Unsex me here - opinion

The logic escapes me. 

 Lady Macbeth (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Lady Macbeth
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Shakespeare’s plays are peopled with wicked, witchy women: mothers eating kiddies baked in a pie, sisters slaughtering each other.

Still, I believe that Bill admired what we used to call the female sex. He gifted us with the gold standard of good women – dreamy Desdemona and Saint Cordelia – and his cross-dressed heroines unfailingly save their silly men, proving that if you give a girl her jeans and the chance to run the show, she will show you the power of women.

And in a century where men were encouraged to beat recalcitrant women into serving supper with a smile, Katherina informs Petruchio that if he strikes her he is no gentleman, notwithstanding that she’s a shrew. I imagine bruised Elizabethan housewives having light-bulb moments in the Globe as they get their first sweet inkling that life shouldn’t be so unfair. 

My favorite proof of Shakespeare’s feminist leanings is when Lady Macbeth contemplates killing Scotland’s king and popping her hubby onto the throne. “Unsex me here,” she begs the spirits of darkness; I spent happy hours claiming that as a woman she could not knife a royal guest to death. I did my doctorate on this speech: it’s increasingly controversial in our gender-fluid age. Macbeth’s wife asks that the “compunctious visitings of nature” cease in a sudden, flush-free menopause, and that her milk be turned to gall; I argue this showcases Shakespeare’s belief that women have to abrogate their femininity to really commit evil; in other words, the gentler sex is inherently good at heart.

But now Hanukkah candles have thrown new light on my thesis. Maybe Mrs. M begged to be unsexed so she wouldn’t want sex; maybe only as asexual could she pour her passion into becoming an assassin. Let me explain:

TOWARD THE end of the week of designer donuts and blessedly empty roads, I attended a lovely Hanukkah lighting in a comfortable home. I had heard of the rabbi who did the honors; eschewing yet more oily calories I chose to chat to him and his wife instead. They read my “Three Ladies Three Lattes” column in this paper, and we spoke of many things, including the mega plonter in Israel which welcomed a million Jews home from the former Soviet Union and then refused to recognize a major chunk of them as Jewish. These young Russians, of course, grew up Israeli in the Holy Land, fought in her army, speak Hebrew today and study Tanach, but are not allowed to marry “real” Jews. If they are women their children, born in Israel to Israeli parents, are not Jewish. It’s so strange that you couldn’t make it up.

The rabbi, as rabbis do, claimed that there are solutions: Nativ, for example, is a yearlong program that reeducates these not-really-Jews to keep Shabbat, keep kosher, and become Jewish. Just as, his wife clarified, people seeking American citizenship have to follow American rules.

 A lonely bed (illustrative) (credit: UNSPLASH)
A lonely bed (illustrative) (credit: UNSPLASH)

Ah, I wondered out loud, is this a fair analogy? After all, the vast majority of kosher Jews do not actually keep kosher. Couldn’t we make an exception and fast-track the immigrants whom we urged to join us here, and many of whom have died and been wounded to keep us safe (while the saviors of our Jewish souls don’t go to the army as a general rule); couldn’t we perhaps say that two Shabbatot spent with observant Jews and an exam on chewing cuds and cloven hoofs and cooking times for cholent would suffice to stop the bizarre intermarriage in Israel today, and the ever-growing numbers of babies being born outside the fold? 

I was just getting into my stride about how aliyah can turn I-love-being-Jewish-and-that’s-why-I-came-to-live-in-Israel Jews into antisemites, or at least anti the cultists who control our life-cycle events, when the rabbi hit me with an interesting assumption. “You’re a very beautiful woman,” he proclaimed, with his wife safely there by the latke-laden table. I’m not very beautiful, although I’d like to be, so I wondered where this was going. “You’re much too young to be alone,” he declared, praying that God should grant me husband No. 2, speedily and in our time. With a man at my side, he explained, I would have someone to, someone to –

“Someone with whom to have a latte?” suggested his wife.

“No,” the rabbi demurred. “Someone to be with. So you’re not so alone. Then you wouldn’t feel so passionate about things like religious corruption.”

I could not think of a single word to say. 

LATER, IN my cold and lonely widow’s bed, I considered dismissing this insight without further ado, and I might have done so, except that I’ve heard this theory before: apparently some religious readers of our “Three Ladies” column periodically claim that if married I would be more accepting of the rot in the Religious Services Ministry. It’s all very confusing to me. 

Is it that a married woman is too busy cooking and cleaning and shopping for Shabbos to bother about issues and inequities? Does a cozy-wozy coffee on the couch eradicate all angst about the world? Or, as I suspect, is the underlying assumption that everyone who vocalizes political opinions (or is passionate about the environment for that matter) is sex-starved? Churchill? Is there something about Winston and Clementine that we don’t know? Or is it just women who lack in the sack who sublimate their longings into moral outrage? Angela Merkel? Nikki Haley?

Or is it just Jewish women, and just when their views are “disruptive”? Zehava Gal-On? Merav Michaeli? Golda Meir?

Once, soon after my lovely husband died, a haredi rabbi with many kids offered to comfort me among the other mourners in Zion in a hotel room.

“But you’re married,” I texted, “and a holy man to boot.”

Right, he conceded, “but also very flawed.”

Now I’m wondering whether I should have agreed to a tryst. Maybe with a married haredi rabbi at my side, (except for Shabbatot and holidays), I would have been sufficiently unsex-starved to go with the flow on religious shenanigans. 

There’s something else. I am fairly private; I don’t post anything personal anywhere. Maybe I’m just jealous, but pictures of “me at a waterfall eating picturesque pizza” leave me stone cold; I feel no urge to share my granny moments with the masses. So how does even the most well-meaning onlooker know whether my interest for life stems from not having a life at home? Did the rabbi even inquire? Would I have dared to tell the truth? And, really, when I think of it, when Martin was alive and very much at my side, weren’t we passionate about issues together, as well as also being passionate?

The logic escapes me. 

I reckon I’ll stick with Shakespeare to shine a candle on the balagan. Lady Macbeth, after laying the daggers ready, does not do the awful deed. She leaves the assassination for her man to perform, and it’s downhill for them both from then on. Macbeth, plagued with nightmares and sorrowful fancies, ends up minus his head; before that his lady wife throws herself off the roof, despite the man in her bed. 

You know what, rabbi? I’ll second your prayer: may God grant me another gorgeous, kind, clever, funny, liberal, happy, helpful, granola-making, garden-tending, clothes-ironing husband speedily and in our days. A husband who encourages me to think about all things, and to be passionate in the horizontal, and in the vertical, too. 


The writer lectures at Reichman University and Beit Berl College. peledpam@gmail.com