Judaism and feminism…It’s complicated

Controversy about the ultra-Orthodox Jewish treatment of women shows no signs of abating, coming to a kind of crisis. Recently, ultra-Orthodox Jewish men in Israel spat on an 8-year-old they deemed was dressed indecently, Naama Margolese, from Beit Shemesh.

In an incident like this, it is very clear who is at fault. But the underlining narrative here rings familiar. And the lessons should be that the burden of men’s lecherous thoughts about women should be on the men, not on the women. They either undress them and  objectify them with plastic surgery, or they cover them up, and objectify them with a burqa or “modest dress”, even for an 8-year-old on her way to school.

The New York Times today has a column precisely on this, and it could not have been said better.

At heart, we are talking about a blame-the-victim mentality. It shifts the responsibility of managing a man’s sexual urges from himself to every woman he may or may not encounter. It is a cousin to the mentality behind the claim, “She was asking for it.”

I’m so glad this is being said, and by a man, and a rabbi at that. His perspective is even more valuable because he can speak with authority about the Talmud and its teachings, saying that in fact, never does it blame women for men’s lecherous thoughts, as anyone could have deduced from recent events and all of human history [More...]

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