Resource for Rabbis: Me Too says the Bible — Some Thoughts in the Wake of Harvey Weinstein

Posted by Nechama Goldman Barash on October 11, 2017
Topics: Resource for Rabbis

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:

  • Sarah who is forcefully taken without permission into the harems of Pharoah and Avimelech without protest from Abraham (God is the protestor in both cases)
  • Dina who is taken without consent by Shechem
  • The beautiful captive woman who is taken into the home of the Israelite
  • The concubine of the Givah who is gang-raped as her indifferent husband is nearby, within the safety of a house
  • Bathsheba who is sent for by David, taken into his bed and returned by his messengers afterwards
  • Tamar who is brutally raped by Amnon
  • Vashti who is the first objectified woman to say no
  • Esther and more

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. Joseph has to flee leaving his shirt in her hand, ending up with him being framed and sent to jail. The second less-known story is about Lot’s daughters who intoxicate and sexually take advantage of their drunk father, with the older sister coercing the younger sister in order to perpetuate the human species.

It seems to me that the Bible is very aware of what the danger of objectification of others represents. Almost all of the stories can be read as a warning to society and 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. It is imperative that rather than skip the more violent and disturbing stories or tone them down as is sometimes done, they instead be used as they are, 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.

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About Nechama Goldman Barash

Nechama teaches Rabbinic Literature, Women and Judaism, Medical Ethics, Prophets and Bible at Pardes. She made aliyah from Philadelphia over 20 years ago after graduating from Stern College. She studied for three years in Matan’s Advanced Talmud Institute and finished a master’s degree in Talmud at Bar-Ilan University, with a thesis on the Beautiful Captive Woman in the Eyes of Chazal. She teaches at a variety of Israeli institutions and is also a graduate of Nishmat’s Yoetzet Halacha program. Click here to read more.

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