The Supports of Enslavement

Anyone seeking their daily dose of primitive opinion in the news, has long since discovered they can count on Member of Knesset Nissim Ze’ev (of Shas, naturally). And indeed, the man who brought us the “homoists” slur, does not let us down. In an article he wrote this week about the Katsav scandal he mentioned the fact that under Halacha – Jewish law – not one of the women complaining about his sexual misconduct was raped. This, he explains, is due to the fact that not one of them screamed. And anyone who did not scream, was not raped, and quite possibly may have enjoyed herself.

Ze’ev – who has gone on the record about violence against women “not being a catastrophe” – is not your run of the mill ignoramus. Moreover, he is one of the people who will determine if Katsav will be indicted. All talk of charging Katsav with criminal behavior are hot air, because there is no legal possibility of indicting him while he is in office. The most that could happen would be that the Attorney General would tell the Knesset that he feels an indictment should be made. Only than can the Knesset ask itself if it is appropriate to depose the president, and the indictment stage can be reached only if ninety members of Knesset support this. This is a level of support that has no equivalent in Israel’s code of law.

In other words, Katsav needs only thirty-one Members of Knesset to vote against his deposition, or even to abstain or just fail to show up at the plenum. Ze’ev, and the other members of Shas, are already in his pocket. He needs another twenty votes, and he will find them. We are used to hearing Katsav’s retinue of advocates – his brother, his attorneys, his mother – and they are not truly harmful. It is hardly to be expected in Israel, which is a country of tribal sentiment, that a brother would denounce his own brother. The attorneys are on his payroll – they would have represented the complainants just as happily, with just as much ardor.

But Katsav has rather a lot of supporters. Surveys show them to include about one third of the population. These supporters are the truly repulsive factor.

Sukkot Surprise

When Katsav declared that he would open his hospitality tabernacle as usual, during Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, snorts and snickers resounded among the press. They guessed that the tabernacle would be attended only by Katsav, his relatives and investigators, and the press. Much to their surprise, the crowd was 3,000 strong that day. Katsav felt rightly that he has popular support.

So who came to visit him? The descriptions are unpleasant, but unmistakable. Most of the attendants were older men; a crushing majority wore orthodox yarmulka’s or were “traditional”; most of them were from the ethnic groups deriving from Arab countries. In other words, groups whose culture sees the liberated woman as a distorted Western idea.

And they constitute – according to surveys – about one third of the Israeli public. They think that “all women are sluts”. They believe – as Ze’ev does – in the values of the seventh century BCE, and that if a woman doesn’t scream, she is not being raped. They see no problem in sexual relationships between an employer and employee, and they do not understand (or pretend not to understand) why a woman might prefer not to speak up about being raped.

They, and people like them, are that reason.

A Woman Is Purchased In Three Ways

The perception that women have equal rights is a modern one, and it was attained through struggle and spilled blood. Emily Davidson leapt before the king of Britain’s horse in the 1913 Derby, demanding women’s suffrage. She was trampled and died, but the right for which she gave her life was partially attained only five years thereafter, and fully attained fifteen years after that. It seems that human struggles succeed only if they are attended by human sacrifice.

But the years before Davidson’s sacrifice and their toxic perceptions are effective to this day. Aristotle thought that a woman has only half the soul of a man, as does a slave; this understanding is enshrined to this day in the Jewish morning prayers: “blessed is He who did not make me a woman” and “blessed is He who did not make me a slave”.

Although the ancient Greeks and Romans saw women to be independent – if limited – entities, who could not (for example) be married off against their will, the Jews, like other oriental nations, saw woman as property.

“A woman is purchased in three ways: by coin, by deed, and by intercourse” states the Talmud (Kidushin, I:1). Purchased: the woman is a chattel – and, indeed, the same chapter deals with the purchase of cattle. Initially she is her father’s chattel, and he is entitled by Halachic law to sell her into slavery; thereafter she is the chattel of her husband. “Women have light minds,” the Talmudic decree echoed through the generations. “A person who teaches his daughter the Torah is deemed to have taught her pointlessness”. Bang. There went women’s education.

Disastrously, the Jewish position on women became enshrined when Christianity ascended into prominence (“be submissive to your own husbands” enjoined Peter, in a foundational text in the New Testament) and vanquished the slow improvement achieved over centuries by the women of the Roman empire. Polygamy, which was specifically prohibited in the Roman empire, was common among Jews, and the Jews of Ashkenaz (a region encompassing Northern and Western Europe) forbade it only around 1000 C.E., by means of a ban imposed by Rabbi Gershom. The Jews of the Moslem world forbade it only far later, and the Jews of Yemen never actually did prohibit polygamy. Israeli case law acknowledges this right of Jewish Yemeni males.

The Jewish view was that women were banes: “the more women, the more witchcraft” states the Talmud (Avot, 2:8), and indicated that that Great Rabbi Shimon Ben Shatah hung eighty witches in Ashkelon [Sanhedrin, 46:A] Women were perceived as temptresses, distracting mankind. In general, it was better “not to speak much with a woman”.[Avot 1:5]

And as a woman is a chattel, and perhaps a dangerous one, rape is conceived in Jewish Halachic law as damage to chattel. A husband is entitled to force sexual relations on his wife; this does not constitute rape. And a woman who was raped and refrained from shouting, even if this was for fear of her life, “is prohibited [from intercourse with] her husband and her rapist”. In other words, she is punished for being raped by being divorced.

A man who has raped an unbetrothed young woman can choose to marry her. He can also choose to make a payment in lieu of that – to her father, of course. A man who has purchased a woman can decide not to release her, not to grant her a divorce, and Jewish – and Israeli! – law will accept that. People generally imagine that such laws exist only in Pakistan. But no – these laws are alive and well in Israel.

Treacherous Liberation

It has become customary, in Liberal circles, to attack feminism. And indeed, some of its theoreticians (including the questionable genius who coined the phrase “we are all lesbian”) have gone to ridiculous extremes. It is customary to say that such extremes are unnecessary. But this is an arrogant thought, typical of those who never leave the boundaries of certain urbane sections around Tel Aviv.

Feminists in Western countries still have work to do, but in Israel they face an almost impossible task. A large part of the public – if not an actual majority of Israelis – come from cultures where women’s liberation, equality, and rights were unheard of before their arrival in Israel. A large swath of the public accepts the principles of such liberation only pro forma, only because it is a legal duty – a duty which, like the equality of Israel’s Arab citizens, like the equal rights of homosexuals, evokes bitterness and resistance. Most of the Israeli public has not yet freed itself from the poison fumes of Halachaic outlook.

Approximately one third of the Israeli public believes that a woman cannot actually be raped. If she is raped outside, by a stranger, they presume that she wore seductive clothing. If sex was forced on her by an employer than she must have agreed to it – because if she failed to scream, it is proof that she agreed. If she lodges a complaint, it is libel. Large sections of the public cannot conceive of the possibility of rape by a woman’s lawful husband. He’s her husband, isn’t he? The Hebrew word for “husband” means “owner”.

Did Katsav rape one or more of his staff members? The court may perhaps decide on this question, if the Knesset is agreeable and if Katsav doesn’t escape the country at the last moment. But Katsav is just a symptom. His supporters are the real problem. And solving this problem will take much, much more than one indictment.

(This column is dedicated to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who taught us all about courage.)

(The Knesset did not remove President Katsav from office – most of the members of the committee dealing with the issue chose to absent themselves. Katsav has lately agreed to a controversial plea bargain, by which he will not be charged with rape but rather with sexual misconduct; the issue is currently debated by the Supreme Court. This column appeared in Nana News on 20 October 2006. Translation: Dena Bugel-Shunra, Yossi Gurvitz)

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