Ours is an age in which the notion that men and women are created with distinct and complementary purposes is seen as little more than thinly veiled bigotry. But one of the great Jewish contributions to civilization is the idea that the sexes are not identical to, but are instead in need of, one another. We modern Jews and modern citizens forget this truth at our peril.
In “The Complementarity of Man and Woman,” published is response to Dennis Prager’s “Judaism’s Sexual Revolution,” the eminent Catholic thinker Michael Novak explicates how the classical Jewish approach to human sexuality affirmed the human dignity of women and laid the foundations for human progress.
Is sexual activity the highest end of life? For Moses and the people of Israel, it assuredly was not. It was of course a great good, and one essential to the perpetuation of the human race. Sexuality was not meant to be repressed. But it was meant to run—and to run deep—in only one channel.
From this sublimation there arose two great social consequences. First, women achieved sexual equality with men in the holy union of marriage. “In His image [God] made them, male and female He made them” (Genesis 1:27). This text says clearly that the divine radiance in human life shines through the marital union of man and woman. Therein, each person finds completeness. Only together, fully one, does the married couple bear the image of the Creator.
The second great consequence is to channel immense energy into society through its fundamental unit, the family—and not just energy, but also a continuity of consciousness, and the dream of a more perfect future. Thus Judaism gave birth to the idea of progress. Judaism introduced the ancient world to the reality of progress. Judaism sees itself as always unfinished, always unsatisfied. “Next year in Jerusalem,” when “the lion will lie down with the lamb” and the Messiah will at last appear. Each family, at the family table, carries these hopes forward into the future. Making progress is always, in time, an unfinished business.
More about: • Jewish Political Thought • The Jewish Family • Theology
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