Respect and Responsibility: A Jewish Ethics Study Guide is a cross-denominational collection of study texts to support Jewish organizations in cultivating cultures of safety and respect. We were proud to partner with Sacred Spaces to develop this resource, which can be found here.
The Torah of #MeToo
The #MeToo movement calls for a new kind of ethical guidance that reimagines authority and expertise. Below, we curate ethical questions and responses from victims/survivors and contemporary leaders, as well as from the Jewish ethical tradition.
Curated by Rory Schonning, Rabbi Mira Wasserman and Rabbi Armin Langer
The #MeToo movement unleashed an outpouring of personal stories of sexual assault, sexual violence and institutional abuses of power within the Jewish community and throughout the world. While there is nothing new about power abuses—they are sadly braided into the core texts of Jewish tradition—it is a new and hopeful development that such a grave and entrenched problem is at long last commanding communal attention. For the first time, there is broad, collective interest in changing the structures and cultures that encourage and protect harmful behavior. Communal leaders are standing with victims and survivors in ways that are unprecedented.
The Jewish community confronts a wide array of ethical questions: What does victim-centered justice look like? When is it appropriate to name names? How do those who have done wrong make restitution? How do institutions that have protected perpetrators make amends?
Historically, when Jews encountered new situations that presented ethical dilemmas, they would turn to rabbis for guidance, sending questions that trusted authorities would answer by letter. These collections of Jewish questions and rabbinic answers are known as Responsa. The writing of Responsa continues to this day, in traditional and liberal streams of Judaism. Here, we curate ethical deliberations that have been written by survivors/victims, scholars, leaders, rabbis, journalists and community members. We call them “Crowdsourced Responsa,” a new form of Jewish ethical wisdom that emerges from communal conversation and lived experience.
Alongside these contemporary reponses, we provide study guides to traditional Jewish sources on relevant themes.
The Center for Jewish Ethics does not endorse the content of any sources included below, nor does it claim ownership over any of the materials.
Warning: The content below contains references to and language about sexual harassment and assault. It discusses perpetrators and struggles of victims/survivors, among other things.
Too often, Jewish values around ethics of speech have constrained victims and bystanders from speaking out. How do we balance the value of an alleged abuser’s good name with the ethical imperatives to seek justice and prevent harm?
Click here for a study guide on traditional texts.
Michael Steinhardt Sexually Harassed Me. Rich Donors Like Him Buy the Jewish Community’s Silence
Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi – March 31, 2019
Rabbi Beit-Halachmi, a scholar of modern Jewish thought, applies a Jewish ethical lens to her own experience of sexual harassment by Michael Stenhardt.
“I am still afraid of those repercussions. Although I kept silent about my own experience, I heard first-hand the experiences of dozens of colleagues who suffered similar gender-based degradation – and worse – at the hands of Steinhardt and other powerful Jewish communal leaders. I have often wondered: At what cost to the ethical standards of our community is our silence?”
The Danger of Valuing Men’s Careers Over Women’s Lives
By Melissa Jeltsen – Nov. 16, 2018
A tactic for silencing women from speaking out about sexual assault is to flip the blame onto them, for the potential hurt they will cause to men’s positions. A woman’s physical safety is treated as less important than a man’s career, and men get the message that they are not accountable for their actions.
“There is no more effective way to silence a woman than by telling her that she will ruin a man’s future with her words. It triggers a flurry of self-doubt: Maybe she is overreacting. Maybe she misunderstood. Maybe she shouldn’t make a fuss. It plays on women’s shame, often present after a sexual assault.”
Does the Torah Require Us to Publicize Names of Sexual Abusers?
By Mira Wasserman – March 27, 2018
This piece mixes personal story, reflections on the Jewish communal response to #MeToo and wisdom from rabbinic sources. It addresses the question of when it is appropriate (or imperative) to call out the names of rumored abusers.
“But Jewish speech ethics don’t only address the dangers of speech; they also acknowledge the dangers of keeping silent. Sometimes, speaking out is an imperative. For example, under some conditions, it is a duty to rebuke a person who has committed a misdeed (tokhecha). Likewise, if speaking ill about a dangerous individual will prevent another from coming to harm, speaking up is an ethical obligation (azhara).”
The Half-Life of Sexual Abuse in a Holocaust-Survivor Family
By Irena Klepfisz – June 27, 2018
This moving book review by Irena Klepfisz closes with a compelling articulation of how the reality of abuse within Jewish families and communities creates ethical obligations, commandments, which she contrasts to the tacit commandments to be silent and not tell that have for too long governed Jewish life.
“Here are the new commandments: It is the responsibility of the abuser notto be an abuser. And when he or she fails, it is the responsibility of the witness to witness and speak openly. And when both the abuser and the witness fail, it is the responsibility of the community alwaysto protect the victims and not its own image.”
By Avi Friedman – April 19, 2018
This short dvar Torah references Numbers 12:1-13 in the Torah portion Metzora, where Miriam is stricken as a result of speaking poorly about her brother Moses. This serves as a launching point to discuss when one should or should not speak out about another person. To speak out in support of a person who has been victimized, rather than being silent to protect a person or institution’s reputation, is vital.
“I want to talk about it because our daughters need to know that they must not stay silent and tolerate such treatment. I want to talk about it to save another person from harm. And that is NOT L’shon Hara.”
What Jewish Community Leaders Must Do After #MeToo
By Guila Benchimol – Jan. 5, 2018
This article frames and addresses sexual victimization as a systemic problem that requires systemic action. Listening is a start, but is not enough to truly hear victims and change the culture in Jewish communities.
“While sexual victimization in general is underreported, in religious groups it is reported even less. Often, the silence of victims comes from the power of the community as victims consider the risks to coming forward, not only to themselves but even to their perpetrators. In general, religious groups are seen as more important than their individuals, complicating a victim’s desire to speak out and be heard. Disclosing flies in the face of loyalty and conformity to group norms and threatens the group’s solidarity and reputation. Disclosures are, therefore, often willfully ignored. The silence of religious communities, which Nancy Nason-Clark calls a “holy hush,” is anything but holy.”
How can the Jewish community honor and amplify the inclusivity that was part of the #MeToo movement from its inception?
Click here for a study guide on traditional texts.
#MeToo, Gender Socialization and the Movement We Are Constructing
Tarana Burke on How to Support the #MeToo Movement
By Sameer Rao – April 11, 2018
Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement, speaks in this short interview about the founding motivations and intentions of the movement. See her website, https://metoomvmt.org, for great resources for education, activism and victim/survivor support connected both to the original mission of ending sexual violence and the expansion of the movement to address harassment.
“I was surprised, certainly, that #MeToo, in relation to sexual violence, was a hashtag in general because we had been using it for so long. But watching it take off was less of a surprise because it was person to person and so I have seen the power of those two words over the years, seen what they have done to people … ”
A Radically Inclusive Jewish Response to #MeToo
By Ariel Vegosen – June 28, 2018
This piece brings a voice to the violence and harassment that LGBTQ individuals face in Jewish community. Breaking down the gender binary and recognizing that there are multiple layers of oppression some people must contend with is important to truly make sure that all individuals are safer from harassment in Jewish community.
“As we create pathways to actualize the goals of #MeToo and #GamAni [the Israeli iteration], I consistently see a void both in the Jewish community and in the broader movement—an understanding of how misogyny and sexism deeply affect the LGBTQ community, and the importance of creating safety and inclusion for members of this community.”
The #MeToo Movement Looks Different For Women Of Color. Here Are 10 Stories.
By Jessica Prois and Carolina Moreno – Jan. 2, 2018
Not all women’s voices are heard equally. Women of color and working-class women are subject to harassment and assault in ways that white middle- and upper- class women are not, and the risks of reporting abuse are compounded for marginalized groups. This piece focuses on the stories of women of color.
“The women we spoke with mention being treated differently by men inside and outside of their own ethnicity or race, as well being influenced and affected by norms within their own cultures. They described fielding sexual innuendo and advances at work while dealing with cultural expectations to be compliant and quiet, or demure and sexy. Several women described feeling a lack of agency over their own bodies rooted in longstanding history. One told HuffPost that she stopped following a cultural tradition to avoid harassment.”
Reconciling Local and Global Responsibilities in the #MeToo Movement
By Robert Bank – Aug. 2, 2018
The author, president and CEO of American Jewish World Service, proposes that new attention to the mistreatment of women within our own local communities can help us attend to the experiences of women in other parts of the world.
“As the #MeToo movement continues to build momentum in the United States and around the world, I am grappling with how we understand what happens to women who are very near to us—in our own families and in the American Jewish community—and what happens to women who live in parts of the world that feel far away.”
In the aftermath of disclosures about abuses of power, how do perpetrators and the institutions that protected them make restitution?
Click here for a study guide on traditional texts.
Famous abusers seek easy forgiveness. Rosh Hashanah teaches us repentance is hard.
By Danya Ruttenberg — Sept. 6, 2018
Prominent men who have been exposed for sexual misconduct are now angling for comebacks. Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg draws on Jewish teachings on repentance to argue that their pallid apologies fall short of the steps of teshuva.
“The Jewish tradition teaches that repentance is really hard work, in contrast to the glib and easy way these accused perpetrators are seeking cheap forgiveness from popular culture. America is often perilously quick to welcome comebacks, in part because we don’t really know what it means to atone.”
“Every year during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I speak on college campuses about sexual violence in the U.S. Each school is different, but there’s one question I’ve heard some iteration of over and again at almost every single venue: What can men who have been outed by #MeToo do to make things right?…. The problem, however — and what I tell students who ask me — is that I don’t have a good answer. Because we have yet to see a man really try.”
Tweets About Repentance in #MeToo
By Danya Ruttenberg – July 23-24, 2018
Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg distinguishes between atonement, forgiveness and repentance in this series of tweets. Drawing on traditional Jewish teachings, she clarifies that forgiveness is the prerogative of victims; repentance is the work of perpetrators.
“Going to spell this out because I guess it’s not explicit: in Judaism, you can do tshuvah/repentance work and even get right with God (be atoned) even if your victim never forgives you. They’re separate processes.”
Restorative Justice and Teshuva Following Sexual Misconduct
By Alissa Ackerman and Guila Benchimol – Sept. 12, 2018
This piece explores confluences between the practice of restorative justice and Jewish teachings on teshuva--both lay a groundwork for those who have done harm to continue to be part of the Jewish community. The authors urge us to move our communal conversation from a focus on individual perpetrators to systemic failures within our communities.
“Teshuva and restorative justice teach us that these failures can be confronted. Grappling with the #MeToo movement within Jewish communities requires that we wrestle with discomfort, too. While we may want to erase those who have done harm from our communities, to truly support and seek justice for survivors, and to eradicate sexual misconduct, we need to understand perpetration and those who engage in it. Doing so forces us to hold individuals accountable for their actions and also act responsibly as a Jewish community.”
Finding Atonement in the #MeToo Era
By Leah Vincent – July 23, 2018
From growing up in an ultra-Orthodox community to attending a secular college, the author gives examples of toxic masculinity everywhere in her life. She also includes perspectives from a wide range of conversations she had about how society might relate to men after they are outed as harassers.
“I want to show my son heroic examples of men who have begun to do the difficult work of healing its terrible wounds. I ask the men of #MeToo, waiting in the shadows, looking for an easy fix—who better than you to become the public faces of that work? Turn your stories of shame into tales of valor. Enough with the trite apologies. Throw yourselves into real work. Accept that #MeToo is now and forever your brand, and devote your lives, your resources, your public power, to mending what you have broken. When you hear of colleagues or fans defending you or denigrating your accusers, publicly correct them. Learn from women about the impact of your actions. Lobby government and corporations for better sexual harassment policies. Teach our boys that atonement is possible.”
Should We Forgive the Men Who Assaulted Us?
By Danielle Berrin – Dec. 22, 2017
Danielle Berrin uses a personal situation to frame a conversation about what teshuvareally is. She highlights the three themes of the Yom Kippur liturgy: teshuva, or “return,” tefillah(prayer) and tzedakah(charity/righteousness).
“But the crucial questions remain: What are the limits of forgiveness? Not just of Mr. Shavit but of the dozens who have fallen from grace over the past few weeks and who will continue to live among us, whether we like it or not. When does ostracism end and atonement begin? Is there a pathway for an admitted abuser or predator to seek redemption?”
“Judaism offers a prescription for restorative rather than punitive justice that I think can provide a template for all of us—not just Jews—in determining what it should take to readmit transgressors into public life.”
#MeToo, Time’s Up, and Restorative Justice
By Lesley Wexler – Jan. 23, 2018
Restorative justice is an alternative to the criminal-justice system, which emphasizes the repair of relationships and communities, rather than focusing exclusively on punishing perpetrators. Can such an approach accomplish justice for victims and survivors of sexual abuse and harassment? What would this approach look like?
“While these are hard questions, regardless of how they are answered, the invocation of restorative justice suggests the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements are adding new concepts and tools to their existing arsenal of legal and social tools.”
What do we do when artists, scholars and leaders whose work we value are exposed as harassers? Can we separate the art from the artist? Does the misconduct of a scholar implicate their scholarship?
Click here for a study guide on traditional texts.
Why My Synagogue Is Taking A Break From Singing Carlebach
By Angela Buchdahl – Jan. 31, 2018
Rabbi Angela Buchdahl shares her process of reflecting on this question. In response to allegations that Carlebach was a serial harasser, Buchdahl guided her synagogue to a one-year moratorium from singing any Carlebach melodies. The approach ensured that everyone knew when they were singing Carlebach tunes and made space for new music to emerge.
“I would like to think that the days of ignoring sexual assault are now over. But the only way to make sure this moment becomes a true societal transformation is for each of us to take responsibility. In many ways, for many years, our Jewish community has been responsible for allowing this abuse to happen. I know there were times I was complicit by being silent, but until recently I hadn’t thought about the way I might be complicit by what I sang.”
A Follow Up on Carlebach and The Abuse He Committed
By Asher Lovy – Nov. 20, 2016
Among the variety of critical ethical themes that Asher Lovy addresses are the imperative to speak up; lashon hara(harmful speech) and lashon harawith to’eles(a purpose); and the relationship between art and artist. Carlebach’s death does not change the fact that he abused the power afforded him because of his status and music. Lovy writes personally about what Carlebach’s melodies once meant to him and why he chooses to leave them behind.
“When his followers found out that someone was harboring such an accusation, they made sure to shut them out, and make it plain that they were no longer welcome. The legend they’d built in their minds and their hearts was too big and too fragile to fail. And the truth is it’s not unexpected. Carlebach, to so many, represents the very essence of their Judaism.”
How the Myth of the Artistic Genius Excuses the Abuse of Women
By Amanda Hess – Nov. 10, 2017
Well-known and admired artists wield power. Amanda Hess questions whether it is possible to separate art from the artist as she looks at sexual harassment and assault through the lens of power. What is the relationship between abusers’ art and their crimes?
“Whenever a creative type (usually a man) is accused of mistreating people (usually women), a call arises to prevent those pesky biographical details from sneaking into our assessments of the artist’s work. … We’re learning more every day about how the entertainment industry has been shaped by their abuses of power. It’s time to consider how their art has been, too.”
Cohen’s Fall Tests Border Of Demography And Sexism
By Gary Rosenblatt – Aug. 1, 2018
Revelations of sociologist Steven M. Cohen’s history of harassing women have brought about a reassessment of his scholarship. Gary Rosenblatt considers both sides of a debate about how Cohen’s views on women have affected his studies.
“In the meantime, the rest of the community should be heard on whether Steven Cohen’s sociological surveys and views on ensuring the Jewish future should be accepted, rejected or re-evaluated. Perhaps widening the discussion will offset the passions of his colleagues, pro and con, and help lead to a path of communal consensus.”
How Jewish Academia Created a #MeToo Disaster
By Kate Rosenblatt, Lila Corwin Berman and Ronit Stahl – July 19, 2018
This piece draws a connection between Steven M. Cohen’s scholarship and his mistreatment of women, and identify a bias against women that implicates both Cohen’s research and the Jewish communal agenda that emerged out of it.
“But data can only be as good as the questions asked, and it reflects how researchers regard their world. What we know is that the Jewish communal world, even to this day, is led primarily by men. And that these men have tended to hire other men, including Steven M. Cohen, to survey American Jews. This large and expensive social research apparatus, driven by male leadership and sustained by aggressive boundary policing, has placed Jewish continuity at its center and defined Jewish continuity in extraordinarily troubling ways.”
Don’t Dismiss Steven Cohen’s Research: Studying fertility is a feminist and a Jewish enterprise
By Michelle Shain – July 25, 2018
Researcher Michelle Shawn argues that Cohen’s scholarship stands for itself and is not implicated by his sexual misconduct.
“Yet, in recent days I have been perturbed by an unexpected turn in this public conversation. There are those who have started declaring Steven’s body of work treif, who want to excise his books from our libraries and purge his insights from Jewish communal discourse. His research on marriage and fertility has come under particularly heavy fire. The idea that studying family formation patterns is sexist, exploitative, patriarchal or misogynistic is simply ludicrous.”
How do we address differences between various kinds and degrees of misconduct without discounting the dignity of all victims and the grievousness of abuse in all its forms?
Click here for a study guide on traditional texts.
Can a Gay Man Sexually Harass a Woman?
By Jacob Staub – Aug. 17, 2018
There is a danger in letting the worst, most grievous crimes set the threshold for our ethical attention. Rabbi Jacob Staub offers a personal example of the subtle ways disrespect and domination creep into our everyday interactions. This piece is an invitation to people of all genders and orientations to examine our behavior, and reflect on how we use the power and privilege we have.
“All of us who think that we can breathe a righteous sigh of relief because we are not Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey should instead engage in serious heshbon hanefesh (self-examination). It does not matter whether we understand any of these causes of a person’s discomfort, or if we believe that they are justified. The Jewish sages teach that it is our ethical duty to treat each person according to what they need.”
Why Do I Keep Wondering If I Was Violated “Enough”?
By Viviane Ho – Jan. 23, 2018
Viviane Ho shares a personal example of an incident, as well as her process of recognizing and verbalizing its gravity and seriousness. She identifies the tendency to minimize instances of misconduct as another aspect of the gender-power imbalance for women in American society.
“Our society judges pain on a sliding scale, from a doctor-like assessment of 1 to 10. It’s sexual assault, but it’s not rape. It’s illegal, but not unlawful. The scale exists for a reason—not all crimes are equal, and it’s important to make distinctions. For women, however, we learned from an early age to internalize this sliding scale and use it to gauge our suffering. We find ourselves asking over and over again: Was this bad enough to call it harassment? Was this bad enough to call it misconduct? Was this bad enough to call it assault?”
Your Sexual Harassment Experiences Count, Even If You Think They Don’t
By Kasandra Brabaw – Oct. 18, 2017
The span of voices is wide and bringing attention to different experiences of sexual harassment is critical if we are to shift the culture as a whole. This author shares from the writings of another author on Twitter.
“Norms wrote that because she’s never been raped or “had anything happen to me that the police would ‘file a report for,’ ” she didn’t feel that her experiences of harassment were worth sharing along with those who had. But, she realized, she has been experiencing small moments of harassment her whole life—and it’s important to speak out about those, too.”
Enough with the “Penetration Fallacy”
By Yerachmiel Lopin – Feb. 27, 2017
This anonymous blogger writes about sex abuse in the Orthodox Jewish world. In her scholarly article on how Jewish responses to abuses of power, Shira Berkovits cites this posting as an example of pushing back against the pervasive “all-or-nothing thinking” that happens in different ways in Jewish community.
“Sex crimes should be seen from the point of view of harm to the victim/survivor, not in terms of the mechanics and body parts. There is what I call a “penetration fallacy” where the halachic and legal criteria of severity ignore the psycho-emotional harm.”
What organizational changes and cultural transformations should we undertake to prevent sexual harassment and assault within and beyond the Jewish community?
By Catharine A. MacKinnon – March 24, 2019
Professor Catharine MacKinnon is a legal scholar who was the architect of sexual harassment law. Here, she writes about this present #metoo moment builds upon sexual harassment law even as it exceeds all earlier advances.
“Among its underlying dynamics, together with maintaining an illusion of control when one is being controlled to hold onto self-respect, is a fear of the consequences of challenging a power seen as unchangeable, as inevitable, as well as omnipotent. Retaliation can be especially acute when one behaves as if one has rights. But #MeToo is giving the lie to the totality of male sexual entitlement, and is finally exposing the price of not challenging its power.”
By Maayan Hoffman of eJP — Oct. 18, 2018
In the year since #MeToo swept the internet, greater numbers of allegations of abuse have been coming to the forefront. The leaders of Jewish organizations on the front-lines of responding to these allegations are working with communities to change the culture around prevention and response.
“She [Shira Berkovits of Sacred Spaces] said there would be an event and then the whole community would split and respond – some on the side of the victim and some on the side of the accused. She believed there could be a different way to handle these incidents, beginning with prevention through response, ‘like a fire safety code that would be standard in every Jewish institution.’”
Tarana Burke on Me Too, 12 Years and 1 Year Later: ‘Keep Your Head Down, Keep Moving Forward’
By Katie McDonough — Oct. 9, 2018
The Me Too movement is about victims speaking out about sexual harassment and abuse. A year out from the hashtag going viral, Tarana Burke reminds us to listen to survivors, and stay focused on their needs.
“This has been a year for the record books, right? I think that, certainly, from last year to this year, the level of awareness has grown exponentially. So I think it’s two things: on the one hand, there’s been a great shift in the way we talk about sexual violence. And the fact that we talk about it at all. The conversation about sexual violence, in general, is expanding. We have never really had a national conversation about this. I think that’s probably the biggest change. But on the flip side, there hasn’t been enough of the right kind of conversation, if you will. There hasn’t been enough conversation about the needs of survivors, of what people actually need. Solutions. It’s been mostly about perpetrators. That has been really difficult, I think.”
#MeToo and Teshuva, It is Time for US to Reflect on OUR Wrongs
By Sharon Weiss-Greenberg — Sept. 17, 2018
Our Jewish traditions can be a foundational aspect of what calls us and guides us to no longer stand idly by and address issues of sexual assault and harassment in our communities.
“While much of the #metoo movement leaves people feeling helpless, there are action items that we can and should be taking. We can make sure that Jewish organizations are safe places. We can make sure that we have strong policies in place including timely responses that protect and address past or future potential wrongs. We can practice transparency in these processes. We can provide various types of trainings including bystander training. We should be following the laws, protocols and guidelines of the EEOC. Jewishly, however, we can be doing something additionally.”
By Daniel Brenner –Jan. 19, 2018
Rabbi Daniel Brenner discusses messages that many men receive in Jewish communities around sex from a variety of angles. Instead of focusing on middle-aged men in the workplace, he sees the imperative of educating teenage boys.
“In the wake of #MeToo, my questions are—‘What is the story of Jewish men and sex in America? How do we see ourselves in comparison to other men? How have we perpetuated harassment and abuse? How have we ignored it? And, most importantly, what can we do to address past wrongs and to help create a more equitable and safe environment for everyone?’ These are not easy questions.”
With Kind Regards: Embracing Our Workplace Values
By David Phillips and Sara Miller-Paul – Sept. 14, 2018
The #MeToo movement is fostering conversations about many kinds of abuses of power in Jewish workplaces. Stated Jewish values and mission statements only go so far in the absence of an overall culture of kindness.
“Conversations to expose these behaviors are long overdue, as well as resultant shifts in behavior and culture. Jewish values and ethics teach that demeaning, self-centered, or cruel behaviors are unacceptable. Whether as witnesses or as impacted actors, we know that ‘bad behaviors’ often represent systemic organizational dysfunctions or unhealthy culture. To rid ourselves of unacceptable conduct, both good and bad cultures must be brought to light, rewarding those which model respect, ethics, and values.”
#metoo in the Jewish Community
By Elana Maryles Sztokman – Sept. 17, 2018
The Jewish community is finally engaging more publicly in the #MeToo movement. This article examines some distinctive dynamics in Jewish life that make it difficult for victims to come forward and find support. The Jewish community’s emphasis on values of communal solidarity, our reliance on philanthropic dollars, and the focus on demographic challenges and fertility all contribute to the disempowerment of women and other victims.
“Several informants discussed this bystander silence as a quality of Jewish organizational life. This is likely connected to the issue of donor-supremacy, and the fearfulness with which many professional women are trained to behave in Jewish organizations when donors are involved. But some of the women who wrote first-hand accounts specifically said that their intentions were to speak more to the bystanders than to the actual abusers.”
4 Critical Ways Jewish Institutions Can Learn From #MeToo
By Rachael Bregman – March 15, 2018
Rabbi Rachael Bregman offers straightforward questions and clear examples of gender disparities in synagogues and other Jewish communal institutions. She identifies specific ways to shift the culture in our communities right now, so that we are working to prevent sexual harassment and not simply respond to it after it happens.
“Sexual violence thrives when power is unevenly distributed. Ultimately, #MeToo is a call to fix a deep wound that is a symptom of a much larger systemic disease: Men have privilege and the power that comes with it. The system can only change if men give some power up and women take some for ourselves.”
Jewish Institutions, Not #MeToo Victims, Must Change the Status Quo
By Mary Zamore – Feb. 14, 2018
Responsibility to address and prevent sexual harassment should not fall upon victims and survivors, but rather on communal leaders. Jewish communities need to demonstrate accountability and show that there are measures in place to honor and protect victims, and also to prevent future abuse. There is action that can be done right now.
“The Jewish community must do better than saying we are finally ready to listen. Rather than demanding that victims tell their narratives, the community must admit the other side of the story. What if every major Jewish institution came forward describing times when victims spoke out and those in power dismissed or diminished their truths? What if those leaders admitted to thinking about liability rather than culpability?”
Laying the Ground Work for Repentance One Day: Teshuvah and #MeToo
By Rachael Bregman – Aug 15. 2018
Individuals, institutions and messages from the wider world all play a part in righting the wrongs that the #MeToo movement is bringing to light. There are important steps for the victim and the perpetrator of sexual harassment and violence… and there are also responsibilities for those watching.
“While it is too soon in the process of the #MeToo movement to enact forgiveness, it is not, in my opinion, too soon to do the necessary work to prepare the ground for that process to occur…. Real forgiveness is not only between perpetrator and victim, but on all of us to create a new system where none of what has occurred may ever ever ever occur again.”
Sexual Harassment Training Doesn’t Work. But Some Things Do.
By Claire Cain Miller – Dec. 11, 2017
Claire Cain Miller starts off her piece by drawing attention to the fact that many companies institute sexual-harassment training primarily to protect themselves from liability. Not only does this fail to shift workplace culture, research indicates that it can make things worse. She lays out best practices, including frequent and genuine trainings, teaching bystander intervention, encouraging reporting and more.
“Training is essential but not enough, researchers say. To actually prevent harassment, companies need to create a culture in which women are treated as equals and employees treat one another with respect.”
What do we do when the Jewish texts and traditions we revere perpetuate inequity and marginalize women?
Here, we gather some instructive examples of scholars and teachers grappling with our textual tradition. Confronting difficulties rather than apologizing for them, they demonstrate how the Jewish ethical tradition can be put to use in ways that are redemptive.
Biblical Slut-shaming and Botched Femicide: A Jewish Lesson for the #MeToo Age
By David B. Green — Nov. 1, 2018
The retelling of a relatively unknown medieval Hebrew text that deals with “slut-shaming” and attempted femicide engages us and raises interesting questions both in its content and the fact that it exists at all. Rabbi Tamar Elad-Appelbaum of Kehilat Zion Synagogue teaches this text and relates it to her work building community with her congregants.
“The same way you need a whole village to raise a child, you need a whole village to make teshuvah. You need to be able to bring the midrash not only to a private person, but to bring it to the kehila. … There needs to be a place where people are able to voice the terrible deeds that have been done to them.”
The Law of the Land: Boundaries, Consent, and Atonement
By Merissa Nathan Gerson – Sept. 5, 2018
Jewish tradition actually provides lots of teachings that encourage a healthy culture of consent, so why aren’t we studying them? In this Eli talk, sex educator Merissa Nathan Gerson says that we should be having conversations about sex in many Jewish contexts, at many ages and we can draw on Jewish texts to do it. The Talmud contains conversations about the female body, consent and even female pleasure.
“Sex education has been historically delegated to the state for American Jewry, but Judaism has a very rich tradition of teaching about sex, consent, and pleasure that we need today. Merissa Nathan Gerson leads us on an exploration of what it means for all Jewish bodies—cisgender and otherwise—to respect, to honor, and to teach one another about consent and to communally atone for our sins.”
The Torah Needs a Trigger Warning
By Avi Killip – Aug. 21, 2018
Some claim the Torah means well and leave it at that. Rabbi Avi Killip thinks we need to take up the sections that normalize horrific situations, for example Deuteronomy 21:10-14 in Parshat Ki Tetzei, and “confront the destructive use of sex to assert power over women.”
“This summer Plaskow taught me to address the toxicity in Torah and Gadsby taught me not to smooth it over, apologize, or find a way to make it ok. It is not okay. As a rabbi and lover of Torah, it is hard to resist the urge to soften this text, maybe even redeem it through an insightful midrash, a creative interpretive move or even a pastoral emotional reading. Before we get there, we must sit with the pain. We should learn to feel hurt and even anger.”
Judaism, #MeToo and Ethical Leadership: Perspectives from the Created Equal Project
By Shalom Hartman Institute
“In the opening webinar of this series recorded live on January 24, 2018, Elana Stein Hain discusses responses to the predominantly male voice and audience presumed by much of the Jewish canon.”
Rabbinic Voices on Sexual Assault: Leadership, Community, Theology
By Hadar, Rabbi Aviva Richman
“In this turbulent moment of public attention to sexual assault and harassment, we will probe rabbinic sources that speak to our questions, fears and hopes. When approached with sensitivity and creativity, how can our tradition help us envision the meaning of leadership, the role of community and the importance of theology in confronting these realities?”
The Joy of Text Podcast –Season 3 Episode 6: The #MeToo Episode
By Jewish Public Media
Live podcast recording asking: “What is a Jewish response to #MeToo? Can laws of modesty and yichud play a role in preventing sexual assault and harassment? Is affirmative consent a Talmudic concept? When is it OK to publicly shame an alleged abuser? Plus, we talk with writer, activist and performer Talia Lakritz about her bimonthly sex-book club for Jewish women, and hear from our live audience about their experiences and concerns in the wake of #MeToo.”