Monday, April 2, 2012


Lately I have been spending a fair amount of time considering various dichotomies. In discussing the across-culture devaluation of women, Michelle Rosaldo suggested the dichotomy of the public and private spheres: with women existing mainly in the private sphere, men in the public sphere. She suggested society's interpretation of biology as a foundation for its division.

Sherry Ortner suggested a similar sort of dichotomy, one which is based on the cultural notions of women, which are based on their biological functions. A division where men are represented as "culture", and women as "nature", with women constantly struggling between the "natural" notions of pollution and purity.

These are things that I am presenting in Women in Society tomorrow! Additionally, I will be saying some things regarding cognitive developmental theory and social learning theory, as well as mentioning some other ladies' views (Chodorow and her thoughts on the organization of family as reflecting the ideology of a society, and Baker-Miller and the attributes often ascribed to one sex or the other).

Dichotomies are everywhere, though. I completed an exam for Women in Jewish Culture recently, with a prompt that asked us to distinguish between gendered experiences with immigration in Western Europe and Eastern Europe. One answer suggested a dichotomy similar to Rosaldo's: women were mainly in the private sphere in Western Europe, whereas in Eastern Europe they were present mainly in the public sphere. In Eastern Europe men were being rather traditional and studying Torah, while women maintained their domestic roles and additionally took on the role of breadwinner. Therefore, while men were attending all-Jewish schools, women were more likely to receive secular educations in order to aid in their bread-winning (still, it should be noted, men's studying was still more valuable than women's work).

A dichotomy! But, somewhat flipped. Which is super interesting.

In reading about illness and health in the Jewish tradition (for my Jewish Studies capstone), I have found a more broad dichotomy which seems to extend from biblical times to more modern teachings: praying to be healed versus seeking the care of a physician.

There are teachings which suggest the importance of prayer, and hope, and relying upon God to heal ailments. Some suggest that those who are stricken with illness are sick for a reason; God has given them such ailment so as to provide a period of reflection for the individual. And there are various teachings which point to the power of God in order to aid in healing. Turning to God for health, with prayer, is a common theme among the Psalms, Midrash, and teachings.

However, there is a teaching, common within Jewish tradition, that one is able to disregard any tradition if it interferes with one's health. For example, if someone is sick during Yom Kippur, he or she would not be required to fast during the holiday. If one has other dietary restrictions already in place, it is okay to not maintain a kosher diet during Passover. And there are teachings which stress the importance of a physician! Things which suggest that physicians are as valuable as prayer and faith during times of illness.

I am excited to spend more time with readings for my Jewish studies capstone within the next couple of days - data entry is finally done with (for my Lab in Social Psych), so for the time-being, and find myself with more free time.

I hope that everyone is doing well! Happy April!

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