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Published: Saturday, 1/15/2005

Male-female differences studied in light of the Torah

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

The best way to try to understand the differences between men and women, according to psychologist John Gray, is to imagine that the two genders hail from different planets.

The concept so intrigued people that they bought more than 6 million copies of Mr. Gray's 1992 book, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, which has been translated into 40 languages and turned into a stage play.

According to Rabbi Yossi Shemtov, however, no contemporary author can provide the same insights into male-female relationships that are found in another best-selling book, the Torah.

"This is a book that is respected by billions and has been critiqued for thousands of years," Rabbi Shemtov said.

The Torah offers timeless truths, not political correctness, he said, and its writings form the basis of an eight-week course on the male-female dynamic that Rabbi Shemtov will teach beginning Tuesday.

The course, titled "Men, Women and Kabbalah: Wisdom and Advice from the Masters," is the latest offering from the Jewish Learning Institute, a global organization that is conducting the classes simultaneously in 120 cities. The classes are taught by rabbis who are members of the Chabad House-Lubavitch, community, a conservative branch of Judaism that seeks to "rekindle the spark" in Jews around the world.

a traditional branch of Judaism that seeks to rekindle the spark

in Jews around the world.

The rabbis teaching the JLI courses have spent thousands

of hours, combined, over the years studying Kabbalah, Rabbi

Shem tov said in an interview this week at Toledo s Chabad

House-Lubavitch on Nantucket Drive in West Toledo.

Kabbalah, which in Hebrew means tradition, the rabbi said,

is a mystical study of the Torah that has been passed down from

generation to generation, beginning with Moses, who received

it in a revelation from God on Mount Sinai 3,300 years ago.

Rabbi Shemtov, who has been in Toledo for 18 years, said the

Torah and Kabbalah are analogous to a grape.

At one level, he said, you have a simple grape. When it is

crushed, you can make grape juice. When it is fermented, you

can make wine. And the quality of the wine can vary and it can

improve with age.

In the same way, verses in the Torah can be read on different

levels. The simplest is the literal translation of the text, and

the deepest understanding is found in its mystical meaning,

Kaballah.

It is not a scholar s interpretation of the Torah that is to be

valued, Rabbi Shemtov said, but it is the scholars effort to understand the intent of the Torah and its message for people today.

He cited the great 12th century Talmudic scholar Maimonides,

who said he strived for a lack of interpretation when studying

the Torah.

For most of history, only a select few rabbis were entrusted

with the study of Kabbalah because, although it can provide

powerful insights, it also can be misinterpreted, sometimes dangerously, Rabbi Shemtov said.

It was Baal Shem Tov, the 18th century founder of Hasidism,

who determined that it was time to make Kabbalah available to

all.

Today its study is considered mandatory for Jews, Rabbi Shemtov

said.

Students of Kabbalah can apply the wisdom of the ages to

many contemporary issues, including the differences between

men and women.

We go to the source, to Genesis, which says we are created in

God s image, male and female, Rabbi Shemtov said.

Why did God do it this way, with all the tensions and differences

between male and female? he asked. There are so many contradictions and difficulties.

One reason, the rabbi said, is that God puts difficulties, tensions,

and strife into people s life so that they can grow from such

situations.

One fundamental teaching is that God puts us in darkness

because of the potential light and the growth that we achieve

through overcoming darkness, Rabbi Shemtov said.

Another fundamental teaching about the differences between

genders, he said, is that God does not create any redundancy.

He must have had a purpose for creating two genders.

Both bring to the table unique contributions. It s not easy to share a house, said Rabbi Shemtov, a father of 10. But the family needs each parent s uniqueness. Their different natures, their different tools, make the household more successful.

These teachings are consistent throughout the Bible and

throughout the ages, and are unfazed by political correctness

or social trends, the rabbi said.

Unlike the Torah and Kabbalah, books based on modern

psychology or social trends often end up in the scrap pile, making

room for the next theory.

There are thousands of selfhelp books trying to help men

and women co-exist in peace and harmony, Rabbi Shemtov

said. But the author can only guess at the source of strife.

Maybe he realizes later that he was wrong, so he takes a different

guess. Then he writes a new book.

The Torah and Kabbalah, on the other hand, are consistent

throughout the eons, and remains relevant in explaining

such contemporary issues as the male-female dynamic, the

rabbi said.

Kabbalah views gender as an essential quality of the cosmos,

Rabbi Shemtov said.

The eight-week course Men, Women, and Kabbalah will

be taught at the Clarion Hotel, 3536 Secor Rd., from 7:30 to 9

p.m. starting Tuesday, and at West Park Place, 3501 Executive

Pkway., from 10 to 11:30 a.m. starting Wednesday.

The cost is $79, including textbook, with 50 percent discounts

for university students and a 25 percent discount for couples.

Registration is available by calling Chabad House-Lubavitch,

419-843-9393, or online at www.chabadtoledo.com.



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