Jewish lessons from Pervertgate

Joseph Aaron

So this is what it’s like to live through a revolution.

Fact is, I’ve somehow managed to miss most of the societal revolutions that have taken place during my lifetime.

I do very vividly recall the assassination of JFK. I was eight years old at the time and had already decided I wanted to be a journalist. I was already reading the four Chicago newspapers each and every day, starting each and every day by reading Kup’s Column. It was written by Irv Kupcinet and because he was Jewish and because his column appeared six days a week and because it was chock full of all the interesting people and places he had met and had been, I imagined how great living the journalistic life was. Covering a different story every day, getting to meet all kinds of people and go all kinds of places.

But back to revolutions. So JFK I remember, remember going to Walgreen’s on Howard and Western the day after it happened to buy the four Chicago newspapers, newspapers I still have to this day. I remember being glued to the TV set day after day watching the coverage, which solidified my belief that there is no more noble profession on earth than being a journalist. Something I continue to believe to this day and the main reason I so despise Trump, whose sick manipulative use of the term ‘fake news’ is doing more damage to this society than any of his other destructive insanities.

But back to revolutions. Though I was living in Chicago in 1968, the Democratic convention somehow went over my head. That might have had to do with the fact that it took place during the month of my bar mitzvah or the fact that I was attending a very religious and very cloistered Jewish day school, but the fact is a revolution was taking place downtown and I had no idea. Also for some reason, I have no memory of having been affected by the assassinations of RFK and Martin Luther King, didn’t really realize all that was going on with the civil rights movement and the women’s movement and the anti-war movement and the sexual revolution and the drug culture. Might have something to do with the fact that I went straight from a cloistered Jewish day school into a cloistered, and dysfunctional, yeshiva.

While I am sort of a member of the Baby Boom generation, I never really felt like I was, or that it affected me in any way, and I totally don’t understand Millennials. As far as the high tech social media revolution, I do not have a Facebook page, have never once sent a tweet and believe with all my heart and soul that the Internet is rattling our brains, destroying our social bonds, turning us into unfeeling, uncaring, mindless, emotionless, soulless shells of a human being.

So there you have it in terms of me and revolutions. But the truth is even I am not oblivious to the sexual harassment revolution going on, find myself very caught up in it, amazed by it and see quite a few Jewish lessons in it.

For starters, take the Chasidic concept of emunah, of complete faith in G-d, of believing that every single thing that happens in the world and that happens in each our lives comes from G-d. Everything. Now I know that freaks out or disgusts some of you, and I’m sorry for that, but you don’t have to believe it all to at least believe that G-d plays some role in the world He created. You may not believe that everything that happens in our lives is the result of G-d’s will and you may see Him at work only in big things or in things from the past, whatever.

But one of the basic teachings of emunah is that G-d can change your life completely in the blink of an eye. I think this harassment revolution, the metoo times in which we are living, has shown that very dramatically. We have watched as one incredibly powerful, famous, wealthy man after another has gone from having everything to having nothing. In the blink of an eye.

Literally one day you can be Charlie Rose, have a daily program on three networks, and within 24 hours, they’re all gone, your reputation in tatters. One day you are the respected toast of New York and Washington, asked to emcee fancy galas almost every night, and the next day, people don’t want to have anything to do with you. Literally one day you can be Mark Halperin, with a show on Showtime, regular appearances on NBC News, have a million dollar deal to write another of your bestselling books, and within 24 hours, the publisher has canceled your book contract, your show has been ended, your network contract pulled. So it has been for Harvey Weinstein and Bill O’Reilly and on and on. A life changed completely literally in the blink of an eye.

Judaism teaches, in Pirkei Avot, that ‘who is rich? He who is satisfied with his lot.’ All those harassers were never satisfied, they had money and power and fame and influence but it wasn’t enough, they weren’t satisfied, needed to power over the less powerful, needed to prove themselves what big men they were, and so they while they were technically rich, they were spiritual impoverished.

Judaism teaches that some truths are eternal. Don’t do unto others as you would not have done unto you. Love your brother/sister as yourself. Remember that you were strangers in a stranger land. Justice justice shalt thou pursue. Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your G-d. Those don’t change with the times, the place, the fads. And yet how many of those shown to be sexual abusers, harassers, predators, used the excuse that they did what they did because times were different then, the culture was different then.

“I came of age in the 60’s and 70’s,” said Harvey Weinstein, the pig Jew who kicked off this whole revolution, “when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different.” It wasn’t him, it was the 60s and 70s, rules were different then. No, some rules are never different. You don’t ever force a woman to watch you take a shower. You don’t ever take out your bris and play with it in front of someone who doesn’t want you to. You don’t ever force yourself on a woman, physically attack, emotionally threaten a woman. We’ve known that since the time of the Torah and yes times may change, but some things don’t change, and even in the age of Facebook and the Internet, morals and values and the teachings of the Ten Commandments are as relevant today as they were 3,300 years ago when we first received them.

Judaism also teaches that we are to act in private with the same cognizance of G-d as we do in public. It’s not enough to act one way in public if you act another when you are alone, at home, with one other person, with your family. Just as it is wrong to do certain things in public, just as you are to behave like a mensch in public, so too must you do the same in private, even when you are all alone.

If you put on a public face and another private face, then you are acting in public, putting on a show, doing it for your reputation or to impress people or to get something out of people. If you live by eternal truths, if you have real values, if you wish to be a moral person, even when no one is looking, you cling to those truths. Harvey Weinstein wanted to be seen by the world as a humanitarian, a supporter of women’s causes, as a liberal social activist, as a good guy making important films. But when he was by himself or with a woman less powerful than he was, he acted like a disgusting pig, didn’t care what he said or what he did, didn’t care about women’s rights, didn’t care about being a good guy, wasn’t very humanitarian in how he treated other human beings who happened to be female.

If you believe there is a right way and a wrong way to be, then you must be that way at all times, public and private, not be the sage and insightful Charlie Rose when you are on TV and be the lecherous and abusive Charlie Rose when you are working with a young assistant in your apartment.

Judaism teaches there is a way to repent, to do tshuva. Indeed it outlines very specific things you must do, which include expressing sincere regret for what you have done, and apologizing to those you have wronged. Which means if you have hurt another person, it’s not enough to tell G-d you are sorry, you must specifically tell the person you have wronged you are sorry.

The forced, carefully crafted, sterile statements from almost every one of the harassers have shown exactly how not to do tshuva. They are begrudging, filled with denials — “I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way,” said Sen. Al Franken, before he apologized. She says he forcibly stuck his tongue down her throat, which he isn’t sure is correct, but if she’s upset then he’s sorry.

Tshuva is not saying because she’s upset about it, then I regret what I did. It’s saying I sincerely regret what I did because I did something very wrong. Almost all the harassers have noted that if they caused the woman they attacked pain or harm then they feel bad about it, are embarrassed by it. Their focus being on how the women reacted, not on what they did. That is not tshuva. And to be tshuva you must express your regret to the person, not send out a public statement or shoot out a tweet, done at a remove, not face to face. That’s the easy way out and not the tshuva way into true repentance.

So we have a lot of Jewish lessons to learn in all this. Perhaps the most important being what Judaism teaches us to remember every day of our lives. That in the end, when we depart this life, what is left of us is our good name. Period. It’s not all the money you had or all the power you had, it’s what kind of person you were. Kind, caring, or a creep.

It is clear no matter how long they live, and long after they die, the rich and powerful harassers, from Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey will be remembered only for the disgusting ways they behaved and for the disgusting ways they tried to rationalize it all away with excuses and half apologies and justifications and contentions that sure, they may have done some stuff, but they were basically good guys.

I leave you with the nauseating way Harvey Weinstein ended his ‘apology’ statement. After blaming the times and culture he grew up in, he tried to immediately switch to saying that because he did a few ‘typical guy’ things, he would make up for it not by doing real tshuva but by working against the National Rifle Association and its executive director.

I’ve decided that I’m going to give the NRA my full attention. I hope Wayne LaPierre will enjoy his retirement party. I’m going to do it at the same place I had my Bar Mitzvah.”

Thus adding desecration of G-d’s name to his long list of sins. When you did what Harvey did, you don’t make jokes and think you can wipe it all away by fighting the NRA. You do a cheshbon hanefesh, a sincere, deep and serious spiritual accounting, another Jewish lesson we need to learn from this harassment revolution, as filled as it is with so many Jews.

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