I am not knowledgeable enough to weigh in on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legal legacy. I do want to tell you what I think about a number of articles such as the one that appeared in Vogue entitled May Every Woman Find Her Marty Ginsburg. By all accounts, Justice Ginsburg’s marriage reads as a solid love story, a partnership with an intelligent, accomplished man who delighted in her professional success as she delighted in his.
My question is whether encouraging every woman to aim for such a collaboration is wise. Students, especially girls, in Jewish religious schools are taught the story of Akiba and Rachel. Here is a (very) shortened summary. Akiba was an uneducated shepherd working for a wealthy man who had a beautiful daughter, Rachel. At the age of forty, Akiba’s soul sparked a desire to find God through studying the Torah, leading him initially to sit next to small children as they learned the aleph-bet. Rachel recognized his potential and joined her destiny to his, marrying him despite her father’s repudiation of the couple, leaving them in desperate poverty. Over many, many years, Rachel lived not only with the barest necessities but even without her husband as she sent him off to learn with the greatest teachers, far away from her.
Decades later, Akiba, now the highly respected Rabbi Akiba and teacher of thousands of students, returned home. As they entered the town, a peasant woman rushed to greet him only to be rudely blocked by those flocking to greet the esteemed rabbi. Rabbi Akiba turned to the crowd and said, “Let her through. All my accomplishments and all your learning are only because of her.”
Romantic visions fill the minds of Jewish high school girls hearing this story and they too picture marriages of sacrifice and suffering where they help to transform their young husbands into this generation’s giant in Torah scholarship. Wise parents and teachers ask them a simple question: “What makes you think that you can be Rachel and that your husband can be Akiba?” The story of Rabbi Akiba and Rachel is famous not because they are representative run of the mill prototypes but precisely because they are exceptional. Inspiring? Yes. Easy to emulate? No.
Visionaries in the 1970s painted a rosy picture of a society filled with thriving and optimistic men and women, happily relating as equals in the workplace and at home with fulfilling careers, enduring marriages and well-adjusted children. That has not come to pass.
Something went wrong.
Instead of a world filled with light, sunshine and joy as we frolic in a feminist utopia, we keep hearing about how unhappy and dissatisfied both women and men are. Children—when there are children—are increasingly emotionally fragile. Marriages are fewer and less stable. Most of us aren’t living the lives of our dreams. We may not even know what those dreams are anymore.
Let’s be completely honest. How many women and men can say that they are Ruth and Marty Ginsburg?
If I may, I’d like to share one more story. In the book, House Calls to Eternity, Rabbi Yaakov and Hadassah Wehl write about the rabbi’s physician mother, a woman clearly blessed by God with unusual talent, intuition and ability. Dr. Wehl, who qualified as a physician while a young woman in Germany in the 1920s, overcame numerous hurdles to become a pediatrician and to qualify as such a second time after arriving in America as a refugee. She and her husband decided that the couple should focus on her doing so, rather than on his establishing a new profession.
Dr. Wehl said, “I insisted that my young son, who was one and a half years old, should not be sent to a baby-sitter. He was to be cared for by my husband.”
Aha! A working mom and a stay-at-home father back in 1939! Dr. Wehl’s husband completely supported her work as the following quotes from the book attest:
[In the early years] “Sometimes my husband and I would stay up to twelve or one o’clock at night recording the blood counts.”
[Years later, after their son was grown] “Omi (grandma) went to check on a baby in the hospital at twelve-thirty at night. The mother, dumbstruck at seeing Dr. Wehl at that hour, couldn’t understand why she was there and finally remarked,
“Dr. Wehl, all alone at this hour of the night, isn’t it dangerous?”
Omi answered, “I am not alone, my husband is sitting outside in the car waiting for me.”
Opi (grandpa) was ninety-two-years old at the time.”
Let’s be honest. Most of us, men and women alike, do not have callings like that, where we happily devote ourselves to our professions day and night, never thinking of retirement, working not for money but because our souls allow us no alternative. Dr. Wehl would have gone out in the snow in the middle of the night even had she won the lottery and never needed to work for financial reasons again. How many of us can honestly say that about our jobs, professions and careers? How many of us have been blessed with a unique gift that the world needs such as Dr. Wehl’s ?
From their son’s book, it seems that the Wehls were blessed with only one child. The Ginsburgs leave behind two children. I know nothing more about them. I hope that they are happy, well-adjusted and have loving memories of their parents. But, in the adulation of career, how many women today are rejecting motherhood or limiting it, unaware that decades from now the only lasting impact they might have made would be through the next generation? Most of these women are not going to sit on the Supreme Court. They may well savor the zest of a professional challenge when they are young, but will that excitement and the accompanying experiences and ‘stuff’ for which a good salary provides have been a worthwhile trade-off for marriage and children? For many women, the answer is a resounding No!
Few men have the fire, passion, desire, talent and persistence to act boldly on the world’s stage. As I have written before, most of those who do, fulfill their potential only due to their wives’ support. While it is politically incorrect, I suspect that even fewer women have such dreams, though certainly some, like Justice Ginsburg, do. Just as thousands of boys each year handicap their lives by ignoring education as they fantasize at being a sports superstar, let’s acknowledge that we are selling a myth if we present Marty and Ruth Ginsburg’s distinctive relationship and accomplishments as an easily attainable goal that is or should be universally desired.
This time of year is especially suited to an honest appraisal of ourselves.
ON SALE (until we close for the Day of Atonement Sunday – Monday evening, Sept 27-28)
|SALE- Day for Atonement: Heavenly Gift of Spiritual Serenity||SALE- Day for Atonement: Heavenly Gift of Spiritual Serenity||Rabbi Lapin’s recommended Hebrew-English Bible|