Leonard Grunstein The Times of Israel The Blogs November 23, 2018

Mr. Leonard Grunstein

Is It Good for the Jews and Why Does the NYT Purport to Be the Arbiter?

It’s been many years since I’ve heard the question, is it good for the Jews, uttered even in jest.
To see it headline a major newspaper like the New York Times and be applied in the context of a power couple, who happen to be Jewish, is unnerving and dare I say appalling. Why does it matter that Ivanka and Jared Kushner are Jewish? Why does it matter that they are labeled Orthodox Jews? Why would anyone think that they or any other person speak for the Jews? No one speaks for all of the Jews. Indeed, the very idea that pundits or talking heads on television or social media figures appear to speak for the Jews, because they happen to identify themselves as being Jewish, is ludicrous.
I speak only for myself. The fact that I’m Jewish is irrelevant. Using my religion to advance a cause is inappropriate. Similarly, disagreeing with someone’s point of view does not justify attacking the person because he or she happens to be Jewish. It’s just another form of anti-Semitism. The fact that the attacker may also be Jewish does not excuse this kind of misbehavior. Ruth Wisse, a retired professor of Yiddish literature at Harvard, was once asked what do you call a self-hating Jew. Her answer was immediate and unflinching. She responded an anti-Semite.
Unfortunately, history is littered with the remains of so many actual, selfproclaimed or so-called former Jews, who practiced anti-Semitism. There is no justification for this kind of disreputable behavior. Indeed, Jews who suggest they are the good Jews because they espouse a certain point of view and those others, who espouse a contrary opinion, are somehow bad Jews, are just reinforcing a classic anti-Semitic trope. Two Jews, like anyone else, should be able legitimately to argue about policy without being demonized.
Why is it so difficult to have a civil discourse about ideas without name-calling, invoking the canard of the interlocutor somehow being evil or having a lack of virtue or accusing him or her of being a bad Jew? The latest twist in this ongoing saga is also incomprehensible. It has been suggested by some, who should know better, that a person’s political affiliation should be determinative of whether the person receives an aliya or not. Has the world really gone this mad? Can’t people disagree, without suffering untoward consequences? It is so wrong to express a dissenting point of view?
I have often wondered about this when it comes to the Biblical figures Dathan and Abiram. The Bible records their sin was to plan and execute the Korach rebellion[i]. As a result, they met their just fate through divine intervention[ii]. However, there is more to the Dathan and Abiram saga than this finale. They were opposed to leaving Egypt and voiced their dissent, as noted below. However, they were not punished because they shared dissenting opinions.
The Midrash[iii] and Talmud[iv] provide greater detail about the sordid history of Dathan and Abiram. It begins with their fateful encounter with Moses, when he saves Dathan from being killed by an Egyptian overlord. The next day Moses finds Dathan violently quarreling with his brother-in-law Abiram[v] and cautions them not to do so. Their response was to accuse Moses of lording over them, questioning who appointed Moses to be their judge. Despite being saved by Moses, Dathan and Abiram proceeded to inform on him to Pharaoh about his killing an Egyptian. Ironically, this was the very Egyptian who tried to kill Dathan. In effect, Moses was forced to flee Egypt because he intervened to save Dathan.
The Midrash[vi] reports Dathan and Abiram also committed a number of other wrongful deeds. This included planning and actively participating in the Korach rebellion, as well as, violating the commandments against hording the manna on weekdays and going out on the Sabbath to gather in the manna. However, the Midrash[vii] records they nevertheless had some redeeming qualities. It seems that when the Egyptian taskmasters ordered them to strike a fellow Jew, they demurred and took the resulting lashing themselves. Interestingly, the Maharal of Prague[viii] even finds some positive aspect to the constant dissent by Dathan and Abiram against Moses. Their irrational and malicious opposition to Moses isolated them and made Moses’ righteous teachings of the Torah all the more compelling.
Dissent and debate are not necessarily negative. As the Mishna in Avot[ix] recognizes they can be useful and serve a positive purpose. Thus, as the Meiri[x] explains, when the purpose of the debate is a quest for understanding and truth then it is noble. Discussion is good because the truth is revealed through legitimate debate. In this regard, it is noteworthy that even in the trying circumstances of the Korach rebellion, Moses attempted to engage Dathan and Abiram in a discussion; but they refused even to meet with Moses[xi]. As the Malbim[xii] explains, they didn’t seek the truth, but only sought victory and personal advancement. It is inappropriate to seek to undermine someone because of personal ambition and plain contentiousness. However, expressing heartfelt, genuine beliefs in a debate, as a part of a collaborative process seeking the truth, is not only acceptable, it is to be cherished.
The Talmud[xiii] discusses how Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai debated for three years without resolution. A heavenly voice announced that both expressed the words of G-d, but the law was in accord with the views of Beit Hillel. The Talmud went on to ask if both were, in essence, correct, then why was the position of Beit Hillel privileged to be accepted as the law. The Talmud answered, this was because they were respectful and forbearing, showing restraint when they were confronting opposing points of view.
Moreover, they would study and teach both their own and the other point of view and, when presenting a discussion on the matter, they always expressed the opposing point of view first before their own.
Debate and discussion of issues is essential to good decision-making. How else to assure that all sides of an issue are analyzed? Absent the challenge of a dissenting perspective, all too often relevant issues can be overlooked. Consider, for example, the rule that if the Sanhedrin reaches a unanimous decision of guilt in a homicide case then the case is dismissed[xiv]. This is because there are no real open and shut cases and the Sanhedrin is obviously not doing a thorough job, unless someone finds some mitigating circumstances or issue and dissents.
Differing opinions are a part of the human experience. We all don’t see life the same way and that’s natural. It’s no different now than it was at the very beginning of the Jewish people in ancient Egypt. Indeed, the Midrashic view of the Egyptian experience bears a striking resemblance to modern times. Eighty percent or more[xv] of the Jewish people had fully assimilated into Egyptian society and never left Egypt during the miraculous redemption. It is eerily similar to the conclusions reached by the Pew study[xvi] about the present state of Judaism in America.
Some of the Jews in ancient Egypt were very successful. They enjoyed patronage by those in power, becoming a part of high society and the establishment[xvii]. Not everyone experienced the brutal existence of being a slave in Egypt[xviii]. This included Dathan and Abiram, who were a part of the governmental apparatus of Egypt. When the time came to leave, they elected not to do so and remained behind with Pharaoh[xix]. They also accompanied Pharaoh when he pursued and sought to recapture the Jews, who left Egypt in the Exodus. Yet, they somehow managed to avoid being engulfed by the Red Sea with the Egyptian army and rejoin their brethren.
It is suggested this may have occurred because Pharaoh intentionally put them at the front of his military column, when crossing the dry bed of the miraculously split Red Sea. After all, why not put the collaborating Jews in harm’s way, as a shield for the Egyptian army that followed? This is reminiscent of the images of the Germans entering the Warsaw Ghetto, who similarly placed the collaborating Jewish Ghetto police in the lead. Dathan and Abiram, as an advance team in the forefront of the Egyptian column, might have caught up with the rear guard of the Jewish people as they were exiting the Red Sea bed. It was only after all the Jewish people safely exited that the Red Sea came crashing down on the Egyptian army pursuing them. Notwithstanding the miracle they had just witnessed, the unrepentant Dathan and Abiram still sought to convince their brethren it was better to return to Egypt[xx]. However, their rhetoric was unconvincing.
Did Dathan and Abiram represent the Jews before Pharaoh? They likely did and Pharaoh may have even believed that they, not Moses, were telling him what the Jews really thought. However, in point of fact, they were only pursuing their own selfinterests. Why are some still fooled by this charade?
Rabbi Dr. Haskel Lookstein reports[xxi] on another such fateful encounter by a Jewish advisor to another leader, President Roosevelt, during World War II. It was in response to the Rabbis March in October of 1943, when more than 400 mostly Orthodox Jewish Rabbis marched on Washington. Their purpose was to urge the United States and its allies to take action to stop the destruction of the Jews in Europe by the Nazis and their cohorts. President Roosevelt refused to meet with them on the advice of a Jewish advisor, who reportedly told him it was not necessary to do so. He argued that ‘those Jews’ were not his kind of Jews. In essence, he was purporting to speak on behalf of the good Jews, like him, who counted. They wouldn’t have bothered the President in a time of war and distracted him with requests he try to save those other Jews in Europe.
Has anything changed since then? Dathan and Abiram may no longer walk the Earth; but the scourge they engendered is still extant. It masquerades in the guise of pious pronouncements by self-appointed experts and spokespersons, who may even believe, because they are Jewish, they actually know what Jews think. However, other than some personal perspective that is often the insidious result of projection, there is no such thing.
The Midrash[xxii] reports that there are 70 different faces to the Torah. The kaleidoscope of views about world affairs is even more varied and reflects each person’s individual life experience. Even the views of such an illustrious and wise a leader as Mordechai, of Megillat Esther fame, was only acceptable to a majority of his brethren[xxiii], not everyone.
Those in the news media or social media and anyone else for that matter, don’t speak for me or any other person, as a Jew or in any other capacity. They are not divinely inspired prophets. If only they would make it clear they are only expressing personal points of view and stop saying they are Jewish. That would be good for the Jews.
— [i] Numbers, Chapter 16. [ii] Numbers 16:23-33. [iii] Midrash Tanchuma, Shemot, Siman 10 and Midrash Tanchuma, Vayera, Siman 6. [iv] See, for example, Babylonian Talmud, Tractates Megillah, at page 11a, and Sanhedrin at page 109b. [v] Targum Yonatan ben Uziel, Shemot, 2:13. [vi] Midrash Tanchuma, Shemot, Siman 10. [vii] Midrash Rabbah, Shemot 5:20. [viii] In his work, Gevurot Hashem, Chapter 19. [ix] Avot 5:17. [x] In his commentary on Avot 5:17. [xi] See Numbers 16:25 and Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, at page 110a, as well as, Midrash Rabbah, Bamidbar 18:12. [xii] In his commentary on Avot 5:17. [xiii] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Eruvin, at page 13b. [xiv] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, at page 17a. See also Maimonides, Mishna Torah, Laws of Sanhedrin and the Penalties within their Jurisdiction 9:1.

Moses with the Ten Commandments

Moses with the Ten Commandments

On Nov. 27, 2018, the Bernard Revel Graduate School and the Yeshiva University Museum hosted Prof. Jordan Penkower of Bar Ilan University for a presentation on “What did the Ten Commandments Look Like? Depictions in Text and in Art from the Bible to Rembrandt.”

Prof. Penkower explored the depictions of the Ten Commandments in two paintings by Rembrandt. In both paintings, Rembrandt painted five commandments on each tablet in accordance with the tradition of the Midrash. Penkower noted that in one painting Rembrandt centered the five commandments on the second tablet. He suggested that this reflects the way the commandments are divided in the Masoretic text, with closed portions between them. Penkower further suggested that Menasseh ben Israel, the well-known Portugese rabbi and author, prepared a prototype of the Ten Commandments for Rembrandt to copy in his paintings. To support this theory, Penkower marshalled two other instances of collaboration between Menasseh ben Israel and Rembrandt. In his painting of Daniel’s “writing on the wall,” Rembrandt follows Menasseh’s understanding that the words were written vertically. Menasseh ben Israel’s book Even Yikarah also features four engravings by Rembrandt.

Penkower then surveyed the depiction of the tablets in Christian art. The tablets are sometimes depicted as a scroll, as rectangular, or, quite often, as rectangular with rounded tops. While rectangular tablets seems to fit best with the Biblical depiction, perhaps the scroll represents the Midrash that the tablets could be rolled up. Penkower suggested that rounded shape is a reflection of the shape of the diptychs that were used for writing in ancient times. In Jewish art, the tablets are either depicted as  rectangular or with rounded tops. Penkower suggests that the latter mimics the Christian depiction. Sometimes the tablets are depicted as a  Torah scroll, loosely reminiscent of the verse “I will give to you tablets of stone and the Torah..” (Exodus 24:12).

Prof. Idel

Prof. Idel

On Nov. 19, 2018, Bernard Revel Graduate School was honored to host Prof. Moshe Idel to present a lecture on “The Great Transition: The Emergence of Jewish Culture in the Middle Ages.” Idel is Professor Emeritus at the Department of Jewish Thought, Hebrew University, Senior Researcher at the Shalom Hartman Institute, and Matanel Professor of Kabbalah at Safed Academic College.

Prof. Idel explored why European Jewry were able to create such a huge literature between 1000 and 1300. To begin to answer this question, Prof. Idel drew upon Moses Gaster who theorized that European culture, in general, and Jewish culture, in particular was founded upon an invasion of Eastern culture. Prof. Idel proposes that different kinds of Jewish material, including Talmud, piyyutim, philosophy, and magic arrived in Europe from the East. In their countries of origin, these materials were studied by distinct circles. For example, some wrote piyyutim. Others engaged in philosophical study. European Jewry, however, did not know that each of these genres were utterly distinct and instead sought to coherently combine the various genres with each other and with their traditional texts of study and prayer. This process of amalgamation led to the creative explosion of European culture.

One example of this process of amalgamation is Rashi’s commentaries to the Bible. Rashi quotes freely from the early kabbalistic work Sefer Yetzira to explain the book of Genesis. Another example is the inclusion of portions of magical texts and heichalot literature into the liturgy.

Select material also became canonized upon its arrival to Europe. Piyyut, for example, was adopted as an integral part of Ashkenazi ritual. This spurred the creation of a new European genre, commentaries on piyyut.

Prof. Idel further suggested that perhaps European Jewry felt a greater freedom of interpretation as they were operating in a relatively pure space, with fewer long-standing traditions in place.



The Times of Israel

The Blogs

Leonard Grunstein

November 30, 2018

The #Me Too movement exposed serious systemic flaws in how some people conduct themselves in relation to others in the workplace and elsewhere. There appears to be no ready cure for genuine predators, who prey on the defenseless. However, what about the rest of us? What are appropriate rules of engagement that will allow men and women to work together, without artificial barriers? Indeed, it may be asked after #Me Too, what next? Is there some ancient wisdom that can shed light on a possible solution?


The Bible, in this week’s Torah reading[i], records an otherwise unimaginable #Me Too incident involving Joseph and his patron Potiphar’s wife, Zulycah[ii]. Joseph, also known as, Joseph the Saint[iii], is a towering figure in the Bible. He is the quintessential immigrant, who overcame the most daunting of challenges to become a superstar in ancient Egyptian society.


As a young man, Joseph was shanghaied from his comfortable and familiar surroundings at home, in parochial Shechem, to the land of Egypt. It was a center of trade, culture and sophistication in the ancient world and one of the superpowers of the period. Joseph’s unceremonious entry into Egypt was as a slave. He was sold to the house of Potiphar, a governmental official in the court of the Pharaoh. A handsome, talented, charming and brilliant young man, he was quickly promoted and then put in charge of Potiphar’s business affairs[iv]. For a time, everything seemed to be going extremely well, but then Joseph was confronted with the harsh reality of the precariousness of his position.


Zulycah cast her eyes on him and his good looks[v] struck her fancy. As the mistress of the house of Potiphar, she was an imposing and powerful political figure. She demanded Joseph submit to an illicit relationship with her in exchange for job security. The fact that the Biblical narrative reverses the typical roles, in this dramatic presentation, makes the story even more poignant. At first, Joseph rebuffed Zulycah’s seductive advances. He buried himself in his work and tried vainly to avoid being alone with her. She, nevertheless, continued aggressively to harass him. When her direct approach failed, she requested he merely lie with her, without any sexual contact[vi] or be near her[vii]. She urged him just to talk to her in private[viii].


The Ramban[ix] notes that Joseph was powerless and had no apparent recourse. The Talmud[x] records Joseph had reason to fear Zulycah. She didn’t just try to sweet talk him. She used her power and position to threaten him with harm. She also lavished gifts of money on him. However, Joseph refused, because his faith and trust in G-d transcended his fear of what she might do to him. Nevertheless, he was not free just to leave; he had no choice but to carry on. It is an all too familiar refrain in our contemporary society.


The climactic scene occurs on a festival day[xi]. Joseph came to the office to work, like any other day. However, this day was special, because the rest of the members of the staff were absent. They were celebrating outside the office. Joseph was left alone with Zulycah. She proceeded to grab at his clothing and demanded that he service her. He demurred and tried to leave. She, however, did not release her grip on his clothing and they were ripped off. Joseph did not attempt to retrieve the clothing; he just walked away.

However, the story doesn’t end there. Zulycah sought proactively to defend her honor and unscrupulously accused Joseph of being the aggressor. What a case of workplace sexual harassment? It has all the ingredients of the more modern version that headlines the news media. There are issues of due process, lack of corroborating witnesses, inconclusive forensic evidence and credibility. The Midrash[xii] reports the priestly court examining the matter wondered why, if Joseph was the aggressor and Zulycah the victim, was only Joseph’s garment torn. Rabbeinu Bachya[xiii] even insinuates that Joseph could have done more to avoid the situation. He notes that Joseph did pay excessive attention to his outward appearance. He also began to live it up, forgetting his roots and that he had a father in the old country mourning his disappearance.


Yet, given the disparity of their positions, Zulycah was presumed to be telling the truth and Joseph was summarily incarcerated. It all sounds so familiar. Interestingly, Potiphar did have his doubts and he, therefore, placed Joseph in the special prison reserved for royals[xiv].

The story is graphic and gritty; there’s no easy way to tell it. But why was it necessary to tell it at all? Indeed, what is the point of the Biblical narrative? Isn’t it just another tawdry tale of the notoriously permissive society of ancient Egypt? Why sully the otherwise impeccable reputation of Joseph, whose saintly behavior earned him the title Tzaddik[xv]? Like most stories in the Bible, there has got to be a lesson for the ages or there is no reason to record it. But what is the lesson and does it apply to our self-proclaimed more enlightened modern society?


It appears that human nature and the challenges of the workplace have not really changed that much since ancient Egypt. The Biblical narrative is as fresh and vital today as it was then. How many more examples do we need of bad behavior by politicians, movie figures, television personalities, news people and other public figures, before we recognize these basic truths? This is not just an isolated problem. It appears to be a pervasive problem in the workplace, on campuses and elsewhere. Do we need more headlines or breaking news to wake up and recognize the obvious that there is a problem?

All forms of harassment cannot be tolerated, whether in the workplace or elsewhere. The problem is not a new one; human nature hasn’t changed since the very beginning. The Biblical lessons of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, Zulycah are compelling and cogent. Demanding that people act like angels may sound pious; but it doesn’t work in practice. Moralizing has its place; but the solution to this problem requires more than mere words. Assumptions about invincibility are flawed. Active measures are required, including setting up discrete safeguards and boundaries. It was true in the time of the Talmud and it’s true today. This means education and training so that young and old are conditioned[xvi] not to sexually harass anyone. This also means establishing clear and definitive work rules, which are designed to militate against the opportunity for inappropriate conduct or relationships.


The Talmud[xvii] identifies arrogance as one the character traits, which is intimately associated with this type of offensive conduct. In essence, there is a sense of entitlement, which derives from people considering themselves all too precious[xviii]. It is this arrogance and corresponding sense of entitlement, which leads a person to stumble. The Malbim notes the high and mighty, such as politically powerful individuals, are particularly susceptible, for this reason[xix].


The Bible vividly describes how Zulycah’s sense of entitlement was triggered when she casts her eyes on her prey, Joseph, a beautiful and desirable individual. The context of the unequal power relationship between Joseph and her was enabling. The opportunity for Zulycah to act on her whims was presented when the two were secluded in private, away from the preying eyes or possible intervention of others.


Even saintly individuals can have a lapse of judgment, make mistakes and stumble. As the Talmud[xx] notes, no one is immune. The fact is we just can’t deny our natural traits and instincts. Regulating personal conduct is not just about recognizing the weaknesses and foibles inherent in human nature. More is required, including establishing boundaries and other discrete safeguards to avoid problems. Just as important, though, is regularly practicing good habits so that they become inculcated as habitual behavior. Proclaiming the need for higher standards of conduct, without taking affirmative actions to deal with the matter, serves no practical purpose. This is because mere words can’t change the fact that natural urges and desires are a fundamental part of the human condition.


Indeed, the Talmud relates how the Sages made vain attempts to change human nature. It reports[xxi] that the Sages prayed mankind’s prurient desire be eliminated, entirely. The problem they encountered was the world could not function without this basic human instinct. Instead, they fashioned a set of rules, which established boundaries. The intent was to avoid the kind of situations that even esteemed individuals are sometimes trapped in; when their rational facility inevitably fails them.


#Me Three is not only intended as a symbolic pledge to join in the solution to the underlying problem that engendered the #Me Too movement. It also represents a three pronged practical program designed to prevent another outbreak. It consists of three broad categories directed at affirmatively changing existing patterns of behavior, as follows:


1.Education and training (including continuing education) designed to habituate everyone, from a young age and beyond, to know what is inappropriate behavior. Knowing and practicing sexual harassment avoidance techniques is critical. It should be an essential part of any sex education curriculum. This includes developing scenarios and role- playing to sensitize and accustom students to recognize and deal with the problem. In this regard, it would also be helpful to incorporate such Talmudic concepts as reining in the harmful attitude of arrogance[xxii] and by extension entitlement, as noted above.

2. Creating a transparent working environment, including no locks on interior office doors, interior window walls for private offices and an open door policy. The concept is to avoid absolute seclusion of the sort that empowered Zulycah to take advantage of Joseph, consistent with the approach of the Talmud[xxiii] and some earlier[xxiv] and latter day Halachic authorities[xxv]. In addition, security or other personnel might make it a practice to tour the office at night. When I worked, as a senior member of a firm, I used to make a point of walking around the office saying good-bye to everyone before I left the office for the night. Often I was one of the last to leave. It may be that some may have been uncomfortable knowing I might walk into their office at any time; but most took comfort in knowing I was there and cared, as I made my rounds.

3.Establishing boundaries, boundaries and more boundaries[xxvi]. Rules are important. I don’t mean the ones that are only honored in the breach. It is all about formulating practical and useful rules that achieve sign-on by most. In this regard, it’s not just about prohibiting offensive conduct, because morality can’t be legislated. It’s about installing speed bumps so that a person slows down and even stops for a moment to contemplate the next step. It might begin with limiting use of the workplace to business purposes only and not permitting parties or other social activities on premises. Drinking or other substance abuse at work should also be prohibited. Maimonides[xxvii] counsels against excessive drinking and levity. Alcohol and drugs can break down inhibitions and impair judgment. How complicated is that? Indeed how about, not going out with co-workers to drink alcohol or do drugs, period? These are common sense rules designed to avoid lapses in judgment.


The #Me Three program does not seek to deny basic human nature. Rather, it embraces it and employs a functional approach designed to channel it and avoid the opportunity for inappropriate conduct. The rules apply both to men and women and in line with traditional Halachic sources[xxviii] they are not gender specific.


Although the proposed program draws on traditional conceptual approaches to the matter in the Halacha, it should not be presumed to bear any Halachic authority. It does suggest, however, that peremptorily discarding all of the many centuries of thought about these matters, because they are ancient and assumed to be obsolete, may be ill advised. A better approach might be truly to understand them and to adapt them to the modern workplace.

The Torah and Sages recognized human frailty and instituted rules and established boundaries, designed to sublimate our baser instincts to serve a higher purpose[xxix]. It is not about the peccadilloes of a few people, which have become the salacious fare of the news media. The moralizing in the media rings hollow. It also appears that some who disparage others are themselves not above reproach. Is there really a question about whether it is acceptable to come to work in underwear or is that only in Congress? Must co-workers really visit each other’s hotel rooms for a nightcap on a business trip? This is not a matter of men vs. women; it is about basic human nature. It is also not about the presumed character and quality of the individual. As the Talmud[xxx] teaches, no one is immune and the greater a person, the stronger his or her desire to sin.


We should not delude ourselves into believing we all have some super-human ability to say no. Insisting on a false sense of higher morality doesn’t change basic human nature. Human beings are just not built that way. As the popular saying goes, an once of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

The workplace is not a social club. After-hours clubbing and drinking by co-workers cannot be an obligation, nor is it an ideal. This is not just a matter of circumscribing male and female interaction; it should apply to everyone. This will also help negate the perception that it is somehow advantageous to drink and go out and have a good time with the boss, a particularly noxious excuse for misbehavior. Success in the workplace should be about productivity and commitment to work. There’s a difference between being a good team player, in furtherance of work related goals, during the workday and after-hours socializing. There’s also so much more to life than dining, drinking and carousing with co-workers after work. How about going home to be with family? What about charitable activities? We can all use more time for study, exercise and quiet contemplation.


Let’s get back to basics. This means boundaries designed to avoid both indiscretions and abuses. Any less might cause confusion. In this regard, it is important to cultivate an environment of professional demeanor in the workplace, which requires a certain level of formality. This applies to mode of dress, as well, which traditionally was more formal than the casual attire appropriate in a social setting. Consider, a gentleman wearing a three-piece suit with braces cannot easily remove his trousers. It requires a series of most deliberate acts. It doesn’t prevent indiscretion; but it certainly transforms a casual act into a more serious one. Even addressing each other by titles and surnames, rather than personal names, creates some distance. It’s not a complete solution; but business attire, re-injecting formality into business relationships and other such devices are designed to differentiate the workplace and business discussions from other venues and social intercourse.


The authentic traditions of classical Judaism are an invaluable resource. The system of educational training and boundaries promulgated by the Sages has worked well in practice for so many over the millennia. The approach can and should be genuinely understood and adapted to meet the challenges of the present, as well.



[i] Genesis, Chapter 39.

[ii] Her name is set forth in the description of the incident in Sefer HaYashar, Genesis, Vayeshev 17-20.

[iii] In Hebrew, Yosef HaTzaddick.

[iv] See Ibn Ezra commentary on Genesis 39:11.

[v] See Genesis 39:7 and the Sforno commentary thereon.

[vi] See Bereishit Rabbah 87:6 and Rashi commentary on Genesis 39:10.

[vii] Ibn Ezra commentary on Genesis 39:10.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] In his commentary on Genesis 39:8.

[x] See Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yoma, at page 35b.

[xi] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sota, at page 36b. See also Rashi in his commentary on Genesis 39:11.

[xii] Sefer HaYahar, Genesis, Vayeshev 19.

[xiii] Ibid, in his commentary on the verse.

[xiv] See Genesis 39:20 and Ralbag commentary thereon, as well as, most interesting analysis by the Chizkuni and in Sefer HaYashar, Genesis, Vayeshev 19 (of the exculpatory evidence in favor of Yosef’s innocence). See also Midrash Aggadah, Genesis 39:20. Cf. Radak, on Genesis 39:20.

[xv] Hebrew word for saint.

[xvi] See Maimonides, Mishna Torah, Forbidden Intercourse 22:20, Tur, Even HaEzer 25 and Chida, Berkei Yosef, Even HaEzer 25:1.

[xvii] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Horayot, at page 10b. The Talmud links the phrase ‘casting eyes on someone’, as used in the Biblical text of Genesis 39:7, with Proverbs 6:26. The Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sota (at page 4b) separately interprets the foregoing verse in Proverbs to derive arrogance as the psychological source for this particular type of misbehavior.

[xviii] Citing Proverbs 6:26.

[xix] Malbim, in his commentary on Proverbs 6:26.

[xx] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin, at page 81a-b.

[xxi] Babylonian Talmud, Tractates Sanhedrin, at page 64a and Yoma, at page 69a.

[xxii] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, at pages 19b-20a.

[xxiii] See, for example, Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin, at page 81a.

[xxiv] See, for example, Maimonides, Mishna Torah, Forbidden Intercourse 22:9 and Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 22:9.

[xxv] See, for example, Binyan Tzion 138 (the Responsa of Rav Yaakov Etlinger, a 19th Century Halachic authority and author of the Aruch LaNer).

[xxvi] See, for example, Babylonian Talmud Tractates Kiddushin (pages 80b and 82a), Sanhedrin (page 21a), Sanhedrin (page 36b) and Megillah (page 14a).

[xxvii] Maimonides, Mishna Torah, Forbidden Intercourse 22:21.

[xxviii] See, for example, Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer, 24:1, as well as, the Ba’Ch commentary thereon.

[xxix] See, for example, Maimonides, Mishna Torah, Hilchot Deot, Chapter 1.

[xxx] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Succah, at page 52a.












Ronnie PerelisDr. Ronnie Perelis is the Chief Rabbi Dr. Isaac Abraham and Jelena (Rachel) Alcalay Chair, associate professor of Sephardic Studies at Yeshiva University’s Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies and director of the Rabbi Arthur Schneier Program for International Affairs. On October 22, 2018, he gave a talk at the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, titled “Beyond Blood: Cross-Cultural Encounters in Inquisitorial Mexico.”

Dr. Perelis noted that “inquisition prisons were often the sites of transformative cross-cultural encounters. Conversos accused of secretly keeping their ancestral Judaism, witches, protestants, missionaries and other spiritual misfits were often placed in the same prison cell; people of radically different ethnic, racial and socio-economic backgrounds would spend long periods of time together sharing ideas while suffering the difficulties of prison life.” Participants looked at several instances of these cross-cultural encounters both inside and outside the prison space to better understand the limits of blood and faith in the formation of identity.