In plain language: When #MeToo meets the Torah

US SUPREME COURT Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh hugs daughters Liza and Margaret during his ceremonial public swearing-in, as US President Donald Trump and Kavanaugh’s wife Ashley look on, in the White House in Washington on October 8. (photo credit: REUTERS)
US SUPREME COURT Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh hugs daughters Liza and Margaret during his ceremonial public swearing-in, as US President Donald Trump and Kavanaugh’s wife Ashley look on, in the White House in Washington on October 8.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Mercifully, the Ford-Kavanaugh spectacle is (hopefully) over, the judge having been sworn in as Supreme Court justice and the protesters gone home (or to jail). No matter what side you are on, there hasn’t been as gripping a media event as this since the Donald-Hillary debates. Everyone will take their own lesson and favorite line from it; I personally like the “You-really-ought-to-have-some-evidence-in-order-to-convict-a-person approach; and I will always cherish the “How many beers do you like to have, senator?” comeback.
But all humor aside, some scary stuff came out of this sordid episode. For starters, we put to rest the archaic idea of politicians “voting their conscience” – a contradiction in terms if ever there was one – as 98% of the lawmakers simply voted along party lines. We also caught a glimpse in living color of just how divided the American public really is, and how divisive a discourse is rocking that troubled land.
But what troubled me most was the triumphalism, the militant aggressiveness of the Me Too phenomenon, a movement that seems hell-bent on redefining moral and cultural norms according to its own skewed viewpoint. If virtually every woman is a victim – as the organizers like to proclaim – then it stands to reason that virtually every man, me included, is a victimizer.
And so I began to think, “What does the Torah have to say about all this?” And as I started to review the annals of the Bible, I was amazed at all the “inappropriate behavior” that fills the pages of our holy books.
Let’s begin with Abraham, who pleads with his wife Sarah to pretend she is his sister rather than his wife, a proclamation that results in Sarah being kidnapped – twice! – and saved from being raped only through God’s miraculous intervention.
Then there is Jacob, fooled by his father-in-law, Laban, into marrying Leah. Jacob then marries Rachel – marrying two sisters, which is later forbidden as an immoral act in the extreme.
And what about Judaism’s greatest king, David, who arranges for poor Uriah to be sent to the front, where he is conveniently killed so that the king may claim Bathsheba? And let’s not forget David’s son Solomon – the smartest of all men?! – who, by tradition, had 300 wives and 700 concubines; was there no coercion there whatsoever, no succumbing of the fairer sex to the power of the throne?
But wait a moment! Let’s not point our moral cannons exclusively at the men; the women do not always play the role of victim, it seems. Rebekah, for example, orchestrates a clever and complex plan to pull the wool – literally – over husband Isaac’s eyes and secure the favorite blessing for her favorite son.
Rachel and Leah, for their part, will manipulate Jacob’s sexual routine, dictating which tent he will visit on any given night, even employing aphrodisiacs – the original date-rape drugs, dare I suggest? – to have their way with him.
And let’s not forget Tamar, who disguises herself as a prostitute, in order to “hook” her father-in-law, Judah, an act that will generate the lineage of the eternal Davidic dynasty.
Bathsheba, it must be said, was no shrinking violet herself, bathing in the altogether on the roof, in full view of David, prior to their liaison. Is this not a classic case of “invading another’s space,” a definite no-no by today’s standards?
And I would be remiss if I also did not cite Jewish history’s convert par excellence, Ruth, another progenitor of no less than the Messiah himself, who boldly lay at the feet of the elderly Boaz in the middle of the night in the privacy of his granary. Was she a “predator,” in the current parlance of our purer-than-thou society?
In virtually all of these cases – and there are more, to be sure – the heroes are not flung from their pedestals or sent off to moral purgatory. True, David is severely reprimanded by God – via the prophet – for his actions, and he will suffer the death of his child, the product of that unseemly union. But this is the exception to the rule; in all the other cases, our biblical paradigms retain their exalted status and serve as ethical role models for all future generations.
THE POINT of this, dear reader, is not to excuse wrongdoing or whitewash the moral miscues of our forebears. The point is that – gasp! – people, all people, are only human. They have wants and desires and urges and weaknesses; they stumble and they fall and, hopefully, they get back up again. All of us, especially when we are young and impetuous, take risks, do foolish things, test the limits. If and when we cross the line and truly hurt someone – or ourselves – then we may very well have to pay the price for it. But if Judaism teaches us anything, it is that no one is indelibly stained with sin; no one is rendered forever crippled by a rash or foolish act.
Yes, teenager Ms. Ford went to numerous parties at a very young age, her parents forgetting, or ignoring, the fact that boys will be boys and girls will be girls at such get-togethers. And teenager Brett Kavanaugh liked to drink beer and probably had one too many here and there. But who among us – doctors, presidents, prime ministers, teachers and, yes, even rabbis, perish the thought – have perfect behavioral report cards with nary a single skeleton in our closets?
Those eminent philosophers Sonny & Cher may have said it best, way back in 1967, when they sang, “Grandmas sit in chairs and reminisce; boys keep chasing girls to get a kiss.”
A half-century later, the beat does indeed go on. Let’s just not be so quick to beat ourselves up over it.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana. [email protected]