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Difficult Conversations

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Maya Glasser and Hannah Kestenbaum

Maya is ARZA’s Rabbinical Student Intern and Hannah is ARZA’s Digital Communications Manager

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Trying to Balance the Beautiful and the Ugly

Every week, our ARZA staff meetings teeter between jokes about politics and discussions of our agenda for the coming week. Today’s conversation was markedly different. Rabbi Stanley Davids contributed an excellent blog post about Parashat Noaḥ in which he cites the work of Israeli journalist Ari Shavit.

This created a dilemma for us. After all, Ari Shavit resigned from Ha’aretz this past week after confessing to sexual assault against at least two American women. (Rabbi Davids’ beautiful essay was written before the scandal became known.)

Should we knowingly use Shavit’s ideas going forward? What weight should his opinions hold? What do we do about this culture of sexual assault? How do we protect women in the workplace and create safe environments so everyone can do her or his job successfully and in peace?

As humans, we create covenants—holy relationships—with one another. We like to think that people will uphold the basic values of being respectful to each other and treating one another with dignity. When someone breaks a covenant, he or she violates a sacred bond of trust and decency.

As we often do at ARZA, we look to Torah to guide us when difficult questions arise. This week’s parashah, Noaḥ, features the most famous sign of the covenant: a rainbow. After God wipes out almost the entire population of the earth, God creates this beautiful physical manifestation of a sacred bond.

And yet: God knows that people will still sin, and acknowledges that this is a natural part of being human. Even in this same Torah portion, we see Noaḥ doing something inappropriate and ugly: he drunkenly removes his clothes and displays his nakedness, which offends everyone who sees him. Thus, the parashah demonstrates that we live in a world marked both by the beauty of the rainbow and the ugliness of which human beings are capable.

We grew up in a world in which feminism was a given, in which we hold that women’s rights are human rights. Yet, we--both through our own personal experiences and those of women around us--are keenly aware that the balance between beauty and ugliness is often tipped in one direction.

We by no means wish to cover up the ugly nakedness of the Ari Shavit situation.

But, it has forced us to grapple with multiple truths. Noaḥ was a hero, and he also made mistakes; with his inappropriate conduct toward women, Ari Shavit has created disillusionment and disappointment. We don’t forgive him for displaying his ugliness, but how do we balance it with his revolutionary and beautiful ideas? How do we move forward when yet another individual in power abuses privilege? How do we as young women support his victim without throwing out the tremendous work of the perpetrator?

There aren’t easy answers to these questions, because there is no right answer, and that’s part of what makes these situations challenging. In this situation, we decided to ask Rabbi Davids to incorporate a note before his piece.

In a world that contains both rainbows and nakedness, there is a constant process of balancing beautiful and ugly truths. We are imperfect creatures, and so are our heroes.