Rabbis reject the linking of modesty laws to sexual harassment

The Organization of Community Rabbis rejected as “absurd” the connection made between Jewish modesty laws and more sexual harassment.

Yedidya Ben Or,

Rabbi Amichai Eliyahu
Rabbi Amichai Eliyahu
צילום: איגוד רבני קהילות

The Association of Communal Rabbis criticized a recent attempt to link the observance of halacha regarding modesty with sexual harassment cases that have come to light recently.

The coincidence of the plea agreement in the sexual harassment trial of Gen. Ofek Buchris, who is religious, and the recent publicity surrounding the allegations of sexual harassment against a religious MK from the Jewish Home party have given rise to charges that the Jewish laws of modesty somehow contribute to the problem of sexual harassment.

Among other things, MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) claimed that the separation between men and women in religious society leads to more sexual harassment. Azaria cited research suggesting that “women combat soldiers result in lower sexual harassment in the IDF.”

At the same time, an interview on Channel 2 with Efrat Shapira-Rosenberg included the claim that modesty laws, such as the prohibition on women and men touching, even if just to shake hands, leads to more sexual harassment.

However, Rabbi Amichai Eliyahu, Chief Executive of the Association of Community Rabbis in Israel, argues that the facts demonstrate exactly the opposite conclusion.

“Unfortunately, there is a cynical attempt to exploit recent events to promote a false agenda,” says Rabbi Eliyahu. “A survey conducted last month found that just the opposite was true.”

According to the this survey, workplaces where the majority of the employees are religious are the scene of substantially lower sexual harassment incidents.

Rabbi Eliyahu also cited a document recently released by the head of the IDF Manpower Directorate, Maj.-Gen Hagai Topolansky, showing that the alarming rise in sexual harassment reports in the army in the last few years has coincided with women being assigned to a greater number of combat roles.

“This is a clear indication that the claim that intimate closeness between men and women, as in a tank, or abandoning the laws of modesty will cause less harassment of women by men is absurd. Logic says the opposite, as do the polls. But the most important thing is that the Creator said the opposite,” added Rabbi Eliyahu.

His letter concluded, “We will continue to maintain even more strongly the values of modesty together with educational efforts to strengthen the honor of Jewish women, to encourage personal reflection on the challenges of the evil inclination, and to raise awareness of the issues involved in the close physical association of men and women.”