Tag : #MeToo

The Lilith Blog

August 20, 2019 by

Talking Back to The Red Tent in the #MeToo Era

I assign Anita Diamant’s novel The Red Tent in my Women in the Hebrew Bible course because it helps students learn about the concept of midrash and highlights just how little the biblical text itself centers women’s experiences and relationships. Plus, it’s a fun read! But times have changed in the 22 years since Diamant reimagined the tale of Dinah’s rape (or perhaps, since Biblical Hebrew lacks a word for rape, her “sexual humbling”) in Genesis 34 as a love story. Our societal understanding of rape, rape culture, and consent has evolved, particularly in the wake of the #MeToo movement calling powerful men to account for sexual harassment and sexual assault. Thus, when I ask students to respond in writing to The Red Tent, one question is, “Is Diamant’s midrash a feminist one? Can the redefinition of (possible) sexual assault as consensual sex be a feminist enterprise?”(Consider the following from Diamant’s website: ‘I could never reconcile the story of Genesis 34 with a rape, because the prince does not behave like a rapist. After the prince is said to have ‘forced’ her (a determination made by her brothers, not by Dinah), he falls in love with her, asks his father to get Jacob’s permission to marry her, and then agrees to the extraordinary demand that he and all the men of his community submit to circumcision.’) Students may respond to their chosen questions in essay format or in another medium, such as poetry or visual art.

When I taught the course in Fall 2018, two students coincidentally chose to write poems addressed to Diamant from Dinah. I was struck by how different their viewpoints were. One student, Muktha Nair, referenced class discussions about whether we can consider what happened to Dinah “rape.” That debate will never be resolved, Nair suggested. In a note accompanying her poem, she wrote, “Would a little girl want her name to be limited to the debates under literary scrutiny among biblical scholars and the clergy? Wouldn’t she much prefer to flourish and become immortal through folktales and mystical stories of being the knowing woman, the skilled midwife, a lover?… And that’s where I concluded that Diamant wasn’t doing a disservice to Dinah! By giving her a form, thoughts, a voice, a life, Diamant is ensuring that Dinah’s name lives through the eras to come. All we can give to Dinah is a lasting place in the thoughts of humanity—not as an object of debate, but as a Woman.” In her poem, Nair, writing as Dinah, thanks Diamant for giving her new life.

The other student, Sara Milic, wrote a poem comparing Diamant’s treatment of Dinah to a second rape. In the note accompanying her poem, Milic wrote, “This poem gives Dinah the opportunity to finally speak and to tell the truth herself. This also gives Dinah the opportunity to address how she might possibly feel about Diamant changing her story of rape into one of love. I felt a poem would be able to match the drama of the actual situation both in Dinah’s rape and in Diamant’s silencing of Dinah’s rape. I’m paralleling Dinah’s rape to Diamant silencing her by making similarities in both attacks (foreign prince, covering mouth, silencing, etc).” Milic’s poem has Diamant taking from Dinah what isn’t hers: Dinah’s story.

When I read these two poems, one right after the other, I immediately thought of seeking to publish them in Lilith. These two college students struggling with questions of sexual assault and female agency in a 2,500-year-old text and a 1990s bestseller have produced powerful poetry.

Caryn Tamber-Rosenau is instructional assistant professor of Jewish Studies and Religious Studies at the University of Houston. She is the author of Women in Drag: Gender and Performance in the Hebrew Bible and Early Jewish Literature (Gorgias Press, 2018). She is a former Lilith intern.


By Muktha Nair

To my daughter

Through whose words,

my soul lives on.

Some say I was raped,

But the world is yet to know the truth,

One that cannot be avenged, in my name.

But you, my Anita,

You have given me voice.

No longer just a forgotten name

Among words,

Written by men who know not.

You, as a fellow woman,

Have fulfilled the secret womanly vow,

By ensuring utterance of my name

giving a life to my name,

Thoughts to my name,

A voice to my name.

Giving me a place in the hearts of all;

Realizing the debacles of debates

Only wither away at the little felicity

Left for me.

Now my name

will be remembered,

In love,

In pain,

At birth

At death.

Not as a cursed whore;

But as a knowing Woman.



A Note to Anita by Sara Milic

I am being stripped of my story

You’re covering my mouth

I can’t breathe, I’m panicking

You were supposed to be the knight on the white horse,

The foreign prince coming to save me

You tricked me with your stories of sweet bread

And nights of cuddling in the tent

I trusted you, my sister, to let my soul go free

To unleash me from this burden I’ve been carrying

To tell my truth, to expose my aggressor

Anita, I’m crying – can’t you hear me?

Tell them he raped me, Anita

Are you listening?

You changed my story

I know it’s hard to read

My sister, I wish I could forget it

You’ve taken from me, just as he did,

My voice and my sense of self

Will there ever be justice for me,

Or for the sisters before me?

Will the sisters after me be believed?

Anita, will you be the savior of the silenced?

Or will you lay your hand over their mouth,

And take from them what isn’t yours to keep?

Don’t tell them he loved me,

Don’t lie and say I loved him

Please, don’t tell them I was happy

When will my rape end?

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July 9, 2019 by

“I’ll be your dissertation advisor if I can give you baths.”

In 1966, Marilyn Webb asked a distinguished male professor to serve on her dissertation committee at the University of Chicago. He said yes, if he could go to her apartment and give her baths.

So, as was recounted at a March 2019 conference on “Jewish Feminisms/American Visions: Perspectives from 50 Years of Activism,” she asked another professor, an expert in “moral development.” He held her against a wall, and “began slobbering all over my face. He told me it was quid pro quo.” Webb left the Ph.D. program. 

Encouraged by #MeToo, as a 75th birthday present to herself she wrote to the president of the university, described the abuse, and asked that the long-ago injustice be corrected.

This spring the University of Chicago awarded her the Ph.D.

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The Lilith Blog

April 11, 2019 by

Can Leviticus’ Purity Laws Help Us Understand #MeToo?

The poet Galit Hasan-Rokem wrote the following poem entitled “This Child Inside Me”: 

This child inside me
Sorts my existence into elements:
Blood and urine
Calcium and iron.
In my sleep I am a quarry
Where rare treasures are suddenly found.        

Blood and urine, calcium and iron. The fluid and elements that, in part, make up the physical constitution of a human body. This is, in part, the focus of our Torah portion earlier this month, called Parashat Tazria—which is always a confounding one for the bar or bat mitzvah student. The particular section of the Torah that we read at this time of year addresses issues of ritual purity. Some of those considerations include menstruation and childbirth. This part of the Torah is, indeed, a bar or bat mitzvah student’s worst nightmare. Every year, one or two innocent and unknowing soon-to-be 13 year old finds themselves forced to find relevant meaning in rules concerning nocturnal seminal emissions and afterbirth. Meanwhile their more fortunate classmates with simchas that land in the fall are assigned Noah’s ark and the Garden of Eden.

Leviticus builds character. 

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April 2, 2019 by

Halakhah and the Challenge of #MeToo: The World Split Open

How do we go about repairing halakhic systems and communities that embody some of the most destructive halakhic attitudes? I would propose a four-step process:

STEP 1 Listening: Just as God hears the Tza’akah, or outcry, of the oppressed, the ignored, the disvalued, God’s halakhah and those who receive it must begin to hear the anguished narratives of those who cry out — even when its traditional ground rules predispose it to discount their testimony. True listening acknowledges the full personhood of those who tell their stories.

STEP 2 Re-categorizing: This process requires reevaluating problems and injuries known to the tradition and including the perspectives of those who were injured. As for injuries of the tradition was oblivious or that have only recently become possible, such as cyber-stalking or cyber harassment, we will have to search for or invent categories that properly acknowledge and describe them.

STEP 3 Finding remedies and urging accountability: Obviously, some remedies and some forms of accountability are the responsibility of the secular justice system, but both the re-making and enforcement of ethics codes and the identification and amelioration of gender discrimination in Jewish institutions are very much our business. The Reform movement has been doing major research on pay inequity for reasons of gender. The whole of the previous issue of The Reform Jewish Quarterly deals with this research and its implications. Policy changes will follow. Jewish institutions of all kinds need to assume accountability for gender discrimination and aggression by members, staff, or population served. One remedial option is restorative justice programs, which focus on the rehabilitation of offenders through face-to-face encounters with victims and representatives of the community. When an offender recognizes whom he has hurt and how, specifically and pursues te’shuvah with the injured parties, the reconciliation that follows is healing for all the participants. Research seems to indicate that offenders who complete such a program are significantly less likely to repeat the offense.

STEP 4 Re-educating committed Jews to practice gender justice: This project will take centuries. It would be countercultural; that is it would resist and critique cultural assumptions, images, narratives, and values. We would have to begin with early childhood education and go on resisting through all the stages of maturation. Currently, Jewish institutions of learning have a secular legal mandate to educate faculty, staff, and boards about responsibilities under Title IX legislation. That opportunity could be used to teach also Jewish texts, language, and law about our constantly evolving obligations to respect human dignity, to treat everyone justly, and to be vigilant about deception/ona’ah, and the grave infraction of ona’at d’varim, wounding with words. Jewish philanthropic organizations must educate themselves as well. Ugly and notorious cases of sexual harassment have to cease. Synagogues can also teach their boards, their members, and their students to respect each other’s boundaries and those of the staff.

Perhaps there will come a time when we honor people for their learning, their compassion, their generosity, but do not privilege any gender or sexual orientation and do not reject any. I doubt I’ll be here to see the day when sexual harassment and discrimination and disparagement on the basis of gender cease to be routine, the day that women’s stories inform Jewish law and texts as men’s do, the day injustice melts away like smoke, but I will work and hope for it the rest of my life — the day the world splits open.

RACHEL ADLER is a feminist theologian and ethicist. This piece is from the conclusion to her lecture on “#MeToo and Jewish Law,” this year’s Robbins Collection Annual Lecture in Jewish Law, Thought and Identity in February.


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January 10, 2019 by

Harassed at Work? At School? At Synagogue? •

Jewish institutions and all who work, learn or worship in them can shape cultures of safety, respect and fairness. This is the mission of B’Kavod (“with respect,” in Hebrew), a new project offering training and policy development as well as report- ing and helpline services. Their three-month program “Building Safe Respectful Jewish Organizations” helps schools, synagogues, and organizations prevent sexual harass- ment by donors, bosses, teachers, or co-workers. They provide a Facebook group and webinars on preventing donor harassment, a #MeToo location for rabbis, articles about harassment in fundraising and at Jewish organizations, a self-assessment tool, and guidelines for reporting incidents. A guide to “Going Public with Your Experi- ence of Harassment” will be useful in both Jewish and general settings. The Good People Fund and the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York have partnered in funding this project. BeKavod.org

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The Lilith Blog

November 12, 2018 by

#MeToo and the Women of the Bible

Esther Denouncing Haman, by Ernest Normand (1888)

Esther Denouncing Haman, by Ernest Normand (1888)

Women telling intimate truths in the public sphere. Women raising their voices to demand they be treated fairly. Women challenging the leaders of the land to listen compassionately to their stories. We think of this as a contemporary phenomenon: the #metoo movement culminating most recently in allegations of sexual misconduct against our new Supreme Court justice, Brett Kavanaugh.

But in truth, women have been speaking up for a long time. Millennia, at least. We need to look no further than the stories of the Hebrew Bible.

Granted, this all-time bestseller reflects the values of its time; you can hardly turn a page without tripping over what we now call sexism, among other isms. However, the Bible also contains a number of stories of women speaking up for themselves and each other.

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October 3, 2018 by

“I Wasn’t the Only One.”

Screen Shot 2018-10-03 at 12.22.31 PMThis fall marks one year since the story of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s sordid conduct broke. Weinstein’s downfall, after years of apparent impunity, freed many people who’d been sexually victimized—but had been too ashamed, frightened or confused to talk about it—to come forward and tell what had happened to them.

In the wake of the Weinstein scandal and its revelations, allegations of abuse and mistreatment of women by men holding power over them came thick and fast: a famous chef, a comedian, a career-maker in the art world. And then the 150 female gymnasts, including Olympic star Aly Raisman, gave “impact statements” at the trial of former Olympic team physician Larry Nassar, sentenced in January 2018 to up to 175 years in prison.

Alongside these big stories lighting up mainstream media, thousands of less-noticed allegations were also emerging via Twitter and Facebook. Through social media, women who said they had been abused and had kept silent were finding others like themselves. The silence was broken, using the hashtag now recognized as a movement’s call-out cry: #MeToo.

Karen Levine, 57, is one of the women who became fired up by #MeToo. For years, she says, she had pushed away disturbing memories about her pediatrician. But this year she decided she needed to tell her story, too. From the time she was 12 until she went to college, Levine says she was molested repeatedly by her pediatrician, Dr. Stuart Copperman, who practiced from 1965 to 2000 in Merrick, Long Island. After telling Levine that her vagina was “dirty, and needs a cleaning,” Copperman, alone with Levine on more than one occasion, instructed her to lie down on the examining table, she says. Copperman would then massage her genitals with his ungloved finger. “He created feelings in me that I didn’t understand,” Levine says.

She never spoke to her mother about what she said Copperman did to her. Years later—in 2000, the year Levine turned 40—her former pediatrician’s name leaped out at her from the pages of Long Island Newsday. New York State, she read, had just revoked Copperman’s medical license after a two-year investigation found that, between 1978 and 1989, Copperman had molested six other girls. Levine called her mother and told her about the Newsday story.

“That happened to me,” Levine told her mother, who, Levine says, responded by calling her daughter a liar.

Six is the number of women who testified to the state for the public record (available here). The details of their accounts are practically identical—to each other’s and to Levine’s. Of the six, three told the state that Dr. Copperman’s “cleaning” caused them to have an orgasm.

When reached by Lilith over e-mail in August 2018, Dr. Copperman offered this statement:

“I cared for the children of almost every doctor in my area. Many praised me for my diagnostic skills and thorough exams. Part of a complete annual physical by competent physicians involves examination of “private parts”. By being thorough, I found a breast cancer in a 17-year-old, saving her life and her breast. I diagnosed testicular cancer before it had metastasized, and malignant melanoma in an area not visible without seeing that location.

“If, by my being thorough, my examinations done decades ago created painful memories, this was certainly not my intent. I am 83 years old and recovering from cancer surgery. To any former patients I have hurt in any way, I beg forgiveness,” he wrote.

When the story hit the media back in 2000, with coverage in newspapers, television, and in an extensive report in Ladies Home Journal, women all over the country who had grown up in the Merrick area and whose mothers had brought them to Copperman began calling each other. They were also calling news outlets and the hotline that the New York State Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC) had set up for the pediatrician’s former victims. Camille La Pollo, one of the women who says she called the hotline, says she remembers the intake officer telling her that the line was being flooded with calls. Another source, who asked not to be named, confirmed that there had been a large volume of calls.

(Disclosure: I have two adult sons, and Dr. Copperman was once their pediatrician. My sons say he never touched them inappropriately. But one day he put his hand on my rear end while he was writing a prescription for my three-year old, and I changed doctors immediately.)

Screen Shot 2018-10-03 at 10.36.21 AMIn the Long Island community where Copperman lived and worked, there were two high schools and three junior highs— and his practice spanned 35 years. Many parents took their children to this handsome and charismatic pediatrician. Karen Levine recalled his flirtatious behavior towards her mother; some mothers worshipped him as if he were a movie star, and his office was hung with photos from Hollywood films.

Copperman was also active in his synagogue, Temple Beth Am of Merrick. The rabbi’s children were among his many patients, and when the news of the original allegations surfaced, Rabbi Ronald Brown wrote a letter to the local newspaper defending Copperman. A number of congregants objected, as this reporter documented in a story for the New York Times on September 23, 2001. Still, many gave the rabbi a pass, among them Karen Levine’s then-husband. Their children were in Hebrew school at Beth Am at the time, and Levine said she felt very uncomfortable having this rabbi preside over their son’s bar mitzvah. The rabbi continued in his position until he retired in 2017.

The truth was that, for many of his patients, Dr. Copperman administered great care. A woman who asked not to be identified recalls his gift for diagnosis. “He saved so many lives,” she told me. One former patient told then-Newsday reporter Roni Caryn Rabin in 2000 that when her sister had been hit by a car and was in a coma, Copperman sat by the girl’s bedside day and night. When Copperman’s license was revoked, the OPMC received hundreds of letters singing his praises, according to a source who asked not to be identified—a counterpoint to all those phone calls on the ad-hoc victims’ hotline.

How to reconcile the two sides of Dr. Copperman? Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as described by this haiku signed by someone using Copperman’s name in a 2011 online competition:

Hero, villain, hard to tell
One from the other
—Stuart Copperman, MD, Melville, New York

When Karen Levine was Copperman’s patient in the 1970s, he’d made her feel “so dirty,” she says, and so alone. Back then, she had no way of knowing that other girls had shared her experience. Now, social media and the internet offered a chance to find out; Levine googled Copperman. In addition to all the news coverage about him after the state rescinded his license in 2000—including my piece in the New York Times, followed by another report by me in the Winter 2001-2002 issue of Lilith—Levine found that Copperman, now in his 80s, lives in retirement. He was never charged with a crime, because of New York State’s statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse, one of the most restrictive in the country. His three children occasionally post pictures of Copperman and his wife on Facebook, both tastefully attired, presiding over family celebrations and attending a “women’s health day” at a hospital.

For the six women we spoke with who say they were abused, seeing these public postings rankles. They so distressed Karen Levine that in January 2018 she started a closed group, “Victims of Dr. Stuart Copperman,” on Facebook. (In March 2018, I received an email from group member Dana Marcus asking me if I was interested in revisiting the story.) It turned out that Levine wasn’t the only former patient of his who was Googling around. Other former patients similarly came upon the group simply because they too had typed “Dr. Stuart Copperman” into their search engines. 

Within a few days, the Facebook group had 10 members; it now has 28. (Levine, who has since handed over administrative duties for the group to Dana Marcus and Dina Ribaudo, allowed me into the group with the understanding that I not quote members without their explicit permission.) For most of the women posting, this is the first time they’ve told their story. “We know that children and adolescents who have been victimized may not report in a timely manner. We know that this is part of the dynamics of victimization,” Nassau County Assistant D.A. Silvia Pastor Finkelstein told Lilith. Nassau County is where Copperman practiced. From 2007 to 2013, Finkelstein served as chief of the county’s Child Abuse Unit, prosecuting sex crimes against children.

“Children often don’t understand the implications of what is happening, and are o en groomed by their abusers into keeping the conduct a secret, just between them,” explained Finkelstein. “As for adolescents, they feel or are made to feel shame and guilt about the conduct. So they keep silent, until maturity, support or insight gained by time provide the strength they need to speak up.”

The group’s postings on the Facebook page are often emotional. “We need each other,” wrote one woman. Another reported that she was 10 years old the first time the pediatrician molested her, at her yearly checkup. Another posted: “He was a person I trusted from toddlerhood to young adulthood, HIM, who was DOING these things to me. That’s how good he was at manipulation.” Another: “I’d sit in the waiting room and look at the other girls and think, you too?” A handful of members agreed to speak directly with me; of those, five were willing to speak on the record. “It’s traumatic to talk about,” Levine tells me emphatically. “Even as I’m talking to you now, I feel anxious.”

“But you have to talk about it!” So said Dina Ribaudo, 42, another member of the group. “Because it’s the secrecy that allows it to continue.” Ribaudo says her abuse began in 1984, when she was eight—the same year her father died, when she was particularly vulnerable. When she was 19, she told her mother that she’d been abused for 10 years; she says her mother responded, “No. That’s crazy.” In 2000, when the story was reported, she says her mother apologized.

More than one woman who spoke to Lilith on the record talked about how the various traumas the abuse engendered had reverberated within their families. Karen Levine became estranged from her parents even until her father’s recent death, she told Lilith, because he hadn’t believed her testimony. Robin Sosin, 56, told Lilith that she never goes to male doctors; but once, when a male gynecologist was about to examine her in an emergency room, she had a panic attack. Levine told Lilith that her sexual life had been affected. And Dina Ribaudo said she thought she had put her experience behind her, until her own daughter was born seven years ago.

“Since then, I cry over Copperman every day,” Ribaudo told Lilith. “I worry, how can I protect her?” So Ribaudo, who moved to Arizona when she was 18, has become politically active. “I want to help. I want to help prevent abuse.” She and two other women in the group—Dana Marcus and Robin Sosin—are driving forward the activism that Karen Levine sparked on that Facebook page.

The group has expanded its social media presence in order to locate other survivors, they say. They have created two pages on Facebook, one public and one private. Several of the women posted on their high school alumni association Facebook page a link to “The Childhood Victims of Dr. Copperman” group. The page administrators promptly removed their posts and blocked the posters. When Dana Marcus, an attorney, objected on legal grounds, the posts were reinstated with a disclaimer: “The Alumni Assn does not support or endorse this delicate situation and remains neutral in its position.” The high school is located in the area where the doctor had practiced.

Facebook group members say they have been contacting public figures, including the current Nassau County District Attorney and the Special Victims’ Unit, and journalists. They want their story about Dr. Copperman to be known. But most women in the group insist on anonymity, knowing that when a woman claims that she has been sexually molested, the revelation can boomerang in all kinds of ways.

Wrote one Facebook group member: “I have to stay anonymous because I haven’t told my daughter yet and would hate for a potential new landlord to look me up on the internet and read such things.” Another explained to me: “It winds up defining you when people look at you.” Indeed, one of the million lessons of the #MeToo era is that women don’t want to be defined by their trauma, with many preferring the term “survivor” over “victim.”

On the Facebook site, some self-identified survivors talk about whether the former doctor will face further judgment. (“On earth, rather than in death,” Ribaudo posted.) So far, the New York State Senate has blocked change. Sosin told me that when she told a female lawyer friend about Copperman, the friend told her: “Forget about it, Robin. Just move on.” Sosin says she was horrified at the response.

She, Ribaudo, Marcus, and a few additional members of the group say they are determined to drive New York State to change its approach to childhood sexual abuse. The unsuccessful battle to change the statute of limitations has been going on for 12 years in the Albany legislature.

Women had first spoken to the authorities about Dr. Copperman as far back as the 1980s. But a state panel in 1988— consisting of two doctors and a priest—did not believe the two women who had then come forward, and the panel cleared him. More complaints about Copperman followed. Meanwhile, in an article published in 1997 in JAMA, the respected Journal of the American Medical Association, Copperman described how, for many years, he had been using the annual physical exam of his teenage patients to discuss critical health issues, such as drugs and sex. “There is a mystique to the ‘laying on of hands’ that creates an opportunity for dialogue,” Copperman wrote. He described how he would prepare his patients’ mothers for this scenario one year in advance. “At the end of an annual physical exam of an early teenage patient, I indicate that at every subsequent annual examination, we will discuss important health issues, but the parent will be asked to leave during the discussion. I stress to the parent and patient that any discussion will be private and confidential. And while I will encourage at-home discussion of sensitive issues, I will not violate the child’s confidence. The parent always agrees.”

(Recently, Dina Ribaudo got in touch with JAMA, asking that Copperman’s article be taken down. JAMA tweeted back: “Thank you for sharing your concerns with us. We will share your request with the appropriate internal teams.”)

By the time the state revoked Copperman’s license in 2000— the proceedings against him took two years—he had had access to countless girls and teenagers.

At the state hearings, Dr. Copperman denied that he’d done anything wrong. For this reason, the case report afterwards stated, revocation of his license was the only way to ensure protection to the public. After the ruling, the doctor immediately led an appeal to get his license back and the state quickly turned him down. By then the Copperman story was being widely reported in the media. Women were calling the hotline at the OPMC in Albany and contacting media outlets, reporting that they, too, had been molested by the doctor when they were young, as Newsday reported on December 18, 2000.

When asked by reporter Roni Caryn Rabin about all the women coming forward after the state licensing hearings were made public, Copperman accused them of copycatting those six state witnesses. In an ironic example of unintended prescience, Copperman gave those supposed liars a moniker; he called them “Me-toos.”


Alice Sparberg Alexiou’s most recent book is Devil’s Mile: The Rich, Gritty History of the Bowery. She is a contributing editor at Lilith.

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October 3, 2018 by

Over 23? Too Late to Testify

In New York and some other states, revoking a doctor’s license to practice medicine is a matter of administrative law, not criminal law. If it seems likely that said doctor has com- mitted a crime, the case then routinely gets referred to the appropriate district attorney, which indeed happened in the case of Dr. Copperman. But the D.A. didn’t go a er him, because, presum- ably, there was no point: New York’s statute of limitations—with a cut-o age of 23—posed an impossible hurdle. After the doctor, then 65, lost his license in 2000, he simply packed up and retired to a Florida condo.

So far, the law has seemed difficult to change. Since 2006, legislation has been continually introduced to extend the statue of limitations for victims of child sexual abuse. Stonewalling and lobbying by groups including the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America has stymied its progress.

The bill proposed in the 2018 legislative session included a one- year “look-back” window to allow survivors older than 23 to le civil suits against their alleged abusers, regardless of how long ago the abuse took place. The window so alarmed the Catholic Church that New York Cardinal Dolan made a special trip to Albany to lobby against it. The bill was quashed once more.

The current statute is a major obstacle in bringing certain sexual predators to justice in New York State, Nassau County Assistant D.A. Silvia Pastor Finkelstein said. In a recent telephone conversation with Lilith, Robin Sosin said that during the six months of the 2018 New York State legislative session, she telephoned the o ce of Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan three times to ask whether he was supporting the Child Victims Bill, which so far the conservative Republican was refusing to release from committee for debate on the Senate floor.

Flanagan’s assistant always responded, “He’s working on it.” A er the third time she heard that answer, Sosin says she lost her patience. “Do you want to know what Dr. Copperman did to me when I was his patient?” she asked.

The aide, clearly rattled, respond- ed: “You don’t have to tell me.” But Sosin would have none of it. “He’d rub my clitoris for 10 minutes.” It’s details like this that lawmakers don’t want to know.

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September 26, 2018 by

An Obsession with Sex and Statistics

An exposé in the New York Jewish Week chronicled the allegations by eight women in which they accused noted sociologist Steven M. Cohen of exploitative conduct. As historians of American Jews, we do know that these allegations reflect the troubling gender and sexual politics long embedded in communal discussions of Jewish continuity and survival, the focus of Cohen’s work….

The framework of Jewish continuity has become its own power structure, with employment opportunities and field leaders. And yet it is also a relatively closed power structure, isolated in many ways from the larger world of social scientific scholarship and from many facets of Jewish studies scholarship. Indeed, the most innovative qualitative research on intermarriage, which often challenges the assumption of a continuity crisis, has come from women scholars.

Yet in its isolation and its power, the apparatus of Jewish continuity has created an environment resistant to this criticism and tolerant of ongoing abuse. It’s time to acknowledge that a communal obsession with sex and statistics has created pernicious and damaging norms. These norms make it okay to tell women how to use their bodies, whom to marry, when to have babies, and how to allocate their time. They have also told people who fall outside of the parameters set primarily by men that their ways of being Jewish are not valued or valuable.. KATE ROSENBLATT, RONIT STAHL and LILA CORWIN BERMAN, “How Jewish Academia Created A #MeToo Disaster,” Forward, July 19, 2018.

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September 20, 2018 by

When a flawed male with a lot of power shapes Jewish priorities.

You may be numb to #MeToo news, but bear with me for a few paragraphs, please.

Allegations of sexual misconduct against noted men in Jewish life are nothing new. One among them this past season is sociologist Steven M. Cohen, who appears to have acknowledged the veracity of such charges from women in his field. Cohen has now stepped down (or been asked to resign) from his many prestigious posts in the Jewish world, including as the head of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive, which he founded, and the flagship academic institution of Reform Judaism, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, where he was on the faculty. Why focus on a situation that seems to stretch at least as far back in time as there have been women in academe?

Here’s why. Steve Cohen was not just some random randy professor with a faulty ethical compass. His considerable influence has included being the American Jewish community’s reigning demographic expert, the go-to guy for an opinion on where resources ought best to be deployed. And because reports that have emerged in the past few months suggest that women who did not yield to his advances were closed out of meaningful career advancement, the perspectives of these women social scientists have been lost.

There have been serious concerns that the damage goes beyond what was experienced by the individual women, and that policies built on Cohen’s many survey findings are flawed because their very questions—lines of investigation about the perils of intermarriage, say—don’t take into account the realities of Jewish women’s lives today. If women had been framing the questionnaires used to determine a community’s priorities, the data yielded might have been different. Maybe they would demonstrate that interfaith couples in which the Jewish partner is a woman are flourishing. Maybe they would demonstrate that if a Jew marries a non-Jew and the couple establishes a Jewish household there’s an advantage to the community as a whole. But without the talents of social scientists who are looking at a community through a gender lens, how can we know? Social science, as a locus of study, should be hypothesis-driven. Thus the researcher has to know what important questions to ask of the subject, needs to really understand clearly the human dimensions of a field in order to develop useful hypotheses. And if the hypotheses are based on faulty perceptions about the subject’s reality, the wrong questions are asked and fruitful data will stay beneath the surface.

A few examples from the Lilith annals.

Jewish women staying single.

In the 1990s, the magazine wanted to report on Jewish women’s expectations of becoming mothers. Since Jewish women then were rarely having children outside of marriage, we sought marriage statistics from the national Jewish population surveys then being commissioned. Lilith asked the late demographer Egon Mayer, who had shaped those surveys, to substantiate our hypothesis that Jewish women, for a variety of reasons, were more likely to remain single through their childbearing years than other women were. (The reasons included many years of higher education and a shrinking pool of eligible Jewish mates as more Jewish men were marrying “out.”) The common wisdom was that Jews were all interested in being fruitful and multiplying as part of a family-oriented religious practice. Professor Mayer, initially skeptical, sifted through the data for information that hadn’t yet surfaced because no one had asked the question from this particular perspective. It turned out that Jewish women at the time were exactly twice as likely to remain single through their childbearing years than their white American peers. If you follow a feminist hunch, the results may surprise you.

Women’s philanthropy.

When Lilith first investigated Jewish women’s philanthropic donations, women’s charitable giving to Jewish causes was viewed as “pin money”—unimportant in the general calculus of a community’s budget. No one had yet asked how heterosexual couples made these money decisions. The man usually got credit in public for the family’s “gift,” even when the woman determined the cause and the amount on the check. In fact, when professional fundraisers failed to recognize women’s role in the couple’s process, the donation was likely to shrink.

Male and female addicts.

Researchers have noted that addiction-cessation programs like Alcoholics Anonymous work well when the sufferer concedes that he needs to recognize a “higher power” and put himself into the hands of that power. Jewish men in these programs may find this process “too Jesus-y,” but in publishing one woman’s revised version of the famous twelve steps, Lilith learned that for many women there is a different impediment. For women who have been in the hands of more powerful others their whole lives, this step may be so counterproductive as to thrust them back into their dependencies. The Jewish universe loses out when women worthy of professional respect are driven from their academic positions by a flawed male with a lot of power. The harm done by Jewish leaders who are also sexual predators goes beyond the considerable damage to individual women; it also skews how the Jewish community will shape its present, and the Jewish future.


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