Three Ladies, Three Lattes: Me too

Three Ladies, Three Lattes looks at percolating issues in Israel’s complicated social and religious fabric. Secular Pam, modern Orthodox Tzippi and haredi Danit answer your questions.

A modern take on how to view women in the Bible (photo credit: TNS)
A modern take on how to view women in the Bible
(photo credit: TNS)
I am a 60-year-old women’s libber (remember that terminology)? I love tradition but have a real problem with how women are treated in our biblical texts. Look at rape, assault, forced marriages: David’s Bathsheba, Dinah the daughter of Jacob’s disaster, or how even Queen Esther was married off (to a non- Jew). I simply don’t see how the Torah treats women differently from alleged sexual abuser Harvey Weinstein and company. How can I integrate respect for women with Torah? It doesn’t look possible.
Tel Aviv
Pam Peled:
I suppose context is key: the Bible was forward-thinking back in the day. In comparison with other ancient tribes (so the rationale goes), biblical stories teach respect for women.
Our Torah exposes human frailties, explain the rabbis, and warns about temptation and consequences. Yet, all too often, perpetrators seem to squiggle out of trouble.
King David, in lust with Uriah’s wife, gets to know her rather well, and totals husband the Hittite. True, Bathsheba and the king’s firstborn died young, but their next became a superhero.
Judah, son of Jacob and founder of Tribe Judah, screws a roadside prostitute. Not realizing she’s his daughterin- law, he then sentences her to death for prostitution.
Weirdly, the story ends “well”; he pardons her, she has twins; all’s good.
Viewed through a “#Metoo” lens, it’s contortionistic to excuse crass biblical behavior as an elevating teaching tool, although that’s what we’re supposed to believe. The stories rock with challenges: abuse, Lot’s daughters and incest, Dinah’s disaster. Even Ruth on the threshing floor might be a precursor of the casting couch. In her case it worked rather wonderfully.
(Yeshiva bochers learn these salacious stories on my tax dollar; they must not believe their luck. But that’s another issue.) So yes, we can argue that stories of flawed powerful men who prey on women is for edification. Yet, spin it how you will, it’s hard not to see the accused Weinsteins of the world fitting right into our Book of Books.
It perplexes me too.
Danit Shemesh:
I am not an apologist. The Torah is vehemently feminist.
It’s the only place where women are truly respected for their essence, are not compared to the male essence, nor demeaned and objectified. Even if some biblical figures misbehaved, the Torah reprimands them and showcases them as an example of what not to do.
Our prism is jaded. We see the Torah through the wrong lenses, which perverts the purity of Torah’s message. We can only see through our own limitations, but Torah is contextual. Then, for example, arranged marriage was the only kind; marrying for love is an entirely new concept.
Torah does not presume equality. It prescribes equilibrium which can happen only with a union of male and female polarized forces. The entire universe comes forth from this union, this magnetic tension. This union enables babies to be conceived, clouds to form, electricity to work. Our nation was built on both mothers and fathers.
So why would Torah ever entertain the abomination of depreciating woman? That concept is born of flawed humankind, and began at the dawn of time, rubbing shoulders with Torah ideals. It’s the law of the jungle, not of Torah, the law of the survival of the fittest. Women are not physically the strongest. We are not comparable to men; our strength lies elsewhere.
As long as you see woman from a reductionist, secular view, there is no integration of feminism with Torah ideals.
I’ve explored this subject intimately and am past integrating.
I see feminism only through Torah eyes.
Tzippi Sha-ked:
I hear the voices: How can anyone with a progressive mind accept Torah’s views on women? After all, Torah is so out of sync with modern sensitivities – just ask Pam! And now, the facts: Weinstein has reportedly been accused of sexual abuse. Where is this encouraged in the Torah or by any rabbi today? Hint: never. I appreciate Pam writing that context is key. Yes, back in the day, women didn’t always have much of a voice, though this held true for some men, too.
Viewing Torah solely through contemporary lenses and sensitivities is frightening and requires astute sifting capabilities because the Torah is imparting a universal message with a cast of characters that may be difficult to digest.
The text hasn’t veered course through the millennia, but our instinct for meaningful interpretation has. In spite of the Bible, sometimes men’s perception of women leads to abuse. That’s a sad reality. Sadder still is if a Jewish woman’s view of herself is formed from society’s lenses rather than by our Maker’s.
Judaism attempted to protect woman from societal norms (never to degrade or harass them!) by harnessing men’s natural instincts. Today I’d rather be an observant woman working in a religious atmosphere than a secular woman in Hollywood.
Sure, there are religious men with a distorted and demeaning view of women. We need to liberate them from their own fallacies. There are numerous women, religious and otherwise, involved in this holy work. The Torah cannot be hijacked by mindless unholies (religious and secular), bent on perverting its message.
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