The Plea for Parnussah

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Photo by David Levitz (_Davo_) via Flickr

On Rosh Hashanah we re-enthrone the Sovereign King in order to perpetuate the ancient world order. But what happens when this particular male-dominant, top down world order is reversed? What are the repercussions when a prominent journalist lets us know in a New York Times Magazine cover story that “the era of male domination has come to an end as women gain power in a post-industrial economy”?

A Confession: When I pray for “parnussah” or livelihood on Rosh Hashanah I picture a vigorous and savvy male, preferably one armed with an MBA, who will, with or without swagger, be a dependable provider. Providence... provider ... it's hard to overlook the associative link between the two.

Second Confession: I’m not really that naïve. Despite an Orthodox upbringing that endorsed the wishful construct that men rule the roost and bring home the pastrami, it doesn’t rock my world when Hanna Rosin (author of the cover story) comes out with a book called The End of Men. Besides, it’s nothing all that personal. Rosin explains that rising female hegemony is all a matter of economics and superior female adaptability to new circumstances. It seems that as millions of jobs were lost in the male-dominated world of manufacturing, millions more were added in healthcare and service fields to which women’s natural strengths – empathy, listening, communicating -- are well suited.

Rosin’s not-so-new-news gives credence to an underground knowledge many of us little Orthodox girls intuited all along: We lived in awe of the discrete strength of our mothers much as we understood that the imposed patriarchal order restored to men a power- base they did not come by naturally.

Rosin’s recent cover story “Who Wears The Pants in this Economy” goes right for the jugular of the stiff-necked, religious fundamentalists. Israeli-born Rosin plunks down her new “middle class matriarchy” in the heart of a southern Evangelical community where a whole mess of men have lost their jobs while their far more adaptable wives are suddenly the sole breadwinners. These days, the pastor at the First Baptist church has to do some fancy footwork to tiptoe his way around the cherished teaching that women owe obedience to their husbands. Meanwhile a group of not so stupid women find new meaning in the reading of the proverbial “Woman of Valor,” paean to the wife whose “lamp does not go out at night” (because she’s still working!) while her less than useful husband schmoozes with the elders at the city gates.

In Rosin’s southern town, as in many others, a 100-year old company that long employed most of the men has suddenly disappeared leaving its faithful employees bereft and adrift. The company is described as playing "the role of the dominant father - kind, generous and protective, even if at times overbearing, sometimes bullying.” Sound familiar? I have often suspected that Jewish men are far more needy than are women of the structured demands of a patriarchal covenant. If women do not succumb to Sarah’s despair, they are willling to reinvent themselves in any number of ways without a binding contract.

This past summer I cultivated a garden and earned good money by running a small town B&B. It was a revelation, and the results were surprisingly gratifying. Now I’m asked to transition from a down to earth self-reliance to a supplicant mood: On Rosh Hashanah, in these uncertain times, we petition a not particularly empathic or adaptable God for sustained parnussah.

Where does the power lie? Who or how can we change the course of our lives? Is it a transcendent deity, in our tradition clearly associated with male prowess, who will grant us many of the things we pray for – long life, health, livelihood, sustenance, freedom from shame? Or is it our own ability to recreate ourselves, in all ways empathic, that will see us through?

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