’A man should divorce his wife only because he has found grounds for it in unchastity, since it is said, ‘Because he has found in her indecency in anything’(Deut. 24:1).’And the Academy of Hillel said: Even if she spoiled his dish, since it is said, because he has found in her indecency—in anything.’R. Akiba says: Even if he found someone else prettier than she, since it is said, ‘And it shall be if she find no favor in his eyes’(Deut. 24:1).[8]

Hillel’s perspective is problematical; just because a wife may not measure up to the ideal model of Martha Stewart or Donna Reed, doesn’t mean that she ought to be so easily disposed. Perhaps all she needs is a cleaning person or a cook to assist her or tutor in the ‘skill of homemaking. At least Shammai’s perspective is certainly consistent with the simple meaning of the text.

However, Rabbi Akiba’s attitude if taken literally without the Talmud’s spin on his opinion may have been predicated on more than just a scriptural verse that he cited. Is it possible that R. Akiba may have preferred Madam Rufus precisely because she was prettier and sexier than poor Rachel’ If the scandalous interpretation of this Mishnah is true, it may explain why R. Akiba met such a dreadful death where his skin was flayed off his body. The flaying of Akiba’s skin may be an allusion to the verse, “Therefore, a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24). Since Akiba destroyed his marriage by marrying another man’s wife, his flesh is literally torn apart–and could be viewed as tallionic justice (measure for measure).

One is reminded of the scriptural verse from the Prophet Malachi, which may well apply to Rabbi Akiba:

  • And this you do as well: You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor at your hand. You ask, ‘Why does he not’’ Because the Lord was a witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did not one God make her both flesh and spirit are his. And what does the one God desire’ Godly offspring. So look to yourselves, and do not let anyone be faithless to the wife of his youth. For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless (Malachi 2:13-16).

This exposition of Rabbi Akiba’s life will obviously strike a raw nerve in the minds of many of my blog’s readers–especially students of the Talmud. ‘But given the complexity of human relationships, Rabbi Akiba was still a man of flesh and flood endowed with the same passions that have caused considerable havoc in the lives of men since time immemorial. Continue reading “Rabbi Akiba’s Hidden Love Life”

Obama-care’s Cynical Exploitation of Young Women

One of the many reasons why Mitt Romney lost the presidential election was because he alienated the women voters. He gave his constituents the impression that he would overturn Roe vs. Wade.  Romney’s resentment toward Obamacare  also offended female voters; as of August 1012, insurers must cover “woman visits, domestic-violence screening, and breast-feeding supplies at no additional charge.  Insurance plans must also cover birth control, though religious institutions are exempted . . .” Romney’s  political position against Planned Parenthood may have placated the Religious Right, but most American women felt he was invading their privacy.

Reflecting the Catholic and Evangelical views, Romney promised that he would end the funding for providing young women with birth-control contraceptives. He gave ladies the impression  that some forms of birth control would be unfunded, e.g., intra-uterine devices and morning-after pills – prevent implantation of a fertilized egg, some social conservatives asserted that they cause early miscarriages and should, therefore, be banned.

That is how Obama’s discrediting of Romney led people to think that he was conducting a “War against Women.” Although Romney paid his female workers better than Obama did with his staff, this did not seem to change any women’s minds.

Desperate to win support and friends after alienating the entire country with explicit promises that he would never change their health plans, Team Obama has imaginatively come up with some of the most sexist ads we have seen in years.  The latest marketing gimmick wishes to imply that young women would only be interested in Colorado’s government-run health care exchange if they get coverage for birth control pills to have sex with strange men.

Had Romney used such an ad to attract women, the country would have justifiably  have thrown the proverbial kitchen sink at him. The new ad portrays attractive woman in her early twenties named “Susie. The young “woman is holding a packet of birth control pills with an open-mouth, wide smile. She is wearing a flesh-colored, low-cut, sleeveless top, tight jeans and open-toed black heels. She is flirting with a guy named, “Nate,” who is wearing a partially exposed shirt with the top four buttons undone in order to show off his manly chest with his hand slightly toward his crutch.  Nate looks like the cat that is about to eat the canary. “OMG, he’s hot!,” Susie is shown saying. “Let’s hope he’s as easy to get as this birth control. My health insurance covers the pill, which means all I have to worry about is getting him between the covers.” Continue reading “Obama-care’s Cynical Exploitation of Young Women”

Naomi Ragen: A Remarkable Journey

The Sisters Weiss

Naomi is an unusual Ba’alat Teshuva (returnee to Orthodox Judaism). One might think that Orthodox Jewish women are quiescent and tend to their homes.

Naomi is different.

She is multifaceted leader and bestselling authoress. In Israel, Naomi has been one of the most important Orthodox feminists in a community that prefers to live their lives quietly as though they were still living in the 19th century Shetel.

Last night, she spoke about her personal journey and odyssey at Temple Solel as part of the 2013 San Diego Book Fair.

Having lost her father at a very young age, she looked to her mother for inspiration and strength. Raising three children on Long Island in the fifties was a daunting challenge and for young Naomi, her formative Jewish experiences proved to be a rite of passage—especially given the fact that she had not grown up in a traditional Jewish home.

Her mother spoke to the principal and Rabbi about allowing her children to attend his ivy league day school. Her mother gently reminded the rabbi that the Torah teaches us to act compassionately toward the widow and her children—they are the apple of God’s eye.

Orthodoxy in the fifties was different. Nobody at the school she attended coerced her to become “religious.” The atmosphere was laid back and comfortable. She observed that in today’s Orthodox world in Israel, the yeshiva would insist that one be totally committed to Orthodoxy, or else, the child would never be accepted.

With boldness of spirit, Naomi slowly came to love her newly discovered Orthodox faith. Shabbat was a special time for young Naomi and she  bonded with her Shabbat host family and developed many friends among her peers. Her mother’s busy schedule did not permit her to prepare a Shabbat meal; she often arrived home after dark. Yet, even as a young woman, Naomi took it upon herself to prepare a Shabbat meal for her family. Celebrating the Shabbat created the peace that her home lacked.

Her brothers were so deeply moved by the Shabbat experience, they eventually became Modern Orthodox Jews and sent their children to yeshiva—an obvious tribute to Ragen’s winsome personality.

On one occasion, her mother had a vision of seeing her deceased husband and father at the Shabbat table shortly after she made Kiddush. Rituals have a way of connecting us with our family histories—they help define who we are as people and as Jews.

One of Ragen’s favorite activities as a young teen was writing.

Ragen’s love for Israel inspired her to make aliya to Israel. After arriving, Naomi and her husband decided to become “Ultra-Orthodox” Jews and they believed that their closed society would never suffer from the problems that afflict secular society.

Her friendships with other Ultra-Orthodox women suddenly gave her a perspective that she never expected to find. One married lady, in particular asked her if Naomi could assist her in obtaining a passport to return to the United States. Her reasons shook and shattered Ragen’s naiveté about Orthodoxy: the woman’s husband was a wife beater and also physically abused his children! Yet, paradoxically, her husband was considered to be a “Torah scholar.”

This was not the only experience that shook her beliefs.

There was a lovely Belgium blondish woman—a prize for any young Torah scholar. Despite the appearance of looking “religious”, her learned husband was a sexual predator and molested his young own daughter. Desperately,  she appealed to her father, but her father encouraged her to stay in the marriage for the child’s sake. One evening, she and her daughter jumped from a high-rise apartment in order to free themselves from the daily abuse.

This is why Ragen wrote her first novel, Jephte’s Daughter, which illustrates how a Hassidic father sacrificed his daughter’s happiness by arranging a marriage to someone who was totally inappropriate for her. With tenderness and insight, she takes her readers on an imaginative and unforgettable journey inside the hidden world of women in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

After writing her book, Ragen felt surprised by the negative reactions she received from her book. Paradoxically, the worst criticism came from people who never even bothered to read her books! Yet, on other occasions, she discovered that many Ultra-religious men read her books so that they could better understand their wives—feelings and emotional struggles.

Like a skilled therapist, Ragen’s books provide an important mirror to help the religious community look at themselves through the eyes of the Other.

After listening to her talk, I found that her presentation carried a poignant message about the struggles of being an Orthodox feminist in Jerusalem. Appearances are not always what they seem. I was surprised to learn that many Ultra-Orthodox young men want to join the army—despite the protestations of their yeshiva teachers.  Continue reading “Naomi Ragen: A Remarkable Journey”

A Little Bit of Toughness Can be a Good Thing

WesternHills-Aledo hsfb 7

Sometimes it seems to me as if we are living in a Kafkaeque world where common sense has all but disappeared. After reading and writing a book review on Raising Boys by Design, I wanted to share some after-thoughts–especially in light of an interesting news story that appeared in today’s morning paper.

We have forgotten that a little bit of toughness can be a good thing.

Sometime ago at the beginning of 2013, a little six-year old boy was suspended for pointing his little finger and saying, “POW!” Who would imagine that fingers could be so dangerous! Yet, this is the kind of draconian rules that are being handed down in schools today.

Believe it or not.

Another school has taken a different approach. Athletic events cannot have “winners,” or “losers” and all athletic events must end as a tie so that nobody’s “feelings,” will get hurt. At another school, the traditional Thanksgiving holiday has been cast aside since it was hurtful to Native Americans. Similarly, children cannot play cowboys and Indians—Heaven forbid!

The latest close encounter with political correctness running amok occurred yesterday when  Aledo High School defeated Western Hills High (Fort Worth, Tex.) by the lopsided score of 91-0. One parent filed an official bullying report because of the public whipping.

Texas regulations require Aledo’s principal to launch a full investigation into the bullying allegation. I hope the charges will be dismissed because of the absurd premise that underlies the allegations. In life, there are often winners and losers; no amount of political manipulation will correct this disparity—not without destroying the very forces that pushes individuals and communities to achieve beyond their limitations.

Part of growing up requires that we realize that sometimes we fail to realize our goals. However, this realization need not engender pessimism or despair. Responsible educators and parents ought to teach children that every person can achieve personal excellence in any field of endeavor if they have the passion and the will to achieve their dreams.

The students at Western Hills High School and take pride knowing that they tried their best to play against Texas’s toughest football team but failed. There is nothing wrong with losing and it is tragic that the some misguided parents wish to punish the excellence of one of its local teams. Instead, they should be bursting with pride and use the experience to improve their game.

Had our grandparents indulged their children to shy away from “winning,” it is doubtful our soldiers would ever have defeated the Nazis and Japanese Empire during WWII. Whenever Israel is fighting for its life and is on the precipice of victory, too often, the State Department does everything to deny Israel its victory because we don’t want Israel to appear as the “Victor.” This attitude will only lead to greater tension and conflict between Israel and her neighbors.

As I mentioned in the previous posting, Robert Bly’s Iron John stresses the need for men to help cultivate vigorous masculinity through images that enhance valor, strength, protectiveness, and emotional centeredness. Without the help of our fathers playing a constructive role in parenting, our young boys will eventually look for other outlets to become men through participation in gangs. One of the worse things a mother can do is deny her male child the opportunity to explore what it means to be a man.

It is important to note that men have traditionally been the head of each household, the breadwinners who often took on all sorts of combat roles in times of war to protect their families against all outside attacks. Traditional fathers knew how to discipline and set boundaries for their adolescent children. Today, much of this old traditional child-rearing is no longer fashionable. In fact, it is often lampooned by people who ridicule the societal role of the traditional male. By raising soft males, our society is doing a disservice to our country and our families. Effeminate males are too afraid to fight for what is right and to protest against what is wrong. How will such feeble willed-males ever be able to protect the hearth and home from foreign attacks? God imbued men with testosterone for a good reason because it helps ensure the preservation of the human species.

Masculinity is something we should teach our boys in schools to celebrate—and not eradicate or effeminate.

Raising Boys by Design: A Book Review

Raising Boys by Design: What the Bible and Brain Science Reveal About What Your Son Needs to Thrive


Raising Boys by Design: What the Bible and Brain Science Reveal About What Your Son Needs to Thrive. Authors: Gregory Jantz, PhD. and Michael Gurian 240 pages; Publisher: WaterBrook Press (2013); ISBN-10: 0307731685. Price: $14.99.

By Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

CHULA VISTA, California — It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” — Frederick Douglass

This book is a fascinating study about  the scientific differences between boys and girls, men and women. This book will challenge certain politically correct
notions about the sexes that continue to wreak havoc on the lives of the young.

Since the 1970s, there has been a concerted effort on the part of many well-meaning radical feminists to so redefine gender equality by getting young boys to get in touch with their femininity, i.e., by helping boys develop what has long been regarded as typical feminine characteristics, e.g., compassion, tenderness, docility. At the same time, effort has been made to train young boys away from male competitiveness and male aggressiveness.

The blurring of male and female distinctions in some places results in strange behavior where little boys are encouraged to wear pink dresses, while little girls are taught to act like “one of the fellows.” Our society’s penchant for combating maleness has had a dangerous effect in creating neurotic, insecure and inferior men who haven’t a clue what it means to act or be a man.  The authors contend that “For every girl in a correctional facility, more than eight boys are incarcerated. Boys are expelled from public school at almost three times the  rate of girls. Almost twice as many boys struggle with completing regular  schoolwork and
proper behavior in school as opposed to girls, and they make up 80-90% of discipline referrals to the principal.” (p. 12).

Male aggressiveness is often seen to be more a part of nurture than it is nature. Advocates for the unisex approach to child rearing operate on the dubious assumption that men and women are identical beings—except for their sexual organs.

The two authors manage to combine both biblical thoughts  on raising boys along with the scientific perspectives gleaned from contemporary studies in brain science. For example, a boy’s brain functions differently from a girl’s brain is based on the impact that testosterone has during the age of adolescence. Both parents play an important role in helping children get in touch with their respective genders.

Unfortunately, due to the phenomenon of divorce, many young males grow up without fathers who provide good role models to help these youth mature into healthy and balanced male adults. Such situations often place a burden  on the mother that is emotionally exasperating for both mother and son!

The authors further argue that parents need to help their sons get in touch with their capacity to become heroic.

Indeed, the cover of the book shows a little boy wearing a superman cape—an image that I can personally relate from my childhood. Comic books actually help young men learn how to individuate as healthy males. Being a part of the Boys Scouts also offers a valuable template in developing the traits of a HERO  (Honor, Enterprise, Responsibility and Originality). (Part 2, p. 71-88 In a world where families are divided, the authors stress that grand-parenting plays a pivotal role in actualizing a healthy male identity (pp. 74, 95).

The authors cite King David as an excellent example of a modern hero for young males. Actually, had the author referred to David when he was a shepherd, I would have agreed. However, King David is not the best role model for young men to aspire for.  King David was indulgent; he stole another man’s wife and ordered the murder of her husband! Lastly, he was a very poor parent when it came to raising healthy male role models. Each of his sons were morally scarred by their father’s upbringing. Of course, David did show moments of courage, contrition, valor and finally found personal redemption in the second half of his life.

One of the most interesting section of their book deals with the importance of certain “rites of passage,” where adult males help young men become adults (pp. 179-191). Interestingly, the authors believe that the Bar Mitzvah is an excellent approach—one which the Christian community ought to consider incorporating its own version (and often does through the ceremony better known as “Confirmation” (pp. 182-183).[1] This observation made we wonder about the modern synagogue, where more and more women are assuming the role of the rabbis in congregations. One wonders whether the feminization of the American
rabbinate in particular has altered the manner, which young men are becoming adults or not.

Based upon Jantz and Gurian’s study, there seems to be a qualitative difference between male and female mentors for young adolescents. I was left wondering whether female rabbis might have greater effectiveness working with girls, while male rabbis are better suited for young men. The famous 20th century anthropologist Mircea Eliade explains that among primitive peoples, men help bring young men into adulthood, while women bring young women into
adulthood. More studies need to be conducted on this matter and at present, the jury is still out.

One of my favorite books dealing with the importance of male initiation rites conducted by men is Robert Bly’s brilliant Iron John,  where he addresses the devastating effects of remote fathers and mourns the disappearance of male initiation rites in our culture. Continue reading “Raising Boys by Design: A Book Review”