If ever there was a perfect time to rate news reporting as “inappropriate for children,” 1998 must have been it. I personally get all my news from National Public Radio, which avoided focusing on the sordid details of the scandal and reported only on its newsworthy elements. And still sometimes I had to turn off my radio in disgust. Having said that, readers of this article will understand that I wish to discuss this matter in the most wholesome terms possible.
The President’s behavior was appalling. Even Americans are not too jaded to be shocked by this type of abuse of power. But I contend that the scandal symbolized the betrayal of something deeper than America; it is the betrayal of femininity.
Monica Lewinsky is probably a very typical American young woman. Raised on liberal values in the post-feminist era, she was reared to believe that her destiny is in her own hands. A woman can make her own choices in today’s world: about her career, her relationships, her body . . . but did anybody ever tell her that she could determine the course of her own spirituality? Perhaps if someone had taught her that spirituality is the highest form of self-empowerment, she might have behaved with a greater moral consciousness.
This is the state of today’s young Jewish women. They are bright, ambitious, and educated in every subject, except in their own heritage. The pride and joy of their parents, they earnestly march into the universities and into careers only to discover that positions of power are still dominated by men who see women first and foremost as objects for physical pleasure. And in many cases, the women succumb to the men’s pressuring, for few have strong enough senses of self and morality to resist power and charm. Is this feminine liberation?
Orthodox Jewish women are not feminists in the usual understanding of the word, but we know that the Torah is pro-feminine. With our strict separation between genders and a dress code that de-emphasizes our bodies, we seem alien to most young Jews today. After all, “separate is inherently unequal” in American tradition. Today’s Jews do not realize that in their native tradition, the word for “separation” and “holiness” are one and the same. When men and women stay separate, the intimacy of the relationship of marriage is heightened to the point of holiness. Tragically, most Jews have no understanding of holiness at all, for it is something that must be experienced to be understood.
The word for the ceremony of marriage in Hebrew shares its root with in the word for “holiness” or “separation.” When a couple goes through the Jewish marriage ceremony, they become consecrated to each other in the same way as a holy object is consecrated to the service of G-d. Everything about their relationship is considered a sacred service to G-d, and every contact outside of the separateness of their relationship detracts from the holiness. Contrast this to secular America, where relationships between the genders are treated casually. In a recent poll of teenagers engaging in intercourse, love was not among the motivations for becoming active, and the most-commonly reported result was regret. (Paul Harvey News and Comment by Paul Harvey, WABC, January 1998)
Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin (1742-1792) said, “The greatest pitfall Jews face is to forget that they are the children of the King [G-d].” (Bais Aaron by Rabbi Aaron II of Karlin, p. 146d) The strongest defense against immorality is self-esteem. If I value myself, I most certainly would not engage in behavior that degrades me. And what could be more self-affirming than the consciousness that the self is a soul, a tiny extension of G-d, divine and eternal? Not until people embrace themselves as the beloved children of G-d will they behave in ways that express His Ultimate Morality. If Monica Lewinsky had recognized herself as a child of G-d, she, and thousands of young women like her, would not have stumbled in grievous sin.
© Copyright 1998, Karen Housman
I have been blessed to know many teachers through the years who have helped me learn these concepts, but for this article, I would like to acknowledge my husband, Mordechai
Housman, and my teachers at She’arim College of Jewish Studies.