Lag B’Omer and the Plague of Stubbornness


Written by Joseph Dunsay. After earning a Masters of Science in Ecology and Evolution, Joseph Dunsay became a science writer for international audiences. Find more Jewrotica writing by Joseph here.

Rated PG-13

Lag B’Omer is a rabbinic holiday which celebrates the end of a plague among Rabbi Akiva’s students during the Roman occupation of Israel. Some say that the plague was a disease sent as punishment because the students did not give each other respect. Others say the plague is a euphemism for war casualties in the fight against the Romans. Either way, 24,000 Jewish men died, because they refused to compromise.

Stubbornness, like any personality trait, has biological roots. It is influenced by a hormone called testosterone. Biologists recently showed that testosterone can make a man more likely to give wrong answers instead of self-correcting his mistakes. Subjects who received supplemental testosterone had trouble with riddles that required them to go against their initial gut feelings, but they performed as well as the control group when solving mathematics problems. Researchers attributed this finding to the extra confidence that higher testosterone levels gave the men.

Traits evolved for a reason. Stubbornness that helps a human thrive is persistence in the face of adversity. A study identified a link between testosterone and persistence in men. Psychologists found that men with higher levels of testosterone spent more time trying to solve a puzzle that was impossible to solve. Outside of the laboratory, this persistence could drive men to work harder on difficult but solvable problems so that they survive and procreate.

Before jumping to neurosexist conclusions, it is important to remember how diverse and moldable male and female brains are. Even testosterone levels can vary within a gender. Hypogonadism can cause a man to have low testosterone levels, as can normal aging. A women can have high testosterone levels that lead to physical symptoms such as acne, obesity, and extra hair growth.

The importance of respecting fellow humans is a lesson one can learn from both Lag B’Omer and modern research. Ancient Jews could not end the Roman occupation, because infighting weakened the nation. Hormones can lead a person to hold on to incorrect beliefs instead of reflecting on his thinking process. It is easy to assume that a man is just being testy when he disagrees with others, but it’s possible that he is correct. Rather than seeing the caricature of a stubborn man, it can be better to step back for a moment, turn the mirror around, and consider how his perspective might bring knew information to a conversation.

After earning a Masters of Science in Ecology and Evolution, Joseph Dunsay became a science writer for international audiences. His LGBT erotic e-book launched in the summer of 2015.