Dr. Ruth is wrong about #rape, #maritalrape and biopsychology | The Talmud on Blog#42

My interest was piqued as I read the following passage in a piece on Dr. Ruth Wertheimer in The Jewish Forward:

“In March Westheimer shared similar sentiments with Haaretz, quoting the Talmud again and telling the interviewer, “I do not believe that when partners are naked they can say at any time ‘I changed my mind’… The idea of consent is nonsense. Except consent before they are naked in bed.””

Who knew? Dr. Ruth Westheimer’s underlying belief system on consent in a relationship is based on ignorance of the tenets of Jewish religion, and her beliefs that humans are uncontrollable when aroused and, therefore, incapable of changing their minds or stopping, flies in the face of common sense and psychobiology. While I won’t psychoanalyze her reasons for decades of unwavering  adherence to such beliefs, I will most certainly correct her on the facts.

Rape, marital or not, is a topic that is very well-discussed in Jewish law, and one of relatively few laws that gets full and explicit treatment in the Torah, giving Talmudic scholars very little leeway in extrapolating away from what might have been some other original intent.

While I’m at it, I will also address the mistaken belief on the part of many that Judaism has a history of blaming the victim when it comes to rape. While one can’t speak for individual Rabbis who might have their own preconceived notions and sensibilities, Jewish law is explicit and exhaustive and leaves no room for ambivalent interpretation: no has always meant no, from ancient times.

Dr. Ruth’s misunderstanding of Jewish law as it pertains to both the husband and wife’s duty to have sex is compounded by a fundamental misinterpretation of the nature of man and the difference between man and beast. There are two distinct false notions she reinforces as explained in the book “Gender, Power, and Communication in Human Relationships:”




Those two sets of ideas, so ingrained in popular culture in many parts of the world, are two of the pillars of the social construct that are heterosexual male dominance and sexism, and with these kinds of beliefs, Dr.  Westheimer and others like her help perpetuate it.

While I would never go so far as to say that Jewish law is feminist by nature and that it is devoid of sexism – far from it- when it comes to rape, it is unequivocal and clearly against all forms of rape and fully delineates and defends a woman’s  rights. Under Jewish law, it is a given that sex without consent is rape, and rape is a crime that is committed out of conscious will. The notion that there might be “legitimate rape” simply does not exist in the Old Testament. While it was disappointing to learn of the assumptions underlying Dr. Ruth’s sexual advice, those serve yet another reminder to always do a bit of research before accepting theories we have not tested ourselves.

Following are some clarifications on what the Torah says both about rape and marital rape, first from Chabad, then from Rabbi Mark Dratch of JSafe.

Is it true that the Torah requires rape victims to marry their rapists, and the only punishment to the rapist is a fifty-shekel fine paid to the victim’s father?

Actually the reverse is true: The victim is not required to marry the rapist; the rapist is required to marry his victim (if she consents), after paying her a very heavy fine.

“If a man finds a virgin girl who was not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give fifty [shekels of] silver to the girl’s father, and she shall become his wife, because he violated her. He shall not be able to send her away all the days of his life.”

Noting that the Torah is usually economical with its words, the Talmud is surprised by the seeming redundancy of the phrase, “who lay with her.” We already know what this man did; why is it repeated?

From this the Talmud deduces that the fifty-shekel fine is merely a portion of his obligation; it is the portion he pays for the pleasure he took from his act. But this doesn’t compensate her for her pain, indignity and loss. The Talmud thus infers from this verse that in addition to the fine, the rapist is required to indemnify her for three forms of damage: the indignity she suffered, the pain she endured and the loss she incurred. In all, this amounts to a hefty fine.

In addition, the rapist is required to marry his victim, and is not permitted to divorce her without her consent. The Talmud explains that this obligation rests on the rapist, not the victim. She is under no obligation to marry him.

Sexual Abuse and Marital Rape
Rabbi Mark Dratch
JSafe: The Jewish Institute Supporting an Abuse Free Environment

1. Consensual intercourse
It is forbidden for a man to force his wife to have intercourse. Even if she is not forced outright, as long as she is not amenable to intercourse, sexual relations are prohibited. Rambam rules, “[Her husband] should not coerce her [to have relations] when she does not desire to do so. Rather, [they should engage in intercourse only] when there is mutual desire and pleasure.” Even if she is ambivalent about her desire, relations are forbidden. In Iggeret ha-Kodesh, chapter 6, ascribed to Ramban, we find the following guidance:
When a man has relations [with his wife] he should not do so against her will and he should not rape her; the Divine Presence does not abide in such unions in as much as his intentions in opposition to hers, and she does not consent to his desire. He should not quarrel with her or strike her concerning marital relations. Behold, the Sages said (Pesahim 49b), “Just as a lion tears [his prey] and devours it and has no shame, so an ‘am ha-‘arez (ignorant boor) strikes and cohabits and has no shame.” Instead, he should entice her with kind and alluring words and other appropriate and reputable things. He should not have relations with her while she is sleeping because their intentions are not united and they are not of the same mind. Rather, he should wake her and arouse her with conversation.

The bottom line is this: when a man is sexually aroused he should make sure that his wife is aroused as well [before having intercourse].

Reasonable words and acts of enticement that attempt to woo another person and seduce her into consensual relations are permitted and are not considered coercive.

However, if these advances are rebuffed, they must be stopped.

Marital Rape

Sexual relations are a defining feature of marriage. Every other type of relationship or responsibility that exists between husband and wife can be shared by any two individuals—financial support, household duties, companionship, etc. It is intimacy itself which is uniquely reserved by the Torah for husbands and wives to share with, and only with, each other. That is why, according to most authorities, Jewish law empowers a couple to negotiate almost every aspect of their relationship and, for example, set as condition of marriage that they will have no financial responsibilities or household obligations to each other. However, they cannot set as a precondition to marriage that they will not engage in intimate relations.

While a woman has no explicit obligation to cohabit with her husband, many authorities infer from the very nature of the marriage commitment itself a mutual obligation that husbands and wives will be available to each other sexually. But this obligation is not absolute and and does not offer unconstrained license to
a husband to be with his wife whenever he wants. Thousands of years ago Judaism rejected statements like that of Chief Justice Sir Matthew Hale that a” husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract, the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband, which she cannot retract.” Jewish law insists that it is forbidden for a man to force his wife to have intercourse;  all sexual intimacy must be consensual. Rambam rules, “He should not coerce her [to have relations] when she is not desirous. Rather, [they should engage in intercourse only] when there is mutual desire and pleasure.” We have already seen the Talmudic restriction on sex categorized as anusah (rape) and eimah (coerced out of fear). And Maharit writes that a wife should not be forced to have sex because “she is not a captive to be sexually ravished at her husband’s whim.”

This blog post was inspired by an article that appeared in the Jewish Forward. Read the full quoted article: Did Dr. Ruth Use the Talmud to Justify Rape?  Sisterhood on Forward.com

Dr. Ruth Westheimer: “The Doctor Is In: Dr. Ruth On Love, Life, And Joie De Vivre”

The Diane Rehm Show

Monday, Jun 01 2015

We all know Dr. Ruth as the famous sex therapist. In her new book, the 87-year-old opens up about her narrow escape from death during the Holocaust and how she came to America dreaming of a new life.

As a 10-year-old girl, Dr. Ruth Westheimer was put on a train to Switzerland from Germany. Her father had already been taken away by the Nazis. While in an orphanage in Switzerland, she would lose her entire family in the Holocaust. Following the war, she had no real home, no close family and no proper education. What she did have, she says, was a zest for life. Bouncing from Israel to France and eventually the U.S., Dr. Ruth found her true calling in a career she never would have imagined: Sex therapy. And more remarkably, when she reached her 50s, it made her a celebrity. She opens up on love, life and joie de vivre.

Thanks for joining us. I’m Diane Rehm. Dr. Ruth Westheimer collects turtles. She says it’s because they stick their necks out a lot the way she does. It’s an attitude that’s worked well for the 86-year-old. Dr. Ruth has had to be tough. And orphan of the Holocaust, she managed to become the country’s first celebrity sex therapist. She talks about this philosophy on life in her book, “The Doctor Is In.” Dr. Ruth joins from the studio of NPR in New York City.

I know many of you are fans of hers. You can join our conversation. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send an email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Dr. Ruth, how good to see you again.

Thank you so much. I promise you next time, Diane, I’m going to be in Washington. I’m going to be on your show. It’s really an honor to be on your show.

Read the rest of this article on Dr. Ruth Westheimer: “The Doctor Is In: Dr. Ruth On Love, Life, And Joie De Vivre” – The Diane Rehm Show


2 thoughts on “Dr. Ruth is wrong about #rape, #maritalrape and biopsychology | The Talmud on Blog#42”

  1. I have heard of Dr. Ruth Westheimer but I have not read any of her material and I am not Jewish; however, I think the analysis and tenets set forth by this blog’s author are good rules for any society to adhere.

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