How Torah Undermines the Very Slavery It Permits

Derek Leman repeats something I’ve been hearing frequently of late: that Jewish scholars think of their scriptures as non-fixed in meaning, requiring constant reinterpretation in light of existing knowledge.

Slavery is no longer permitted. I don’t mean that human laws abolished slavery. That is true also (yes, I know slavery still exists in the world, but I am speaking in general terms). I mean that slavery is no longer permitted according to Torah. But to accomplish that statement, I have to define Torah as something more than “what was written long ago.” Torah is not unchanging. Torah is not just what is written, but it is the way the community through tradition and ongoing commentary and conversation come to understand its ways over time.

As a fan of progressive revelation, I found his analysis of the Old Testament laws regarding slavery fascinating.

Ethiopian Women Pressured to Use Contraception as Condition of Immigration to Israel

Journalist Gal Gabbay last month published an expose claiming that Jewish Ethiopian women wishing to enter Israel from transit camps in Ethiopia were being manipulated into taking Depo-Provera, resulting in a declining birth rate for Ethiopians in Israel.

Depo-Provera, the brand name of a long-acting contraceptive injection, is a highly effective method of birth control but possible side effects include a decrease in bone density that puts women at increased risk for osteoporosis and fractures later on. That and other side effects are not immediately reversible, and returning to fertility can be a lengthy process. In addition, withdrawal symptoms can be acute.

Relatively few healthy women in Israel choose the injection without specific medical reasons.

One of the commenters on this Jezebel article shrewdly quoted the following text from the United Nations’ “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide” (adopted on December 9, 1948):

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  • (a) Killing members of the group;

  • (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

  • (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

  • (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

  • (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Emphasis mine.

Nechemya Weberman Found Guilty of Sexually Abusing Girl He Counseled

Convicted on all 59 counts. Hopefully this forces the Hasidic communities to rethink “private counseling” or at least impose strict oversight and allow police or child protective services to handle accusations like this one.

Via XOJane.

Hasidic Rabbi Stands Trial for Sexual Assault

An unnamed minor has accused Nechemya Weberman of sexually abusing her repeatedly over the course of three years while he counseled her in private at his home. Allison Yarrow at The Daily Beast provides a thorough summary of the case:

The teen—as an alleged victim of sexual assault, she has not been publicly identified—accuses Weberman of sexually abusing her in a spare room with a triple-locked door, one lock only accessible from the inside. He kissed and groped her body, she says on the stand, forced her to perform oral sex on him, showed her pornographic films, and made her copy the acts. Sometimes, she says, his children played on the other side of the door, or Weberman’s wife might call before entering to use the very computer on which she said the community pillar forced her to watch and mimic sex. She recounts skipping sessions after Passover in 2009, but said Weberman visited her family home and entered her room while she was in bed and abused her there.

The strict Orthodox Jewish sects have frequently been able to handle accusations like this internally, without involving the police, so this case is a huge step forward.

Jewish Views on Reproductive Technology

Part 1 of a planned series from Ellen Painter Dollar. I don’t know that I would base any of my ideology or beliefs on this information, but it’s still interesting. For example:

Judaism does not perceive fertilized eggs as fully human in the way that the Catholic church and many other Christian traditions do. Thus, Judaism does not share Christian concerns that techniques such as IVF and PGD manipulate and/or destroy human embryos. Jewish authorities have laid out very specific timelines of fertilization, implantation, gestation, and birth, making determinations at each stage as to the moral status of the developing baby and the relationship between the baby’s moral status and the mother’s.

The Christian Appropriation of Judaism

Krista Dalton, a Christian graduate student of Jewish studies, only wants you to study Judaism as long as you give it the respect it deserves:

Does that mean one can understand early Christianity without understanding early Judaism? No! The same as early Jewish studies is enhanced by an understanding of Christianity. But when we begin the dialogue, it should not be from a position of “reclaiming.” Frankly, the time for that ended a little under 2,000 years ago. Since then “jewishness” and “christianness” has evolved into two large and separate religious traditions.

Thus understanding Israelite and Judean religious practice is not the equivalent of understanding modern Jewish practice.

This attempt to reclaim Judaism is foreign to my experience, but Krista knows what she’s talking about.

I Didn't Touch My Husband Before I Married Him

Story of a Chassidic Jewish woman’s matchmaker-facilitated marrige:

We went on eight dates. Then we met each other’s parents. Then we got engaged. Five weeks later, we married. Time lapsed from first date to wedding day: a little under three months. During those three months, we never touched each other. We didn’t hold hands. We were never even in a room alone together.

Informative and balanced. For example, her caveat toward the end:

I recognize that this method of dating works because we are members of an Orthodox Jewish community, and it only works in those communities when all of the parties—the man, the woman and their respective support systems—are on the same page and playing by the rules.