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By Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman
Issue of March 12, 2010/ 26 Adar 5770
In 1893, Edvard Munch a Norwegian painter, created the iconic painting The Scream. It has been seen by millions of people and elicited much praise and emotion. Who is the person in The Scream and what is he screaming about?
Obviously, the greatness and the appeal of the painting is that it says something to everyone. Everyone in their own way is able to have The Scream speak to them on their level and in their personal emotional state.
Who is pictured in The Scream, according to me? Who is this unidentified individual whose impassioned scream is still being heard all over the world, according to Rabbi Eisenman?
Welcome to my world and to a lesson in art appreciation by an Orthodox rabbi.
The Daf Yomi is now learning Masechta Sanhedrin. I cannot properly describe in words the wonderful merit Hashem has blessed me with. Early every morning I have the incomparable zechus to learn a daf Gemara together with a group of committed men. Sanhedrin is especially fascinating as it deals with the laws of government, the kingdom, and various kings of the Jewish people.
Last Friday, March 5, the entire Daf Yomi learned Sanhedrin, daf 21. Toward the end of the first amud, the Gemara discusses a very unfortunate incident of molestation and abuse that occurred in King David’s very own palace!
Let us take a look at the verses, exactly as they appear in our Holy Tanach, in the book of Shmuel 2 (13:6-13).
“6. And Amnon lay down and feigned sickness; and the king (David) came to see him, and Amnon said to the king, ‘Let my sister Tamar come now, and make two dumplings before my eyes; that I may eat from her hand.’”
“7. And David sent home to Tamar saying, ‘Go now to your brother Amnon’s house, and prepare the food for him. 8. And Tamar went to her brother Amnon’s house and he was lying down. And she took the dough, and kneaded it, and she prepared the dumplings before his eyes, and she cooked the dumplings.”
“9. And she took the pan and poured [them out] before him: but he refused to eat. And Amnon said, ‘Take everyone out from me.’ And everyone went out from him. 10. And Amnon said to Tamar, ‘Bring the food into the chamber that I may eat from your hand.’ And Tamar took the dumplings that she had made and brought them to Amnon her brother into the chamber. 11. And she brought them near to him to eat and he took hold of her and said to her, ‘Come lay with me, my sister.’”
“12. And she said to him, ‘No, my brother, do not force me, for it is not done so in Israel; do not do this wanton deed. 13. And I, where shall I lead my shame? And [as for] you, you shall be like one of the profligate men in Israel. And now I beg of you to speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you.’ 14. But he would not heed her and he overpowered her, and forced her, and lay with her.”
This incident is certainly not one that brought pride or honor to King David and the Jewish people; however, the Torah tells it as it was and it is for us to learn the lessons.
The verses themselves are powerful enough to tell of the dangers of molestation; however, I would like to focus on the next few verses — the focal point of the Gemara’s discussion.
How did Tamar react to her molestation? How did she react to her abuse and to her abuser? Let’s read further in the chapter:
“18. Now she had on a striped tunic, for in this manner the king’s virgin daughters dressed, in robes. And his servant brought her outside, and locked the door after her. 19. And Tamar put ashes on her head, and she went about, crying aloud as she went.
What did Tamar do? Did she “cover up”her shame? Did she attempt to deal with the issue (as one so-called ‘prominent’ person once told me that these things have to be dealt with) shtiller hait — in silence and privately?
No! Tamar went out publicly, as the Holy Torah says: and she went about, crying aloud as she went! She made a public display of her abuse and of her molestation. She could not cover it up! She did not deal with it privately and in the secretive chamber of a rabbinic refectory.
No, Tamar went public and screamed and cried until all the women of the Jewish world knew about her molestation and her abuse.
How did the rabbis of the Gemara react to her public shaming of the respected and noble son of the king? Did they publicly shame and chastise her for her chutzpah of discussing these things in the court of public opinion? Did they censure her by attempting to cover her up the incident? No, not at all! Let’s take a look at what Chazal (our teachers, whose teachings we must emulate and live by) have taught us:
“Sanhedrin 21a-b: R. Yehoshua ben Korchah taught: ‘And Tamar put ashes on her head, and she went about, crying aloud as she went….’ — this taught a great lesson to Bnos Yisrael: [The Jewish women said] (As they observed her crying and screaming; Rashi) — ‘If such a great disgrace can occur even to the king’s daughter, all the more so to regular women; if it can occur even to modest women, and all the more so to immodest women!’”
The exact wording of the Gemara here is crucial to analyze. The Gemara says:
“Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korchah taught: geder Gadol gadra Tamar B’oso shaha — this literally means, ‘Tamar built a great and big fence (meaning: proper precautions were instituted among the Jewish people) at that hour.’”
Rashi, our teacher and upon whose understanding of Gemara we all rely, answers a very obvious question in concise, yet revealing words: How could Tamar, a woman with no official legal authority, ‘build a fence’ (meaning legislate new precautionary practices)?
To this the Holy Rashi answers that she was able to legislate these reforms about proper conduct between men and women “through her tears and her scream.”
“Other women said, ‘if this could occur in the house of the King, certainly it can happen in ‘regular’ homes of the simple commoner’. (And the women on their own began to be more cautious and precautionary in their behavior).”
Meaning, initially, and through grass root channels, women-based on the public display of Tamar — began to be more careful and prudent about where they were and who they were with. They realized it could happen to anyone and at any time.
How did the rabbis of the time react to the new vigilant behavior on the part of the women? The rabbis were supportive, as the Gemara states: “Says Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav: At that time, they decreed against seclusion.”
Meaning, Chazal understood that certain more vigilant and more cautious steps had to be instituted as far as private contact, even between members of the king’s family, and certainly in any other setting!
Friends, the Torah, Tamar, the rabbis of the Talmud, and Chazal were not afraid and or hesitant to go public if that what was needed at the time. The Torah, Tamar, the rabbis of the Talmud, Chazal, all realized that by keeping these issues under the rug and by dealing with them in a hush-hush manner — even when done by well meaning individuals — you are playing right into the hands of the molesters who thrive on the realization that their crimes will be kept quiet by the general public.
Secrecy and silence are not only ineffective; they actively support and facilitate the very behavior the perpetrator is committing! It is not only counter productive to assume the ‘hush-hush’ approach; it is most certainly the single most powerful weapon in the arsenal of the abuser.
The pedophile, especially one who resides within the Orthodox community, and especially one who is a trusted ‘chashuva mensch,’ relies heavily on the fact that he knows his actions will be covered up by the very powers who should be stopping him!
I have never met a person who was as careful and as knowledgeable about the laws of Loshon Hora as an abuser. Indeed, part of their abusive behavior is to abuse and manipulate the laws of Loshon Hora to allow them to continue their behavior and their molestation.
Silence is not just unhelpful; silence is the ultimate collaborator and abettor to the crime of molestation!
So who is the screamer?
It is Tamar, after her abuse and her molestation. She is screaming a scream that needs to be heard and needs to be responded to. She is screaming and at present she stands alone, without any assistance. However, she is on a bridge.
She is attempting to cross the bridge. One side of the bridge is blood red; as it represents the blood and the pain of the victims. However, the other side of the bridge is brighter; it represents healing and rejuvenation.The Scream is still being screamed.
Are we listening?
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman is the rav of Congregation Ahavas Israel in Passaic, NJ.
Questions or comments? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank G-d for Thomas Friedman. If you want to know what’s going to happen, read his column and something approximating the opposite will happen. Nothing ever happens the way Thomas Freedman says it should, if only ‘they’ would heed his words. Baruch HaShem
What’s great about being a pundit is that being right has nothing to with it. You don’t run for election, so no one calls you to take account of your record. You can say whatever you want, because, firstly, no one remembers you even wrote something. Secondly, it doesn’t really make a difference. Thirdly, you write an opinion piece. You what an opinion is? When I don’t know, I have an opinion. Do I know that Thomas Friedman writes an op-ed column published in the New York Times or is it just my opinion. Someone else might have a different opinion. Which leads us to the next point.
Americans really don’t know anything. Thomas Friedman has himself written extensively about the state of education in America. Americans, because they really don’t know anything (read talkbacks), are very big on opinions. Americans invented the theory of relativity – that is, everything is relative to ones’ opinion, so therefore nothing is inherently true. Which of course, makes everything a power game. If nothing is inherently true, than the only justification for exersizing power, is that one has the power to do so. America is very big on the excersize of power.
With Israel, the common line of ‘opinion makers’ is that Bush/Clinton/Bush/Obama must exercise power and force Israel to whatever. Why? because that’s their opinion. Damn truth. Damn the application of any standard of behavior if that standard interferes with the prevailing opinion of what they think it should be.
Americans also have the shortest of memories. It would be as if beating a dead horse to expound on the consequences of soundbite conditioning, the off the hook acceleration of the advance of high tech programming, etc. Combine in one entity, essential world-class ignorance, condition it with only the shortest of short term memory and give it the greatest of power and oy vey! Look out!
Thomas Friedman is the perfect metaphor for the American Jew today. He is disaffected from Yiddishkeit, whatever he thinks he knows of it. He became disenchanted with Israel whatever the rationale. He gets off big time being an insider with all those famous ‘friends of Israel’ who have power, had power, want power or actually excessive real power behind the scenes. They’re the dangerous ones. Not Rahm and Obama. It’s Baker and the Bush and CFR and classic emesdika traitors to the Jewish people like the Henry’s: Kissinger and Siegman (classmate of my father’s at YU; I used to be his travel agent, etc.) that one has to watch out for. And brother Thomas (named after a ‘saint’ of which religion?) loves to speak on their behalf. Why? Because he is such a friend of Israel and speaks for our other ‘best friends.’
Next up: Why we need not fear all the metaphors in human disguise. Hint: Because that’s all they are.
We begin the Book of Leviticus – Parshat VaYikra – this Shabbat. It’s all about how to truly be holy and sanctified and do the right thing. Check it out.
Shabbat Shalom, Moish
Peace process prolongs Mideast war
By David Frum, CNN Contributor
March 15, 2010 — Updated 1420 GMT (2220 HKT)
Editor’s note: David Frum writes a weekly column for CNN.com. A resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, he was special assistant to President George W. Bush in 2001-2. He is the author of six books, including “Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again” and the editor of FrumForum.
Washington (CNN) — Vice President Joe Biden has “condemned.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton scolded — and then leaked the scolding. On background, U.S. aides fret that the Israeli announcement of new settlement construction may thwart resumption of the peace process.
Let me advance an unorthodox opinion: The most dangerous cause of instability in the Middle East is the so-called peace process itself.
I know this is an unusual point of view. Please hear me out.
By my count, there have been at least 10 major outbursts of violence between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East since 1936.
Every one of these conflicts ended in a similar way. Either outside powers imposed a ceasefire — or else Israel halted military operations just before a ceasefire could be imposed.
Every one of these conflicts began in a similar way, too: with a renewed attack by the Arab side, or else (as in 1956 or 1967) by Arab violations of the terms of the previous armistice or ceasefire.
Think for a minute how unusual this is. Wars usually end when one side or the other decides it cannot continue fighting. The losing side accepts terms it had formerly deemed unacceptable because the alternative — continued fighting — seems even worse.
I doubt many Hungarians are delighted to have lost more than half their territory to neighbors in Romania and the former Yugoslavia. Bolivians still remember the loss of their Pacific coast to Chile in 1884. Some in Indonesia continue to regard East Timor as rightfully theirs.
Yet for the most part, these nations have reconciled themselves to these unwelcome outcomes.
Exactly the opposite has occurred in the Arab-Israeli dispute.
Egypt lost the Sinai Peninsula in 1956, but got it back. It lost the Sinai again in 1967, and again recovered it (although this time the right way, after signing a formal peace).
Syria lost the Golan in 1967, attacked Israel in 1973, lost again — and still demands the return of the territory.
Palestinians rejected the 1947 partition, resorted to war, lost, and to this day demand compensation for their losses.
It’s like a game of roulette where the management stops the game whenever you begin losing too badly, with promises to refund your money as soon as it conveniently can. What gambler could resist returning to the tables?
I understand why Western governments have acted as they have. They have feared that unless they somehow smooth the situation, the world oil market will be upset and radical ideologies will spread through the Islamic world.
What they don’t see is that their efforts to contain the problem have in fact aggravated it.
Imagine this alternative history:
Suppose that the Western world had not intervened in 1949. Suppose the Israeli war of independence had been fought to the bitter end: Arab armies breaking apart and fleeing, commanders laying down their arms, columns of refugees crossing the Jordan River.
The 1949 war would have ended not with an armistice, but with a surrender. Palestinian refugees would have had to settle in new homes, just as the hundreds of thousands of Jews expelled from their former homes in the Arab lands resettled in Israel.
The outcome would have squelched any hope that more fighting would have yielded a different result — and the more decisive result might have dissuaded Arab governments from any further attempts to resort to force.
Now imagine another scenario.
In the 1990s, the former Yugoslavia erupted into war. New states with new borders were carved out of the old country. Thousands of people were displaced. Horrific atrocities were committed. Happily, the conflict did end. The displaced adjusted to life in their new homes. Former enemies may still mistrust each other, but violence has faded and seems unlikely to return.
Suppose instead the world had agreed that one of the combatant ethnic groups — the Serbs, say, but it really does not matter — retained a permanent inextinguishable right to reclaim its former homes. Suppose the world agreed to pay displaced persons from that group billions in foreign aid on condition that they never permanently resettled in the territory to which the ethnic group had moved. Suppose the world tolerated Serbian terrorist attacks on Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo as understandable reactions to injustice.
Would there be peace in the former Yugoslavia today?
The Middle East peacemakers for the most part act with the highest of intentions and the most exquisite patience. But instead of extinguishing the conflict, they have prolonged it. A peace process intended to insulate the Arab world from the pain of defeat has condemned the Arab world — and the Palestinian people above all — to unending war.
Every war must end — and end badly for at least one of the belligerents. It’s time for this war to end too, and at last.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Frum.
I really have moved away from commenting on politics, because there’s so much more important work to be done. But I just need to register the following:
This is clear to me: The whole thing is a set-up. Obama/Biden/Clinton/Bush/Baker/Kissinger – doesn’t matter who – reads the script to whomever is Prime Minister in Israel. The President tells the Prime Minister what to do. The Prime Minister says, “I can’t! They’ll lynch me!” The President says, “Don’t worry about a thing. We have it all figured out.” And so….
And so…the announcement about building these homes comes just by coincidence when Biden comes to Israel. And Bibi has his out. We’ve heard it so many times before: “After this, we have to do what they say. Otherwise they will punish and hurt us. And they are our best friends. Remember? Biden said so himself.”
(Couple of side points: 1- There is no such thing as coincidence. Coincidences only exist in the eyes of those who cannot see. 2- Please check out Biden’s voting record vis a vis Israel and in general expressed attitude.)
And then whatever was set-up between Israel and our cousins by dictat, begins to unfold. And Bibi’s the lamb brought for sacrifice. He thought he could play with them. But these guys have been in the power business for a whole hell of alot longer than us Yidden. Our power existed in the unbroken chain of the journey of nation committed to live for the Redemption of all beings within the simple knowledge that God is One. We’ve tried to dance with Babylon and they’re ever shifting rules of the game.
It never mattered who specifically was in power and/or in which country the ‘power’ rested. It’s the forever story of the Jewish People. But coming to the end is this last set of illusions:
When the totality of the global assault on Israel and the Jewish People becomes clear; when it has finally become common vision that there resides no salvation in the halls of the politicians; when the collective really, really bad karma of a cynical, morally bankrupt sorry collection of nations comes home to its ultimate roost, with final bankruptcy of the planetary economic system, sometime in the next year or so, then we will have turned the final corner, where a humbled nation of Israel along with a humbled and humiliated family of nations, begin to fulfill the critical Prophesy of King David:
I lift up my eyes unto the mountains,
From where will my help come?
My help is coming from the One and Only One:
Creator of the Heavens and the Earth
That collective turn by all humanity that is good, we pray, will be enough to realize the critical mass needed for the Coming World to arrive. Let it be soon, Let it be sweet, Let it be kind. Let it Come NOW! With no more suffering. May we never stop sending to the One our insistence that THERE MUST BE A BETTER WAY!!!
I have a 76 page Reb Shlomo Carlebach Passover and HaGaddah Guide. Can’t post 76 pages, so if you would like a free copy, please email me at email@example.com and I’ll send it on it’s way.
I once a had business card (actually an urban myth) that said “Comforts the Afflicted and Afflicts the Comfortable.”
The true Amerikan religion is Safety, Comfort and Security. Well, in this world, there is no safety and in this world, at this time it is FORBIDDEN to strive for comfort when the suffering grows exponentially and Security is only in the hands of Heaven; note Chile. Haiti, etc.
So, Is Jews in America choose to commit spiritual suicide in advance of the physical end that is coming, the best service I can do for the world is try and make them as uncomfortable as possible. It is a moral and ethical and Jewish imperative.
There is a new American journal of thought and ideas by Jews that suggest that this is ‘Jewish’ thought and ideas. I was curious. There was one article in reference to Purim that struck me.
It is entitled: Sisters in Arms:
Playing the defiant Vashti in a day school Purim play awakened my inner feminist by Elisa Albert
Here’s the link: http://www.tabletmag.com/life-and-religion/26603/sisters-in-arms/
To wet your appetites, here’s my comments: Once again Jewish ignorance triumphs. Vashti was essentially the equivalent of a woman Nazi concentration camp guard. She would make Jewish woman strip, tie them together in a long rope and parade them on all fours like dogs, whipping along the way. That was just one of her pleasures.
How do we know? From testimony of the time, as recorded in the Talmud. But one would have to first learn Hebrew and Aramaic, invest serious hours over serious years to do so. Why should a modern American Jew do so, when she can trade working hard to learn Torah for confusion for the ease of access to ignorant, self-serving revisionism?
Vashit: Great role model for Jewish women to emulate!
After some responses to what I wrote, I added:
Just to be sure. My ’smicha’ is from Reb Zalman Schachter. I spent 35 years with Reb Shlomo Carlebach. I create and ran the Jerusalem Camp Cente at the American National Rainbow Gathering. I support Orthodox women rabbis, am a vocal and staunch defender of Agunot, as well as passionate opponent of reinstating polygamy in Jewish law and have years experience counseling women with recovered repress memory of prior sexual abuse and abuse in general an a vocal critic and opponent of any rabbi abusing his position and authority, knowledge and charisma. Having established my bonafides, such as they are and as unnecessary as I believe it to be, allow me to speak just as strongly on this issue:
1- The re-making of Torah and Jewish history in ‘one’s own image’ is ultimately nothing more than an institutionalization of particularly American neuroses and narcissistic rebellions, building a ‘binyan’ out of the angers and disappointments that Jewish life in America and American life in general.
2- Such passionate and profoundly felt imperatives bespeak the disconnection with the inexorable flow of the journey and ultimate destination of the Jewish People, what time it is on the planet and so, so much more.
3- For most American Jews this disconnection from the unbroken chain of Jewish history, allows one to simply dismiss the past as myth and/or fiction. Careful, the same will be said of you and your lives in the future.
4- How many of you know that the from the first word of Megillat Esther till the last, 9 years elapsed? How many of you know what this six-month feast of Achashveirosh was all about?
5- How come, when it comes to rejecting Torah, you all suddenly become Fundamentalist Jews, interpreting Torah literally and as narrowly as you can, so as to reject and remake it your own image.
6- This is ultimately all Avodat Zara. You’re not serving HaShem. You’re serving yourselves. As that paradigm of radical feminist post-modern Jewish Renewal ‘Chief Rabbi Zalman Schachter said, “We are paying far too much attention to the horizontal and not enough to vertical.” This was a polite way of saying, “We’re (you’re) looking too much at yourselves and not enough to what God is trying to tell you.”
7- If this is not the definition of what it means to be an American, I don’t know what is.