Gender Differences

(I had more to say on the each of yesterday’s post’s two topics, so it is being replaced with this and the next post.)

In a post on parashas Chayei Sarah, I included R’ Aharon Soloveitchikzt”l‘s take on gender differences as reflected in halakhah. Men have an overly strong sense of qibbush, to conqure and subsue, women have a better balance with chazaqah, making and developing.

In this post, I would like to add Rav Hirsch’s (RSRH) take, which I believe dovetails quite well with Rav Aharon’s.

First, his translation of Tehillim 45:14 is “But the king’s daughter is all glorious within, more than the golden borders of her raiment.” As Michael Poppers pointed out, this better fits the hyphenation of “kol-kevudah” as well as the use of “kevudah” not “kevudas“. The commentary reads:

“But”, the singer adds with infinite tact and delicacy, “though the princess may appear glorious and splendid in public, she reveals her true glory in quiet, more private circles, and the splendid qualities she shows there are much greater than the exquisite beauty of the gold borders which shine at the hem of her garment.” Penimah “within,” is always used to designate an inner recess as opposed to the outer chambers.

What may better capture RSRH’s position is his comments on “peru urvu umil’u es ha’aretz vikvishuhah — be fruitful and multiply and fill the world and subdue it” in Judaism Eternal, ch 11 (The Jewish Woman).

Vikvshuha is read malei [full, ie with the vav], but written chaseir [deficient]. In other words, while it is read as though both should participate in conquering the world, it’s written “vikivshah“, that only one of them should.
… [T]he command to “subdue”, and with it to procure the means necessary for marriage and for founding a household, is addressed only to the male sex, to whose function it belongs to compel the earth through labour to serve the needs of man. Hence the command to marry and found a household has absolute force only for the male sex. Since, however, these commands are after all addressed to both sexes, it is obvious that for the performance of man’s task of building up the world the Law-giver reckoned on the harmonious and equal co-operation of both sexes. Further, by excusing the famale sex from the hard labour of subduing and mastering the earth, … [H]e left it free to be devoted to the higher and more humanistic task of employing the products of man’s labour for the ethical purposes of building up a house and family, that is to say, in the service of his true vocation and his welfare as a human being.

R SR Hirsch explains this verse as being about the Talmudic aphorism that “man brings in the grain, and woman makes it into bread”. Man conquers and acquires, woman develops the raw material into a finished product. Man builds a society, woman gives it a religious backbone. Ideally it would be man who produces technology, and women who make sure we don’t dehumanize ourselves in the process.

This is akin to an observation by “Dear Abby” (Pauline Phillips, born Pauline Esther Friedman). She wrote that men are goal oriented, while women are process oriented. This is an alleged gender difference from a totally unrelated source, albeit one probably based on anecdotal evidence, that would fit the roles assumed above.

Rav Hirsch speaks in terms of “inside” vs. “outside”, community in service of its members, vs the expansion of the community’s domain, reach, and standard of living. The similarity to Rav Aharon’s dichotomy of qibbush extending our reach vs. chazaqah developing what we have is quite strong, although not identical.

This is the reason Rav Hirsch gives for the difference between the seider, in which we say “women to were in the same miracle” and they share the obligations of the night, whereas they are exempt from most rituals caused by a particular time (mitzvos asei shehazman gerama), including sukkah and lulav. The sukkah is about going beyond the home, and is thus male in a sense that perpetuating the chain of tradition at the family table on Pesach is not.

Rav Hirsch writes that male is called zachar, memory, standard-bearer of history, while female is called nekeivah, that which receives — in this case, a vocation. Yirmiyahu writes, “Ki vara H’ chadashah ba’aretz, nekeivah tisoveiv gever — for Hashem created something new in the world, female surrounds man” (31:21). Ther prophet doesn’t contrast neqeivah with zakhar, female with male, but with gever. Gever is a term for man which focuses on the male tendency for qibush. As the mishnah says, “Who is a hero [gibor]? One who conqures [hakoveish] his inclination.”

It is in this sense of neqeivah along with that of gever as a figure of qibbush, that RSRH uses to explain Yirmiyahu. Man does nothing but provide a foundation, the means; woman’s job is to provide the ends. As, as Rav Kook writes, ends are inherently more holy than means. In fact, the entire concept of “secular” boils down to our inability to see Hashem’s ends while dealing with this universe’s means.

At the inception of creation it was intended that the tree have the same taste as the fruit. All the supportive actions that sustain any general worthwhile spiritual goal should by right be experienced in the soul with the same feeling of elation and delight as the goal itself is experienced when we envision it. But earthly existence, the instability of life, the weariness of the spirit when confined in a corporate frame brought it about that only the fruition of the final step, which embodies the primary ideal, is experienced in its pleasure and splendor. The trees that bear the fruit, with all their necessity for the growth of the fruit have, however, become coarse matter and have lost their taste. This is the failing of the “earth” because of which it was cursed when Adam was also cursed for his sin.

Orot haTeshuva 6:7
Translation by B. Z. Bokser, The Lights of Penitence in “Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook,” published by Paulist Press in the “Classics of Western Spirituality” series.

As Rav Hirsch writes, the masculine quest to go ever outward is frought with the possibility of losing sight of the goals for which he was created. Getting lost in the mode of thought, and losing sight of the bigger picture. “And there is a danger that he may completely lost himself in this struggle, that in striving to acquire his means he will lose sight of his real vocation… This is an error which can almost be regarded as the key to all the mistakes made in history. It is then the woman who leads him back to what is truly human in him.” “Neqeivah tesoveiv gever.”