Ever notice how many ridiculous assertions, many of them touching on matters
of religion, are printed in serious journals weekly? Last week's non
sequitur prize goes to The Jerusalem Report's cover story on sexual
harassment in Israel, in light of the accusations against President Moshe
Katsav and former Justice Minister Haim Ramon.
The article quotes a number of social scientists who purport to identify
various social and cultural factors that make Israeli society a fertile
ground for the phenomenon, including you guessed it Judaism. Among the
social factors cited are Israel's lack of separation of state and religion
and the allegedly inferior status of women in Judaism. As an example of the
latter, social anthropologist Dr. Esther Hertzog notes that former Chief
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau is considered a possible candidate for president
despite the fact that he does not shake hands with women.
Frankly, the connection between Rabbi Lau's handshaking habits and sexual
harassment escapes me. Are those who do not shake hands with women more
likely to engage in sexual harassment of various kinds?
If memory serves, a recent president of the United States was as affable and
undiscriminating a presser of the flesh as ever came down the pike. That did
not prevent him from being the subject of at least one charge of rape and
many others of groping and lewd behavior no less credible than those being
hurled at President Katsav today.
Yet, as far as I know, Bill Clinton is not Jewish; the Hot Springs,
Arkansas, in which he grew up, was not notably suffused with Jewish values;
and there is a full separation of state and religion in the United States.
It is not traditional religious norms that provide fertile soil for sexual
harassment, but their absence. The social scientists quoted by The Jerusalem
Report provide not one scintilla of evidence that sexual harassment is more
common in Israel than any other advanced Western society, and or that
religious men are more frequent harassers.
Here's an interesting idea for a study by our social anthropologists: Survey
religious Jewish women in the secular workplace to determine whether they
are subjected to sexually crude remarks and outright solicitation at the
same rate as their secular counterparts. Or do their standards of dress,
demeanor and conduct, and hair covering convey a clear message that they are
off-limits and have no desire to be part of their co-workers' sexual
One Orthodox woman who worked for years in an American newsroom where the
male reporters regularly regaled one another and women reporters who
feared being thought to be prissy with vulgar jokes told me that not once
did they invite her to join the fun. Yet she otherwise enjoyed a friendlier
relationship with them than other femaie reporters.
The failure of strong legal sanctions to eliminate sexual harassment around
the world results primarily from the impossibility of superimposing a legal
regime on the workplace that flies in the face of the hypersexualized
general culture. Tabloids, popular music, and TV sit-coms all promote the
idea that the main thing on virtually everyone's minds is sex.
It is impossible to expect people living in a world of double entendres, sex
clubs, and clothing designed to leave as little to the imagination as
possible to suddenly park the conventions of that world upon entering the
work place. And that is especially so when work place dress no longer
signals any clear line of demarcation.
The highest aspiration of our young is to be a celebrity in the Paris Hilton
mold. Young girls judge themselves on a scale of how "hot" they are i.e.,
by how much attention they attract in a complete inversion of the original
feminist ideal of women being judged as something other than sex objects.
In one poll, cited in the Report article, only 18% of female soldiers
reported being subjected to sexual harassment in the Israeli Army. But when
asked whether male soldiers or officers had made crude remarks of a sexual
nature to them, 55% answered affirmatively. One possible explanation of the
disparity is that the crude remarks were not experienced as sexual
harassment because they were not entirely unsought, as evidenced by efforts
of female cadets to tug their army issue pants ever lower.
Women may be victims of this process, but they are not complete innocents in
their own abuse. Confusion and mixed messages are inevitable in a society
where sex is up front all the time. A little more of the traditional Jewish
sexual modesty would be a big corrective.
MY SECOND entry in the non-sequitur sweepstakes can be found in a recent
Jerusalem Post opinion piece ("Thus Spake Zarathustra," September 15) by the
paper's former managing editor, Calev Ben David: "Any religion in the modern
world that does not make an effort to welcome, or seek out, new converts, is
fated to diminish."
As a matter of elementary logic, that statement is false, unless one is
discussing the Shakers and other celibate religious communities.
The rapid growth of Muslim populations all over the globe owes little to
conversion, and a great deal to high birthrates. Or let us take a happier
example: Orthodox Jews. A close friend of mine in his early '70s already has
a 100 grandchildren, plus or minus. With a little more such fecundity, all
the hair-pulling about the disappearance of the Jewish people would cease,
even if not one more convert entered our ranks.
Indeed demographers predict that by the middle of the century the decline of
the Jewish population will bottom out and reverse due to Orthodox growth.
American Jewry is disappearing because Jewish women tend to marry, if at
all, at a later age and have fewer children than any other religious or
In place of Ben-David's rule quoted above, I would offer a far more
defensible one: A religion whose foundational texts and basic tenets are
unknown to most of its members, whose rites and practices are observed by
few, and which is of so little significance in its members' lives that well
over 50% marry members of other faiths is fated to diminish.
Such a religion, by the way, will exercise little appeal for converts. Rates
of conversion among gentile spouses of Jews continue to drop, despite the
mainstream's community's widespread acceptance of intermarriage.
Now how about a moratorium on silly statements about religion?