Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Back in the quaint days when sex abuse scandals broke weekly instead of daily, both Time Magazine and The New York Times Week in Review ran cover stories equating men with pigs. Yes, those were the quaint days before the #MeToo Revolution, when, with so many apocalyptic weather events, mass shootings and terror attacks happening, it might have seemed almost comforting to be preoccupied for a brief time by good old-fashioned lechery.
But no longer is it acceptable to say “boys will be boys” or to dismiss such behavior as “locker room talk.” And it NEVER is acceptable to blame the victim, even while exercising some healthy skepticism when scrutinizing the facts.
While there are degrees of sexual depravity, with child molestation and rape the most extreme manifestations, all forms of harassment and abuse need to be taken seriously. One person’s office flirtation could cause deep emotional wounds to the object of those advances — and I use the term “object” intentionally. There is no question that we live in confusing times, where rules of social interaction are being rewritten on the fly. At a time like these, maybe the best advice is to stop treating other human beings as objects, in the office, online — or anywhere.
The answer to my initial question is that not all men are swine, or livestock of any sort. At the risk of sounding Nixonian, I am not a pig. Psalm 8 makes the claim that humans are just a little lower than angels (literally, it says “gods”), with dominion over sheep, oxen and beasts of the fields. One would assume that also means we potentially have dominion over ourselves — and the beasts within us. But Judaism recognizes that we often fail to live up to that potential. David’s abduction of Bathsheba (his defense attorney would probably claim, incorrectly, that it was consensual and that she seduced him by bathing on the roof) and murder of her husband Uriah (2 Sam. 11-12) could fit neatly into the stories that are coming out day after day. The prophet Nathan brilliantly re-calibrates David’s moral compass. Otherwise, David would not have been fit to lead.
Judaism has always seen marriage as a microcosm for all social bonds. It is the grand experiment. The Sheva Brachot (Seven Blessings) at the wedding ceremony proclaim that marriage is our last best hope, that, to paraphrase Sinatra, if commitment can make it here, it can make it anywhere. Break trust with your spouse, and you’ve broken it with God. So how could you possibly expect to be trusted by anyone else?
We’ve come a long way since the days depicted in “Mad Men,” when affairs were an expected perk for powerful men, including US presidents, and everyone turned a blind eye. Now even the French seem to be getting it. Infidelity and abuse are becoming scarlet letters for public figures — well, most public figures, at least.
But are men sexual predators by nature? The rabbis of the Talmud seemed to think so, so they proceeded to create barriers to keep men from succumbing to their temptations. Unfortunately, most of those barriers came at the expense of women. More recently, in Israel we are seeing this in its most extreme forms, with segregated buses,defaced billboards and blurred out female faces on news photos, and separate shopping hours for men and women in post offices and supermarkets. The ancient rabbis both revered and feared women — although Jewish thought also recognizes feminine characteristics in God — but this current trend toward misogyny-gone-wild indicates that what Jewish males might fear most is their own lack of self-control.
Unfortunately, everyone from Harvey Weinstein to Roy Moore seems determined to prove the rabbis right. Today, we hear about Al Franken, just to prove that lechery crosses ideological boundaries. And then there is the self-confessed Groper-In-Chief at the White House. Has it come to the point where men should get trophies for being adjacent to attractive members of whatever sex they are attracted to, without groping them?