Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Through a Glass Darkly

“Meanwhile, the disciples had returned from the city, and wondered to find Him talking with a woman [the Samaritan woman by Jacob’s Well]. The relations of the sexes, even in common life, were very narrow and suspicious among the Jews. That a woman should allow herself to be seen unveiled was held immodest, and for any woman to let herself be heard singing a song was almost unchaste. In Judea a bridegroom might be along with his bride, for the first time, an hour before marriage, but in Galilee even this was thought unbecoming. Trades which brought the two sexes in any measure into contact were regarded with suspicion, and no unmarried person of either sex could be a teacher, lest the parents of the children might visit the school. In Rabbis especially, even to speak with a woman in public was held indecorous in the highest degree. “No one” (that is, no Rabbi) says the Talmud, “is to speak with a woman, even if she be his wife, in the public street.” It was forbidden to greet a woman, or take any notice of her. “Six things,” we are told, “are to be shunned by a Rabbi. He must not be seen in the street dripping with oil (which would imply vanity); he must not go out at night alone; he is not to wear patched shoes (which in certain cases would be carrying a burden, when it was unlawful to do so); he must not speak with a woman in a public place; he must shun all intercourse with common people (for, not knowing the Law, they might be ‘unclean’); he must not take any long steps (for that would show that he was not sunk in the study of the Law); and he must not walk erect (for that would display pride).” Though higher in position and respect among the Jews than in other Eastern nations, woman, at the time of Christ, was treated as wholly inferior to man. “Let the words of the Law be burned,” says Rabbi Eleazer, “rather than committed to women.” “He who instructs his daughter in the Law,” says the Talmud, “instructs her in folly.”
- The Life and Words of Christ, by John Cunningham Geikie

After typing that I looked at the yahoo homepage and saw an advertisement for sexy underwear with seven mostly naked, heavily photoshopped ladies standing in a row. Treating the models so overtly as sex objects, the image is pornographic even if it is not explicit. Extra credit for the banner’s title: “I love my body” – astonishing that the examples they show us are of women who didn’t like the bodies God gave them and got new ones through fanatical activity and elective surgery. Look how different our cultures are. How can I relate to their world and experience across such an expanse? They, narrowly channeled through life by stultifying rules and laws – hedges and walls that divide humans and prevent closeness. Too many of us, imagining we have full liberty of action and interaction between the sexes, instead reduce those around us to mere objects, fulfillers of cultivated fantasies, and set up elaborate fashion systems that are so rigorous that no more than a handful can fulfill them. Giving and receiving of love between the sexes is only on the most physical and superficial level.

Who is more restricted by rules and mores?

How foolish these old-timey Jews seem – outward signals that one is free of pride can be just as prideful as any other action that “looks” prideful. But how would they judge us? They would judge our ethic of self-worth-through-sexuality harshly.

I think their “hedge about the Law” has a lot in common with our rules of fashion. It’s a way for a self-selected elite to establish social standards of value and importance that put them at the top and others below. It is a competitive system, never about inclusion, only exclusion. One is always being judged against others, and the continual amplitude of effort and zeal leads to the most maddening and ridiculous brinkmanship.

1 comment:

Tuittu said...

Loved this post. Incidentally, Iceland just forbade all strip bars, did you read about that? Obviously, that won't change everything, but I'm always happy when I see news like that. How to not be a slave - for a woman, history has yet not shown, I'm afraid.