‘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
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.