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Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

{Originally posted to Rabbi Pruzansky’s blog}

Only in the mind of the modern feminist can an orthodox Rabbi advocate for pre-marital sexual abstinence and be deemed a rape apologist. Such was the peculiar response in some precincts to my “A Novel Idea”

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Arguing over statistics and studies is a futile exercise, as the studies conflict, methodologies differ and even definitions are often imprecise. For those intellectually capable of an open mind, I urge you to read the esteemed social scientist Heather Mac Donald’s cover story in the Weekly Standard (November 2, 2015) subtitled “The Phony Campus Rape Crisis,” which will function as a devastating rebuttal to the criticism that has been directed here, and written in a much stronger manner than was my essay although our objectives were different.

To mention but two “statistics”: one blogger presumed that 23% of my congregants have “likely personally experienced sexual assault.” But “sexual assault,” as some studies, including that of the Justice Department, define it, includes even an unwanted peck on the cheek, an execrable practice still seen in some liberal Orthodox precincts but hardly synonymous with rape except to a certain subset of fanatical activists. Or, “95%” of college rapes go unreported to the police, but they are, apparently, reported to researchers. 95%? And perhaps it is 395%, or 45%? Perhaps some of these assaults are more akin to the circumstances I explored in my essay (as have others, see George F. Will’s column on a related subject).

To those who persist in citing the “1 in 5 women on campus raped” canard, I refer you to this new Prager University video released this week (as if to come to my rescue!) that debunks this datum. If nothing else, all of the above should allow for a calmer discussion of this matter.

What did I write in my essay, whose every word I stand by? Here’s a synopsis. The reality is that rape is an abominable crime that is an unimaginable nightmare and deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. To be falsely accused of rape is also an abominable crime that is an unimaginable nightmare for which the lying complainant deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Both are life-altering events and in both cases the victims deserve our fullest support and the victimizers our unmitigated opprobrium. Obviously, instances of rape exceed false claims of rape, and as I noted, “even one is too many.”

That is the black (the former scenario) and the white (the latter scenario) of the matter. But the professional feminists see only the black. There is no white, no other side, the woman is always right, the man is always wrong. In that echo chamber, I am certain, that makes sense. In a world where truth, justice, decency and fairness matter, that contention is risible.

But I addressed both those scenarios only in passing. My focus was on the “gray” area, the “he said/she said” scenario, where the events are fueled by what I termed the culture of promiscuity and entitlement on campus, where the couple had a relationship and often a long term physical relationship, and where “feelings” – especially post facto feelings – matter more than legality or fairness. These are cases where the woman sometimes does not feel like a “victim” for weeks or months after the encounter (usually coincident with a breakup or a conversation with a feminist adviser who convinces her that she was assaulted without consent). These are cases in which there are no witnesses, no evidence, and no corroboration. They exist. They are troubling no matter who is right and who is wrong. But the feminist activists see no “gray.” The man is always guilty. Always.

Indeed, the “hookup culture” on campus has created a sense of male entitlement concomitant with some females’ pursuit of unlimited pleasure. It is in that culture that, invariably, women – who, as I noted, have a greater emotional investment in physical intimacy than do men – will over time feel used, abused, scorned and empty. And it is in that culture that, I submit, the problematic area of “he said/she said” is more likely to arise. It is for that scenario that I suggested a return to traditional moral practices, such that are already mandatory for Jews but would even benefit non-Jews. The bloggers who mock that suggestion are playing into the hands of lecherous young men and, ironically, endangering more women both physically and psychologically.

It was in this gray area that I urged a return to the virtues with which religious Jews are quite familiar – no affectionate physical contact between men and women outside the context of marriage. That won’t stop the “black” cases of rape (forcible assault) nor the “white” cases (false accusations), for the most part. But it would stop much of the “gray,” in which consent is unclear or ambiguously given, because the assumption would be, since males are an aggressive breed, that the male assaulted the virtue of the female.

But for the professional feminists, there never is a “gray” area. Men are always predators, women are always saints, and rabbis, always, deserve special calumny if they don’t toe a particular line.

What is most troubling, and quite typical of this genre, is the sheer inability of the feminist activists to tolerate another viewpoint. “On this, there can be no debate! There is only one opinion!” Feminist orthodoxy brooks no dissent (as opposed to Jewish Orthodoxy, whose every tenet, they feel, is negotiable). So their goal is to ensure that only one side of an issue is ever heard. They do this by denouncing any opposition as immoral, shrieking that any dissenter is evil, and trying to intimidate that dissenter into silence, penance and universal obloquy. This is what passes for discourse – forget civil discourse, just discourse – in that pathetic echo chamber of the young and coddled. How sad.

Typically, as they see it, for expressing views with which they disagree, I should be fired from the rabbinate, kicked out of any rabbinic organization to which I belong, tossed from any institution in which I am active, and, for Heaven’s sake, even thrown out of AAA (to which I just renewed my membership, and so will not go down without a fight).

What is even sadder is that, to these activists, men are irredeemable brutes, end of story. My objective, on the other hand, is to preserve the honor of both men and women. Their eager embrace of the “hookup culture” – as long as there is consent – exacerbates the problem, cheapens the nobility of women and undermines the sanctity of marriage. Their contempt for women, and not just women’s virtues, is breathtaking.

The Talmud (bottom of Sanhedrin 21a) teaches us that after Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar, King David’s Sanhedrin decreed that an unmarried man and woman should not be secluded together (the prohibition of yichud). That was good advice then as it is now. It doesn’t mean that they “blamed” Tamar; rather that prudence and common sense dictate not putting oneself in a situation of potential danger. No one ever “deserves” to be raped, as some hideously perverted my words. But do not walk into a field clearly labeled “Danger: Mines!” Even if the ones who planted the mines would be guilty of causing injury, surely the minefield pedestrian also bears some responsibility for his fate. The mature person takes responsibility for his own actions, a fundamental Jewish principle that I explored in my last book, “The Jewish Ethic of Personal Responsibility.”

Further irony: these critics are antagonized because they call me a “leader” who should not say these things that upset them; yet, when I try to take the lead on this particular issue – elevating the moral level on campus so that no one, but especially our young people, is ensnared in that morass – they protest. It sounds like they want “leaders” whom they control and who just follow the script that they write. But those are not “leaders” but followers with a fancy title.

Heeding our moral laws can only benefit men, women, marriages, families and society itself. That was and is my point. The fruitless debate over statistics aside, I would hope that even the professional feminists can subscribe to that.

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– Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is Israel Region Vice-President for the Coalition for Jewish Values and author of Repentance for Life now available from Kodesh Press.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Dear Rabbi Pruzansky:

    Regarding your blogpost, A Novel Idea.(and now, this very ugly article) I am trying to understand the issues that were contained in your prose.

    Rape is unrequited love? Women are temptresses with raging hormones and can't control themselves because we crave affection? We respond to rejection by crying rape? Is that what you mean? I am trying to be clear on your intention. But I am baffled. You say it’s all about he said/she said. And “she” lies, most of the time.

    And no really means yes?

    Right.

    Permit me to write to your personally from personal brutal experience.

    I had no witnesses. You could call it a case of he said/she said. You can say I shouldn't have lived near the Brooklyn College campus, where I put myself through school as a single mother… I was also the editor of the Brooklyn College newspaper that served the School of General Studies. I was also, at one point, secretary of the Minyan Club and president of the Student Center Board. I was not a faceless female student among the 35,000 students on campus. And I knew every cop on campus, including cops who were moonlighting on campus from the local precinct. For a woman at that time, I guess I was pretty remarkable. As a rape survivor, thanks to backwards attitudes like yours—none of that protected me. And none of that earned me any credibility.

    I am afraid, Rabbi, you will just have to take MY word for what happened on that wintry night, 42 years ago, since there were no witnesses. It happened at 3 a.m., in the middle of a snowstorm.

    It was late on a Monday night, February 4-5, 1974. My six-year old daughter was with my parents, a few blocks away, so thank God, she wasn't in the apartment that night.

    I had gotten off the phone with my mentor, Dolly Lowther Robinson, former Secretary of Labor for the State of New York and Abe Beame's Commissioner of Model Cities. At the time, she was with the Special Baccalaureate Degree program. It was late, about 1:30 a.m. I fell asleep in my bedroom on the sixth floor of an apartment house on Ocean Avenue off Avenue H owned by Mrs. Applebaum, mother of the former headmaster at Moriah in Englewood, Shelly Applebaum.

    The next thing I knew, I heard someone in my bedroom, and a strange noise that turned out to be a man cutting my phone wires. He grabbed the bathrobe at the side of my bed, threw it over my face and put a sharp, pointy object against the top of my head, that later turned out to be the biggest knife in my kitchen drawer.

    Though I prayed to Hashem that this was just a nightmare, that I was imagining all this in a fevered state, I had to face the ugly truth. I was being raped. When he was done, he ransacked my apartment, took whatever else he wanted, including my dignity and self-respect, warned me not to call the cops, and walked out the door.

    When I tried to call the police, I realized my phones were dead. I pounded on neighbors' doors, but only one, the single woman next door, opened her door and allowed me to call the police.

    Please remember that this was at 4 a.m.—in the middle of a snowstorm. The police found a knife, my kitchen knife, on the stairs in the hallway. They saw the cut phone lines, they saw that someone had climbed the fire escape in the middle of the night, in the middle of the storm, cut the screen and forced the window open.

    And then they asked me what I had done to encourage him.

    I do not remember how I got to the emergency room at Kings County Hospital, I do remember getting two huge penicillin shots. At that time, could I confide in my married frum girlfriends? Of course not. Could I tell my parents, leaders of the World Agudah and Nishei—Holocaust survivors—what happened? Of course not.

    I was traumatized by the experience of being a rape victim and having the cops doubt my credibility, and am re-traumatized when people like you today suggest it was my fault.

    It doesn’t matter whether the rapist was carrying a weapon, a roofie to put in a victim’s drink, or emotionally manipulates them. Rape is rape.

    You are proud of the fact you are a lawyer and a rabbi. Unfortunately, you are ignorant about rape. It is a crime, an all too common crime. But even now, 60% of rapes are unreported (90% on campus) because women have given up trying to convince people like you that they were subjected to a violent, demeaning, dehumanizing condition, one that could cost them their lives, by men who simply wanted to assert their power over them.

    Frankly, I think someone who thinks like you should be removed from his pulpit and other rabbinical duties, and that you should think long and hard before you put your fingers on a keyboard again.

    It’s time for you to do a cheszbon hanefesh and apologize to all women.

    Jeanette Friedman
    Rape Survivor

  2. This is an excellent article but I would like to add what I believe are very important points that explain more. People who head Women's Studies and people who come on campus as speakers get donations, grants and funds based on this hysteria. Besides the useful idiots who are believers there are the profiteers from Holaback and the academic departments. I bet if you were to track donations of Jewish groups that claim to represent Jewish security in America you will see that donations go up in troubled times. If Jews are at peace they wouldn't get a dime. They pay political donations for official statistics in order to get more money at the end of the day. Stealing a kiss and actual rape is lumped together so an actual rape victim might not be taken seriously. In the end those most devestated by false accusations and real victims.

  3. An opinion post from another rape survivor in order to give a different perspective from a previous one here in the comment section:

    In the many years I have known Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, I have witnessed ceaseless mob-like attacks against him for stating his opinion on various issues from Israeli politics to his current article on the supposed rape culture, titled A Novel Idea, (https://rabbipruzansky.com/2016/03/31/a-novel-idea/ ) in which he tackles the dilemma of "he said – she said" rape cases on campus where there are no witnesses.

    For some groups of people, trouncing on his words, or more accurately, misconstruing his words to fit their knee jerk polemic against him, has become a favorite pastime.
    In his article, Rabbi Pruzansky makes it unquestionably clear that no rapist under any circumstances should be exonerated in date rape cases that can be proven. Nor is Rabbi Pruzansky blaming the victim as many detractors are accusing him of.

    What he is saying in layman terms is for women to avoid situations that could lead to bad scenarios.

    Put it this way, yes, any woman has a right to go anywhere she wants and expect not to be attacked. But any woman should also know better that it's unwise to walk in the dead of night alone and unarmed in a high crime neighborhood. Does she have the right to do so? Sure. But why the hell do it? And if she does indeed walk alone at night in a high crime neighborhood, and if she is attacked and raped, her being in that neighborhood does not exonerate the rapist. What Rabbi Pruzansky is saying, that for a woman's own well being, it would be prudent not to walk alone at night in a bad neighborhood.

    Similarly, it would be unwise for a woman to go up to a man's apartment, even if she is dating him, unless she is totally prepared for a non committed sexual relationship. Why? Because, fair or not, men are wired differently. Sex does not require emotional attachment for men. It does for women, in general. We are wired differently. Accept it. And going up to a man's apartment is sending a message in the man's head that the woman is interested in sex, even if she is not and truly believes that she was just going to look at his sketches. It is what it is. This is not blaming the victim. This is not excusing any man who refuses to listen when the woman says no. This is simply explaining how the male mind views certain things.

    Everything that Rabbi Pruzansky said in this article was for the purpose of protecting the woman. It was not an attack. It was not an exercise in blaming the victim. It was not misogynistic. It was not inconsiderate to women and it was not lacking in empathy for rape victims. Quite the contrary. His blog post was written in an effort to spare women from rape as well as from the unsavory "he said-she said" scenarios.

    So why is Rabbi Pruzansky in the midst of being brutally attacked?

    Because he has the guts to say what needs to be said in this insane world where right is wrong and wrong is right, and God forbid, one dares to call it out. Because he has the temerity to advocate for abstinence from sex until marriage. A novel idea which really isn't so novel, right? (And no, he is not at all saying that leading a "traditional" life saves all women from all rape scenarios. To accuse him of that is ridiculous.)

    Rabbi Pruzansky is being attacked because he refuses to toe the line of a ship that's sunk.

    And if any shrill voices among the pseudo feminists object to my opinion, let me just beat you to the punch and say that I have been sexually assaulted more times than I wish to count, and yes, raped, and there was not one word in Rabbi Pruzansky's blog post that I found offensive, misogynist or disrespectful to rape victims.

    For those who are interested in facts, for those who are interested in thinking for themselves rather than joining the "mob against Pruzansky" mentality,what I strongly suggest, is to reread Rabbi Pruzansky's original post. A Novel Idea. Breathe. And truly attempt to understand his message before jumping on the bandwagon to crucify him.

    Zahava D. Englard

  4. You remind me of people who will meet a girl who wishes to avenge a broken relationship and tells her "I believe you because nobody believed me". Your intentions are good but the consequences can be horrific. The UVA story was exposed because the young lady knew there were people who would automatically take her side in the "he said she said" situation. The key is to take each case on its own but with the amount of hysteria in place we won't let our son go to college. If he doesn't like a young lady there are now plenty of methods at her disposal to harm him (Chas VeSholom). People like you have made the world an unsafe place for people like my son. Thanks for making a bad world worse.

  5. R Pruzansky plays a very good game of "blame the victim"; however, it's not the "hook-up culture" than results in sexual assault in the workplace, the military, and in most campus situations.

    Yes, an aggadic tale of David's son is the historical hook on which the rabbis pinned their prohibition of yichud; but their concern was less the possibility of a "misunderstanding" as to consent, and more of a general aversion to any non-marital relations.

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