Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

The Bible story Roy Moore needs to read

In this Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, file photo, former Alabama Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore speaks at a rally, in Fairhope, Ala. According to a Washington Post story Nov. 9, an Alabama woman said Moore made inappropriate advances and had sexual contact with her when she was 14. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

Roy Moore, the candidate for the Senate from Alabama, who has a thing for pubescent girls, came to my Shabbat morning class this past weekend.

Well, not really.

But, he was totally there — at least, in spirit.

On Shabbat mornings at Temple Solel in Hollywood, Florida, we have been studying the haftarah portions of the week — the passages from the prophetic and historical books of the Hebrew Bible.

The haftarah for this past week tells the story of the final days of King David — First Kings, chapter 1:

King David was now old, advanced in years; and though they covered him with bedclothes, he never felt warm. His courtiers said to him, “Let a young virgin be sought for my lord the king, to wait upon Your Majesty and be his attendant; and let her lie in your bosom, and my lord the king will be warm.” So they looked for a beautiful girl throughout the territory of Israel. They found Abishag the Shunammite and brought her to the king. The girl was exceedingly beautiful. She became the king’s attendanta and waited upon him; but the king was not intimate with her.

To sum up: David is now dying, and it’s not pretty. The warrior-king is so feeble that he is now lying in bed, unable to get warm. The “ladies’ man” who once had no trouble finding his own women now needs for someone else to find him a woman.

Except, it’s not a woman. It is a young girl — a hapless, innocent young girl, taken away from her family to serve an aging king.

Get it? Now, surely, Roy Moore was but a fraction of David’s age when he developed his taste for underage girls. But if the text fits, wear it.

Let’s start with the obvious, salacious question, about David and Abishag.

Why didn’t they, um, do it?

Was it because he couldn’t do it? (Bad pun alert: in David’s time, there might have been Vayikra, but there was no Viagra).

No, said the ancient sages. They didn’t do it, because Abishag took charge of the situation.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 22a) says that Abishag did not want to be intimate with the king unless he married her.

David refused to marry her. Perhaps he didn’t want any more children who would wind up demanding the throne.

In which case, Abishag did the Nancy Reagan thing.

She just said “no.”

That is what Roy Moore’s victims said, or wanted to say, and are now saying.

Back to Abishag.

It is not only the Talmud that adds to her tale.

The Yiddish poet, Itzik Manger, imagines her missing her family and mourning her fate:

Abishag sits in her room

And writes a letter home:

Greetings to the calves and sheep–

She writes, sighing deeply…

King David is old and pious

And she herself is, “oh, well” —

She’s the king’s hot water bottle

Against the bedroom chill…

More than once a night

She softly mourned her fate.

True, wise people say

She’s being charitable.

They even promise her

A line in the Bible.

“Oh, well,” she says. She is the king’s “hot water bottle.” And, as a reward, she gets a line, or two, in the Bible.

The great American poet, Robert Frost, imagines Abishag’s later years:

The witch that came (the withered hag)

To wash the steps with pail and rag

Was once the beauty Abishag.

Ouch. Is that all she deserves?

What I love about Abishag is how the Talmud re-writes her story. It imagines that she refused to be passive, that she took charge of the situation, that she found her voice. And that is precisely what is happening now — with the women who are coming forth about Roy Moore.

That has been the pattern, in recent days. Women are screaming about powerful men who took advantage of their vulnerability.

But what makes the case of Roy Moore even worse is that some are defending him — by pointing to the New Testament “example” of Joseph and Mary — who, they surmise, might have been not much older than some of Roy Moore’s victims.

Some seminary should offer a prize for the Worst Use of a Biblical Text To Excuse Horrendous Behavior. Because those rationalizations would win — hands down.

What makes it even worse is that there are Christian pastors who are defending him — an entire list of them.

So, let us give a woman poet, Delilah Riordan, the final word about Abishag — in her poem, “Abishag”:

The last of the King’s women, forgettable as bed-pillows…

There is more to me than warming this cold King,

but that is what people remember.

It’s how my name got in the book.

Yes, there was far more to Abishag than warming this cold King.

Roy Moore and his supporters will probably read this story, and give each other high fives. See — there is a biblical precedent! Powerful man, young girl, case closed.

Wrong. Because, the Talmud offers the necessary corrective to the story.

Abishag (certainly no older than the girls in the Moore tales would have been) said “no.”

It is too much to imagine — even too much to hope for — that those Alabama girls/now women who are coming forth would have had the presence of mind of the Talmudic version of Abishag, and looked into the eyes of an Alabama judge and say: No (or, something far stronger).

Across the generations, and across the centuries of sacred text, Abishag is screaming.

Let’s just hope that the good citizens of Alabama hear her.









About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.


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  • Roy Moore:

    “My date called me a pedophile. That’s such a big word for a such a little girl!”

  • The Hebrew term translated above as young virgin is “na’arah betulah,” literally a virgin female youth. The Talmud defined “na’arah,” a term used often in the Torah including in legal precepts, as beginning at the age of 12. This is the basis, in part, for Moore’s “biblical defenders” saying that Jewish custom of around the dawn of the 1st century CE could have meant that Mary was as young as these Alabama women were at the time.
    In fairness to the list of defenders you posted, while the Moore campaign passed it around this week, the list was compiled in August, long before these allegations were publicized.

  • Entirely too speculative in my opinion, vis a’ vis’ the cited text, to be really useful. When the bible itself fails to clarify or illuminate, it is much wiser to be silent ourselves. Whatever the end in view was with respect to David, it is evident by the text that it did not have the effect intended. Speculating as to why is pointless.

  • Without in any way excusing Moore in what appears increasingly as a solid case against him, your comment regarding the list of defenders is an important one.

  • Because Mr Salkin is a Jewish rabbi I’m going to cut him some slack on the harshness of the whole Mary and Joseph, New Testament, seminary award thing. It is a well known fact by anyone who has ever been to a live nativity scene that at least on one occasion Joseph allowed Mary to go out with a ass. The only thing that could possibly be called into question in this defense is whether it was named Roy.

  • Yes, Moore was attracted to women significantly younger than him. After all, he dated and the married one, fourteen years his junior, and they’ve been happily married for thirty-three years. If he was someone like Clinton, Trump, or Weinstein, I’d find the accusers more convincing. But since I don’t, that pretty much undercuts the entire point of the column.

  • In a country with six pedphiles on every block, what really scares the Jews about this man? Abishag really blows this man’s story when she says she wants to get married. Freud wants to have an intimate dialogue with you.

  • Yeah probably, but not at Mr Salkin in case anyone is mistaken. Roy Moore is the kind of guy who drives me crazy, he takes some beliefs that on one hand I hold onto tightly but on the other hand I hold onto loosely and trashes them. I thought this about him before the whole dating thing came out. To me how he is handling this issue just confirms his character.

  • I understand what you mean exactly. I don’t really care all that much about 40 year old abuse allegations, though I do think they speak to his character or lack of same. But that is more than amply spoken to by his much more recent activities.

    I think what really gets my ire is that now we find out what is really hiding behind the cloak of religiosity. And there is always something hiding behind it. And the excuses being made for him are perhaps the most disgusting of all. I mean, really!!!! Joseph and Mary?

    8% of Alabama voters are undecided about whether it is better to vote for a creepy pedophile or a Democrat. It says worlds about where we are in this country. But then, so does Trump.

  • He is exactly someone like Clinton, Trump, and Weinstein minus their redeeming qualities. He has been a charlatan on the political make since the 1980s in his willingness to lie to advance his own self. At least Weinstein made some good movies and Clinton appointed two heroes for the ages to the Supreme Court, and Trump, well, he contributed to New York’s glamour in the 1970s.

  • Right, all the “good” they’ve done as politicians or entertainers excuses their sexual predations — the Roman Polanski defense.

  • yes Roy should be condemned by his supporters if this is true…unlike those who continue to support bill clinton, harvey weinstein, the homosexual pedofile Kevin Spacey and now al frankenstein, since their behavior is totally in line with their secular moral vacuum…..oh well

  • Just paraphrasing your own statement. If you didn’t mean that Weinstein, Clinton, and Trump should be cut some slack because of the good they’ve accomplished, all you have to do is say so.

  • As opposed to catholic priests, catholic bishops, Eddie long, and Josh Duggar, and the 489,000 google hits you see if you google “youth pastor sex crimes” since their behavior is totally in line with their religious moral vacuum?
    Oh, well!

  • Slight update: Franken scored another photo-op in 2010, it seems. He just likes a good photo-op, it seems. And again a strange, brief, non-apology initial reply.

    (But don’t worry: he’ll write a real apology soon and have No.2 read it on “The View” or something.)

  • Pure speculation and slander based on leftist politics rather than objective truth. So many of the claims the author could not possibly even know, making this article more of an exercise in imagination than anything else. It is sad that he clearly despises a demographic that holds his people in such high regard, while pandering towards a political spectrum that increasingly has a very poor regard for them. Time to live in the now and not 400 years ago.