Teshuva and #MeToo

by Rachel Siegel


On the eve of Yom Kippur, the idea of teshuva or repentance was on my mind. How can I improve myself to treat others in the way that they deserve to be treated? This past year has been defined by the #MeToo movement, with numerous women coming forward to tell stories of abuse they faced at the hands of those in power in the Jewish community and beyond. I read an article suggesting that consent is a Jewish value. I hadn’t thought about #MeToo in this way before, but of course consent is a Jewish value! As a people we value each individual and preach treating others with respect. It made me think: What other Jewish values were being ignored by perpetrators of sexual harassment and violence?


In an article in the Forward, JWFNY grantee partner Shira Berkovits of Sacred Spaces and others suggest atonement prayers that the Jewish community should add to their confession prayers during Yom Kippur. This alternative version of Al Chet include communal transgressions that the entire organized Jewish community should take responsibility for, such as “not believing victims when they spoke up” and “contributing to a rape culture”. The authors reminded me that it is not only the perpetrators that have turned their backs on Jewish values, but the entire community when we fail to believe victims or apprehend offenders. The authors say,


“We Abused our power, we didn’t Believe survivors, we were Complicit, we Demeaned. We Echoed the majority, we Focused on our own self-interest over safety, we Gave abusers opportunities to further harm, we Humiliated survivors, we Ignored our impact, we Justified inappropriate behavior. We Kept abusers in power, we Laughed at jokes that supported rape culture, we Marginalized narratives that weren’t easy to digest, we Normalized problematic behavior, we Ostracized victims, we Participated in the erasure of survivors’ voices. We Questioned survivors’ motivations, we Reinforced harmful myths, we Silenced voices trying to come forward, We Trivialized. We didn’t Use safe protocols, we Violated boundaries, we Waited too long to take action, we eXonerated perpetrators who didn’t repent, we Yielded to our basest impulses, we Zealously defended perpetrators of harm.”


The Jewish Women’s Foundation has recently partnered with The Good People Fund to launch B’kavod to merge our Jewish values with our Jewish organizational behavior to create safe and respectful workplaces for all. B’kavod was recently highlighted in an article in Haaretz. We have a lot of work to do together as a community in the coming year to ensure that we use our Jewish values to support all people and to build a culture of consent.

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