Thursday, January 21, 2010

Choosing God Over the Tooth Fairy--Dedicated to Bernie Newman

My friend Bernie Newman asked me why I believe in God as opposed to say, the Tooth Fairy. I gave him a very long response and thought to blog it it since it goes to the essence of why I have become religious.

This is from the word I gave at my daughter Malka's Bas Mitzvah:

There's a Midrash that says that when the angels got wind of the fact that Hashem (God) was about to create another human being--Eve--they complained. They said to Hashem, "Why are you going to create another one of those things? They SIN!"

Hashem told the angels, "Don't worry. This new creature will be different. I will create her so that it won't be in her nature to sin."

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch said that when Hashem split Eve from Adam, Eve/woman was given man's portion of innate spirituality.

Because Adam/man lost this part of himself, he would always be at risk for becoming at sea with his spirituality--would always need to actively tie himself to Hashem by dint of doing many mitzvos (commandments). Without the mitzvos, man loses his connection to his spirituality.

Take the mitzvah (commandment) of sukkah*, for instance. Men are commanded to dwell in the sukkah for an entire week. Women have no such commandment. Men need to enact the drama of living in the desert under the stars for a whole week so as to connect them to the history of their ancestors' lengthy desert-wandering. That little playing-out of ancient history is exactly what they need to get them through another year of their Jewish existence while they live out their day-to-day drudgery.

Women, on the other hand, have no need of all of those commandments because they have a direct spiritual tie to Hashem. It's inborn. Men have to strive, women are already there, close to Hashem every second of every day.

In the morning service, there is a series of blessings called the Negative Blessings. We say thank God I'm not this, and thank God I'm not that. Many feminists get P.O.'ed about the blessing that men say: Thank God I'm not a woman.

Rashi explains that men are thanking God for having more commandments--that the more commandments we have, the greater our quality of life. So, a free man has more commandments than a slave, and so forth. A man has more commandments than a woman. That's the real meaning of those blessings: we express our gratitude for what we get out of living a Torah life and fulfilling the mitzvos.

Within all those negative blessings, there is a single affirmation. Women say (channeling Popeye??): Thank God I am what I am.

I love that. Woman is saying: Thank you for creating me with innate spirituality, for making me a special kind of human being with a direct tie to You, for making me someone who isn't so inclined to sin. I am happy with my portion, even grateful!

Man, on the other hand, is lucky to have those many commandments because he needs them. It helps him alter his life from one of humdrum toil to a life that has meaning. So a man who strives to follow the mitzvos is joyful for having this constant tool for attaining the spiritual.

A woman is every bit as joyful because of her unique position of having been born spiritually whole.

As I explained to Bernie, either you buy it or you don't. There is nothing one can say about the Tooth Fairy that will speak to my soul. The reason is something inborn, because I'm a woman--a Jewish woman.

It's much harder for a man to come to and maintain faith and spirituality. It requires striving. This is what I believe with all my heart.

*Sukkah-a temporary hut that is central to the holiday of Sukkos.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Gardasil Victory

The following is the text of an editorial I wrote about the 2010 vaccination schedule issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The topic doesn't apply to my own sons and daughters because Israel does not routinely vaccinate children for HPV.

I became aware of the Gardasil vaccine controversy during research for a series of articles I was hired to write on the topic of sexually transmitted diseases (STD's). The implicit message of the drug company and the American governmental bodies responsible for creating and distributing the Gardasil vaccine as something for women only, aroused my feminist ire. I was thrilled to discover that the 2010 vaccination schedule includes boys and men on the Gardasil roster.

"Those of us who felt anger that our daughters had to be vaccinated against the HPV virus (and not our sons) have been handed a victory. The newest vaccination schedule issued by the CDC advisory panel in October 2009 now recommends that boys receive the vaccine, too.

The Gardasil controversy has many factors. For one thing, vaccinating youngsters is seen by many as the equivalent of tacit approval for sexual activity in children as young as 9 years of age. Of course, as parents, we'd like to protect our daughters against STD's contracted during sexually violent encounters such as rape, but does vaccinating a young girl give her the impression that it is safe for her to become sexually active? Will she get the wrong impression that this vaccine means she has the permission of her parents and her government to have sex?

Why Daughters?

Then again, the feminists among us had other fish to fry: why are the girls being vaccinated and not the boys? Aren't boys every bit as responsible and even more so if one considers the act of rape, for spreading the human papilloma virus (HPV)? Why should our daughters submit to this vaccine and its risks and not our sons?

Drug manufacturers and our government tried to tell us that the vaccine was not proven effective in boys and men but underestimated the ability of the public to reason. The thing is, the effectiveness of the vaccine in girls and women was known because it was TESTED in girls and women (and not in boys and men), until at last, angry parents hammered the idea into the heads of the people who run the drug companies that boys and men be tested, too. Parents were not surprised to discover that the vaccine was found to be just as effective in boys and men as it is in girls and women.

So, we can see the new 2010 vaccination schedule as a victory of sorts for American parents, who have learned better than to shut up and put up with whatever the drug companies and the government wants to do to their children. Yes, we are grateful as parents that medical interventions have been found to protect our children from HPV and its effects, but we have issues in the way this solution was presented to us and our children.

Carte Blanche

We don't want our boys and men to think that they have carte blanche to engage in any sexual behavior they choose and that it's the girl's job to protect her person against a boy's undeniable urges. Boys and men must also take responsibility for their pleasures. We need equal rights to apply to our medical care every bit as much as we need these rights to apply to our employment situation.

As parents, no matter whether we are mothers or fathers, we need our children to think outside of gender stereotypes that permit boys and men to be all-empowered when it comes to sex while women must be protected from them. We must teach our children the concept of equal responsibility."