Men Behaving Badly
05/27/11
Special to the Jewish Week
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Q - In the wake of recent sex scandals involving Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Time Magazine ran a cover story asking the rhetorical question, "What Makes Powerful Me Act Like Pigs?" Ethically speaking, how does Judaism account for this constant abuse of power by piggish men?

A- Yes, both Time Magazine and The New York Times Week in Review ran cover stories equating men with pigs last week. With all the apocalyptic events going on these days, from firestorms in the Middle East to thunderstorms in the Midwest, it's almost comforting to have been preoccupied for a brief time by good old fashioned lechery. But these two situations involve more than just men getting caught with their pants down.

It's important to note that there are significant differences between the Schwarzenegger and Strauss-Kahn cases. One has admitted to fathering a child in an extramarital affair with a maid and the other has been jailed for alleged rape. That said, the common threads are infidelity, the abuse of power, and society's response to it. Remember that power is a relative term. Any boss has power over his employees. You don't have to be a Governator to be a predator. But it helps.

The answer to your question is that not all men are livestock. At the risk of sounding Nixonian, I am not a pig. Psalm 8 makes the claim that we are just a little lower than angels (literally it says "gods") with dominion over sheep, oxen and beasts of the fields. One would assume that also means we potentially have dominion over ourselves - and the beasts within us. But Judaism recognizes that we often fail to live up to that potential. David's abduction of Bathsheba (his defense attorney would probably claim, incorrectly, that it was consensual and that she seduced him by bathing on the roof) and murder of her husband Uriah (2 Sam. 11-12) virtually combine the sins of Schwarznegger and, allegedly, Strauss-Kahn. The prophet Nathan brilliantly recalibrates David's moral compass - otherwise, David would not have been fit to lead.

Judaism has always seen marriage as a microcosm for all social bonds. It is the grand experiment. The Sheva Brachot (Seven Blessings) at the wedding ceremony proclaim that marriage is our last best hope, that, to paraphrase Sinatra, if commitment can make it here, it can make it anywhere. Break trust with your spouse, and you've broken it with God. So how could you possibly expect to be trusted by the rest of the people? We've come a long way since the days of "Mad Men," when affairs were an expected perk for powerful men, including US Presidents, and everyone turned a blind eye. Now even the French seem to be getting it. Infidelity has become a scarlet letter for candidates - just ask John Edwards and Newt Gingrich.

But are men sexual predators by nature? The Talmudic rabbis seemed to think so, so they proceeded to create barriers to keep men from succumbing to their temptations. Unfortunately, most of those barriers came at the expense of women. More recently, in Israel we are seeing this in its most extreme forms , with segregated buses and separate shopping hours for men and women in some post offices and supermarkets. The ancient rabbis both revered and feared women (although Jewish thought also recognizes feminine characteristics in God), but this current trend toward misogyny-gone-wild indicates that what Jewish males might fear most is their own lack of self control.

Are men pigs? Only if they allow themselves to be.
 

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman is spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. Read more Hammerman on Ethics here.  Read his blog here

 

Last Update:

05/29/2011 - 08:33

Comments

I object when people of influence forget the concept of presumed innocence. DS-K was convicted of nothing. I personally believe he is the victim of a political plot if you look at what is at stake.

He is the first Jew who could have been elected president of France. He is a very visible Jew to powerfully lead the IMF. Then you have mayor Bloomy cheer leading the lynch mob.

Mr. Kahn has a tough fight in front of him and I wish him all the best. {by the way he is also a Kohain}

And then please remember Tawana Brawley.

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