Thursday, October 4, 2018

Can You Hear Dinah's Voice? Erev Shabbat 09-28-18

The Abuduction of Dinah by James Tissot
Tonight, I’ll be doing something I rarely do, which is actually be quoting from today’s D’var Torah. However, I do expand upon the original text sent out earlier today. But before we begin, tonight’s D’var Torah is reflective of recent events, and discussions and conversations many of us are having with each other and through Social Media, I thought it important to take a look at what Judaism has to say about sexual assault. This is very difficult topic and conversation. For some your wounds are fresh, while for others, the pain is seared into your memories. If you need to step out from our service at any time, please feel free to do so. 
First, a few staggering statistics from the National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

·      1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed, 2.8% attempted).[1]
·      About 3% of American men—or 1 in 33—have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.[2]
·      From 2009-2013, Child Protective Services agencies substantiated, or found strong evidence to indicate that, 63,000 children a year were victims of sexual abuse.[3]
·      A majority of child victims are 12-17. Of victims under the age of 18: 34% of victims of sexual assault and rape are under age 12, and 66% of victims of sexual assault and rape are age 12-17.[4]

Clearly sexual assault is happening. Of that, there can be no doubt. And if there is one ray of light in today’s troubled times, even as wounds are being re-opened, it is also reminding us to engage in these vital conversations, and to listen to the heartbreaking stories of our mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, friends, and so many others. 
Tonight and tomorrow, we will be reading from a selection in Exodus found in Ki Tisa. It has to do with the aftermath of the destruction of the first set of tablets following the incident of the Golden Calf. In it, Moses pleads with God’s merciful nature. Then he offers up the words that have become known as the 13 attributes of God, which we recite every High Holy Day and festival. And then Moses goes up to receive a second set of tablets. Either in those tablets or in addition to the ten, he receives instructions to command the observance of the three pilgrimage festivals, including Sukkot. 
However, for our purposes, we start at Exodus 33:12 where it says, “Moses said to God, ‘See, You say to me, ‘Lead this people forward,’ but You have not made known to me whom You will send with me. Further, You have said, ‘I have singled you out by name, and you have, indeed, gained My favor. Now, if I have truly gained Your favor, pray let me know Your ways, that I may know You and continue in Your favor. Consider, too that this nation is Your people” (Exodus 33:12-13).
What Moses is seeking here are really two things. 1. A partner in the journey to lead a people destined to become the nation of Israel. And 2. Guidance towards through the right path in the wilderness. Though one can expand upon this as to know God’s ways as a guide for personal and national behavior in order to be God’s partner.
Which is why it is frustrating that the Hebrew Bible, not just the Torah is ambiguous at best when it comes to sexual assault and abuse of power. For example, there are the stories of Lot’s daughters[5], the rape of Tamar[6], the story of the Levite’s concubine[7], David and Batsheva, and the rape of Jacob’s daughter Dinah by Shechem.[8]
Each one of these stories is troubling. Lot’s daughters were almost cast out to appease an angry mob. Tamar had to prostitute herself to get what she was due from Judah. The Levite’s concubine, who is never named, dies as a result of neglect and abuse because of her infidelity. David used his position of authority to have Batsheva’s husband Uriah the Hittite, and one of his generals killed in battle, so that he could ‘acquire’ Batsheva, the beautiful woman he observed bathing in her courtyard from his balcony. And Dinah, Jacob’s only daughter listed in the Torah, was raped by Shechem.
In the story of Dinah, her father Jacob says nothing when the heinous act is revealed, and Dinah is never consulted by her brothers who ultimately slaughter Shechem and his whole tribe in retaliation. As is noted in the Plaut Torah Commentary, “The story also sheds light on the status of women in the ancient Near East. The rape was seen as damage inflicted upon the family rather than on the woman.”[9]If there is one saving grace to this passage it is, “Her silence is loud enough to reverberate through the generations. We hear it in the reports of other fathers who perceive their daughter’s rape as their dishonor, their punishment. Fortunately for Dinah, in Genesis the blame and punishment fall entirely on the perpetrator and his people, not on her.”[10]
It is the Rabbis of the Talmud and subsequent generations who begin to take on rape in a slightly more substantive and compassionate manner. For example, the Talmud prohibits marital rape.[11]Another section of Talmud teaching that bad sex produces bad children condemns several sexual circumstances that the Rabbis believed resulted in offspring who rebel and transgress. These circumstances include: (1) the woman feared the man, (2) he forced her, (3) one of them hated the other, (4) they were fighting, (5) they were drunk, and (6) one of them was asleep.”[12]Meaning, there are consequences. In this case the Talmud is equating sexual assault with rebellious offspring. Or to put it another way: don’t do it, otherwise your kids will have behavioral issues. The reality is, even the Talmud, which does take a more nuanced approach, nonetheless, does not provide us with all the answers we are looking for. It is a step in the right direction, but so much more needs to be said and done. 
Only recently, has our contemporary understanding of tradition today universally condemns sexual assault, but it has taken a long time to get to this point. Reform Judaism really only began to address these issues openly in the 1970s. Since then we have been on the forefront of acknowledging and speaking out against sexual violence and domestic assault. 
What can we do? One of the most important lessons we can learn from our tradition is to hear the voice of Dinah. Sadly, what she felt and what she had to say were never written down. But it no longer has to be that way. Instead of sitting in judgment or ignoring the cries of victims, it is time we combine the story of Dinah with the most important mitzvah in our tradition: Shema,listen! Listen to the cries of victims. Genuinely hear their stories. If we wish to walk in God’s paths and to truly know God’s ways, and gain God’s favor, we need to hear the voices from all of God’s creation. Not just those of a specific gender. Not just those who are in positions of power, but from all. Moses was looking for a partner in his journey. Now God is looking to us to partner once again in a journey to acknowledge and call out all instances of sexual abuse and assault.
Until the scourge of sexual violence is ended once and for all, we have to unite and stand up and hold all who commit such crimes accountable and not dismiss the testimony of those who suffer at their hands simply because it makes us uncomfortable. Shema, Listen!

A Prayer for the Victims of Sexual Violence
Bless all who have suffered the trauma of sexual assault and rape
Bless those who are reliving their experiences
through the words of the pain of and suffering of others
Support all them with your abounding love
at all times 
Grant them comfort
as they wrestle with the challenges
of each day.
Sustain them in hope
as they prepare for the days ahead.
And God, through your guidance help us to genuinely hear and believe the words of the victims
And to also be understanding and supportive to those who make the choice not to share their stories
Remind us not to discount their voices, their memories
Remind us to listen and not judge
Grant us the strength to raise up our voices and actions in solidarity,
And the courage to hold all who commit such heinous deeds accountable now and forevermore 

[1]National Institute of Justice & Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey (1998).
[2]National Institute of Justice & Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey (1998).
[3]United States Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. Child Maltreatment Survey, 2012 (2013).
[4]Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sex Offenses and Offenders (1997).
[5]Genesis 19
[6]Genesis 38:1-30
[7]Judges 19–20
[8]Genesis 34
[9]Plaut, Gunther, ed. The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pg. 218
[10]Eskenazi, Tamara Cohn and Andrea L. Weiss, ed. The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, pg. 204
[11]Babylonian Talmud Eruvim 100b

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