Progressively Speaking: What does Judaism have to say about sexual harassment?

Progressively Speaking: What does Judaism have to say about sexual harassment?

Rabbi Leah Jordan gives a progressive Jewish view on a topical issue

Whether you are one of the majority of women or non-binary people who have experience of sexual abuse, harassment and assault – or indeed male victim – the main lesson from the spate of recent news stories is that this is by no means a new struggle.

Personally, I have met too many young people in my rabbinic work who have been harassed or assaulted, reported it, and then been silenced and marginalised. It is honestly the one of the most depressing aspects of my work.

Sexual harassment is the direct result of patriarchy – a system in which men hold the majority of the power, and in which masculinity is glorified. In patriarchy, masculinity and power are bound together.

We in the Progressive Jewish world may be ‘ahead of the curve’ when it comes to fighting against oppression and for equality, but that shouldn’t mean we let ourselves off the hook for this.

Like many, we have been guilty of operating under the assumption that this particular battle had been fought and won – when in fact these issues are embedded in our culture. We’re not at the end of this journey.

There are systemic issues, and we are not immune to them.

The Torah’s word for ‘female,’ ‘nekeiva’, meaning ‘pierced,’ even points to this deeply systemic assumption that to be female intrinsically is to be penetrated or dominated — and thus Leviticus’ injunction that men should not lie the lyings of a man the way he does with a woman is wrapped up in assumptions about how dominance in patriarchal culture is carried out through rape and sexual assault.

My teacher, Rav Aviva Richman, wrote recently that in a conversation on rape in Deuteronomy: “The rabbis focus on the responsibility of the third party, the responsibility of the community.”

Perhaps this is the ultimate Progressive Jewish angle on this issue. This should be about us as a community stepping up to be responsible for the far too many people in our lives and world who suffer this.

The burden should not and cannot be on their shoulders — but on ours collectively.

Whatever our gender, none of us can stand idly by.

Rabbi Leah Jordan is Liberal Judaism’s student chaplain


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