Thanks, Patriarchy, for Reals: Authority, Restraint, and Bonds of Love

Readers,

Unpopular confession time: I like the “male authority” concept. Husbands as heads and men at the city gates and as judges and in the priesthood–I have since at least grad school. I have a reason for that now that I couldn’t have articulated in this way for the last twenty years:

Bad Men Do Not Listen to Women.

I hope you’re hearing me on that point.

Let me spinoff a few derivatives:

Men who don’t fear God will abuse people with less power: the poor (male or female), the immigrant (male or female), the widow, or the fatherless.

Or

Only men can stop bad men from behaving badly. (Sometimes by killing them after the fact through the justice system.)

Or

Women who are not protected by men (specifically within their families [fathers, husbands, or brothers] or generally within their culture’s legal system [built and maintained by men]) are open to attack from any man.

Disclaimers

Disclaimer One: Yes, I know women are police officers and judges and jailers. But you know what would happen to an all-women’s “justice club” that tried to restrain violent men without the backing of a broad, hierarchical male authority structure protecting them?

They’d get laid right down, G-d forbid. You know it. I know it. They’d be laughed at. In fact, men will laugh at men as they’re dragged to the gallows and hanged. But men have the power to structure-up and hang ’em anyway.

Disclaimer Two: Of course not every male-headed power structure will do good instead of evil. But who’s going to build a kingdom or an army to oppose that?

Liberated Women Don’t Need Men to Defend Them–Unless They’re Being Attacked

Y’all, I grew up in the 80s, second-generation liberated woman. I had self-defense classes in my gym class in middle school: “If an attacker grabs you like this, do this.” We practiced.

Little girls. Practicing. Defending ourselves. Against. Grown. Men. 

“Aw, isn’t that cute? Look, little Cupcake is trying to kick him in the *.”

!

It took me until *this year* to unlearn the idea that I should be able to physically defend myself against a man.

Do you know what an attacking man thinks of a woman who thinks she has a shot at defending herself from him in a physical fight? He thinks it’s funny. Pathetic. Makes it more fun to put her down.

Some women will surprise him and put him down, sure. But guess what? I can’t. Most of us can’t. I haven’t been able to do it. So what’s the right solution to that problem for women? More self-defense classes? Carry a deadly weapon that will most likely be grabbed and used against her?

No.

Call the police, and–whether the officer is male or female–invoke the male-built, male-sustained justice system to protect you. Bring in other men, organized in groups, to deal with that man.

In an abusive culture, you have no guarantee that the attacker won’t lie and bring the power of that system right back down on your head. And, yes, the system itself can be infiltrated by abusers who want to cause harm from within the ministry of justice. I am not unaware of abuses of power.

So the Torah courts focus on male-to-male settlements. Plenty of payouts go to women: read about it. Jews have written down their case law; you can read their legal decisions on Sefaria. So why fall back to the fathers and kinsmen redeemers as the defenders of a woman in how the Torah sets up courts? 

It is not because God doesn’t care about women.

It is because bad men will not listen to women. They will intimidate them and accuse them and threaten them and do whatever the hockey sticks they want to them–in the courtroom or out of it–unless they are restrained by authoritative groups/systems/societies of other men.

Consider Amnon’s response to Tamar after he raped her. Putting his body part into hers is one of the four legal ways to acquire a wife in God’s law, so he had just acquired her, illegitimately, by his act. From her perspective, being acquired and then rejected immediately after that was worse than his attack.

If they had involved the authorities, the law would have given her the opportunity to say she was willing to be his wife or she was unwilling. The rapist already made his choice by his act. (Seducers in the Torah are like rapists in every way except that because they get the woman to lay down willingly, they don’t pay the fine for hurting her body.) The law steps in to give her a choice. She can veto his acquisition act. Why does it mention her father? He’s the most likely person to get the rapist into court in the first place. If not him, she’ll go to the elders. It will take a man to get a man into court to pay what’s due to a woman.

You can see how much influence Tamar had on her brother as he ignored her protests to rape her and ignored her cries when he threw her out of his house afterwards. In a word: none.

Bad men do not listen to women.

Absolom, Tamar’s brother, told Tamar not to go to the authorities. He wanted to deal with Amnon himself, so he didn’t take him to court where the matter could be settled with fines and other punishments. He had Amnon murdered. Men deal with men.

People fear men more than they fear God. Most do. That’s why God gave us a justice system, an earthly court system besides God’s own heavenly court system.

I guess I can admit that women don’t need male authorities protecting them–as long as they’re not being attacked. As long as their defensive plans work. So in the World to Come, we’ll be fine and not need that, yes. That’s not this world.

Meanwhile, I want the patriarchy protecting me. I don’t want to have to dial 9-1-1. I don’t want my dad or brother to have to step in for me. But remove the hierarchy of justice from a place and watch what happens to women when men have no fear of what other men will do to them.

What greater compliment could a woman pay to her existing patriarchy than to believe she does not need it?

Why do men listen to women at all?

This should bring up the question: Why do the men who do listen to women do that? Because if they’re over about ten years old, ain’t no man compelled to listen to any woman about anything.

But some do.

A man might listen to a woman because he doesn’t want the hassle of criminal charges. But not every female request has to do with criminal behavior.

In those lesser cases, it has got to be a voluntary thing. Internal. Self-control. Restraint. Hebrew: Gevurah, which also means power, the second day of creation’s theme, and a primarily (not exclusively) feminine aspect of God’s male/female nature.

Here’s the tie together of the physical and the spiritual:

Men listen to women (or don’t) in the same way we all listen (or don’t) to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

How does the Holy Spirit restrain us?

Words. Sometimes those words are so quiet, I see them rather than hear them. Sometimes those words are so dim I can barely read them. Sometimes those words light up with fire. Words materializing inside the deepest part of my heart. Words, washing me in feather-light kisses I can hardly feel–and can therefore choose to ignore.  

Another way the Holy Spirit restrains us: she ties us right up in her cords of love. (I know the holy spirit is also referred to as a he, but follow me for the picture.)

Song of Solomon 4.3 -“lips are like scarlet thread and your words are lovely”

Song of Solomon 7.5 – “the king is held captive in the tresses.”

We get tied up by a thread, tied up by hair.

If femininity restrains anyone, if the Holy Spirit restrains anyone, if the word of God restrains anyone, it restrains by the lightest kiss, the quietest “don’t,” and handcuffs made of a single strand of hair. 

I don’t mean by this that men listen to women out of some kind of base motive; I’m not being clear if that’s how that reads. I mean that all of us, male and female, listen to those who are less powerful than we are in the same way and to the same degree that we listen to the word of God.

The word of God is powerful (full of gevurah, power being a feminine aspect of God), sharp, piercing–can cut through a body to its essence. To say that the Holy Spirit operates without coercive force does not mean the spirit lacks power. 

Here’s the other way to look at that:

The fear of God that you have matches your fear of misusing/abusing your power.

Or (back to this restating game)

How you react to the restraining requests in the word of God is how you react to the restraining request of women.

Or

Your fear of God is equivalent to your fear of women.

Or

Your willingness to grieve the Holy Spirit–cause hurt and harm–is the same as your willingness to grieve a woman.

Or

Harsher here: How you treat God is how you treat women.

For example, let’s say someone kind of gets a kick out of blasphemy, G-d forbid, and makes up terrible curse words that play on G-d’s name or whatever. That person would likely get a kick out of referring to women in derogatory, profane ways.

If you like profaning holy things just because you can, because (in the exile) they don’t have a way to defend themselves, you will.

If you like protecting holy things because you can use your power to do that by withholding yourself from trampling on them, you will.

You’ll stay in a handcuff of a strand of hair only if it delights you to do that for the sake of the one who tied you up with it. As a matter of fact, all you have to do to break through those bonds of love is temporarily forget you’re in them, and that’s easy to do when they’re so light.

Our constant affection fetters us to him.

I think of my life in this way a lot, seeing the word of God surrounding me, hemming me in here, blocking my way there, words guiding me through the grocery store, words on my dinner table, words pulling me in and out of the water, starting and stopping my days, organizing my weeks, words, words, words…

“Give ear and let me speak, O heavens! Receive my teaching, earth!” Words of Moses.

We live in an information-based universe. Science says that, no? Discovered that? Information everywhere. Can you hear what it’s saying to you? Can you fall in love with a voice you can barely hear?

We are creatures that live on the power of the word God speaks over us today. Live in it, die in it, pour yourself out over it, embrace it, love it: He is your life (in this world), and he is your length of days (in the world to come). That’s what the rabbis say.   

Rosh Hashanah is this weekend, the binding of Isaac, the ram caught in the thicket. A day of remembrance of blowing. What are we remembering? How we tie up the king in our tresses? How his constant affection fetters him to us? He has every right to demand everything from us, but he restrains himself for our sake.

Ten days later, we have a solemn assembly. Yom Kippur. “Solemn,” makes it sound like “serious” or “sober” or sad,” but atsar/atsarah means “restrained” by cords. Tied up. The holiest day, the sabbath of sabbaths. I might call it the most intimate day. (surprise) The meal can wait, eh? Some moments require a person’s whole self, distracted.

Will you let him tie you up with his words on that anniversary? Because he won’t force you, Beloved, he won’t; he never does.

But he will ask you: Do you want him? Want to celebrate another anniversary and reset the record of wrongs? Or do you want to walk away? Stay and he guarantees a clean slate. Forgiving he can do anytime. You can forgive a dog for using the living room as a potty. That doesn’t clean up the mess. Yom Kippur removes it.

“All vows,” Kol Nidre, starts and ends Yom Kippur. I’d thought that was strange. Why a legal ceremony to cancel vows as the opening and closing of the holiday and as the main theme of it?

Today I would say maybe it’s because words unfulfilled hurt. And this service provides a formal way to let go of what never happened. We might write them all out and burn them. Write a letter and rip it up. Say them again to admit them, and say you’re sorry for them. All the sin actions are forgiven on Yom Kippur, too, but “All Vows” lets us confess that we hurt him by our saying and not doing, participate with him in the tiniest taste of his pain, and decide we don’t want broken words and disappointments between us, either.

All the words we said that hurt him, all the promises broken, all the disappointments, all of that he moves out of the way.

Then, each year on that anniversary, if you let him, he will tie you to himself again.

May you be inscribed and sealed for a sweet new year as you slip into his delightful bonds of love.

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