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February 6, 2015

Parashat Yitro

Ari S. Lorge

Watch our sermon above or on Youtube, listen on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

This past Sunday, around 112 million viewers tuned into the Super Bowl.  Some of us watched because we love the game, some of us because of the halftime show, and, if you’re like me, you watched because of the commercials. And in the realm of commercials, this year was a first. No More, a campaign whose purpose is to raise awareness about intimate partner violence, received 30 seconds to air a PSA on domestic violence. The ad dramatized a real life 911 call of a woman pretending to order pizza so that her abuser, who was in the room, would be unaware that she is seeking help.

The NFL paid for the ad, whose airtime was worth $4.5 million, and their internal ad agency created the spot.  Why? In a season where fans continued to stand up and applaud Ray Rice, we don’t have to wonder.  And, with statistics from government reports teaching us that one in five women say they have been raped or experienced attempted rape, and one in four women report having been beaten by an intimate partner, there can be no doubt we need that PSA. 

While I applaud the fact that the ad appeared, and while it was powerful and important, to my mind, it also fell short.  The ad focused on what happens after violence occurs, rather than on strategies for preventing violence.  As one advocate pointed out, “The NFL is … one of the most visible arbiters of the cultural definition of masculinity. That definition of masculinity as dominant, violent, and controlling contributes to a culture in which violence against women is not regarded as a serious enough issue to warrant collective outrage. The NFL … could be engaging boys and young men in … education around the values embedded in these archaic forms of masculinity.”  And yet it chose not to.

Ironically, there was another commercial that more effectively spoke to the root causes of violence against women.  The Dove Men’s campaign Real Strength does much of what the NFL’s spot fails to do.  Dove’s ad challenges conventional views of masculinity with its tagline: “What makes a man strong? Showing that he cares.”  Throughout the ad we see images of loving, nurturing men who express their feelings and emotions.  It suggests that strength does not come from power or control but love and emotional expression.  It is not enough to merely point out that the violence occurs as the NFL ad does.  If that is all we do, we wrongly suggest that intimate partner violence; whether physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual, is simply a part of life.  We must also speak about what contributes to systemic violence that is embedded in our culture.  We must speak out about what makes for a healthy relationship.

In this vein, throughout February, Jewish Women International has launched a campaign that is engaging Jewish congregations, Hillels, and organizations across the country and even abroad.  These institutions are each devoting time during the month to speak and teach about healthy relationships. I serve as the co-chair of Jewish Women International’s Clergy Task Force to End Domestic Abuse.  We are a group of Jewish clergy from across America and represent different movements of Judaism.

As co-chair, I’ve been involved in helping build a coalition of over 75 synagogues and organizations to participate in this first effort which we call Shamor L’amour.  Teaching about the spectrum of healthy and unhealthy relationships and about intimate partner violence and domestic violence is an issue around which I have been active for nearly seven years.  Tonight, as part of a movement bringing together Jews from all spectrums of observance through Jewish Women International, we’ll do more than point at a problem.  Tonight we’ll describe the world, not as it is, but as it ought to be.  And Parashat Yitro provides the perfect context.

This Shabbat, the Israelites stand at Sinai.  God and Israel enter into a covenantal relationship.  A covenantal relationship was, and remains, a revolution in how a people conceived of its connection to its deity.  What does it mean to be part of a covenant?  One scholar defined it as “the bond by which two parties pledge themselves to one another, each respecting the freedom and integrity of the other, agreeing to join their separate destinies into a single journey that they will travel together.”  The aspects that typify a covenant: respect, mutuality, and trust.  Throughout time Jews have looked at their relationship with God as a model of their relationships with one another.  If our relationship with God is based on principles like respect, mutuality, and equality, then so too should our intimate relationships.  And yet, how far from that ideal too many find themselves.

What can we do?  If we wish to change some of the statistics that are so troubling, we can challenge patriarchy and misogyny when we hear it and see it.  We can speak to and educate the youth in our lives and teach them that relationships exist on a spectrum.  We can teach them what makes a healthy relationship and what behaviors are indicative of an unhealthy relationship.  How incredible it would be to have that conversation together.  We can challenge unhealthy notions of gender that link manhood to violence and power and womanhood to passivity and acquiescence.  We can respond when we see unhealthy relationship behaviors around us instead of remaining silent.  Each of us can begin to change our corner of the world.

If you are interested in more information or in resources, you’ll find them on our website next week when this d’var Torah is posted [below].  There are also resources listed in your Order of Service.  Let us reinforce in ourselves and in our youth that true love, like a covenant, is about equality, mutuality, and respect.  For it is within such relationships that we glimpse the divine.  We all deserve life affirming relationships through which we bring God and the world together.

Rabbi Lorge’s d’var Torah speaks about healthy relationships and domestic violence.  Below are some organizations where you can learn more and take action as well as anonymous hotlines should you or someone you know be seeking support.

24/7 Confidential Free Support:
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
Teen Dating Violence Hotline: 1-866-331-9474

National Organizations: Learn More about Healthy Relationships and Take Action
Jewish Women International:
Love is Respect:
No More:

Bring the Conversation Home
Read JWI’s Rethinking Shabbat Guide to Discussing Healthy Relationships and our Home