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Monday, 12 January 2015

The Lost Art of Chivalry

Daf Yomi Yevamos 100

In 1912, upon hitting an iceberg in the Atlantic ocean, the Titanic sank en route from Southampton UK to New York USA.  Three quarters of the women on board survived but over three quarters of the men perished.  In Washington DC, there is a monument dedicated to the men who gave their lives to save the women and children. 

Contrast that with the Costa Concordia that capsized off the coast of Tuscany a couple of years ago.   This time, it was literally every man for himself.  The women on board were shocked at the disregard shown by the men for the women and children.  They pushed the women out of the way as they hustled for space in the rafts.

What happened to menfolk over the last century?

When we hand out the tithes to the poor, one must give the women first.  Why?  It is disrespectful to make the women wait.  
Rava said: Originally when a man and a woman would appear before me to be judged, I would resolve the dispute of the man first, since I would reason that he is obligated in more mitzvos and should therefore be excused as soon as possible to do his duties.  But once I heard this teaching, I began resolving the woman’s dispute first.  Why?  It is disrespectful to make the women wait. 

The women’s liberation movement achieved incredible advances for women and society in general.  In their gallant efforts to achieve equality, however, sometimes feminists pushed too far.  Classic notions of chivalry were thrown out with the bathwater, labeled as “benevolent sexism.”  If men and women are the same, then it is demeaning for women to have the door opened for them.  It is patronizing for the man to pay for dinner.

Chivalry was born in Christian Europe in the Middle Ages when life was pretty rough.  Men were violent, brutish, boorish.  And a movement began which encouraged men to treat women with respect.  Being a knight in shining armor meant firstly, making your wife into a princess.   But as we see from the Talmud, Judaism always held women in the highest esteem.  In fact, as Rava points out, one may dare not use the religion card to imply that men should be more respected than women.   In Judaism, it has always been ‘ladies first.’

It’s time to bring back chivalry and start giving women the respect they deserve.  Rabbanit Batya and I have been married for close to fifteen years, and yet I still see the twinkle in her eyes as I come around the car to open the door for her first . . . even if she is driving!  Rabbi Paysach Krohn talks about how important it is for a father to make sure that nobody begins eating until mother comes to the table.  ‘Who is she, your maidservant?’ he chides, ‘No!  You should be up helping in the kitchen and when everyone is seated, only then is it time to begin eating.’

Respect the women in your life.  We live in a sad world that has forgotten ‘ladies first.’  Part of our Jewish mission is to remind society about priorities.  May you merit being a shining light of chivalry to your children, to those around you, and most importantly, to your wife!