Thursday, September 24, 2015

Ramban's view of sexuality explained by Prof James Diamond's

The following are excerpts from the beginning of Prof James Diamond's article  about the significance of having two genders and sexuality in the Torah. The full article is available for free from Academia.  I found it very thought provoking but am not claiming anything else. For those of you who don't like academic articles or don't want to read something mixed with the views of heretical scholars - this is not for you.

 Nahmanides and Rashi on the One Flesh of Conjugal Union: Lovemaking vs. Duty
 Harvard Theological Review  102:2 (2009) 193–224 

The argument that ensues in this article will demonstrate, firstly, that a prominent example of this feature of Nahmanidean exegesis pertains to the domain of interhuman relations. Here I will focus particularly on those “truths” his exegesis discloses about the spousal relationship. Secondly, Nahmanides’ view of the spousal relationship is offered as paradigmatic of his kabbalistic theology, which not only does not displace its concrete social, psychological, anthropological, and juristic realia, but actually complements them. Thirdly, the case will be made that Nahmanides’ narrative exegesis, with its overarching quest for the plain sense of the text, is not intended simply to sate his readers’ intellectual and literary curiosity but also practically shapes his normative positions. In this particular context I will explore how his exegetical construct of a primordial composite human being, its gendered bifurcation, the definitive ideal of spousal union, the subsequent relational tensions between man and woman, and their conflict and resolution into a gendered hierarchy, all dramatized by the Garden of Eden narrative, inform his normative framework for the conduct of conjugal duties. […]

Nahmanidean metaphysics envisions a dynamic interplay within the internal recesses of the Godhead consisting of an ebb and flow of energy exchanged between its female and male potencies. The perpetual struggle for a proper balance between the two infuses the narrative relationships between their earthly counterparts of man and woman with far more significance than they otherwise would have.10 Although others have noted the mystical enhancement of the sexual act in the kabbalistic tradition,11 studies of this aspect of kabbalistic thought have tended to focus on the precise identification of sefirotic allusions and symbolism. Insufficient attention has been paid to the model God poses simply as a unitary being (albeit, paradoxically, a dynamic one consisting of sefirot, or intradeical emanations) in his engagement with and governance of the world. As Gershom Scholem put it, “In its totality the individual elements of the life process of God are unfolded yet constitute a unity.”12God’s macro-relationship with both the world and Israel presents an archetype for imitatio dei in the micro-relationships between human beings and, in particular, between opposite genders. […]

The first negative divine assessment of God’s creation is of the lonely condition of the male deprived of female companionship in the second chapter in Genesis. All other creations were judged “good,” whereas this single product of the originating process is “not good”—“for it is not good for man to be alone”—prompting a corrective creative measure: “I will make for him a helpmate” (Gen 2:18). The exegetical question posed by this particular verse is what precisely is “not good” about the solitary state of man. For Rashi the phrase “not good” expresses a grave theological concern that man’s presence as the sole representative of his species on earth will miscast him as a singularity leading to his deification: “That they should not say, ‘there are two powers: God is unique among the higher beings as he has no partner, and this [man] is unique among the lower since he has no partner.’”16 […]
Nahmanides, on the other hand, sees the “not good” as an existential malaise of Adam’s resulting from his being a single composite entity of male and female.17First he accedes to the rabbinic opinion that original man was created with two faces, male and female back to back:18 “It is likely that this account is according to the one who holds they were created with two faces.” He then explains the mechanics of self-reproduction: “and they were made to have the natural means whereby the reproductive male organ would enable the female reproductive organ to give birth.” Once the anatomical features of this primal being have been determined, Nahmanides addresses God’s assessment of its value and identifies that facet which elicits God’s not good, and he explains how “I will make him a helpmate opposite him” responds to the problem. God realizes that “it is good that the mate stand opposite him so that he can see it and either separate from it or unite with it according to his will.”19 It is crucial to note that since Nahmanides establishes a possible procreative biology of the primordial androgynous being, it is not the negative prospects for propagation of the species that he views as the problem. What is problematic about this original condition is the permanent state of unity between the male and female and the lack of choice to either form or sever a relationship with another human being. The “good” of the human species is that there can be both separation and union between the sexes, each instigated by an independent exercise of will. We have here none other than a definition of man as a relational being whose “goodness” lies in his capacity to enter into and leave relationships.20 On this issue Rashi exhibits no concern for the relational facet of man, while Nahmanides is keenly sensitive to the vacuity of a life devoid of the other where relations are a static given rather than attained and maintained. It is important to note here that I do not intend to portray Nahmanides as a liberal advocate of equality between the sexes but only to emphasize his appreciation for the complexity of human relationships.■

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