The Lord God said, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a fitting helper for him.” (Genesis 2:18). It is clear from the second chapter of the Torah that God’s intention was not a hierarchal system, rather an equal partnership. While human society developed with women subservient to men, often sold as property, the Torah does not share that view. Racial inequality continues to thrive in our country, as does sexual inequality. Much has been written about the glass ceiling that limits the heights women can scale in the workforce as well as their income potential. Then we get Harvey Weinstein.
There is the Yiddish expression “a shandeh fur de Goyim”, which translates into “an embarrassment to the non-Jew”. The intent of this phrase is to express the shame the Jewish community felt when a fellow Jew behaved inappropriately, to say the least. You might be familiar with the name Hershel Grynszpan, a Polish Jew born in Germany, who was living in Paris in the 1930’s. To avenge the abduction of his parents, he assassinated the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath on November 7, 1938 in Paris, and this became the pretext for Kristallnacht. For many American Jews, the arrest, conviction and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg was a source of embarrassment. So too many considered Jack Ruby’s assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald to be a cause of shame. The financial chicanery of Ivan Boesky, Michael Milken and Bernard Madoff added to the list. Most particularly, when Rabbis misbehave, we all feel it.
The history of Hollywood, founded by Jews, is one of sexual exploitation. We are all familiar with stories of powerful moguls seducing young starlets. Clearly, this environment has continued to the present day. Predating the laws of the United States, from a Jewish perspective, this behavior never has been, and never can be condoned. It is reprehensible, and puts an additional stain on the Jewish community, as opposed to the number of women who have come forward and accused Bill Cosby, who is not Jewish but disgusts all of us.
I wish that I could be confident that Harvey’s behavior over the decades and public disgrace will finally end sexual harassment for women, but having read the powerful article in The New York Times this summer about this same problem in Silicon Valley and with venture capitalists reminds me that it is blot on our entire society, men most particularly. In many cases, women are being ignored for positions that they are the most qualified for because they are women. Male executives are afraid of potential problems, even with what some might think is an innocuous compliment that might be misconstrued.
The notion of the Jewish people being chosen by God has been misunderstood for millennia, because many identify it with a perceived feeling of superiority. That is a misinterpretation. God gave us a responsibility: teach His Torah to the world. Before we can do that, however, we must observe and model the mitzvot before we can teach others, and that includes treating others as we wish to be treated. Until we master that, we cannot be a light unto the nations. Harvey Weinstein’s behavior was an eclipse.