The Tanakh is not immune to stories of sexual violence and sexual objectification. Many stories in Tanakh deal with the beauty (or simply the body) of a woman leading to objectification and violence. Obvious examples include:
The Torah also includes two stories about women who sexually harass/seduce/objectify men. The most well-known is Potiphar’s wife – a powerful, immoral woman who continuously verbally assaults Joseph. The second lesser-known story is about Lot’s daughters who intoxicate and sexually take advantage of their drunk father.
It seems to me the Bible is very aware of what the danger of objectification represents. Almost all of the stories can be read as a warning to society and as a critique of the behavior. While written thousands of years ago, the patterns presented through these narratives sadly resonate with us today. Each one presents an opportunity for framing discussions about abuse and objectification and the consequence for both perpetrator and victim in order to encourage young and old alike to recognize that the Torah acknowledges the good and evil that lie side-by-side in people, and that each person is responsible for the choices that they make.
Rabbinic sources also reflect sexual tensions that continue to confront us today. For instance, in Sanhedrin 71a, the Rabbis forbad even a simple conversation behind a fence between and man and woman because it involved a man using a woman for his own sexual pleasure. The concern is for the moral character of the daughters of Israel. I would like to suggest another reading more in keeping with contemporary discourse, that the premise of the story – a man needing to sexually objectify a woman in order to cure some sort of life-threatening disorder – is antithetical to the moral, social and religious fabric of a Torah-based society.
In summary, Jewish tradition from its very beginning has shown a lot of awareness of the dangers and challenges that sexuality poses to families, communities and religion. “Me Too,” say Sarah, Rebecca, Dina and Joseph. “Me Too,” say Tamar, Vashti, Esther and Bathsheba.
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