Columns Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

When Moses had a #MeToo moment

“Moses defending the daughters of Jethro,” J. and B. Lebrun, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Felton Bequest, 1926

(RNS) — You don’t see every revolution coming.

A year ago, no one would have predicted the fall of Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men who have been accused of (and in many cases, have confessed to) sexual harassment.

Let’s just call it the Tiananmen Square of Testosterone – the moment when women, all over the world, stood up in front of the tanks of malignant masculinity and screamed: Enough.


That revolution has already changed the world, and it is just getting started.

What’s next?

#MeToo is coming to the Jewish world.

Let’s call it “MeTooJew.”

I predict that it will come in the form of accusations of sexual harassment against high-level Jewish communal executives. The targets of those accusations will include major donors who have wielded coercive sexual power against female staff members.

It is already starting to happen.

I would like to see another kind of #MeToo movement for the Jewish communal world.

I would like to see #PayMeRight.

The #PayMeRight movement will respond to a chilling fact:  Jewish women are paid lower than their male peers who hold the same kinds of positions.

Frankly, I would like to see protest demonstrations at the 2018 General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, as well as at national meetings of every Jewish organization.

Because it is one thing for American Jewish leaders to bemoan the horrendous treatment of women at the Kotel in Jerusalem.

Far better for us to change the behaviors toward women in the boardrooms and executive suites of American Judaism.

And men, as well as women, need to be on the front lines of that battle for equal pay and for equal dignity (ask any female Jewish communal leader, especially clergy, about this — and prepare for those stories to shake and stir you).

All of which brings me to Moses, who stars in this week’s Torah portion.

How does Moses begin his career? Not only as a teacher, or as a liberator, but as an activist against oppression: killing the Egyptian taskmaster, who is beating a Hebrew slave, and breaking up a fight between two Hebrew slaves.

Let’s review the story, from the opening chapters of the book of Exodus.

Moses has killed the Egyptian taskmaster, which was a sufficient reason for him to want to get out of town — quickly.

He flees to Midian. He stops at a well for water. He sees a group of shepherds harassing some young women at the well.

Those young women just happen to be the daughters of Jethro, the major priest of Midian. One of them turns out to be Zipporah, who will ultimately become Moses’ wife.

Moses sticks up for the women and drives the — note to self: Research the ancient Midianite term for “jerks” — away.

(I would like to imagine a counter-Torah, in which the daughters of Jethro are totally tough women. I would like to imagine them saying to Moses: “Hey, Tall Dark Stranger from Egypt — it’s OK. We got this. You punks wanna rumble?”)

Why did Moses perform this act of bravery? These shepherds must have been hardened tough guys — the kind of bullies who separate you from your lunch money.

And yet, Moses took them on. It was just him against the rabble.

Why did he do that?

Especially because Moses has no real responsibility for those women. It is not as if they are his family, or his people.

But, at that moment, Moses goes beyond the borders of his own family and people, and he intervenes for the sake of others.

Where did he learn to do that?

I am wondering: Who tutored Moses in the art of moral outrage and courage?

It could not have been Pharaoh, his adopted grandfather.

No, come to think of it — the entire first chapter of Exodus is the story of strong women.

  • Pharaoh’s daughter, whom the ancient sages name Bityah. She had seen the infant Moses sailing down the Nile in a basket. The sages say, fancifully, that at that moment, her arm elongated.

Like a modern-day comic book superheroine, she stretched out her newly elasticized appendage to rescue the infant who was floating down the middle of the river.

Didn’t she realize how far away she was from the basket? How did she know that her arm would grow?

She didn’t.

The Hasidic master, Menachem Mendel of Kotsk, imagined: At the precise moment that she decided to act, her arm suddenly grew.

Some things simply depend on will and action.

  • Moses’ sister, Miriam. When Pharaoh’s daughter needed a nursemaid for the infant Moses, Miriam suggested the hiring of …
  • Moses’ birth mother, Yocheved, who nursed Moses as an infant.

These were all very strong women.

But there were two women whom Moses had never met. But, without a doubt, he would have heard stories about them. Without a doubt, those stories inspired him and gave him courage.

I am talking about two of the most extraordinary characters of the Hebrew Bible: Shiphrah and Puah, a pair of midwives in Egypt.

Pharaoh had commanded them to kill all Hebrew infant boys. But they refused to do so.

Shiphrah and Puah were the originators of civil disobedience. They are the first people in the Torah to question and defy authority.

That’s where Moses got it from. That is where contemporary Jewish women could get it from.

The revolution is just beginning.

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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  • Ordinary, extra ordinary, extraordinary, ordinary people who close gaps.

    Extraordinary telling of what Moses early life must have been like. Thank you for that picture, it has given me a new outlook on what it means to be truly extraordinary.

  • Just as are Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, Moses is a myth.

    Added details:

    origin: NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

    New York Times

    New Torah For Modern Minds

    “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. (prob·a·bly
    Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell).

    The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions — the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years — have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity — until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called ”Etz Hayim” (”Tree of Life” in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine document.

    The notion that the Bible is not literally true ”is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis,” observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to ”Etz Hayim.” But some congregants, he said, ”may not like the stark airing of it.” Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that ”virtually every modern archaeologist” agrees ”that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all.” The rabbi offered what he called a ”LITANY OF DISILLUSION”’ about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have ”found no trace of the tribes of Israel — not one shard of pottery.”

  • And what point might that be? 5000 words praising mythical people and occurrences?

    And one must wonder if Weinstein et. al. got their attitudes about women from the Torah?

    Time to enter the 21st century.

  • well first off, you have never read The Torah, or you would know the names are Avraham, Moshe, and Shemos. and denied recent discoveries in archaeology. such as all those chariots, discovered in the red sea and the governor and king seals at the biblical times indicated. as i just, finished reading about another archaeological discovery verifying another governor at the time of the first temple. without even mentioning, the dead sea scrolls and the tomb of the patriarchs. obviously you, are cherry picking your rather be facts and information to support your mythological false accounting. you even deny, the King’s seal found for Daveed Melech The Father of Shlomoh Melech whose name was never Soloman. you! have too much misinformation propaganda to be believable.

  • one has to wonder, where you got your antiG-D attitude here in The Story of The Physical Creation in This Physical Hereafter Again from Noach to adam and his sister Chaooah again.

    The Torah, which gives the history of the last two same again physical creations. and the first three and a half days from Noach to Moshe, of this same again Hereafter Physical Creation. from Moshe to adam and his sister again, is the last three and a half days actually in The Happening.

    ELOHEEM already said, THEY are only giving TheTorah for The Full Seven Days. and you, just do not mentally believe we are all physically here in IT again. with this, currently being the end of the sixth day again. and you still do not know or accept, where your grandpa and grandma adam are again here in This Torah Hereafter.

    when you use somebody else’s brains, for your propaganda. then it, means you have no franken-brains of your own. when you need to be more selective of somebody else’s thinking internalized. and end up, with the brains of an antiG-D criminal in your frankenbody of flesh.

    reading The Torah, must be done without the prejudiced misinformation of others explaining it to you. so that, you can think for yourself objectively. using somebody else’s thoughts is not thinking.

  • Well, someone who believes he is an Old Testament prophet on a first name basis with Leo-them will probably believe anything. In this case, you are quoting a Wing Nut Daily review articles.

    However, if one is looking for news of an important scientific or historical discovery, World News Daily Report is not the place to look. WNDR is fake news site whose disclaimer notes that the site’s articles are satirical in nature:

    World News Daily Report is a news and political satire web publication, which may or may not use real names, often in semi-real or mostly fictitious ways. All news articles contained within are fiction, and presumably fake news. Any resemblance to the truth is purely coincidental, except for all references to politicians and/or celebrities, in which case they are based on real people, but still based almost entirely in fiction.”

  • Rat Conk,

    One of the things about the Kotel is that those rocks are awfully damn big. Funny kinda provincial, able to organise the quarries, the miles of roller-roads, the wrights and masons to put the joint together.

    Now the Japanese Air Force have demonstrated that there is no single aspect of the pyramids of Egypt that cannot be accomplished by a corporal’s guard of their cadets using the tools available back in the days of the pharaohs. Fine: they had the organization and the intellect of Japan’s service academies behind them.

    Solomon and then David, and even a slap-handed bit of help from Abimelech, may not have been imperial forces on a Roman scale. It’s obvious, though, that they were premier league in intellect and organization.

  • What’s that supposed to mean? Atheists can be antisemites or sexists too. You can always learn from the Torah. Mythology is not literally true and neither is a novel, but it’s not a waste of time to learn about mythology or read War and Peace. Yes, you can learn from them. I didn’t say you should accept that every single word in the Torah is true or one should follow it blindly. Even the most Ultra-Orthodox Jew would not say that. That would be a very un-Jewish way to study the Bible. The literal meaning is always only the first layer of meaning.

    Everyone who grows up in the Christian Western world has negatice ideas of Jews. It permeates the culture even if you’re now an atheist. Someone who I would never call an antisemite said the Pharisees were villainous. This is part of what someone whose name escapes me called “a theology of contempt towards Judaism.” Even atheists have incorrect anti-Jewish ideas.

  • If only the following had been recognized centuries ago:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten
    seconds: Priceless !!!

    As far as one knows or can
    tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism,
    Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    As far as one knows or can
    tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism,
    Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    There was no Gabriel i.e.
    Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    There was no Easter i.e.
    Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    There was no Moroni i.e.
    Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    Sacred/revered cows, monkey
    gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that
    we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups
    calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

  • Yes, that’s all true, you’ve said all this before, but you didn’t address my comments at all. It also does not put the kibosh on any religion.

  • Religious people live longer and are happier. It may have to do with being part of a community, but it works. Neurologists have studied meditators and people praying and they can see recognizable changes for the better. Look up Daniel Goleman and Andrew Newberg.

  • Then there is this study to peruse -

  • Moses For #MeToo?*

    Sexual abuse is as old as men’s concern about paternity — the risk that a man’s putative child may not be his biological child. Many rules for assuring paternity are codified in The Bible. One of those rules is that raping virgins is less problematic than raping non-virgins. Virgins cannot be in an early stage of pregnancy, so they cannot give birth to children fathered by victims of genocide when mass rape results in offspring. Moses was keenly aware of this cuckold conundrum, so he precluded the problem by ordering his troops to slaughter all non-virgin Midianite women:

    They warred against the Midianites, as the LORD commanded Moses; and they slew all the males … And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones … And they brought the captives, and the prey, and the spoil, unto Moses … And Moses was angry with the officers of the army, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, who came from the battle. And Moses said unto them, “Have you saved all the women alive? … kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that has known man by lying with him. But all the young girls, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves (truncated from Numbers 31:7-35).[i]

    Only 31,968 of the 32,000 captive virgins could be made available to regular troops because 32 of them were given “unto Eleazar the priest, for a heave offering” (Numbers 31:35-41). To this day, in their daily morning prayer, observant Orthodox Jewish men thank their god for having not made them a non-Jew (‘Baruch shelo asani goy’ – ‘Blessed is He that did not make me a non-Jew’) and for having not made them a woman (‘Baruch shelo asani isha’ – ‘Blessed is He that did not make me a woman’). No wonder.

    If there were 32,000 virgins, it seems reasonable to assume that there were a large number of non-virgins. Sorting out whom to keep and whom to kill would have been a major undertaking. In a tale too fanciful to warrant discussion of its plausibility, but one that clearly reveals prevailing attitudes, the rabbis of the Talmud explained how the necessary virginity testing was accomplished. Each woman was forced to straddle a cask of wine so that her vagina covered the hole in the side of the cask. According to Rabbi Kahana son of Rabbi Nathan, a would-be rapist only needed to smell the woman’s breath to decipher whether her hymen was sufficiently intact to prevent a bouquet from rising: “They made them sit upon the mouth of a wine-cask. Through anyone who had had previous intercourse, the odour penetrated; through a virgin, its odour did not penetrate” (Talmud: Yebamoth 60b).

    This simplified matters: smell wine, pull the woman off the cask and cut her throat … don’t smell wine, pull the girl off the cask and rape her. Putting thousands of women through this process in a reasonable amount of time would have required far more casks of wine than the Israelites would have brought with them on a military campaign, but there was no limit to the imaginations of The Sages of the Talmud.

    Hypocrisy is protected by allegorical interpretation of Bible stories that literally promote depravity. If Thomas Jefferson has made the #MeToo list of abusers, surely there is room for Moses, his soldiers, and the god he invented to deify Zionism.


    [i] Several sacred texts written subsequent to the compilation of The Bible express second thoughts about the genocide of the Midianites … not because of the colossal evil of the deed, but because the sudden influx of so many virgin shiksas was perceived to have had dysgenic effects.

    *Also available at: