9/6/09

What does the Talmud teach about rape?

After an especially harrowing discovery, we have been trying to convey to a dear and esteemed person that in America when one tries to right a wrong, the accepted method of doing that is through currency - monetary payment.

Of course, it occurred to us that it's not just an American practice. It's widespread and in particular, it's Talmudic.

Here is an anecdote to underscore that point.

Some time ago when we taught Talmud at the University of Minnesota, Rachel Adler, who was then married to our Hillel Rabbi, Moshe Adler, came to us and asked us if we'd agree to an independent studies course with her on the Talmudic texts about rape.

We had studied some of the relevant chapters during our rabbinical training. We also knew that Rachel was widely respected as a leading writer on Jewish feminist issues. Before consenting to the course we advised Rachel that she might be disappointed to find out that the rabbis of the Talmud were not concerned with or sensitive to the issues of sexuality, personal rights and gender differentials or even the cultural symbolism that Rachel found so urgent.

In fact, we cautioned, that the authorities who wrote the Torah and the Talmud did understand that rape is a violent crime and that a rapist needs to be punished and the victim needs to be compensated. In the society of the rabbis, who was the victim to be compensated by fines was a matter of some discussion.

Accordingly we were going to find that a main concern of the Talmud was the question of how the monetary compensation for the damages of the crime of rape was to be allocated, who is liable, under what circumstances, in essence, who receives the money.

Rachel duly noted my caveats and then we studied the relevant texts during that term. When we finished, she observed that the enterprise was indeed challenging and interesting and that in fact our original disclaimer was correct. The preoccupation of the text was the allocation of the fines.

Rachel went on the write several important books that treat matters related to this subject such as, Engendering Judaism: an inclusive theology and ethics.

Lesson: Clearly, compensation for a crime is not all about the money or only about the money -- in American culture or in the Talmud. To paraphrase Vince Lombardi money is not everything and it's not the only thing.

Like it or not, monetary compensation is accepted across history and cultures as the main way to right a wrong.

2 comments:

Anonymous in Teaneck said...

Are you aware that your blog would come across as much less pretentious if you would drop the royal "we?"

tzvee said...

Thanks - we do have a style and try to stick with it.