From Passivity to Aggression

If you ask me, dear J.L. Gordon, why a Tel Aviv woman is a shabby, Parisian femme fatale, I'll tell you: She's that way because she thinks that being sexy means loving sex and having sex, and thereby reveals her total ignorance in this sphere.

At night I thought of you, Judah Leib Gordon, tormented Hebrew poet, who was sent to prison in Russia for having written the feminist poem "The Point on Top of the Yod." "Hebrew woman, who knows of your life? You arrived in darkness, and you will depart in darkness," Gordon opened his poem, which calls for the liberation of the Hebrew woman from the stifling yoke of tradition and religion. This well-known work tells the story of one bold woman who dared to desire to marry the man she loved, only to have her hopes foiled by the rabbis.

Thank God, you, J.L. Gordon, my friend, might think, because in the century and a half since you wrote "Top of the Yod," your hopes and dreams have been realized beyond your wildest fantasies. There is now a machine called a "television," inside of which there is a program called "Mehubarot" ("Connected" ), which features a Hebrew woman called Shir, a real free spirit, praise God - and it's all thanks to you. The woman asks her partner, also a free spirit, to give her a good-morning kiss not on her mouth, but on her other lips, and he obliges. And thus, even more deeply in love, she feels newly independent as she goes out to work as a journalist for a Tel Aviv magazine, Time - or Zeit - Out, if we translate its name into a language you'll understand, my poor, dear Gordon.

Eran Wolkowski

Let's think for a second, since you purport to understand them: Has anything really changed among Hebrew women, regarding their subordination, in the interval that has elapsed between your day and that of "Connected"? If you ask me, nothing essential has changed. The world of "Connected" is definitely that of the shtetl; instead of living under the paradigm of reactionary Jewish law, people live there under the reactionary model of the television program "Sex and the City," which is based on laws no less rigid than those of halakha.

With logic that is identical to Jewish religious law, indeed, the legal code of this "Sex and the City" imposes upon the woman the neo-traditional circumstance of "she can't live without sex," which is akin to the situation of "she can't live without serving her family."

The Hebrew woman for whom it is decreed that she must be "sexy" is required to yell from every hilltop and from under every tree that she loves sex, because it gives her the feeling that she is loved. Meantime, every fiber of her being cries out the following, more or less: "Just as once we women had to shout Zionist slogans during every youth movement outing, or scream leftist slogans during demonstrations against the occupation, I am forced to yell at the top of my lungs that I love sex, because that is the role given to me in life, as a typical liberated Tel Aviv woman on 'Connected.' My purpose in life is to play the shabby, Parisian femme fatale."

Do you want to ask me, dear J.L. Gordon, why a Tel Aviv woman is a shabby, Parisian femme fatale? I'll tell you: She's that way because she thinks that being sexy means loving sex and having sex, and thereby reveals her total ignorance in this sphere. The opposite is true: Sexiness is the art of temptation and seduction - even when things don't end up in bed.

Permissiveness of this other sort is simply bestiality. And another thing: In this life of shabby, Parisian lust there is no respect for others; there is only aggression and demands, of the sort the late playwright Hanoch Levin depicted in his prophetic play "Young Varda'le." Believe me, J.L. Gordon, even if Varda'le lives in Paris for 1,000 years, she will remain the same spoiled Varda'le who believes that she deserves everything.

Similarly woeful is the part played on "Connected" by the singer Mika Karni as a newly Orthodox woman and the owner of a bed and breakfast in the Galilee, a mother of four girls and married to a musician who chops eggplant and garlic - and looks exactly as you, dear J.L. Gordon, described a Jewish male in your poem. This wretched fellow in "Connected" has to confess in front of the camera that he has no joy in his life, according to the normative scale of happiness enforced by his wife in the house.

Do you see, J.L. Gordon, how similar the newly Orthodox formula embodied by Karni in the Galilee B&B is to the yearning-for-sex formula Shir personifies in Tel Aviv? In both cases, the formula is based on their demand to fill a quota that they themselves have set. In both cases, the formula lacks authenticity.

The "Connected" episode I saw had a third heroine, who represents the prehistoric incarnation of the Hebrew woman. Her name is Hili. She is 23, and she has a hard time passing her mathematics matriculation exam; she curses, smokes and stubbornly tries to study; she phones her father, and then a math teacher. This, too, is a form of aggression: troubling your surroundings with your own problem, as though someone owes you something because you are alive.

Before we go our separate ways, my dear, sorrowful Gordon, won't you agree with me that the oppressed Hebrew woman in your poem has simply changed the form of her oppression: From excessive passivity she has moved onto surplus aggression, and in the end, both forms of excess are the same.