#268: Rape and the Ten Commandments
A Sermon for Shavuot
Moses and Aaron with the Ten Commandments, by Aron de Chaves (bio). Public domain image.
Gimme Some Torah #268
Note: I delivered this sermon on Shavuot seven years ago.
Nathan goes to shul (synagogue) one Shabbos and Rabbi Bloom almost faints when he sees him - Nathan has never stepped foot inside a shul since his bar mitzvah. At the end of the Service, Rabbi Bloom goes over to Nathan and says, "I’m very pleased to see you here today, what made you come?"
Nathan replies, "I'll be honest with you, rabbi. I lost my favorite hat about 3 months ago and I really miss it. A friend of mine told me that Kenneth Gold has a hat just like mine. My friend also told me that Kenneth comes to shul every Shabbos, always takes off his hat before Service begins, leaves it in the cloakroom at the back of the shul and replaces it with his yarmulke. So I was going to leave after the Torah reading and steal Gold’s hat."
Rabbi Bloom says, "Well Nathan, I notice that you didn't steal Kenneth Gold’s hat after all. Whilst I’m very glad, please tell me why you changed your mind."
"Well rabbi," replies Nathan, "after I heard your sermon on the Ten Commandments, I decided that I didn't need to steal Gold’s hat."
Rabbi Bloom smiles and says, "I suppose you decided against it after you heard me talking about 'Thou Shalt Not Steal'?"
"Not exactly, rabbi," replies Nathan. "After you talked about 'Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery,' I remembered where I left my hat."
Tomorrow, as we do on every Shavuot, we will read Aseret HaDibrot, known as the Ten Commandments in English. These commandments should always be on our mind, but they are especially so in light of the recent controversy regarding the rape case on the campus of Stanford University.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the case, a man named Brock Turner, formerly a student at Stanford and a star member of their swimming team, went toa party. A twenty-three year old woman reluctantly accompanied her younger sister to that same college party.
The woman ends up unconscious. Maybe she drank too much, maybe Brock Turner spiked her drink, maybe both, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that two Swedish graduate students riding their bikes early that morning found Brock raping the unconscious victim. He ran away, but the Swedes tackled him and held him until the police arrived.
It is important to note that according to the Swedes, Brock was not acting drunk and was not slurring his words. Brock claims that his judgment was impaired by his use of alcohol.
The case has caused an uproar because the judge, Judge Aaron Persky, sentenced Brock to only six months in county jail, of which he will likely only serve three months. The prosecution had asked for the maximum penalty of 14 years in state prison. Ninety days of incarceration for a rape is clearly too lenient.
At first, I was going to say that I wasn’t in the courtroom and I have no right to speak against the judge, who followed the recommendation of the probation department and handed down a sentence that is technically legal.
But I decided that (A) I can say whatever I want, and (B) it appears that both the probation and the judge got this one totally wrong.
There is a teaching in the midrash which says, “Those who are merciful to the cruel will end up being cruel to the merciful.” That is exactly what happened in this case. The judge felt bad for Brock and said that a long prison sentence would have a negative effect on him. Oh, the poor thing.
As a result, he has in a sense caused the victim to feel even worse than she already did. She not only has to deal with having been raped, but she has to also face the fact that her rapist has been punished as though he were guilty of common mischief.
LIsten to a list of other crimes that can get you a fine of one thousand dollars if you have nor record or three to six months in jail if you do. These crimes are known in New Jersey as Disorderly Persons Offenses and elsewhere as a Class B misdemeanors:
•Possession of marijuana under 50 grams.
•Possession of drug paraphernalia.
•Simple assault, typically when two people are fighting in a bar.
•Disorderly conduct, also known as a board meeting in some congregations. •Possession of a fake ID, also known as being a naughty teenager.
•Underage possession of alcohol, also known as being one of the bad kids. Shoplifting an object worth between 2 and 200 dollars. That could be a King Size candy bar or a cheap laptop computer.
A rape does not belong on this list. I can only imagine how the victim feels now that her rape has been declared to be the equivalent of bad judgment. It seems to be that Brock Turner just got away with murder.
I say that because rape is a mixture of so many sins. It is a violation of the fifth commandment because he brought shame to his parents.
He transgressed the sixth commandment because he murdered this poor woman’s soul.
He broke the seventh commandment because if consensual adultery is a violation of the ten commandments, then rape is all the more so.
He sinned against the eighth commandment because he stole her sexual intimacy, something that she did not allow him to have.
He quite probably broke the ninth commandment because he claims to never engaged in illegal drug use even though there are pictures of him smoking a bong.
And it’s clear to me that he infringed the tenth commandment because he allowed his lust for power to overrule whatever morals he had.
Our attitude about rape and its severity as a crime is a sign that we have matured as a society. Rape was never considered to be a big deal in Biblical Israel. It was a financial transgression against the father of the woman. The punishment was that the rapist was forced to marry his victim and that he would never be able to divorce her.
It is only in the relatively recent past that we have declared rape to be a real crime. In fact, in much of the world, it still is not considered to be that big of a deal. Women frequently are told that they brought the rape upon themselves, and some societies require four witnesses for a rape conviction.
Even in our own ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, rape is rarely reported because it would bring shame upon an entire family, thus ruining the marriage prospects of the siblings.
Our more civilized attitude about rape is an example of how wrong it is to say that morality always disintegrates as time passes. We tend to think that people were so moral in the past and that degeneracy is a feature of modern society.
In fact, the opposite is true in many cases. We have de-emphasized the severity of some sins and enhanced the severity of others. Cursing is now just considered rude, but it used to thought of us a grave offense.
We no longer tolerate rape, whereas it was once basically overlooked. Slavery was once simply a part of reality and a foundation of the world’s economy. Now regard it as the essence of barbarism.
Executions used to be commonplace and thought of as a good thing. Now they are quite uncommon in the civilized world, and I predict that capital punishment’s days are numbered in America.
I hope that our society will continue to mature, and I hope that Brock Turner is the last person who will ever avoid serious prison time after committing one of the worst of all possible sins.
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Rabbi Eli Garfinkel is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Somerset, New Jersey. He is the author of The JPS Jewish Heritage Torah Commentary.