Monday, December 25, 2017

Men who Prey

Emanuel Feldman, rabbi emeritus of Beth Jacob Atlanta
The big story of the year is the #MeToo phenomenon. In that sense it’s been quite a cathartic year. Prominent men in all walks of life that would otherwise never be suspected of sexual misconduct have been exposed to have been guilty of just that. Some of it very serious. And they have all paid a price. Their reputations and legacies have either been severely tainted of completely ruined. No matter what their contributions to society may have otherwise
been. While not all sexual misconduct is the same - perhaps deserving different responses to different situations - one thing is certain. It is completely unacceptable at any level.

I  had expressed a view not long ago that if the laws of modesty between the sexes would be observed (e.g. Yichud - the seclusion of a man and a woman together alone in a closed room) many of these things would not have happened. 

Many people had pointed out that sexual misconduct is predatory behavior where those laws would not be relevant. In many ways that’s true. Sexual predators will prey on victims ignoring modesty laws. Which are designed to protect people from themselves. Meaning they are designed to reduce instances of temptation between the sexes that might be mutual. 

And yet, I believe that these laws go much further along the lines of protecting women from being prey for sexual predators.  I have also discussed the impact our cultural mores on have on all of this.  The way the sexes interact with each other in society; the acceptability of increasing levels of female nudity in the entertainment industry; and the acceptability of increasing levels of female skin being exposed in women’s designer clothing have surely contributed to the culture of treating women like sex  objects. When female celebrities attending huge galas like the Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood are seen with so much of their skin exposed by their glamorous sexy gowns - it’s hard to not see them as sex objects.

This very idea was expressed by Rabbi Emanuel Feldman in last week’s Mishpacha Magazine. In an article entitled ‘Men who Prey– but Don’t Daven’ he makes this very point. Much better than I ever could. (Which is one reason I admire him so much.)

He describes 2 ironies. One is the irony that in our day of sexual liberation, men have themselves become ‘liberated’ from restrictions that might have prohibited their behavior in the past. The other irony is that even though women have achieved theoretical equality with men and work in the same space with men, they are nevertheless humiliated and aggrieved precisely because they are woman and not men.

And yet the clarion call of some of the more radical proponents of equality between the sexes cry is ‘bring Halacha up to date!’ It’s time to abandon ancient and antiquated medieval restrictions between the sexes!

Rabbi Feldman points out, that historically –going all the way back to biblical times - Judaism is not unfamiliar with the concept of sexual harassment. There are ample examples of males looking at females as objects sex throughout the bible.  Judaism recognizes that this is a problem and has devised a set of laws designed to minimize interaction between the sexes. Here is how he puts it: 
The view of Judaism is expressed at the beginning of the Torah, in Bereishis 8:21: “Yetzer lev ha’adam ra mine’urav — the inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” (See also Bereishis 6:5.) That view is that man, in the words of Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), “left to his own instincts and in his natural state, is a potential brute ready to devour anyone or anything that stands in the way of his passions and desires, for whom there is no justice or injustice, no right or wrong, no mine and yours [because everything is mine]”
It is only the Torah and its disciplines that elevate man into a civilized being. “Barasi yetzer hara, barasi Torah tavlin,” say the Sages in Kiddushin 30b: “I have created the Evil Inclination; I have created the Torah as antidote.” Sensitivity training and therapy centers are useful, but without the safeguards of halachah, man remains unchanged.  
Is this a negative view of man? No. Is it an unvarnished view of man? Yes — and the daily scandals underscore this. Man’s essential nature has not changed. (See Kli Yakar on Bereishis 6:5.) An unbiased look at Jewish tradition will demonstrate how its gender guidelines protect man from himself and ultimately respect and protect women.  
That’s what I’m talking about! But Rabbi Feldman said it far more eloquently than I ever could.

This does not means that religious men won’t become sexual predators. Of course they can. And far too many do… as the parade of Orthodox sexual abusers made public over the last few years so amply demonstrates. 

But that is because for a variety of reasons (or excuses) they do not follow those rules. True - male on male (or the much rarer female on female) sexual abuse would not be helped by these laws. But for those women that have been sexually abused by men, had the laws regarding interaction between the sexes been followed, there would be a lot less opportunity.

Not only for situations where temptation can be acted upon by 2 consenting adults. But even in situations where a culturally ‘liberated’ man will feel free to act on his impulses. Because the vast majority of the more serious instances of sexual misconduct by a man towards a woman is done when no one else is looking – avoiding seclusion means avoiding most sexual misconduct. At least the more serious versions of it. I don’t think this is arguable.