Prepare to be uncomfortable. It’s another Brian Small D’var.
Today’s Parsha, Ki Teitzei, consists of 74 of the Torah’s 613 commandments. By percentage, in case you are wondering, that means that means that we are covering 12% of the road map that G-d laid out for his chosen people. These commandments include, but are not limited to:
· The inheritance rights of the firstborn
· The wayward and rebellious son
· Burial and dignity of the dead
· Returning a lost object
· Sending away the mother bird before taking her young
· The duty to erect a safety fence around the roof of one’s home
And much, much more.
In addition to these commandments, there rules for what is known as ‘the beautiful captive’. These are essentially the opening lines of the Parsha.
If you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord, your God, will deliver him into your hands, and you take his captives,
and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her, you may take [her] for yourself as a wife.
You shall bring her into your home, and she shall shave her head and let her nails grow.
And she shall remove the garment of her captivity from upon herself, and stay in your house, and weep for her father and her mother for a full month. After that, you may be intimate with her and possess her, and she will be a wife for you.
And it will be, if you do not desire her, then you shall send her away wherever she wishes, but you shall not sell her for money. You shall not keep her as a servant, because you have afflicted her.
I had a tough time getting through these lines and focusing on the rest of the Parsha. This disturbed me in a very meaningful way, especially given current events. I was disturbed as a father of a daughter, a husband to a wife, a brother to a sister, and a son to a mother.
The Torah was written and given to the people of Israel at a different time in history and I certainly understand the importance of historical context. But this section comes across as horribly misogynistic and perpetuates the treatment of women as property, or chattel, in a negative and degrading way. Enemy of the state of Israel, or the Jewish people, or not, the modern interpretation of this section reveals and illustrates a horrible way to treat women.
Historical rabbinic commentary actually speaks to the civility of allowing for ‘the beautiful captive’ to weep and mourn her father and mother for an entire month before forcibly sexually assaulting her. Additionally, if you lose your desire for ‘the beautiful captive’ it is consider merciful to not sell her into slavery or keep her as a servant. These are considered virtues as other cultures at the time did not preclude such behavior with their own captives.
The worst part about this section of the Parsha is that this misogynist social mentality is still prevalent today. Consider the recent story of [lots of air quotes coming] “leaked” pictures of naked celebrities. When this story first hit the blogosphere and twitterverse, words like “leaked” and “hacked” were common when, in fact, we should have been using terms like “criminal”, “sexual assault”, or “sexual crimes”. I will admit that there was a personal morbid curiosity to peek at pictures of Jennifer Laurence or Kate Upton when they were presented as “leaked” photos. It seemed like these photos were leaked in the same way that a movie leaks pictures from the set to increase buzz or a sports team leaks rumors of a free agent signing to motivate ticket sales. These cases do no harm to the parties involved and are often INTENDED, secretly, for distribution. But now I feel ashamed for thinking this way. Looking at these pictures would make me complicit to a sexual crime. It perpetuates misogyny.
It doesn’t take much to understand why a hacker would commit this sort of criminal act. The rush of exposing famous women, successfully infiltrating a complicated computer network, and the coverage that the act receives must surely be a rush. But, socially, we have not advanced much since the days of the Torah. The justification remains the same: it’s okay, if you are a man in a position of power and privilege, to marginalize a beautiful woman IF she is desirable. Jennifer Laurence, and others implicated in the sexual crime, were treated in the same way as the ‘the beautiful captive’. And that’s disgusting. It’s not okay.
You cannot escape these issues on campus, as well. A recently released study, conducted over a 20-year period, asked some 2,000 college-age men questions like the following:
“Have you ever had sexual intercourse with someone, even though they did not want to, because they were too intoxicated [on alcohol or drugs] to resist your sexual advances?”
“Have you ever had sexual intercourse with an adult when they didn’t want to because you used physical force [twisting their arm, holding them down, etc.] if they didn’t cooperate?”
About 1 in 16 men answered “yes” to these or similar questions. ‘The beautiful captive’ is yours, if you want her, by force, if necessary.
Particularly egregious, Cazenovia College, right down the road, where I used to work, reported 12.12 forcible sex offenses per 1,000 students. This statistic includes offences against men, I believe, as well. Forcible sexual offences are the particularly violent and heinous sexual crimes that include rape and sodomy. And, of course, these are only the ones that are reported and processed. There are, no-doubt, countless un-processed similar offences. Cazenovia College was the worst of the 590 New York colleges, universities and schools surveyed. We are technically their Hillel also, in case you are wondering.
Syracuse University, in comparison, came in at about 1.28 forcible sex offences per 1,000 students. This number may seem significantly better than Cazenovia’s number, but it is artificially low because of the higher number of non-traditional and commuting students at Syracuse that are not within the Cazenovia College demographics.
What’s typical? The average rate among New York State’s 590 colleges, universities and schools was 0.36 offenses per 1,000 students, according to federal data. We are well above the state average.
Side note: I would be more than happy to talk about the Advocacy Center issues on campus in another D’var or conversationally at dinner. This story is deeper than you think it is… It’s a D’var for another time.
The Torah speaks to us in many ways. Sometimes it speaks with a truth that resonates through the ages and through our people’s collective history. This week, it spoke to me differently. It identified a societal problem that was socially acceptable at the time of the Torah’s creation and outwardly criticized, but still socially prevalent today.
Will it always be this way? Not if your generation takes a more active approach to dispelling the myths that surround sexual assault and violence. You must call-out your peers for their actions. We must stop blaming victims of sexual assault because of the way they dress. Don’t look at pictures of Jennifer Laurence, Kate Upton, and others put online in a criminal act. Victims must report their crimes even under the most difficult and terrible of circumstances. You must be aware of and make OTHERS aware of the link between the irresponsible consumption of alcohol and drugs and the prevalence of sexual assaults. Student athletes must be held to the same judicial standards as non-athletes. You must have open discussions about the frequency of slut-shaming on social media. Feminism should not be perceived as a four-letter word. And much, much, more.
Until we take these steps, ‘the beautiful captive’ is alive and well and has a 1-in-5 chance of being sexually assaulted on campus before she graduates according to national statistics.