An Ultra-Orthodox Woman Reflects on Judaism and Sexuality

March 15, 2016 | Miriam Kosman
About the author:

Drawing on kabbalah, feminist theory, and a wide variety of other sources, Miriam Kosman’s recent book, Circle, Arrow, Spiral, explores the idea that masculine and feminine symbolism in traditional Jewish texts can be applied to the actual relationship between the sexes. (Interview by Alan Brill)

[In the book’s title], the arrow represents a male energy and force. It connotes progress, action, force, productivity, [and a] constant striving to have more and get more. The circle represents the female force which symbolizes the idea of wholeness, harmony, and relationship. The arrow is doing; the circle is being.

The ideal in Judaism is the spiral, which is a synthesis of these two forces.

There are many examples of this spiral in the whole structure of Judaism. One classic one is the dynamic between Shabbat and the days of the week. The days of the week would be a male . . . ; Shabbat would be a circle, or female. The spiral would be the synthesis [in which] the building and accomplishing we do during the days of the week create the person we bring to the relationship of “being” on Shabbat, and the experience of Shabbat sends us out to our work week from a higher place. . . .

[Applying these concepts, I differ from Jewish feminists in] many ways. Firstly, I do not see Jewish gender conceptions as problems that need correction. On the contrary, understanding the value of the dance between these two primal forces upends the idea that gender difference represents a flawed, chauvinistic approach that needs to be updated. To me, adopting [an absolute] egalitarianism robs us all of the richness, depth, and insight that gender difference can yield. [However], I do see women’s growing prominence [in public life] as a positive thing, and I want that to continue.

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