How do you properly answer a religious person who on Friday night, after kiddush, quotes the weekly portion and calmly argues that the snake tempted Eve because she was of the weaker sex and frivolous — this is a direct quote — and then goes on to state his personal opinion or some bit of private psychology and turns to the women at the table and says that he’s going for the weaker sex because he knows that she — Eve — had no sense. I will note that this was an older man, close to 70, who has been in the process of returning to religion for the past 20 years and that you can barely hold a dinnertime conversation on current events because he argues that only holy words should be said around the table. I also ask you to address this issue. This happens each and every Sabbath, reading from a book or giving a sermon without any spice of open and intelligent discussion.
To successful have a discussion, or at least to have a reasonable chance to have a discussion, people have to speak the same language and have a common conceptual framework. To keep from going on at too-great length, we will use the religious example: A person who believes that the Holy Writ is the word of the living G-d is a person whose reason is subjugated in the face of the Holy Writ, and who would dare disagree with a god to whom belongs the gold and the silver, wisdom and truth? If so, the reality which governs the world of the religious man is the Holy Writ and not his personal conscience or human reason. Chazal spoke of the problematic nature of this situation, of two people who speak on different planes, “Answer not a fool according to his folly” (Proverbs 26:5) or “With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful;
with a blameless man You will show Yourself blameless. With the pure You will show Yourself pure; and with the devious You will show Yourself shrewd” (Psalms 18:26-27).
If so, with a religious person who believes simply, speak simply (that is, using religious language).
Thus, for example, you can tell him that Chazal say “Had the Torah not been given to man, we would have had to learn from modesty from the cat, [distancing from] theft from ants, [distancing from] improper sexual relations from doves, and how to have relations from roosters, that appease their mates beforehand” (Eiruvin 100b).
This shows that man can learn from nature and not only from the Holy Writ. After he agrees with you — after all, this is the opinion of Chazal — ask him “Had the Torah not been given to man, how would you treat women?” Does he think a woman must be considered invalid to testify? Does he think that a woman can’t understand Talmud? (Incidentally, tell him that according to Maimonides — again, support your words from his own world — women and children can understand the exploits of Abaye and Rava, that is, the Talmudic text.)
Since he tends to speak about the weekly portion at the table, read our articles on that week’s portion on our site and prepare yourself for the Sabbath table with words of Torah drawn from his own world. For example: This week’s portion is Chaye Sarah. Read our words about it and jot down the main points which you are interested in bringing up around the Shabbat table and say them as part of a discussion of the weekly portion. Thus, for example, ask him about the scribal corrections through which the sages changed the Scriptural text, etc.
We would be happy to be part of the next dialogue you hold around the Sabbath table.