Jan 23 2018

#MeToo and the Legends of Genesis

Published by at 2:20 pm under Uncategorized

#MeToo and the Legends of Genesis
Rabbi Michael Panitz

Sex is as old as the Fifth Day of Creation, and it was a blessing then.  God blessed the animals by telling them, “be fruitful and multiply”. Henceforth, they would be able to do something that, hitherto, only God had done: they would be able to create something new.

The abuse of sex is slightly less ancient, but, sadly, it seems to be a very old stain on the human soul.

The Book of Genesis, far more hard-hitting in its unabridged and authentic version than in the Sunday School version served up for kids, is filled with stories of people who misuse God’s blessing of sexuality. The Flood wiped out the line of Cain, in which polygamy and other manifestations of violence first became prevalent, but not the hardness of the human heart. The xenophobes of Sodom were still at it, and Lot, basely, attempted to appease them by sacrificing his two unmarried daughters to their fury. The daughters repaid the father, later in the story, by raping him.

Turning to the ancestors of the Jewish people, we see a glimmer of hope in an all-too-familiar tale of patriarchal abuse of power.  Judah “went down from his brothers” (Genesis 38:1), a phrase suggesting that he lowered his moral standing, and he married a Canaanite woman. They had three sons, but the oldest was a living offense to God, and died young, leaving a childless widow, Tamar. Judah told his next son, Onan, to perform a “levirate marriage” with Tamar, so as to give her a child, but Onan did not want to accept the financial obligation, so he refused to do his part— and he died, too.  Judah reached the wrong conclusion, thinking that he had a killer widow on his hands; so he consigned Tamar to perpetual widowhood by refusing to allow her to marry his youngest son, Shelah, as was the custom of the time. She takes matters into her own hands, dresses as a prostitute (in those days, that meant covering up completely!) and stationing herself where Judah will find her. Judah himself fails to recognize her, propositions her, and in one act of physical intimacy, gets her pregnant.  The Biblical narrator suggests that the immediate conception was “God, watching from a distance”.

When Tamar becomes pregnant, Judah acts oh-so-righteously and orders her execution. With great sensitivity, Tamar speaks to Judah alone, showing him proof that he is the father. Judah then says something that has not been heard in the Bible until that moment: “She is more righteous than I.” Tamar is exonerated and gives birth to twins— one of whom is an ancestor of King David. From the acknowledgement of error, redemption can spring.

Writing shortly after the recent Alabama senatorial election, where voters have narrowly rejected a man widely accused of pederasty, I sense that we are riding a wave of revulsion at sexual predation. Thus far, too many of the powerful men accused of harassment—entertainment executives, senators, supreme court justices, going all the way up to the highest offices of the land–  have replied by calling their accusers liars. Even those who have resigned have not said the simple, yet powerful, words of Judah.

The Bible shows us: the path to healing begins with a simple recognition: She is more righteous than I. I hope for such a day.

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