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


Hamas’s Deadly Escalation at the Gaza Border

Oct. 16 2018

Hamas’s weekly demonstration at the fence separating Gaza from Israel turned bloody last Friday, as operatives used explosives to blow a hole in the barrier and attempted to pass through. The IDF opened fire, killing three and scaring away the rest. Yoni Ben Menachem notes that the demonstrators’ tactics have been growing more aggressive and violent in recent weeks, and the violence is no longer limited to Fridays but is occurring around the clock:

The number of participants in the demonstrations has risen to 20,000. Extensive use has been made of lethal tactics such as throwing explosive charges and grenades at IDF soldiers, and there has been an increase in the launching of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel. At the same time, Hamas supplemented its burning tires with smoke generators at the border to create heavy smoke screens to shield Gazan rioters and allow them to get closer to the border fence and infiltrate into Israel. . . .

[S]ix months of ineffective demonstrations have not achieved anything connected with easing [Israel’s blockade of the Strip]. Therefore, Hamas has decided to increase military pressure on Israel. [Its] ultimate goal has not changed: the complete removal of the embargo; until this is achieved, the violent demonstrations at the border fence will continue.

Hamas’s overall objective is to take the IDF by surprise by blowing up the fence at several points and infiltrating into Israeli territory to harm IDF soldiers or abduct them and take them into the Gaza Strip. . . . The precedent of the 2011 deal in which one Israeli soldier was traded for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners has strengthened the feeling within Hamas that Israel is prepared to pay a heavy price for bringing back captured soldiers alive. . . . Hamas also believes that the campaign is strengthening its position in Palestinian society and is getting the international community to understand that the Palestinian problem is still alive. . . .

The Hamas leadership is not interested in an all-out military confrontation with Israel. The Gaza street is strongly opposed to this, and the Hamas leadership understands that a new war with Israel will result in substantial damage to the organization. Therefore, the idea is to continue with the “Return March” campaign, which will not cost the organization too much and will maintain its rule without paying too high a price for terror.

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More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security