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December 16, 2014 8:34 am

Women Want to Be Wanted

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avatar by Shmuley Boteach

Torah scroll. Photo: Wiki Commons.

What women would give to be lusted after today.

Women are not looking just for love in a marriage. They are primarily looking for lust. A woman wants to be wanted, needs to be needed, desires to be desired. A woman does not go into marriage principally to be loved. She goes into marriage to be lusted after, to feel that there’s a man who has a magnetic attraction for her. It’s an easy point to prove.

If a woman wanted primarily to be loved why would she ever leave the comfort of the parental home? No one’s ever going to love her more than her parents. Her parents are never going to divorce her. Her parents aren’t going to cheat on her. Her parents are going to love her unconditionally. She doesn’t have to dress up for them; she doesn’t have to impress them. If you want to be loved, you stay at home.

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So why is it that by the time she’s a teenager her parents have to threaten her to be at home? Whey does she trade in the unconditional love of her parents for the very conditional love of a man?

When her parents tell her she’s the prettiest girl in her class she just rolls her eyes. They’re just saying that because they’re her parents. They have a genetic AK-47 to their heads making them love her. There is no choice in the matter and therefore her parents’ love for her can’t make her feel special.

But when a man says that to a woman, it must mean that she’s special, she’s unique. Her parents can give her love but they can’t give her what she really wants, which is to be chosen.

Every woman wants to be chosen. Our parents can give us the gift of love but not the gift of chosenness.

In the Hebrew language there is a specific word for “husband” (baal), but no specific word for “wife.” The word used to identify “wife” (ishah) is the exact same as the word “woman.” A “wife” is in essence a “woman.” A woman is always a woman, no matter who she is and what role she plays in life. She can never be fully possessed, even in marriage, which, ironically, is a good thing. It means that no husband can ever take his wife for granted. Even after you marry her she never fully becomes your wife. She remains a woman who can only be won over not by the commitment of the marital institution but through the daily solicitation of emotional devotion and affection. Women are drawn to men who desire them.

The point is best illustrated by the story of Bruriah, wife of the Hebrew sage Rabbi Meir. A daughter of the respected martyred sage Rabbi Hananiah ben Teradion, Bruriah is one of the few women singled out in the Talmud as being herself a sage. She was an intellectual and a paragon of faith who proved her mettle in soothing her husband’s grief with complete acceptance of the will of the Almighty when their two sons suddenly died in tragic circumstances.

A curious story referred to in the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 18b) only as “the Bruriah incident” has much to teach us about the traditional Jewish attitude toward women’s sexuality. The eleventh-century canonic Jewish scholar Rashi comments on this cryptic reference as follows:

One time [Bruriah] mocked the Sages’ saying “Women are suggestible” (Kiddushin 80b, Shabbat 33b). [Rabbi Meir] said to her: “In your lifetime, you will eventually affirm their words.” He instructed one of his disciples to seduce her. [The student] urged her for many days, until she consented. When the matter became known to her she strangled herself, and Rabbi Meir fled out of disgrace.

Much ink has flowed over this unusual and heartrending account throughout the centuries. I’ll give you my take on it. Bruriah heard her husband teaching his students the passage from the Talmud (Kiddushin 80b) that says “Nashim da’atan kalot aleihen.” It literally means that women are “suggestible” or “lightheaded,” but Rashi explains this to mean that they are sexually uninhibited and receptive, and indeed this appears to have been Rabbi Meir’s intention.

Women are easily much more sexual than men. I imagine Rabbi Meir telling his students that husbands must not take for granted that their wives are permanently faithful. Rather, Rabbi Meir taught, women are profoundly romantically impressionable. A woman find its challenging to resist when a man focuses his starry-eyed attention on her, and therefore a husband must ensure that he himself is his wife’s seducer.

Bruriah took issue with the Talmud’s assertion that women are readily seduced. You’re insulting women, she told her husband, by insinuating that we’re not innately moral and some Don Juan can come along and sway us; it’s not true. I am not primarily an emotional person, she said; I’m an intellectual like you. When I know something is wrong, it’s an iron-clad conviction.

Now, all this is obvious. Women are as intelligent, driven, and ambitious as men. But they are also in love with love, which makes them more humanly responsive.

“B’chayecha,” in your lifetime, Rabbi Meir replied; in your lifetime you will bear witness to the truth of this aphorism.

Rabbi Meir set out to prove to his wife the Talmud’s wisdom, tragically recruiting one of his students to seduce her to demonstrate the point. Bruriah resisted the young man, just as she had said she would. But the student was persistent. We don’t know whether the student had feelings for her or whether he acted only out of a sense of duty to his teacher. We also do not know whether she actually succumbed to the seduction.

Either way, the resulting shock apparently caused her to take drastic action. Why was she so irretrievably humiliated? One explanation is that she had compromised her moral core and couldn’t live with herself. Another explanation is that she was afraid people would find out. I don’t accept either of those answers, because this is the same Bruriah who buried two of her sons and saw her father burned alive for teaching Torah, yet she persevered in her faith.

I think the reason she was so crestfallen to the point of wanting to end her life was that her husband had been proven right. For all her pretensions to being someone who could overcome emotions and passions and choose her own path, someone who was a master of her own destiny, guided only by the cold, hard facts of logical principles, she discovered that human passion in fact trumps intellect.

And that is true for both men and women.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 30 books, winner of The London Times Preacher of the Year Competition, and recipient of the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. He has just published “Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer”. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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