Misogyny, Sexism, Chauvinism, or What?

When I wrote recently about a question that had been put to me—under the title “Is Misogyny Maladaptive?”—I was taken to task (at PsychologyToday.com, where it also appeared) for misusing the word misogyny. I was trying to use it to mean “anti-woman.” Strictly, it comes from Greek roots meaning “hate” and “woman,” and some dictionaries define it as simply hatred or dislike of women or girls, although occasionally the word contempt is included. This matters because you can easily have contempt for someone you also in some way like or love. Continue reading

Bibi, Obama, and the Incendiary Summer

This is a pivotal moment for Israel.

The cool breeze of the Arab Spring, about which many of us were hopeful but skeptical, is now an Incendiary Summer. This ominous anger over a trashy film has caused riots and replaced the Stars and Stripes with Islamist flags in many places. Our embassies are threatened in at least twelve Muslim capitals. In addition, a planned terrorist attack killed a U.S. ambassador and other Americans in Libya.

The eruption come against the background of Bibi Netanyahu turning up the rhetoric Continue reading

Is Misogyny Maladaptive?

Part of Prof. Blumenthal’s question that I didn’t answer last time was about misogyny, which he hopefully speculated is now maladaptive. I deferred this because from an evolutionary viewpoint it is in a different category from xenophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism. Let me state clearly at the outset, as I did about the other categories of prejudice: I think we are gradually creating conditions in which misogyny is maladaptive, and we must continue to do that.

However, it has to be recognized that for the long span of human evolution some aspects of misogyny were adaptive—not for women, but for men. As with xenophobia and racism, Continue reading

Is Genocide Now Maladaptive?

David Blumenthal, a good and wise friend who is a Jewish studies professor and a rabbi wrote me recently asking about the former adaptiveness and present maladaptiveness of xenophobia. The operative passage in his letter was, “In the global world, however, survival requires the cooperation of varying and different groups. Humanity, in its groups, cannot survive without the quintessential other. Xenophobia has ceased to be adaptive. So has antisemitism, racism, orientalism, and misogyny.”

I have little trouble agreeing that at some times in the past these behaviors were adaptive for the perpetrators. Continue reading

Tikkun Olam, Obama Style

Obama can’t win for losing, at least with right-leaning Americans and Israelis. He’d barely finished his speech to AIPAC this morning when the pundits were all over him—despite his being interrupted by applause many times by thousands of Israel supporters.

He defended his record of deeds, not just words, on behalf of Israel. My wife thought this was undignified, but he is running for re-election, Continue reading


Tensions are high, with Iran bombing Israeli diplomats and flaunting its nuclear progress, and Israeli experts split over what to do. Also, there is the threat from within—the ultra-Orthodox zealots who mirror both the fanatics of other religions and the Zealots of old who, by dividing Israel, helped its enemies destroy it.

But just now I’m occupied closer to home. My first grandchild was born in the small hours of January 27. So (by invitation) I attended my first daughter’s birth and decades later that of her first child.

Continue reading

Awake Deborah, Awake and Sing!

On my short, intense trip to Israel just before Thanksgiving, I tried to sense the mood of the country. Shortly after my six-week stay in May and June, the “tentifada” protests swept the country, decrying income inequality. By November that had settled down and people were mulling plans to close the gap, although young doctors around the country were on strike.

Meanwhile, ultra-Orthodox extremists had burned mosques and defaced Christian and Muslim cemeteries with their “price tags.” Continue reading

In Israel Again

I’m sitting on the porch of the home of my friends the Selas, in Binyamina, south of Haifa, gazing out on the garden they created, which has a semi-tropical feel despite the chill in the air. A breeze stirs the eucalyptus branches and agitates, just a bit, the huge palm leaves—although Pazit says they are small this year. We breakfasted on persimmons and pears from the garden, which also yields grapefruit, lemons, and figs after their kind.

A dog starts barking steadily outside the fence as an old tabby strolls leisurely between the dog and me. Apart from that reminder that the dog doesn’t always lie down with the cat, you would not guess from this peaceful scene that Israel lives under a looming nuclear threat, that extremes of inequality only two decades old have frayed the social fabric and sent hundreds of thousands into the streets, that rockets from Gaza still rain down on kibbutzim and cities in the south, and that the West Bank, very near where I sit, could soon become a source of the same kinds of attacks.

I’m here for an intense week of lectures, visiting friends, and, as always, plotting my next visit. This trip was funded by a grant to the Schechter Institute for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, for a conference on “Judaism in Evolutionary Perspective.” I gave the keynote and closing addresses, one on the evolution of religion and religious (including Jewish) practices, the other on the evolution of mating systems, including Jewish patterns of sex and marriage, Biblical and beyond. Before that, upon arriving, I drove straight from Ben Gurion Airport to Ben Gurion University and made it just in time for my own talk on “The Jewish Body.”

I’d lectured around Israel many times, but this was the first time I was asked to speak on Jewish themes. I warned my hosts that I was bringing coals to Newcastle, or maybe olives and dates to the Holy Land, but they said I bring a diaspora perspective, which they need here. I didn’t reply that almost half the Jews in Israel came from the diaspora, but in any case the lectures seemed well received. My Hebrew is still only good enough to apologize (I hope graciously) for having to lecture in English, but as I told them, their English is a lot better than my Hebrew. At the Schechter, I was simultaneously translated into Hebrew. The audiences seemed engaged and the people who invited me seemed very pleased; I guess that’s about all I could ask for.

As I announced to the group at Schechter on Thursday, it was my mother’s Yahrzeit, and she would have been very happy to have seen me there. Since she was deaf and the lectures were academic, she could not have understood them in any language, but she would have been glowing nonetheless. In the morning I had walked from hotel to Kotel with the sun just coming up over Jerusalem and said Kaddish for her in a minyan at the Western Wall. We had another minyan in the afternoon (women counted this time) during a break at the conference, the service led by Rabbi Arnold Goodman, who was my rabbi for many years in Atlanta. A very moving experience.

Despite the summer protests, things do not seem much changed here from when I left in June. The cabinet adopted a report recommending changes stimulated by the protests; some think it’s inadequate, some it’s a step forward. People are debating that, as well as the wisdom of exchanging a thousand Palestinian prisoners (including terrorists) for one kidnapped soldier; whether to try to pre-empt Iran’s nuclear program with an air attack, if that is even possible; how much to push for peace with the Palestinians now that they have made their (failed) bid for unilateral recognition by the UN, and Hamas and Fatah have joined hands again; and so on. There seems to be a consensus here that the vast uncertainties of the “Arab Spring”— brutality in Syria, ongoing troubles in Egypt, questions about the new Libya, and so on—make this a good time to watch and wait.

The young doctors are on strike and may be punished or forced to go back to work by court order. Arguments abound as always (two Jews, three arguments). The secular Jews at least seem pretty pessimistic, but the believers, even the Conservative Jews of the Schechter Institute and its network, do not. Life goes on for everyone in this dynamic and creative society, even the Arab-Israelis who never get their fair share, even the Palestinians who are sorely oppressed by Israel and by the intransigence and incompetence of their own leadership. Investment and technology are slowly improving conditions. Much more needs to be done.

Yesterday I met a wise, soft-spoken, 70-ish psychologist who just decided to spend the last phase of his life promoting and teaching non-violent strategies for social movements bringing about change. May there be more like him, and may they foster equality and peace. As Rabbi Tarfon said, “It is not up to you to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” I take the long view, and I see reason to hope.

Jewish Fanatics Are Israel’s Worst Enemies

Two days after Yom Kippur, I still hear the haunting melodies, the plaintive, minor-key supplications, as much the expressions of human longing to feel close to God as literal pleas of hungry sinners for forgiveness.

Certain lines keep coming back. Atah b’khartanu mikol ha’amim–You chose us from all the nations—is one. But I always think of the punch-line that follows in the Yiddish proverb: Vus hostu zikh ongezetst oyf undz?—What did you have against us?? And then of course, the passage from the Shmoneh Esray, repeated at least seven times in twenty-six hours: V’tekhezena ayneynu b’shuvkha l’Tzion b’rakhamim—May our eyes behold your return to Zion in mercy.

I was born two years before the Jewish state, and I grew up both intoning that prayer and beholding the fruit of its repitition, of eighteen centuries of yearning. At a minimum, I beheld the return of the Jewish people, or at least a huge part of it, from exile—the answer to another prayer: V'korev p'zurenu miben hagoyim, unefutsotenu kanes miyarktey aretz—And gather us from among the nations, and collect our scattered ones from the ends of the earth.

About five hundred thousand Jews in the year I was born, more than five million today. From Morocco, Yemen, Poland, Russia, England, Australia, South Africa, Ethiopia, India, China, Argentina, Canada, the United States, to name a few. But if God has also returned to Zion, I have to say it is not always in mercy; in fact, it can be with a vengeance.

Consider three episodes of the past ten days. On October 1, a mosque was torched in an Arab village in northern Galilee, by right-wing Jews. President Shimon Peres visited the village, Tuba Zanghariya, to declare his solidarity with the people, and his shame. “There is

not one Israeli who is not ashamed,” he told them. But obviously this is not true.

On the walls of the mosque that survived the fire were the Hebrew words, “Revenge,” and “price tag.” There were also references to Asher Hillel Palmer, who had been killed with his baby son a month earlier. Two Palestinians had thrown rocks at their car, which then went off the road and turned over.

“According to the Torah, there is a need for collective punishment,” said the Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Arba, the West Bank settlement the Palmers were from. So, not surprisingly, some so-called Jews imposed collective punishment on a whole Bedouin community far from the scene of that killing. Nice touch, the “price tag” metaphor; way to remind the world of one of the most durable stereotypes about Jews.

Next, on the very eve of Yom Kippur, in ancient, peaceful Jaffa, two adjacent cemeteries, one Muslim, one Christian, were viciously vandalized. Gravestones were covered with grafitti—sound familiar, fellow Jews? “Mavet la’Aravim”—“Death to the Arabs”—were among the scrawlings desecrating the tombs. And, oh yes: “Price tag.”

Are the perpetrators the scum of the earth or very ardent Jews? Hint: They are both.

As for the third incident, the perps aren’t making us guess who they are. They are standing in broad daylight in their black ultra-Orthodox uniforms vandalizing the hearts and minds of little girls. Jewish girls. Orthodox Jewish girls, on their way to school, a school our friends the black hats don’t approve of. So the girls run the gantlet every day. They have stones and tomatoes and feces thrown at them by these men of God. They wake up with bad dreams in the night. And the next morning, before they leave for school, they ask their mothers, “Are they still there?”

Yes, dear. They are there. Yes, they will yell at you, terrible things, again and again. Yes, again, they will throw disgusting things, they will try to force their way past police officers and soldiers so they can get closer to you and scream their obscenities louder, right in your ears. No, dear, I cannot stop them. No, I don’t know why they hate you. Yes, I am sorry, but you still have to go to school.

Like those little girls, Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood, surrounded by the holier-than-thou, God’s warriors. Hamas and Hizbollah perpetrate and threaten violence every day. Turkey now supports them and yells curses in Israel’s ear. Egypt, in the wake of its revolution, is crushing Coptic Christians under tanks. Syria, in the course of its own, is slaughtering its citizens by the hundreds. And Iran, whose main export is terror, is threatening Israel with complete annihilation.

Yet the greatest danger will likely come from Jewish fanatics within. They are the fifth column, the undermining insiders, the rotten canker in the core. They are our Al-Qaeda. They are on the side of the enemies of the Jews. They are enemies of the Jews.

If you read the history of the fall of the Second Temple, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the exile of the Jews from their home for two millennia, you will find the same undermining rot in the core, the same internal enemies of our people. They weakened us. They made the external enemies victorious.

Today they are the best friends of Iran and Hamas and Hizbollah, the time-warped, mirror-image-heirs of fanatics of other faiths who tormented our people throughout history. If they prevail, Israel is doomed. And they call themselves Jews.