Thursday, February 7, 2013

Rapists, Rabbis and Reprobacy

Down at the bottom of the list of passages for your bible study group are the laws of rape, in both statutory (Ex. 22:15-16) and forcible (Deut. 22:28-29) flavors. Those people who love citations condemning various forms of consensual sex don't seem to be familiar with the non-consensual verses. Even worse, some outwardly religious people claim that they're doing God a favor by hushing up these scandals. But what does the Torah say?
Simply put, it codifies a punishment of fifty silver shekels, to be paid to the family, after the offender has been tried, testified against and convicted. While this may seem insufficient in modern times, the hopelessly rural countryside of tribal Israel did not have maximum-security prisons. You had to pay the silver or the stone price, and indeed some rapists receive the latter (Deut. 22:25-27). What's the significance of fifty silver shekels? It's the highest rate for buying back someone who's been dedicated to the Temple, enough to buy a homestead (Lev. 27:3, 16). In other words, the offender's soul is lost, and he must buy it back from his victim. It is ransom. 
However, this is not the end of it. While the fine serves to punish the offender, this does not begin to compensate the victim. The Talmud (Ketubot 39a) rules: "Thus, a statutory rapist makes three payments: the fine, and compensation for embarrassment and damages. A forcible rapist makes four payments: the fine, and compensation for embarrassment, pain and damages." Of course, in addition, as in any case of assault, "Still, he must pay for loss of work and must provide for a complete healing" (Ex. 21:19).
Considering all of this, who would dare to say that the Torah advocates cover-ups and silence? 

This week, an incident came to light in the "religious" town of Modiin Illit, better known as Kiryat Sefer, which literally means "Booktown". Yeah, that Book, the Good one, which apparently the rabbis who run it are using to prop up their tables, because they surely aren't reading it. The local rabbi promised on Wednesday that this story would disappear, and by Thursday the lone witness had recanted. By the way, almost simultaneously, a Jerusalemite (pictured above) confessed to multiple acts of sexual abuse against girls whose homes he'd been invited to for Shabbat dinner. Yup, the rabbis tried to cover up this one too. 

In the good ol' days, rabbinical courts used to hand out draconian punishments to sexual offenders. Nowadays, all too often, they seem to be protecting them from the authorities. All who are sickened by this have to speak out, Orthodox Jews more than anyone. We have to discuss these difficult issues, and return to our sources. Silence and dissimulation are not the Torah way, and there is no greater blasphemy and desecration of God's name than protecting the predators and vanishing the victims. I think it was Isaiah who said (1:27) "Zion will be redeemed through justice." 

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