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Friday Night's Sermon: Abuse of Women

By now, just about everybody has heard about Movie Mogul Harvey Weinstein bullying women. He had built up his business over the years, making very successful movies. People who were involved in those undertakings reaped the benefits of those successes having their careers take off. Naturally, ambitious, rising actresses also approached the mogul to be involved in those projects. Many of them ended up paying a horrific price as he took advantage of their ambition to have his way with them.

It wasn’t until an article was written in the New York Times by an investigating reporter that publicized his trysts that many other actresses felt they had the public sympathy and support to reveal their own experiences with this man. Most of them felt that had they accused him before the article was published, they would have been ridiculed and dismissed as wanting retribution for lack of success. Many were ashamed that they traded their sexual integrity for a career. With the amount of accusations now prevalent, Mr. Weinstein’s company had no choice but to dismiss him as these charges are leveled and investigated. Mr. Weinstein for his part has apologized and said he is going into counseling. Many are questioning the sincerity of his remorse.

This incident was so far-reaching that it has unveiling a culture in Hollywood that many had been discussing and joking about for years. It is the old story of the “casting couch”, in which an up-and-coming actress trades sexual favors for opportunities. Many have stated that in many cases, this is the only way an actress can expect success.

In fact, Linor Abargil, an Israeli who was crowned Miss World in 1998 is now speaking out about being raped. In 1998, two months before crowned, she was abducted and raped in Milan, Italy. It is only recently that she is able to talk about it.

It would seem that this is but one example of how women are treated in our male-dominated society. How many cases of wife abuse had to occur before laws were put into place to protect women? There are certainly cases of women abusing men but these are slight compared to the other way around. Now, it is possible that those numbers of man abuse are understated as men as less likely to report being abused by women, but considering that women abuse stretches across different situations and scenarios.

We read about honor killings in the Middle East, where a woman gets raped and she has thus dishonored her family. Recently in Saudi Arabia, women are finally able to drive. In China, they tried to control an exploding population by limited each couple to one child; this led to some couples killing baby girls since it was considered much better to have a baby boy.

It is sad that the female gender is seen in such a disrespectful light by most of the world. Fortunately, the Jewish world doesn’t see it that way. Or at least, we’re not supposed to. There was an incident in Israel recently where a female Israeli soldier intervened in a conflict between Israeli’s driving in an ultra-Orthodox section was physically attacked by a group of men who apparently thought women did not belong in that type of position.

Judaism considers women to be on a higher spiritual plane than men. Women give birth and thus create life just like HaShem. This is why they take care of the household and raise the children. They are therefore absolved from having to comply with positive, time-based commandments, like praying and putting on tefillin.

Some will disagree. They will cite the Orthodox version of the Morning Brachot which states “who has not made me a woman”. Others will cite the “Sotah”, that a woman accused of adultery is put through a mystical test to determine her innocence; there is no such similar, corresponding test for a man.

Torah understands that men and women are different. Men succumb to temptations in a way that women don’t. Men are driven by a lust that women don’t have.

Men come into this life as men to resolve certain challenges. They thank G-d for making them men so they can spend time working them out. And we pray and wear tallitot and tefillin to constantly remind us to contain those urges.

Torah is also very explicit about how women are to be treated. Many places in Torah refers to helping the widow (and orphan and stranger too by the way) because they are considered to be the most vulnerable in society. Abusing women then is a major transgression. Harvey Weinstein took advantage of vulnerable people, and he has a long way to go to be forgiven.

As does the rest of the world. These men who take advantage of in any capacity and treat them in a demeaning manner are bullies, preying on someone weaker than them. Judaism teaches exactly the opposite, to help the vulnerable in society.

Maybe the rest of the world will catch up.

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