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

Mahmoud Abbas Comes to the UN to Walk away from the Negotiating Table

Feb. 22 2018

On Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, addressed the United Nations Security Council during one of its regular discussions of the “Palestine question.” He used the opportunity to elaborate on the Palestinians’ “5,000-year history” in the land of Israel, after which he moved on to demand—among other things—that the U.S. reverse its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The editors of the Weekly Standard comment:

It’s convenient for Abbas to suggest a condition to which he knows the United States won’t accede. It allows him to do what he does best—walk away from the table. Which is what he did on Tuesday, literally. After his speech, Abbas and his coterie of bureaucrats walked out of the council chamber, snubbing the next two speakers, the Israeli ambassador Danny Danon and the U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley, . . . [in order to have his] photograph taken with the Belgian foreign minister.

Abbas has neither the power nor the will to make peace. It’s the perennial problem afflicting Palestinian leadership. If he compromises on the alleged “right of return”—the chimerical idea that Palestinians can re-occupy the lands from which they [or their ancestors] fled, in effect obliterating the Israeli state—he will be deposed by political adversaries. Thus his contradictory strategy: to prolong his pageantry in international forums such as the UN, and to fashion himself a “moderate” even as he finances and incites terror. He seems to believe time is on his side. But it’s not. He’s eighty-two. While he continues his performative intransigence, he further immiserates the people he claims to represent.

In a sense, it was entirely appropriate that Abbas walked out. In that sullen act, he [exemplified] his own approach to peacemaking: when difficulties arise, vacate the premises and seek out photographers.

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More about: Mahmoud Abbas, Nikki Haley, Politics & Current Affairs, United Nations