The debate regarding the role of women in Jewish religious ritual has intensified over the last couple of months. Two Modern Orthodox schools in New York City have now made it their policy to allow female student to don the Teffillin (phylacteries usually only worn by men) if they wish during morning prayers.
This move has been highly controversial. In the past week, Rabbi Hershel Schachter, head of yeshiva at Yeshiva University, wrote a letter opposing the policy of allowing girls to wear Teffillin. Whilst many have delved into the minutiae of Halacha (Jewish law) that either allows or disallows this policy, it seems to me that this debate has a lot less to do with Halacha then it does with the structure of religious society and culture.
There is little doubt that when gender roles start to change, the rule of unintended consequences comes into play. An example was seen this week, when the Pew Research Center reported that in 2012, 21 percent of women married men who were less educated, which was, according to the Pew Research Center, a “threefold increase from 1960.”
The founding fathers of the United States believed that each human is endowed with an unalienable right to pursue happiness. What is not clear, however, is what happiness actually means. What does it mean to be happy? Does it mean that we should be in a jolly mood? Can a person who is not smiling and laughing also be happy? Although people can differentiate in their own lives what it feels to be happy and sad, this question has long puzzled philosophers and psychologists. How do you define happiness?
Over the last ten years or so the leading researches in happiness, Martin Seligman, Felicia Huppert, and others, have concluded that happiness as a mood is not something we should be striving for. They argue that one can really replace the word happiness with well-being. According to these researchers, if one has a sense of meaning in life, satisfaction, self-esteem and various other positive attributes, one will find that they have a sense of well-being.
With this background, it is interesting to note that the Talmud says (Taanit, 29) that as one enters into the months of Adar, one increases in happiness. There are some who think one is obligated to be in a happy mood, and when one enters into the month of Adar, one just turns up their happiness a couple of notches.
Heaven and hell looms large in many religions. There are some who live their lives for an afterlife where each of their actions are dictated by a concern about whether it will lead them to heaven rather than hell. According to psychologists, the desire to go to a posthumous heaven is existential in nature. We humans are overly concerned with our existence. In common with all other living creatures, we don’t want to die. Unlike other living organisms, however, we have the ability to think abstractly and temporarily, and therefore know that like it or not, we are going to die. This fact, according to psychologists, fills us with fear and terror. To alleviate the dread we find strategies to ensure that we live on in some manner.
For many, the strategy of choice is believing in an afterlife that results from good deeds and positive behaviour in this life. But there are a few lines in the Talmud that seem to offer an alternate strategy. The Talmudic scholar Rabbi Yochanan is quoted as saying that Jacob the patriarch did not die (Taanit, 5b). To which another scholar immediately objects, saying that the Bible itself says that Jacob was prepared for burial and was eulogized. The answer given is, in my view, one of the most powerful in the entire Talmud: since his children are alive, he too is alive.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants the U.S. to keep the sanctions on Iran and potentially even increase them. It seems that President Obama and the international community disagree. I would argue that Netanyahu has the Bible on his side to back up his point of view. Here is why.
One of the perplexing aspects of the human condition is when an individual behaves in a manner that is either destructive to themselves or to others. This kind of behavior can include phobias that impact the ability to live a normal life, or can manifest in a tendency toward aggression, anger, or other types of antisocial behavior. Psychologists and therapists often spend a good deal of their time helping people overcome various behavioral issues. From cognitive therapy to rational-emotive behavioral therapy, psychologists have tried many different ways to get people to change their fundamental behaviors and tendencies.
As Baby Boomers start to retire en masse, market research has shown that they object to being called seniors. This is understandable in a culture that places a lot of value on youth and seems not to have the same respect for the elderly.
In a culture based on biblical values, conversely, the elderly are celebrated. In fact, the bible tells us that we should stand up for someone older than ourselves just because they are more advanced in age, and for no other reason (Leviticus 19:32). But Western society doesn’t see things quite the same way. And thus, the post-war generation that gave us the ‘60s and the civil rights movement, that paved the way for the first black president, that created the internet and the advanced technologies we hold in our pockets, does not want to be seen as elderly. They are therefore rejecting the labels associated with elderliness.
But clearly, even young people will one day become elderly. Growing old is a fact of life, no different to being, male, female, black, asian, or caucasian. It’s just who you are at that given moment. Another healthier strategy is to embrace who you are, especially when its something that you cannot change. So instead of being in denial about the fact that one is old, the generation that taught us to embrace the diversity of humanity should themselves embrace the positivity that is associated with ageing. And, if any generation can revolutionize the way older people are seen, it is the Boomer generation.