The Birth And Death Of Shame
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Shabbat Bereshit

The Birth And Death Of Shame

“They were both naked …  and they were not ashamed” [Genesis 2:25].

“Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they realized that they were naked; and they sewed together a fig leaf and made for themselves coverings” [Gen. 3:7].

It was about a year ago that the revelations of the sexual improprieties of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein occurred. It released a torrent of similar accusations against celebrities, politicians and nominees, business people and clergymen. The #MeToo phenomenon came into existence. Although sexual harassment has been around for a very long time, its reporting had been covered up or kept inside the minds of the victims.

Our world has changed. When the classic film “Gone with the Wind” came out in 1939, the censors were debating whether Rhett Butler should be allowed to say, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Television was closely monitored. You couldn’t use the word “pregnant.” In the show “Father Knows Best,” the parents were talking about their kids while in twin beds with pajamas buttoned up to their necks.

Of course, in the intervening years all has changed. Little is left to the imagination, in television or theaters. PG-rated movies give little comfort to parents who prefer shielding their children from the verbal vulgarity and explicit activities that would have been unheard of in prior times. Newspapers, advertising, dress codes, all have changed, almost to an extreme.

When Vice President Mike Pence said that he would not go to dinner alone with a woman who was not his wife, he was ridiculed. When a celebrity stated that wearing provocative clothing can lead to sexual objectification, she was pilloried.

Does that mean we should go back to the standards of the 1950s? No, but the pendulum has swung too far [left], and it needs to return to the middle.

More than 17 years ago I was on a commission investigating the charges of sexual abuse by a leader of a prominent Jewish youth group. This inquiry was instigated by the reporting of this newspaper and its editor, Gary Rosenblatt. Those stories opened the floodgate of countless other incidents that had been bottled up. The 10 members of the commission sat through six months of interviews with over 100 individuals, many of whom had their lives ruined as teenagers. Two such interviews left me in tears, but we on the panel learned a lot. Steps were taken to begin to fix the problem in the Jewish community.

The Yetzer Hara, the evil inclination, is very potent and insidious, but self-preservation of one’s name and position in life is a powerful ally of the Yetzer Hatov, our good inclination. Well-known individuals were fired, and some were convicted of felonies. Much remains to be done.

Once a bright light shines on an area that was steeped in darkness, positive changes are possible. Hollywood, Netflix, HBO and printed materials will always have the right to produce salacious and violent material. It is primarily the role of the home, and our educational system secondarily, to educate our children on the destructive effects of exposure to the basest of human instincts. However, it starts with the parents. They themselves have to be the role models and decide that there cannot be a double standard for an adult and a child. Movie ratings have to be tightened up and network channels’ standards of years ago should be restored.

Gordon Gekko, the fictional protagonist of the movie “Wall Street,” proclaimed that “greed is good.” I don’t know if he was right, but three decades later we may justifiably be correct in saying, “shame is good,” if that shame will lead to improvements in our interpersonal relationships.

The drift away from religion is perceptible. Our mores as a nation had been based on belief in the Creator and the Bible. America, as envisioned by the Founding Fathers, has been a glorious experiment. It has gone off the road in recent decades. Can it be righted again? Let’s hope so.

Fred Ehrman is a retired investment adviser and held leadership positions in several Jewish institutions. He is in his fourth cycle of Daf Yomi.

Candlelighting, Readings:

Shabbat Candles: 6:13 p.m.

Torah: Gen. 1:1-6:8

Haftarah: Isaiah 42:5-43:10

Havdalah: 7:12 p.m.

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