Posts Tagged '#metoo'

Afflicted Women: ReReading Lamentations Today as a Man

On Tisha B’Av we remember the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. It is a time of mourning for our exile from our political, spiritual, and ancestral homeland. On Tisha B’Av we spend a day collectively reflecting on the plight of our ancestors—who suffered at the hands of their oppressors. But only spending time reconnecting with our own long history of persecution, we are missing a profound lesson of the day. We also reconnect to these memories so that we can empathize with others who are experiencing pain and suffering. 
To these ends we will sit on Saturday night and Sunday morning and read Lamentations. There we will read:
Our fathers sinned and are no more; And we must bear their guilt.
Slaves are ruling over us, With none to rescue us from them.
We get our bread at the peril of our lives, Because of the sword of the wilderness.
Our skin glows like an oven, With the fever of famine.
They have afflicted women in Zion, Maidens in the towns of Judah. ( Lamentations 5:7-11)
In this time of darkness, we experienced pain, suffering, and degradation. In his explanation of “violated women in Zion” the Ibn Ezra says, “all sex that is against her will is called ‘affliction.'” It seems that ultimate expression of declaring the line between “us” and “them” is that they raped our daughters, sisters, mothers, and wives. While sex aught to be an expression of intimacy, love, and closeness, here it is violent, a means of subjugation and objectification, and represents a deep division.
I have been thinking about this the last two weeks as we have seen the unfolding of the case Israeli teenagers falsely accused of rape being released from a Cypriot jail returning to a heroes welcome back at home. In her compelling analysis of this case Chen Sror Artzi wrote:
But the culture of rape, which has been around for millennia, does not skip anyone. The story of what happened in Cyprus is just a distilled version of a rotten culture, in which consent is deemed to be the yardstick, not desire or active willingness. (The Lesson We Should All Learn from the Cyprus Affair, Ynet)
Artzi is correct, that this rape culture has existed long before it was even reported here in Lamentations. One of the challenges is our black and white thinking. Even if it was consensual and not rape, it does not mean that these teens were right.  It is not just two options of right or wrong. And we need to stop just thinking about us and them.
How can we immerse ourselves in Lamentations and Tisha B’Av and not look deep inside and recognize that our boys did wrong? While it was not rape, what they did was clearly not love or an expression of closeness. Sharing that video was clear objectification. Our giving them a heroes welcome  represented a deep division.  Surely this young degraded British woman did something wrong by accusing them of rape, but she too is someone’s  daughter or sister. She was not raped, but she was surely afflicted. She too demands our empathy.
As a man, father of daughters and sons, husband, son, and human being I feel compelled to do more. But what can I do?

As men, it’s time to say clearly that we do not condone any sex — or any other behavior — that humiliates women, whether it’s consensual or not. As men, it’s time to teach our boys that a higher moral law must guide our conduct. That we are watching. As a community of men, we must take full responsibility for individual acts of violence against women and for a culture that systemically abuses and takes advantage of women.

Consensual. Irrelevant. A loophole. When it comes to our behavior as men, what another might accept — or what we might get away with in secret or under the law — does not absolve participation. It’s a short slide down a moral ladder from gang sexual humiliation of a woman to becoming the next Jeffery Epstein.

Where are the men? Where are the men who — at the airport — would have clopped those boys on the head and told them that they are a moral disgrace and a disappointment to true masculinity? Where are the men who stand for integrity and accountability, the men who would have required each of these boys to do acts of community service and to learn about healthy sexuality?

The global ManKind Project has launched a campaign in response to the #MeToo movement called #IamResponsible. ( Times of Israel)

As a man reading Lamentations I must wrestle with these “sins of the father”. We do not need to be enslaved by toxic masculinity. If we want to see change we must commit to breaking this chain afflicting all women in our society. Solovy offers us the ManKind Project pledge:

As men, we are committed to individual and collective evolution, we take responsibility for creating the society we want to live in and share for the generations to come. We are responsible for the GOLD and the SHADOW of masculinity, for the gentleness, fierce caring, and protection, AND for the abuse, violence, and domination. We are responsible as creators and as role models. We are responsible as victims and as perpetrators. We recognize the pervasive systemic factors that promote abuse of power and teach harmful gender roles to both boys and girls.

This year when reading Lamentations I will have to interpret it anew in the context of this Cyprus Affair, Jeffery Epstein case, and the larger #Metoo movement. There is nothing to celebrate this Tisha B’Av. When I think about the “women in Zion, Maidens in the towns of Judah” and all women who have been afflicted I will meditate on the words of Rabbi A.J. Heschel when he said, “In a free society, some are guilty; all are responsible.” 

The Other Foot: Shimshon and #metoo

In Naso, this week’s Torah portion, we learn about the laws of becoming a Nazir. The Nazir is someone who  takes a vow to “consecrated” or “separated” themselves. This vow means that they need to abstain from wine, wine vinegar, grapes, raisins, and eating or drinking any substance that contains any trace of grapes. It also means that they are going to refrain from cutting their hair on one’s head. The final aspect of this vow is that they cannot become ritually impure by contact with corpses or graves, even those of family members.

It is not at all surprising that the haftarah coupled with this Torah portion is the origin story of Shimshon, the most famous Nazir in the Bible. Shimshon is not a normal Nazir in that he has superhuman strength. He also not a particularly good Nazir in that he appears to break his vows, by touching a dead body (Judges 14:8–9) and drinking wine (he holds a “drinking party”, in Judges 14:10). Lucas Cranach d. Ä. - Samson's Fight with the Lion - WGA05717.jpg

What is not covered in the origin story is the tragic end of his life. His immense strength to aid him against his enemies and allow him to perform superhuman feats came from his hair. Shimshon was betrayed by his lover Delilah, who used the secret of the origin of his strength against him. She ordered a servant to cut his hair while he was sleeping and turned him over to his Philistine enemies.

Delilah’s betrayal of Shimshon is an interesting foil for us today. As a nation we are reflecting on bringing sexual misconduct to light. The #metoo movement has surfaced the many situations in which men have used their power to take the hidden strength from women. For their pleasure men have compromised women and as a society we have been complicit in not making room for their voice. How do we all understand the power we have and the power we might take? As a man I read the Haftarah this week with an eye to asking myself to put the this shoe on the other foot.

 

U’Rechatz: Our Matriarchs, #metoo, and Purification

Just after we start our Seder with Kiddush over the first cup of wine we do U’Reschatz– we wash our hands. While it is Jewish law to wash one’s hands and say a blessing before eating bread, or Matzah in our case, in this situation it is not the case. We are not about to eat the Matzah and we do not make a blessing. In the time of the Mishna it was common practice to wash one’s hands before eating moist food. That said, why should the Seder be different from all other nights that we would bring back this blessing-less hand washing?

I believe that on a mystical level the opening of the Seder is a reenactment of our entering the Temple to perform the Passover sacrifice. In some ways this hand washing speaks of this transition into holy time and space. Similarly in the time of the Mishkan when the Cohen would enter he would find the Kiyor, the Laver or Wash-basin, with which he would wash his hands and feet before performing the Service. At the end of the book of Exodus in Parshat Pekudei we learn about the construction of this Kiyor. There we read:

He made the Kiyor of copper and its copper stand from the mirrors of the women who gathered at the entrance to the tent of meeting.” (Exodus 38:8)

What is with these mirrors? Why did it matter that it came from the women? Rashi quotes the Midrash Tanchuma to answer both of these questions. There we read:

The Israelite women owned mirrors, which they would look into when they adorned themselves. Even these [mirrors] they did not hold back from bringing as a contribution toward the Mishkan, but Moshe rejected them because they were made for sexual temptation. The Holy One, blessed be God, said to him, “Accept [their mirrors], for these are more precious to Me than anything because through them the women set up many legions [i.e., through the children they gave birth to] in Egypt.” When their husbands were weary from back-breaking labor, the women would go and bring them food and drink and give them to eat. Then the women would take the mirrors and each one would see herself with her husband in the mirror, and she would seduce him with words, saying, “I am more beautiful than you.” And in this way they aroused their husbands desire and would copulate with them, conceiving and giving birth there, as it is said: “Under the apple tree I aroused you” (Song 8:5)…(Midrash Tanchuma, Pekudei 9; Num. Rabbah 9:14)

In this magnificent Midrash Moshe objects to using mirrors to make the Kiyor because the mirrors  were lascivious. God responds that this is his most precious gift because it lead to making another generation. Amram and Yocheved are two of these slaves who conceive Moshe under the apple tree. The most fascinating part of this Midrash is that God does not deny that the mirrors are sexual. God just rejects Moshe’s premise that being sexual is a bad thing. Positive sexual encounters are the inception of liberation. These sex toys were exactly what God wanted him to make the implement that will be used to cleanse the Cohen as he prepares for the sacrifice.

In the era of #metoo it is important to pause at U’Reschatz. As we are entering into the conversation of liberation we need to think deeply about the misuse of power. Our society is long overdue a deep reflection on the insidious and nefarious use of power for sexual gratification. How might we cleanse ourselves of this evil?

If sex is about coercion, submission, and is not mutually enjoyable it is lascivious and dirty and has no place in the Mishkan. This kind of interaction seems like slavery. But if we learn the lessons of our matriarchs in Egypt sex can be mutual, consensual, sensual, and playful. Sex can be liberating, purifying, and take a central space in the Mishkan. Slavery made the Israelite slaves forget how to look at each other. Like the leaders of the #metoo movement, our matriarchs had to teach their partners how to engage as equals. This act of intimacy led to their liberation and ultimately to the divine encounter at Sinai. On a deep level revelation is the highest form of intimacy.

The central commandment of Passover is that in each and every generation we are obligated to see ourselves as if we went out from Egypt ( Pesachim 116b). This year when my children ask me about U’Reschatz I will not talk about sex toys in the Mishkan. And at the same time if I ignore the issues brought up by #metoo I will not fulfill my pascal obligation. Firstly I will take the time to share with them the wisdom of all of our matriarchs. When take the time to share stories of our male and female role models it is easier for the next generation to value  mutuality and respect. I will also take the time to talk about the centrality of consent and the importance of being playful with those you love. We all need to be liberated from unwanted touching and lascivious behavior. I have no doubt that this conversation will be a purifying.

-Inspired by article by Rabbi Tamara Cohen in EJP

 


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