In October 2017 the #MeToo movement became an internationally viral phenomenon, due to the sexual abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein and other men in media. The movement encouraged women to share their experiences of sexual assault and harassment, to draw attention to the fact that many women face these experiences at some point in their lives. Although initially focused on assault and harassment in the media industry, it did not take long for people to draw attention to the prevalence of this abuse within all facets of life, including education, sports, politics, and religion.
On February 21 the Robbins Collection and the Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israeli Studies co-hosted Rabbi Professor Rachel Adler, the David Ellenson Professor of Modern Jewish Thought at Hebrew Union College, to give a lecture on the intersection of halakhah, or Jewish law, and the #MeToo movement. The lecture, “Jewish Law and the #MeToo Movement,” was the Robbins Collection Annual Lecture in Jewish Law, Thought, and Identity. The allegations of sexual abuse and harassment are addressed inadequately by halakha, if at all. What would have to change for halakhah to offer a model of gender justice?
Students, community members, and journalists attended Rabbi Professor Adler’s lecture where they discussed a broad range of topics regarding Judaism and #MeToo. Adler and the audience noted that Jews are already used to negotiating boundaries within larger communities, as a minority religion in the United States. Engagement about #MeToo within the Jewish community would therefore fall in line with already familiar negotiations and discussions the community has. Adler also elaborated on the unique nature of halakha, which has its own categories, standards, and systems of justice, but which are not fully capable of addressing our more modern understandings of sexual assault.
The Robbins Collection and Research Center thanks the Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israeli Studies for co-hosting our Annual Lecture in Jewish Law. This annual lecture is a central mission of the Robbins Collection, which is dedicated to the research and publication of studies of Jewish Law, in addition to Canon Law, Islamic Law, and civil law.
The Jewish News of Northern California has published a thorough article about the event which may be of interest to followers of the Robbins Collection.