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Feb 21 2012

Rabbi takes down King Leer

The spinster aunt doesn’t give a flip about the corny-ass sacred texts of the world’s great religions. This is because the world’s great religions without exception do double-duty as the world’s great repositories of misogyny. And also because belief, without exception, subverts truth. Take, for example, the habit of godbags to dress women in bags and keep them locked out of the public eye, supposedly in order to prevent dudes from thinking impure thoughts. The habit of blaming women for dude’s impure thoughts is not limited to godbags, of course, but that’s another post.

As the world’s leading expert on comparative religion, I am hard-pressed to come up with an example of an orthodoxy that doesn’t blame women for all men’s failings. So, when banned-for-life blamer Mar Iguana sent in this link I was intrigued. It’s an opinion piece in the New York Times on the subject of the Talmud and an interpretation of same that suggests dudes knock if off already with the leering and ogling, rather than spit on little kids who aren’t dressed “modestly” enough.

It seems, then, that a religious tenet that begins with men’s sexual thoughts ends with men controlling women’s bodies. This is not a problem unique to Judaism. But the Talmud, the basis for Jewish law, offers a perhaps surprising answer: It places the responsibility for controlling men’s licentious thoughts about women squarely on the men. Put more plainly, the Talmud says: It’s your problem, sir; not hers.

For the convenience of those who, like me, have already blown through their New York Times access points for the month, banned-for-life blamer Mar Iguana stole the whole article and included it in her comment, here.

Enjoy. Auntliness requires my attention to matters other than patriarchy blaming just now.

49 comments

  1. yttik

    One thing that’s weird about religious texts is that they are often used to justify oppressing and blaming women when in fact, the texts themselves often say no such thing. Dudes pick and chose what parts they like, read into them what they want, and ignore any other texts that might contradict them.

  2. rahab

    This reminds me of what Jesus said in the book of Matthew.

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand lcauses you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

  3. Lovepug

    Those nut jobs are really on the warpath in Israel right now. They are to Judaism what FLDS is to the Mormon church. Nothing more than a cult. Nice to hear a well written rebuttal from a rabbi no less.

  4. Stella

    This piece blew my mind. Real feminism from an Orthodox rabbi. I had to look over it several times to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. But, no, he gets it just right. More proof that male assholery is a choice, not innate.

  5. Jaffa

    yttik: Yes. The problem is that when men pick and choose, that’s considered legitimate and “authentic,” but when women pick and choose, it’s wimping out and intellectually dishonest. Picking and choosing is a necessity in a text as hugely long as the Talmud, let alone a giant corpus of works such as are contained in Jewish law. Same deal with any culture. So I’m into affirming any feminist and/or badass statements that can be picked and chosen, especially when they come from women themselves.

  6. phio gistic

    If they can’t stop ogling, make them wear blinkers. Sounds fair to me. If they can’t control themselves, don’t let them out without a chaperone, and give them strict curfews. If they can’t stop catcalling, don’t allow them to speak in public.
    Similarly, for those that can’t control their sperm, make them get vasectomies. That would solve 99% of the ‘unwanted pregnancy’ problem that women currently not only shoulder alone, but get constantly shat upon for the decisions they have to make to deal with the fallout from sperm-incontinent men.

  7. Catherine Martell

    Perhaps I am alone in being unable to get excited about this.

    Liberal-end-of-spectrum apologists for megatheocorporate religions quite often claim that if you go back to the source it’s all lovely really and it’s just the fundies that have messed it up for everyone else.

    Hogwash. Selectively quoting the nice bits is just as easy as selectively quoting the not-nice bits. Either way, the problem is not in what it says; the problem is in treating this document as a higher authority, written, inspired or endorsed by some sort of God. Quoting from it to prove political points, nice or not-nice, still makes you some patriarchal dude (or woman) relying on Bronze Age (or, in the case of the Talmud, Iron Age) patriarchal dudes to make your patriarchal point.

    What would be really radical is to suggest all of us stop treating ancient patriarchal dudes as a higher authority altogether.

    No doubt this particular rabbi is a super chap. His article is obviously written in the context of the current fundie wave in Israel which Lovepug mentions, and to that it’s a worthy rebuttal. But the Talmudic rabbinical quotes he has used do not say that the male gaze needs to be desexualised, as he suggests. They are about the limited social sanctioning, through patriarchy, of sexual behaviour. For instance, there is no suggestion that a woman may freely invite a man to look upon her body if she wants him to.

    Furthermore, even if the power to stop looking lies with the man, the woman’s body is clearly defined by the quotes as a locus of moral danger: either sexy or disgusting, or both. This isn’t exactly refuted by the rabbi’s enthusiasm for something called “modest dress”, which applies even to eight-year-olds.

    Trying to retrofit ancient religious texts with 21st century feminist ideas seems to me very nearly as pointless as trying to explain with modern science how the Plagues of Egypt or Noah’s Flood could have really happened. FOR PITY’S SAKE. IT’S NOT REAL.

    I applaud the rabbi’s attempt to take on the extremists on their own terms. Good luck to him. But as a feminist, I shrug.

  8. quixote

    Catherine, I think you’re wrong on this. There is huge value in demolishing an argument on its own terms, even when you don’t admit the validity of those terms to begin with. It’s the only way to reason with people trapped inside the mindset.

    I know. I know. They don’t want to get out of the mindset. But those who do (and there are plenty of them or the fundies wouldn’t have to work so hard to avoid other viewpoints) learn from it. That makes it very, very worth it.

  9. Catherine Martell

    Quixote, I do approve (as I said twice in my comment) of the rabbi trying to take on the argument in its own terms. Good for him. But we are discussing it on a radical feminist website.

    The post and comments above were in danger of going misty-eyed and offering the rabbi a cookie, so naturally I tipped a big bucket of cold slime over the cookie tray. It’s my feminist idea of fun.

  10. Saurs

    Godbag producing bags of gas not in the name of women, themselves, but in the name of protecting his preferred brand of godbaggism from “perversions” derived from poor reading comprehension. I’ll pass.

  11. buttercup

    I’m with Catherine Martell and Saurs on this one. Perhaps it’s the old jaundiced eye, but I’ll save the amazement for when ol’ Rabbi Whozits gives a big ol’ check to Planned Parenthood.

  12. josquin

    Catherine Martell’s comments- [like]
    I’m with her too.

  13. lizor

    @ rahab – Interesting you should bring that quote.

    Just last night as I was ruminating over the incomprehensible number of women being raped at any given moment and the even greater number of dude whapping off to internet videos of women and children being raped, I had one of those futile “if I had superpowers” fantasies wherein the woman or girl in either scenario rises up and barfs acid into the eyes of the rapist/whapper, rendering him blind for life and then raping the dude, just to share the experience.

    When done, said woman disappears into a shimmering light and winds up on Savage death Island for a well-earned margarita (or banana split for the kids).

    Why should vengeance be the purview of dudely Gods only?

  14. rahab

    I like that idea, minus raping the dude.

    When I think about horrific statistics like that, I like to imagine that a device from the novel Snow Crash will someday be invented and cheap enough for every woman and girl to have it–a dentata that is a tiny hypodermic needle, loaded with a powerful anesthetic that knocks a would-be rapist out on contact. Then he stays out for hours, enough time to get to safety and call the police.

  15. Hari

    rahab: “a dentata that is a tiny hypodermic needle, loaded with a powerful anesthetic that knocks a would-be rapist out on contact. Then he stays out for hours, enough time to get to safety and call the police.”

    You forgot to add that it would both die his penis green, and render it dysfunctional for at least a year. Thus confirming his identity as the rapist for legal purposes and giving him a nice long time-out from having any fun at all with that thing.

    As for religion, well I’ve studied it quite a bit in my search for truth. Finally gave it up as a lost cause. But not before discovering that no one who practices any religion, actually practices it according to the Holy Scriptures (whichever scripture they ascribe to). Least of all, of course, the men.

    So I’ll take this recent rabinnical revelation as the teensy tinsy bit of relief from non-stop hatred that it is. Not enough to stop the deluge of hatred coming at womyn most assiduously of all from the religious of the world.

  16. Saurs

    The more I consider this, the more steamed I’m getting.

    Dude really loves the women! You can tell ‘cos he thinks the 8 year-old ones and the modestly dressed ones shouldn’t be spat upon. Whatta guy! (Presumably the prostituted ones he disparages totally deserve the spit bombs, though.)

    Sorry, I am not unduly impressed by a man who needs a book to tell him out to feel about women. I’m also assuming that if the Talmud assured its readers that women were shit, said dude’d have no problem accepting this as the word o’ God and acting in accordance with that word and encouraging his dudely brethren to do likewise. (That he is constantly othering Jewish women in that editorial implies, I guess? That Jewish women’ll take any status he accords them and have no other feelings about the matter or that their feelings and experiences are irrelevant.) Also, the “modestly-dressed 8 year old” he is referencing is, besides, a red herring; most of the people being abused are adult women in all states of dress.

    All that being said, it would have been much more commendable for him to have condemned these attacks before they garnered a lot of embarrassing bad press. This smells like clean-up duty. Women, of course, from all walks on life have been condemning them from day one, but their voices are conspicuously ignored.

  17. Judi

    Here’s one of my favorite pictures ever, “Male Hasidim Don Veils On Pilgramage To Rabbi’s Grave”:

    http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2010/09/male-hasidim-don-veils-on-the-way-to-rabbis-grave-345.html

    Those dudes look kinda sexy though, right? The way the ends of their beards stick out under the cloth is so provocative, they must be teasing me on purpose. The sight of male facial hair always makes me think about sex. They better start wearing longer veils or I’m gonna start sinning, big time.

  18. pheeno

    “Also, the “modestly-dressed 8 year old” he is referencing is, besides, a red herring; most of the people being abused are adult women in all states of dress.”

    Also- there’s no such thing as an immodestly dressed 8 year old if said 8 year old wasn’t sexualized to begin with due to being female.

  19. Kea

    … all of us stop treating ancient patriarchal dudes as a higher authority altogether.

    And the new world was not as the literal word,
    The people saw, in the time of
    Reinterpretation. And if heaven and earth
    Are recreated, why not women and men,
    Always equal, in their own image,
    Stealing the sacred domes from the fallen
    Priests of the golden calf; unto the
    Future and not into the past,
    Forever and ever, amen.

  20. Twisty

    Catherine Martell:

    the problem is in treating [the Talmud] as a higher authority, written, inspired or endorsed by some sort of God. Quoting from it to prove political points, nice or not-nice, still makes you some patriarchal dude (or woman) relying on Bronze Age (or, in the case of the Talmud, Iron Age) patriarchal dudes to make your patriarchal point.

    Catherine Martell, is, as usual, right.

    I am not worthy!

  21. Kea

    Many hypocracies require addressing. Governments should legislate history lessons for religious schools, to remind students that in the civilsations that led to the main religions (Egypt, Sumer/Akkad, …) patriarchal authority was military and administrative, whereas the authorities of Religion and Science were, in fact, usually (royal) women. After all, there is a precedent with Evolution in the classroom.

  22. AK

    Kea did you write that poem? It’s wonderful.

  23. Kea

    Yeah, off the cuff, AK.

  24. EmilyBites

    @lizor
    That’s…really not cool.

    Just echoing Catherine Martell et al to say, this guy might have serendipitously hit upon a feminist analysis, but he seems more invested in defending his own brand of godbaggery than anything else.

    Like we care what his daft old book says. Pshaw.

  25. Darragh Murphy

    “there’s no such thing as an immodestly dressed eight year old.”

    Beautiful point Pheeno. By reminding us of that you make it clear how preposterous this rabbi is.

  26. gingerest

    lizor – your comment is reminding me of a comic book from the mid-nineties and I can’t remember the name of it. Oh, this is going to drive me nuts. It featured a wild-eyed lesbian who inflicted huge quantitities of violence on a variety of individual tools of the P. And her cat.

    Okay, someone has to remember this other than me. C’mon Blamers, I know someone brought their comic book collection to the Island.

  27. gingerest

    HOTHEAD PAISAN! You would like her lots, lizor.

  28. Jessie

    “there’s no such thing as an immodestly dressed eight year old.”

    Yes.

    I was also immediately struck by the fact that the girl was described as being dressed modestly. So? When adults are verbally abusing and spitting on a child, it doesn’t matter what she’s wearing. It’s never acceptable for grown men to abuse and intimidate an eight year old.

    As noted in the article, a lot of religious people who want women to wear cloth sacs over their entire bodies moan about the West’s sexualization of women. It rarely occurs to them that both approaches are appalling and dehumanizing.

  29. Friend of Snakes

    “For the convenience of those who, like me, have already blown through their New York Times access points for the month…”

    Two easy ways around this:

    1. Any link to a NY Times article does not count against your monthly (20?) allotment.

    2. You can have UNLIMITED free access to NY Times articles by doing the following:

    When you get that annoying message telling you you’re shit outta luck for the month unless you buy a subscription, shout, “Not even the chicken patriarchy can stop me, fella!” Then go to your browser’s (Firefox, Chrome, IE, whatever) cookie cache, search for all the cookies with NYTimes in the name and delete them all. I typically find 30-40 cookie entries put there by the Times.

    So in Firefox, for instance, it’s: Options>Privacy>Remove individual cookies>Search:nytimes>remove cookies>close.

    I can’t remember if you have to close and restart the browser tab for the Times or not, but it won’t hurt to do that. Et voilà! You’re back in business reading however much you want.

  30. speedbudget

    As noted in the article, a lot of religious people who want women to wear cloth sacs over their entire bodies moan about the West’s sexualization of women.

    It also fails to occur to them that by requiring women to dress in such a way, they are sexualizing them ANYWAY. Duh.

    This supposed “defense” of this 8-year-old reminds me in no small way of the 11-year-old victim of gang rape in Texas. She was accused of “asking for it” and all the various rape apologia that usually goes on. It’s truly sickening.

  31. M

    Yick @speedbudget – it reminds my slightly tamer imagination of the images of Muhammed paradox:

    Having images of the prophet might lead to him/his image becoming an icon – we should only worship ALLAH, not the prophet, so we should avoid using images <– all fairly sensible stuff within its own paradigm, albeit a batshit crazy paradigm in my personal opinion.

    Therefore the existence of any image of the prophet = blasphemy *because he's too sacred to take the piss out of* = way to miss the point.

  32. lizor

    I can understand Emilybites, that you would find my honest inner thoughts “not cool”. The notion of women paying men back with their own behaviour is, in the dictates of P, unthinkable and somehow framed as far more heinous than what is visited on so many of us, not just in the real world, but in the visual media as entertainment. I am risking speaking honestly here because this blog feels like the safest space to do so.

    These are thoughts and feeling that haunt me. My rapes cost me years of my life and I am still paying for it. And yet there are many many people who will tell me straight up that I am “making it up”, or other tones and colours of victim-blaming.

    I know for a fact that experience is the best teacher and I believe that the only way for men to understand the seriousness of rape and the extent of the harm is to have that experience. I will not apologize for wanting to remove the sight from dudes who entertain themselves by watching the rape of women and children and I do not apologize for wanting rapists to experience what they force on others. I did not create this out of the ether. It was visited upon me and now I live with it.

  33. qvaken

    Hari: “rahab: “a dentata that is a tiny hypodermic needle, loaded with a powerful anesthetic that knocks a would-be rapist out on contact. Then he stays out for hours, enough time to get to safety and call the police.”

    You forgot to add that it would both die his penis green, and render it dysfunctional for at least a year. Thus confirming his identity as the rapist for legal purposes and giving him a nice long time-out from having any fun at all with that thing.”

    Only a year? Oh, c’mawn, make it for the rest of his life. Male sex should be a privilege that gets permanently confiscated if he abuses it.

    @lizor: “I had one of those futile “if I had superpowers” fantasies wherein the woman or girl in either scenario rises up and barfs acid into the eyes of the rapist/whapper, rendering him blind for life and then raping the dude, just to share the experience.”

    Is there any possible way to rape somebody without penetrating them? Is penetration the whole point of rape? Just something that I’d never thought about until just now.

  34. Hari

    speedbudget: “It also fails to occur to them that by requiring women to dress in such a way, they are sexualizing them ANYWAY. Duh.”

    Oh you naughty womyn you. How DARE you point out that it is the men who have made womyn into the sex class?

    M: “we should only worship ALLAH, not the prophet, so we should avoid using images…”

    Yes, this always seems to be an area of deep confusion for the poor darlings. Not to mention– if god is who god says (and everyone so deeply believes) s/he is, then why oh why would such a magnificent being be so petty, idiotic and needy as to require ‘worship’ by mere humans–at all?

  35. Hari

    btw, in my earlier post’s misspelling of “die” when I meant “dye” (his thing green). Surely just a Freudian slip.

  36. yttik

    The urge to turn the tables on rapists is completely understandable. There were a couple of movies with this theme, Extremities with Farrah Fawcett and Deadly Justice with Richard Crenna. Crenna plays a complete pig of a cop who treats sex crimes as a joke until he himself gets raped.

    Neither of them are great feminist works of art and might be triggering, but they were pretty good movies about men being forced to walk in a victim’s shoes and learn some empathy.

  37. rahab

    Just agreeing that the idea of a “modestly dressed 8 year old” is in itself obscene–and puts the responsibility for her treatment on her, as the rabbi is claiming he’s explicitly NOT doing.

  38. Frumious B.

    @qvaken:

    Rape is sex that is not consented to. It is possible to have non-penetrative sex, and it is also possible for the rapist to be the one penetrated (in the case of women who rape men), so yes, it is possible to rape without penetration of the victim.

  39. nails

    It is a neat coincidence to have been reading Against Our Will recently, Susan Brownmiller asserts that the changes to jewish law were borne of neccessity instead of human decency. The relative sparseness and constant persecution of jews (especially things like rape of jewish women for antisemetic reasons) made it impossible for jewish religious law to continue blaming women for the sexual thoughts of men. Laws that blame women require that their husbands abandon them after being raped. There would have been few jewish people left to follow the laws if every jewish woman violated was blamed for it. Its just more proof that the core principle of every organization is self preservation, even a patriarchal religion will make allowances if faced with their own destruction otherwise.

    Wiccans and assorted other pagans seem to have equal female participation in their religious rituals. Where is their high five?

  40. qvaken

    Frumious B.: Yeah, pretty much after I posted it I remembered that there have been huge debates surrounding that one, and that people certainly can experience and have experienced non-penetrative rape. Guess I just get so caught up on my own experience that I forget these things sometimes.

  41. TwissB

    If I don’t crash rudely in with this reference to a pingback on a previous thread, you might miss the surreal meeting of IBTP quotes with the ultimate male fantasy car ad:
    http://womenborntranssexual.com/2012/02/17/spinster-aunt-prattles-on-about-pornography

  42. Margaret

    Nails: and it’s also pretty neat that Jewishness comes from having a Jewish mother. Not much is said about the practicality of this rule. Raped mothers and their babies are guaranteed a place in their community, instead of being abandoned. It is difficult to find more information about this.

  43. Cootie Twoshoes

    Lizor, I totally hear what you are saying. Like Angela Davis talks about in Black Power Mixed Tape, if the oppressed attempt to remove themselves from the tyranny of the dominant paradigm, any perceived violence is treated with overwhelming scrutiny and backlash, especially when the oppressors are the most violent humans on Earth. Oppressors receive little to no scrutiny, because what they do is the norm.

    So, even if you have only fantasies of retaliation, the social order will gnaw on you far more than if it were actual violence achieved by beneficiaries of its rule.

  44. stacey

    Adblock, people! Reduce your exposure! It’s an extension or add-on for all browsers. You can disable it for sites you want to support, but block ads everywhere else!

  45. naomi

    rahab: “You forgot to add that it would both die his penis green, and render it dysfunctional for at least a year. Thus confirming his identity as the rapist for legal purposes and giving him a nice long time-out from having any fun at all with that thing.”

    How long do you think it would take for a dude to realise he could use his power to force the woman to testify “I left the dentata thingy in my mistake, because I was drunk/a ditsy blonde/whatever, and really we were having consensual sex.” Or for him to get HER in the dock and have his law-making dudely friends “prove” that she led him on, luring him into the vicinity of the device with the intent of hurting him?

  46. lizor

    Thanks for that Cootie Twoshoes. It’s so true and I am endlessly amazed that there is so little kick back from women in the face of the violence we as a group suffer constantly.

    I second Stacy re: Adblock. It’s a tremendous relief to not have that shit – so much of totally rapey – in my face all the time.

    @ yttik. I have not seen those films but may check them out. I stay away from anything I know has a rape in it and leave a lot of films and shows immediately as soon as things get even rape-threatening. I have not got the constitution to withstand the triggers.

    That said, “Hard Candy” was absolutely wicked. It has no rape or abuse scenes, like so many morality/vengeance films have – you know, just to “educate” the audience as to what rape is like.

  47. qvaken

    naomi: But of course! Women are such temptresses. If I had a penny for every time that I deliberately and seductively lured a man into my vagina only to cry the r-word later to police, why, I’d be even richer than I already am from my compensation payouts!

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I really must go and paint my toenails pink in my ex-husband’s mansion with my humiliated naked man-slaves waiting on me while I roll around triumphantly in my easy, easy money!

  48. lizor

    @qvaken
    February 25, 2012 at 4:46 am
    Thanks! You just made my day!!

  49. Linden

    @nails — Yes, women in paganism have equal participation with men. The main advantage in the setup is that there are no “holy texts” and no bosses, so no one really has the right to say you’re doing it wrong (though that doesn’t stop some people). I know several atheist pagans, even.

    The P can follow you there, too, however, because anywhere that men go they bring it with them. I’ve met some unpleasant characters who think that just because pagans approve of sex, they should be getting an all-access pass. And when men are kept out of all-women groups (and there are some), the “what about the men” whining can be tiresome.

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