Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Back to the City: Jewish Sexuate Rights

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Back to the City: Jewish Sexuate Rights

Article excerpt

In a time when the protection of the rights of individuals appears more threatened than ever by religious thinking, it is more important than ever to consider the question of rights in Judaism. This essay describes a Jewish theology of sexuate rights that appropriates Luce Irigaray's call for sexuate rights rooted in an appreciation of sexual difference and critiques Irigaray's dismissal of Jewish covenantal thought as incapable of accommodating such a perspective. The paper argues that a Jewish theology rooted in an analysis of the passing of the infinite in sociality offers a basis for the category of rights in general and sexuate rights in particular thereby offering an antidote to Irigaray's Utopian hope for the return of an immanent God who alone lends voice and language to a vocabulary of sexuate rights.


Though largely ignored by Jewish thinkers, Irigaray's work warrants attention by not only Christian theologians but Jewish theologians as well. Irigaray's unique appreciation for the language of rights and the language of theology makes her work well suited for conversation with Jewish thinkers. Of note for Jewish theologians are Irigaray's critique of contemporary discourse on sexuality as well as her recommendations and hopes for the arrival of a second incarnation and her rhetoric of sexuate rights.

Irigaray's critique of the subsumption of women into societal discourse dominated by the male subject extends out of her epistemology of desire or eros. Irigaray calls eros the "intermediary"-in order to describe knowledge as a dynamic and on-going process of lack and attraction between knower and the knowable. Knower and known-persons and things, persons and Gods and persons and persons all relate to one another by a process of drawing near, motored by love as the intermediary or interval that mediates between lack and attraction. Through love, knowledge becomes a third term-the result of the impassioned link between knower and knowable. So impassioned, knowledge traces and describes coordinates of time and place that it wants and needs. Nonetheless, eros' physics and metaphysics are always changeable, never stable. The world of persons, things and gods is a place of passage between the knower and the known. Philosophy, as the active quest for knowledge is not therefore "fixed and rigid, abstracted from all feeling. It is a quest for love."1 Philosophy is commentary on love, attraction, desire and the changing face of the world hereby constructed. A celebrant of change Irigaray's philosopher is "unhoused, very curious . . . sometimes exuberant, sometimes close to death."2

To speak of a single instance or character of eros is to deny the reality of sexual difference. Desire is double Irigaray argues, as men and women sponsor desires unique to themselves-desires that potentially give rise to varying and changeable world-views. It takes "at least two" Irigaray argues-two philosophers remarking on the link between persons and gods, persons and persons, persons and things.

Unfortunately, Irigaray argues, western discourse denies the double-character of desire. "Even when aspiring to a universal or neutral state . . the subject has always been written in the masculine form, as man ... It is man who has been the subject of discourse, whether in the field of theory, morality or politics . . and the gender of God, the guardian of every subject and discourse, is always paternal and masculine in the west."3 The masculine monopoly on discourse produces a good many pathologies, epistemological, social and spiritual.

Under ideal circumstances, the double character of desire affords the conditions of the possibility of authentic inter-subjectivity between persons. Openness to the desires of the other ought to factor into male and female constructions of reality. The other is and ought to be one feature of reality that is at once unknown and yet desired. Knowledge of the other imparts a dose of epistemological health into the knower so far as it permits the knower to realize alternative schemes of world construction. …

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