“Give up,” my coworker says to me, as she watches me hack away at the keyboard angrily. “They’ll never listen to you. You can’t change the world.”
My coworker’s words of encouragement were said about my reaction to this article (sorry, can’t find English link just yet) which my friend posted on Facebook this morning. It talks about an Orthodox Rabbi in the community of Elon Moreh in Israel, who declared today that it is forbidden for a three year old girl to appear in a bathing suit during men’s swimming hours at the pool, to keep men from having “Impure thoughts.”
According to my coworker, who is more knowledgeable than me in the field of Orthodox Judaism, this Rabbi’s intentions were perfectly legitimate. He is trying to keep little girls safe from harassment. My argument is, whether or not that is true, what he said could only make things worse. Instead of standing up and saying “Rape is wrong!” he acknowledged the sexualization of three year olds as legitimate. Instead of saying “Three year olds are not sexual!” he essentially said, pedophilia is natural.
While this is so infuriating I am actually having trouble typing, the point I want to make here is that this kind of statement does not in any way represent the principles of Judaism. This is a case of extremism gone seriously wrong. It reminds me of when Rush Limbaugh attacked Sandra Fluke for protesting about the expenses of birth control, and called her all sorts of nasty names on his show. Obviously Limbaugh’s behavior was outrageous, but it was clear that he’s a nutcase and he does not represent the majority of Republicans.
What happened immediately afterwards is what I see as an act of true leadership. President Obama called up Sandra Fluke on the phone and told her she was brave for standing up for her rights. In this small act of kindness, Obama told the world that Rush Limbaugh is not worth listening to, that it is wrong to degrade and humiliate women for standing up for themselves.
This is a perfect example of the bystander approach which Jackson Katz talks about in this mind-blowing video on TED.com. He says that in order to end gender based violence, we need men with power to stand up to other men.
In the case of Rabbi Levanon we need an act of leadership similar to Obama’s. My coworker may be right – they won’t listen to me. But there are people they will listen to – the chief Rabbi of Israel, other orthodox rabbis in the community. These are the people who need to stand up and say, this is wrong. Instead of standing by silently and not getting involved, people with influence need to get up and make noise and say, this is not Judaism. This is not okay.