Rabbi Shmuley distorts womens issues

The very title of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s new book, “Hating Women: America’s Hostile Campaign Against the Fairer Sex,” raises red flags.

The fairer sex? Wasn’t that what they used to call us when we were supposed to keep the house clean and have dinner and a dry martini ready for our man at the end of the day? When we were considered too weak to be CEOs, truck drivers or rabbis?

Doesn’t it, in other words, signal that the person who uses the phrase is taking a giant step backwards? But that can’t be, because Shmuley, as he is universally known, informs us throughout his latest book that he loves women.

Women, he tells us repeatedly, are “nature’s system of checks and balances.” Thanks partly to his Jewish upbringing and partly to his Jewish mother, he grew up believing that “it took a woman to domesticate and ennoble a man” and, yes, that women were “the fairer sex, more naturally dignified and gentler than men.”

When Boteach went on his first date with the woman who would later become his wife — which was also his actual first date — he “felt like Moses, who had suddenly encountered the divine presence in the burning bush. I was in the presence of something transcendent,” he tells us.

So how can a woman possibly find anything wrong with these sentiments and with a book that goes on in a similar vein?

Oh, where to begin? Maybe with regret, because Boteach — arguably the best-known rabbi in America — does make some good points in this bubbling cauldron of platitudes, stereotyping, naiveté and celebrity name-dropping. Regret because there are real problems facing women today and this book doesn’t address them.

Just one example: There are many discussions here about women’s body image, how Americans define a woman’s worth by how big her breasts are and how thin she is, along with the prejudice against fat and unattractive women. But there is not one mention of eating disorders, known to be a serious problem within the Jewish community.

Boteach’s main thesis is that Americans are misogynists and that American women, primarily because of the feminist movement, have participated in and acquiesced to their own downfall.

The main engines of this destruction of the feminine ideal, he tells us, are reality TV shows that degrade women; “manly” women like Hillary Clinton and Teresa Heinz Kerry and others who “believe that becoming a vice president of an accounting firm is superior to finding love and nurturing life”; the “musical ‘Axis of Evil,'” Madonna, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera; and, as best as I can figure it, the entire feminist movement, which in Boteach’s view “condemned the lady in favor of the woman.”

I’ll admit that some of what he says makes sense. It is horrible that 10- and 11-year-old girls are preoccupied with looking sexy and that they worship at the altar of Victoria’s Secret.

Where I believe Boteach goes seriously far astray is in advocating a return to the days when women were “ladies” whose accomplishments reflected their “feminine style” and “nobility,” their “compassion” and nurturing nature. Of course, these are desirable traits in persons of either sex. But why do accomplishments have to be “masculine” or “feminine” at all?

But what I really find most offensive about Boteach’s book is his 19th-century characterizations about the differences between the sexes: Men “have a linear approach to life, women have a cyclical approach … men love linear subjects like politics,” whereas women “love talking primarily about relationships, circles of intimacy. They talk about their boyfriends, their husbands, their children and their friends. They also love talking about shopping.”

This kind of talk is just as insulting to men as it is to women; when Boteach refers to “the unbridled compassion that is unique to womankind,” he implies that men can’t be compassionate. How ridiculous.

What I found saddest of all about this book, though, is the fact that there are such real problems facing women in America, and, yes, in the Jewish community as well — health care issues, poverty, domestic violence, lack of gender equity in professions, the whole pro-choice/pro-life morass — that Boteach totally ignores.

Perhaps feminism needs a new avatar, but Shmuley Boteach isn’t it.

And, oh how I wish Britney’s exposed belly button were the most serious issue we women faced.

“Hating Women: America’s Hostile Campaign Against the Fairer Sex” by Shmuley Boteach (326 pages, Regan Books, $22.95).