In his recent analysis of the “MeToo earthquake,” Rabbi Avi Shafran, Agudath Israel of America’s director of public affairs, bemoans the “supposedly enlightened, progressive, post-patriarchal society, with its proud claim to value and respect women,” and questions how we can expect men to respect women who dress and behave immodestly. In contrast, he asserts that sexual abuse is “relatively rare” in a society guided by Jewish law, where modesty and strict boundaries on gender interaction provide a carefully controlled environment, and women are valued and respected rather than objectified.
In this episode of Intimate Judaism, Talli Rosenbaum and Rabbi Scott Kahn discuss Rabbi Shafran’s premise and his conclusion. While acknowledging the socio-cultural contrasts, they question the value of this self-idealization; though the mechanisms of abuse of power and authority may look different, objectification and victimization exist across cultures, and Orthodox Judaism is no exception. During the second half of the show, they are joined by Dr. Rachel Yehuda, an expert on trauma, who led a team of researchers who demonstrated that sexual abuse is indeed not a rare phenomenon in Orthodox society.