Ob­ser­va­tions

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - IN PLAIN LAN­GUAGE STE­WART WEISS The writer is director of the Jewish Out­reach Cen­ter of Ra’anana; [email protected]­sion.net.il

‘Jews in the news” is a game we all love to play, iden­ti­fy­ing celebs who are mem­bers of the tribe, smugly al­low­ing us to pro­claim, under our breaths, “Look, Zay­die, we made it!” But some­times, the men­tion of those very same Jewish names makes us cringe, when it turns out that they are as­so­ci­ated with scan­dal and seedy be­hav­ior. Then, heimishe han­dles like We­in­stein, Rat­ner, Hoff­man, Drey­fuss and Franken only bring dis­honor and em­bar­rass­ment to our peo­ple.

The rev­e­la­tion that Har­vey We­in­stein al­legedly sex­u­ally ha­rassed, mo­lested and raped nu­mer­ous women over a pe­riod of decades has opened a flood­gate of ac­cu­sa­tions and ad­mis­sions of guilt, tar­nish­ing the names and top­pling the ca­reers of nu­mer­ous per­son­al­i­ties in show business, the po­lit­i­cal world and be­yond.

This is es­sen­tially a good thing. No per­son, male or fe­male, de­serves to be preyed upon, taken ad­van­tage of or abused in any way. A so­ci­ety is best judged on how well it cares for and pro­tects its most vul­ner­a­ble mem­bers, and cer­tainly women and chil­dren have al­ways been at the fore­front of those need­ing pro­tec­tion. In male-dom­i­nated so­ci­eties – which pretty much cov­ers ev­ery na­tion in his­tory, Won­der Woman’s fic­tional Ama­zon com­mu­nity not­with­stand­ing – women have been sub­jected to in­tense pres­sure to com­pro­mise their prin­ci­ples and sub­mit to sex­ual black­mail in or­der to ad­vance and of­ten just to sur­vive.

Power al­ways com­mands the pow­er­less, just as author­ity in­tim­i­dates the anony­mous. That is why the Is­rael De­fense Forces strictly for­bids any sex­ual re­la­tion­ship be­tween an of­fi­cer and a lower-rank­ing soldier; by def­i­ni­tion, it can never be con­sen­sual.

Even when a young star­let will­ingly sub­mits her­self to a pro­ducer, director or chore­og­ra­pher to curry his fa­vor and get ahead, she is com­pet­ing on a woe­fully un­even play­ing field, with all the rules stacked against her.

But where do we draw the line? When does af­fec­tion be­come abuse? When does con­ver­sa­tion be­come cul­pa­ble co­er­cion? Is ev­ery ver­bal or phys­i­cal ges­ture a crim­i­nal act that can end up in court?

This very week’s To­rah por­tion records that “Ja­cob, see­ing Rachel, ad­vanced to­ward her and kissed her . Then he raised his voice and wept” (Ge­n­e­sis 29:11). Was the pa­tri­arch also out of line?

There is no small mea­sure of hypocrisy that haunts the Hol­ly­wood purge. Here is an in­dus­try that pro­vides the pub­lic with tit­il­lat­ing, sex­u­ally ex­plicit themes and im­ages – it’s a rare film to­day that suc­ceeds in the the­aters with­out some form of nu­dity – and yet cas­ti­gates those who in­gest those same stim­uli and then let them be played out in the real world. Doesn’t the in­dus­try bear any re­spon­si­bil­ity for the cli­mate it helps to cre­ate?

And then there is the thorny is­sue of se­lec­tive moral­ity, tak­ing some de­viants to task while giv­ing oth­ers a free pass – even ap­plaud­ing and idol­iz­ing them. In 1977, then 43-year-old Ro­man Polan­ski – there’s that Jewish name thing again, folks – ac­cepted a guilty ver­dict of un­law­ful sex­ual in­ter­course with 13-year-old Sa­man­tha Gai­ley, after plead­ing not guilty to charges that in­cluded rape by use of drugs and sodomy in Los An­ge­les.

Os­ten­si­bly pho­tograph­ing her for an is­sue of Vogue, Polan­ski al­legedly locked her in a room, gave her al­co­hol and Quaaludes and com­mit­ted lewd acts with her. After plead­ing guilty to statu­tory rape, he fled the United States and has been wanted ever since. Yet none of this pre­vented an ador­ing bevy of Hol­ly­wood stars from celebratin­g his Os­car in 2003 for best director, even as they crit­i­cized Amer­ica for up­hold­ing his pun­ish­ment.

No less a mo­ral gi­ant than Har­vey We­in­stein led a pe­ti­tion drive to see him ex­on­er­ated! Polan­ski – who now has been ac­cused of five ad­di­tional as­saults, in­clud­ing one on a 10-year old girl – found refuge in France. Yes, the same France that to­day is led by Em­manuel Macron, who as a teenager was se­duced by his (mar­ried) high-school drama teacher, 28 years his el­der and to­day his wife.

Is there any­thing wrong with this pic­ture – or should I say film?!

Then there is Bill Clin­ton, the dar­ling of the lib­eral world. A se­rial wom­an­izer if ever there was one, he had the au­dac­ity to force him­self sex­u­ally on a young in­tern in the Oval Of­fice and though he was im­peached – just the sec­ond pres­i­dent to hold that du­bi­ous honor – is still em­braced and held in high es­teem in some mis­guided cir­cles.

As the rush of rev­e­la­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment con­tin­ues apace, more of the rich and fa­mous will be fin­gered, and no doubt more clergy – in­clud­ing rab­bis – will soon join the list. If they have over­stepped their bounds and crossed the line – wher­ever that line comes to be drawn – then they could and should be held ac­count­able.

But let’s be sure our mo­ral com­pass does not go hay­wire. And let us pause for a mo­ment and show some long over­due re­spect for halachic safe­guards, for Jewish law’s strict yet sen­si­ble em­pha­sis on mod­esty: mod­esty in our choice of speech; mod­esty in our choice of clothes; mod­esty in the way we in­ter­face – and re­frain from in­ter­fac­ing – with the pub­lic at large. Not ev­ery­thing that can be said should be said; not ev­ery­thing that can be worn should be worn, and not ev­ery­thing that can be touched should be touched.

Forth­right be­hav­ior need not be flir­ta­tious. Some­times just act­ing in a way that re­spects and rec­og­nizes your fel­low human be­ing, while pro­tect­ing your own char­ac­ter, can make you a star.

Let us pause for a mo­ment and show some long over­due re­spect for halachic safe­guards, for Jewish law’s strict yet sen­si­ble em­pha­sis on mod­esty

(Arnd Wieg­mann/Reuters)

DIRECTOR Ro­man Polan­ski talks to the me­dia as he ar­rives to present his movie ‘D’après une his­toire vraie’ at the Zurich Film Fes­ti­val, last month.

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