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Emor

“When the daughter of a priest defiles herself through harlotry (liznot), it is her father whom she defiles; she shall be put to the fire” Leviticus 21:9

    You may well say this commandment reflects an outdated, biblical society, where women were understood as property of their fathers and then their husbands: and that  this verse does not reflect your Judaism and women are treated differently now.  

    Let me gently challenge this reaction to the verse. Apologising for the text by contextualising it in ancient biblical times is not good enough.  Nor is it good enough to distance ourselves from the misogyny we find in this text, when 20 per cent of women have experienced some type of sexual assault since the age of 16; or good enough to pretend this type of violence against women is a thing of the past when approximately 85,000 women aged from 16 to 59 experience rape, attempted rape or sexual assault by penetration in England and Wales alone every year; that’s roughly eleven of the most serious sexual offences every hour. 

    Our sacred text, the Torah, is not an antiquated document but a living presence in our lives. It reflects the best and the worst of us and society. The Torah here has fallen from its ideals of justice, equality and compassion.

    We should read this verse as a call to action. It is a flag to us all to act whenever we hear a sexist joke, whenever we lessen a girl by commenting on how pretty she is (rather than how intelligent or strong), whenever we allow ourselves to judge a woman on her looks, whenever we try to silence a woman, however subtly, and whenever we understand a woman to be simply an extension of her spouse.  

    We are called to fight against sexism and for equality and justice for women and men. Let us, together, show that this misogyny is truly a relic of the past as we look back, in years to come, and wonder how it is that we ever understood the world in such an unacceptable way.

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