Try to recall times when you had a woman’s kind of situation to deal with and you played it well…or not so well. What happened? How did you do that? What did you learn?
“Yenta”: Writing Through The Problem
This piece was hard for me to write because it risked seeming anti-Semitic and the last thing I want to do is add to the volcanic wave of that stuff now rising over the planet.
The risk was there because, as I understand it, what the yenta does is falsify the Jewish vocation while pretending to embody it, with her earthiness etc. The vocation involves partnering with God in history, for which one has to be in historical life, on terra firma. There is a difference between standing one’s ground and taking the empirical realm to be all there is. The latter is what the “Yenta” does, which is why she can pull prose out of the poetry of experience. (Excessive transcendence might be an occupational hazard of the Christian vocation.)
Anyway, as I sat down to script the column, it seemed to me almost insuperably hard to do. Like getting blood out of stone, just a few drops here & a few drops there, but basically it wasn’t flowing. It was one of those columns (I meet them occasionally) where I felt, repeatedly, like giving up! One problem had to do with the yentas I have known personally. I get enraged thinking about them, & remembering the slings & arrows they have launched at me. So I had to think my way into that fury — & at the same time plumb that fear of feeding anti-Semitism — to try to see what is going on with me & the Case of the Yenta.
Finally it began to come clear. While the “approach” of the classic yenta is to get up close by pretending concern & interest, when she gets close enough, she makes everything you tell her meaningless. There is no God, no purpose, no point. So, she is really an inversion of [what I take to be] the gift of the Jews. Many Jews, more expert than I at the business of being Jewish, take their vocation to involve continuing the tradition. I have nothing against their method but I am not very good at it and in any case it is not really what I do. What interests me is “living Biblically.”
To kick it off, I’ll go first:
In my first full-time job as an assistant professor, a young male colleague mentioned “in passing” what I must be dealing with as an unmarried woman in my thirties. We didn’t have email in those days so I sent him a note: “If you want to be my friend, Cavendish, don’t talk to me about being unmarried in my thirties. And the same goes if you don’t want to be my friend.” He apologized.
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