As Genesis Makes Clear, Fear of God Is the Best Check on Sexual Impropriety

From the nudity of Noah to the rape of Dinah to the attempted seduction of Joseph in this week’s Torah reading, the first book of the Bible is replete with instances of people who try to use power or violence to coerce sex from the unwilling. Daniel Ross Goodman finds an important and timely message in the thread that connects these stories:

Abraham diagnoses the problem [during his sojourn] in Philistia, after [its king], Avimelekh, abducts Sarah and [a] miracle occurs preventing Avimelekh from molesting her: Avimelekh confronts Abraham, asking him why he lied and called Sarah his sister. Abraham tells Avimelekh, “I said to myself ‘there is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife’” (Genesis 20:11). . . .

The message of [this and other] stories is clear: where there is no fear of God, . . . primal instincts go unchecked and powerless people are at risk of having sexual violence perpetrated upon them by powerful, unrestrained potentates. . . .

“Good manners must come prior to the Torah,” the rabbis of the Talmud teach. Because if there is a lack of basic decency, then what good is law? The book of Genesis is the first book of the Bible in order to teach us that if we cannot manage to act with basic decency—for instance, if we cannot understand something as basic as not forcing people into sexual activity against their will—then the rest of the Bible, and the rest of our endeavors, are essentially worthless.

We have a difficult time nowadays talking about concepts like “holiness,” “humility,” and “fear of God” (or “fear of Heaven,” as it is often called in rabbinic literature). We are much more comfortable talking about “tolerance,” “equality,” or “rights.” But if there’s anything that today’s stories about sexual harassment can teach us, . . . it’s that without a fear of Heaven—without the fear that there is a higher power who will hold those with earthly power accountable for their misdeeds—then it is very, very difficult to prevent people from exploiting others.

Without the fear of heaven, you must rely on earthly laws alone for justice. As Harvey Weinstein and the rest have demonstrated, that’s not much of a shield. When you untether the law from belief, you rob it of its power.

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More about: Abraham, Genesis, Hebrew Bible, Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Sexual ethics

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East