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August 25, 1989 - Image 66

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-08-25

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The 5th Commandment
Is Only Half Obeyed

Jews too often fail to "honor our
mothers as well as our fathers," says a


Special to The Jewish News

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ewish mothers accused
of playing martyrs are
often just making a
justified and misunderstood
plea for appreciation and
recognition that mothers
rarely get, according to a
Jewish psychologist-feminist.
"The failure to honor mothers
is a part of Judaism's more
general failure to honor
women," according to Paula
Caplan, professor of applied
psychology at the Ontario In-
stitute for Studies in Educa-
tion, in an article in the
January-February issue of
Reconstructionist magazine.
The article was based on a
davar Torah, a Shabbat com-
ment from the bimah, that
Caplan delivered at her.
Toronto Reconstructionist
congregation, Darchei Noam.
She recalled that as a child,
her grandmother used to
work herself to the point of
exhaustion, "to feed us royal-
ly" on Rosh Hashanah and
Passover, so that "the men-
folk" could pray.
"We enjoyed her food,"
Caplan recounted, but "we
did not particularly honor
her. It is praying and doing
paid work that tends to be
honored in America, not
mothering work."
She said that "the incredi-
ble value of what mothers do"
in providing nourishing food,
a pleasant environment and
taking care of members of
their families "is swiftly
dismissed. And North
American Jews are as guilty
of this as others."
Women in Jewish tradition,
Caplan noted, have been
valued only as bearers of
children — "a role that is not
honored but simply ex-
pected." .
Jews in all walks of life
often look to mental health
professionals, among whom
Jews predominate, "as they
used to look to Torah and the
rabbis," Caplan said.
However, she added, "that
secular arena is just as riddl-
ed with anti-women (and anti-
mother) sentiments as tradi-
tional Judaism."
As evidence, she reported
working with a student assis-
tant on a project examining
125 articles from a variety of
mental health journals. Pro-
fessionals offered explana-




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tions, in those articles, for
people's emotional problems.
She and the student assis-
tant found that mothers
"were blamed for 72 different
kinds of problems. These
ranged from arson to the in-
ability to deal with color
blindness, to homicidal
transsexualism, to something
called 'self-induced television
epilepsy' in which a child ap-
parently brings on his
seizures by watching TV."
Caplan said it did not mat-
ter whether the authors of
these anti-mother judgments
were psychoanalysts, family
therapists or other types of

"Sadly, the mother-
blaming has not
lessened with time
and the influence
of the women's

mental health workers. "Sad-
ly, the mother-blaming has
not lessened with time and
the influence of the women's
Referring to the Fifth Com-
mandment, Caplan asserted
that Jews of both sexes "need
to honor our mothers as well
as our fathers."
She warned that men who
cannot honor their mothers
"will have trouble genuinely
honoring the women they
hope to love and the
daughters they hope to have."
Despite the continuing
mother-bashing, she declared,
"there is hope. The light slow-
ly begins to shine in the men-
tal health professions."
Some women professionals,
she reported, have cast a fresh
light on mothers' "alleged
emotional dependency and in-
ability to separate from their
These professionals contend
that such motherly behavior
should be seen as based on
"love of, and considerable
skill at, being in relation-
ships" with members of their
She said she has often
declared that when such
women say "Look at what
I've sacrificed for you," it is
often "a justified plea for the
appreciation and recognition
that mothers so rarely
receive, except on Mother's
Day." ❑

Copyright 1989, Jewish Telegraphic






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