Permanent

A86 permanenet
Written by Tamar Fox.

(Trigger Warning: Please be advised that the following post is about sexual molestation and sexual abuse. The story includes depictions of the character’s mental state as a result of suffering from this experience. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month)

Rated R

Hannah was wiping the blood off a customer’s arm when a woman walked into the tattoo parlor. The customer gritted his teeth and tried to concentrate on the Cubs game that was playing on TV while Hannah bent over the inside of his elbow, carefully maneuvering the tip of the vibrating wand onto his skin. She focused on the hum of the metal, and filled in a small section that had been outlined a few weeks earlier. Sean was halfway through a full sleeve of Celtic knots and a large ornate cross, and she had warned him this part would be the most painful.

When she looked up, Hannah saw the woman standing uncertainly at the counter, her blonde hair pulled back into a low ponytail, and her hands folded neatly on the glass. She was wearing nice clothes—black pants with a well-defined crease, an off-white collared shirt, top button left undone to show off a small wedge of collarbone, and a gold chain with a small pearl pendant. Women like her usually came in later at night looking slightly unkempt, buzzed on cocktails and surrounded by similarly adorned cohorts who helped pick out something small and uncontroversial, like a rose to be placed on a hip, or a dolphin for an ankle.

“I’m sorry,” Hannah said, wiping more blood away and then looking up at the woman again, “but it’s going to be a few minutes before someone can help you. You can just look around for a while if you’d like.” She pointed at the sample wall. “And we’ll be with you as soon as we can.”

The woman stared for a moment, looked hard at Hannah’s face, and then nodded. She moved over to the samples, mechanically flipping through the pages that were mounted on the wall, her posture stiff and her jaw set.

Hannah saw this all the time: someone determined to get a tattoo, but scared to the point of anger at the prospect of vibrating needles jabbing into their skin. Hannah’s boyfriend Owen was in one of the little rooms off to the side of the main studio, where people got body piercings. He was putting a stud in the tongue of a high school senior who had skipped school to come in and get it done against his parents’ wishes. The guy had brought a girl with him, and she was giggling nervously, telling her friend how awesome it was going to be, how totally fucking awesome it would totally be. The walls were thin enough that Hannah could hear Owen explaining what he was going to do and then fixing the clamp to hold the guy’s tongue.

“Some people say the pain is a bit bracing,” Owen paused, and Hannah knew from experience that he was sliding the needle through the guy’s tongue while he spoke, “but you’re in high school. You probably feel worse every day in trig.” The guy laughed nervously, and before he was even finished giggling Owen said, “Done!”

Hannah focused back on Sean and filled in another knot, careful to keep her touch light, using one of her rubber gloved hands to keep the skin taut. He took in a quick breath when she began the section just above the crease of his elbow, and she knew from her own sleeve that it was a strange feeling, because it tickled, but was also painful. “We’re almost done,” she said to him, her voice soft. “Just about two more minutes.” She dabbed at some of the blood that was coming up, and carefully aimed for another spot, trying to be as gentle as she could. In the other room she heard the teenager spit out the antibacterial mouthwash used to clean the wound and then cough. Hannah finished up the knot she had been working on and turned off the tattoo gun.

“What do you think?”

He looked down at it and grinned. “Fucking love it.”

“Great.”

She pressed down on the whole area with a bandage and taped it up with a roll of surgical tape. Hannah ran through the litany of instructions for keeping the tattoo clean while it healed, and Sean nodded mechanically—he had heard all this before. He gave her a credit card and Hannah looked over at the blonde woman again as the receipt printed. She was sitting on one of the couches, and she had a file from her briefcase spread on her lap.

Sean signed the receipt—20% tip—thanked Hannah and left, the bell on the door jangling softly as it fell closed behind him.

“So,” Hannah said, looking at the woman and raising her eyebrows, “what can I do for you?”

“Well actually.” She folded her file closed and slid it back into her briefcase. “I’m a state attorney for Illinois.”

“Is the studio in some kind of trouble?” Panic crept into Hannah’s chest, and she tried to rewind the last five minutes in her head, to remember if she had skipped some part of the legal protocol involved in tattooing Sean.

“Oh, no.” The woman looked startled. “Actually, I’m looking for Chana Leah Weinberg. Is that you?”

Jesus. Hannah blinked. Behind her she heard Owen leading the teenagers out of the piercing room. The girl was giggling and the guy was breathing loudly around his swollen tongue. Hannah moved out of the way so that Owen could ring them up, and they shuffled out of the store.

“Yes.” Her voice sounded strange. Strangled. “That’s me.”

The light in the room suddenly seemed too strong.

“I’m Rebecca Janssen. I’m the lead attorney on the state’s case against Rabbi Yerachmiel Held.”

The moment was anti-climactic. There was a sense of how dramatic it should have been, but Hannah felt perfectly calm. Owen muttered, “Fuck,” next to her, and she cocked her head to the left.

“What’s he being charged with?”

“Several counts of sexual abuse and sexual assault of minors.”

“Well.” Her mind was strangely blank. “That sounds about right.” Owen’s hand rested lightly on the small of her back, but he stayed quiet, watching her. He had looked like this when she told him the story, once, when they started dating two years earlier, and it scared her how she was able to turn a guy who was so loud and funny into someone so sullen and angry.

“I was told you might have some more information pertaining to the case.”

“By who?”

“Yehudit Schack.”

The name didn’t register at first, but then Hannah remembered the school secretary, a short round woman who always wore a beret and a sour expression on her face. The last time Hannah had left Rabbi Held’s office, her senior year, he had followed her into the main office and said “Chana…” in his soft cruel voice as she walked away unsteadily, livid and humiliated. Mrs. Schack had been standing in the door to the copy room, watching.

Hannah met Rebecca’s eyes, and then looked away, out onto the street, through the storefront windows. “I’m at work right now. This isn’t the best time.”

“I was hoping I might be able to buy you lunch.”

“I just got on at noon. I don’t get a break until three.”

“I can wait.”

Hannah shrugged, still feeling as if there was a reaction she should be having, but not at all sure what it would be. “Suit yourself.”

Continue reading…

Double Mitzvah – B’haalotcha

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Tamar Fox. Check out last week’s post in this series, Double Mitzvah – Naso.

Rated PGIn this week’s [glossary]Torah[/glossary] portion, B’haalotcha, the Israelites receive instructions regarding Passover; they journey from Sinai and complain to God on several occasions, provoking God’s anger. Finally, at the end of the [glossary]parashah[/glossary], Miriam and Aaron speak against Moses, because he is married to a foreign woman, and God angrily afflicts Miriam (but not Aaron) with [glossary]tzaraat[/glossary], an illness that leaves her covered in white scales. Moses cries out to God for Miriam to be healed, and God says to Moses, “If her father spat in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut out of camp for seven days, and then let her be readmitted.”

There are a couple of relationship lessons to be learned here:

1) Being judgmental about others’ relationships is bad news. Even when you may feel you’re in the right, it probably won’t end well – for any involved- if you pass judgment on others.

2) There’s some value to being shamed.

The first lesson is relatively simple. We know it’s bad to shame others, and we have varying levels of success at dealing with it. I am no saint in this matter, and probably can’t contribute much to this discussion beyond the most basic pronouncement that you probably have no idea what you’re talking about when you judge someone else’s relationships. A third party can never really know the whole story, since relationships are intrinsically a delicate balance of complications and compromises, nuanced with each partner’s unique history and predilections – and also, it’s none of your business.

The second is more complex. For the most part, I am against shaming people, and against the many ways that society likes to shame people, particularly women, for natural and otherwise completely fine behavior (such as, but not limited to: wearing skirts that do not cover their ankles, having consensual sex with a partner, speaking in public, or driving a car). I am also keenly aware of how toxic a wrongful shaming can be. The media that we all consume is notorious for getting the story sort of right and then moving on, often leaving women and men publicly shamed on the internet in a way that’s unlikely to ever be truly erased or forgotten.

But I also know what it’s like to be rightfully shamed. To have someone say to me, “That thing you’re saying is wrong, and hurtful, and you should be ashamed of yourself.” When you are ashamed of yourself, you could probably do to spend some time alone, thinking about where you went wrong, and thinking how you’d like to make it better. And then, just like the Israelites do after the seven days of Miriam’s shame, you should move on – a changed, humbled person.

[glossary]Shabbat shalom[/glossary]!

Double Mitzvah – Naso

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Tamar Fox. Check out last week’s post in this series, Double Mitzvah – Bamidbar. [Note: This is a re-post from our May 2013 Double Mitzvah column on Parashat Naso.]

Rated PG-13In this week’s [glossary]parashah[/glossary], God describes the service of the Gershon family of Levites, gives Moses and Aaron the priestly blessing, and the heads of the twelve tribes bring gifts to the Tabernacle. But the headline of [glossary]Parashat[/glossary] Naso is a troubling story of sexuality–the story of the [glossary]Sotah[/glossary], the woman suspected of being an adulteress.

The peshat, or literal reading of the text, is quite disturbing. A man who is jealous of his wife, and suspects her of adultery, brings her to a priest to stand before. He brings a grain offering, which is mixed with dirt, and her hair is uncovered, or unfurled. The priest then tells her that if she is guilty, she will be become a curse amid her people, her stomach will explode and her thigh will sag. The woman answers, “Amen,” and then drinks bitter waters, water mixed with the dirty grain offering. If she is guilty, her stomach will distend, and her thigh sag. If she is innocent, she will become pregnant.

If this upsetting ritual reminds me of anything, it’s the Salem witch trials, where women were scapegoats, forced into a situation where they would be hurt and shamed no matter what.

The saving grace of the [glossary]Sotah[/glossary] ritual is that the rabbis found it disturbing, too, and do not seem to have ever enforced the ritual. Though an entire tractate of the [glossary]Talmud[/glossary] is dedicated to the Sotah, there is no evidence it was ever carried out.

There is a lesson here about jealousy, and about healthy expressions of anger. Though the text does suggest a severe punishment for a woman who was not faithful to her husband, the husband does not get away free–his jealous mistrusting nature was displayed for all to see.

The magical elements of the ceremony remind us that though we may sometimes fantasize about taking our anger or jealousy out on our partners, these fantasies should remain in our heads. When brought to reality, they can bring only shame and grief.

Real Israelis

A36 semgirl

A36 semgirl

Written by Tamar Fox. Tamar is Jewrotica’s new Judaic Outreach Director. For those who dare, check out her clever, irreverent and tongue-in-cheek Behind Closed Doors with Men and Women of the Bible.

PG-13It did not begin innocently. When he asked me if I had a boyfriend I was sitting directly behind him in his cab, looking out the window as we sped past the Old City on Jerusalem’s Route 1 highway, and I knew, of course I knew, that he would then ask if I would like to go out with him.

If I were sharing this story with my brother Ari, he would say, “If you knew, then what were you thinking, Yael?” I was thinking that I didn’t get asked out very often. Some girls are approached by men as they walk down the street, as they wait for a bus or pick out pomegranates in the grocery store. There are girls whose lives are full of invitations from men who want to take them to dinner and buy them flowers and press them up against walls and kiss, but I have never been one of those girls. I was being propositioned by a man whose cab I had just gotten into, and when he asked me if I’d like to go out with him, I said “maybe” because I wasn’t brave enough to say yes, but I wasn’t proud enough to say no, either.

His name was Sami, he told me, and then he asked me something in Hebrew, but it was too fast for me to understand. I was already good at faking my way through conversations, though. “Maybe,” I said again, smiling a little, enjoying this opportunity to be coy.

“Maybe?” Sami looked at me in the rearview window.

“Why not?” I asked, shrugging and then allowing my smile to grow.

“Sababa!” Arabic sounded too smooth coming out of his mouth, and I knew suddenly that he wasn’t Jewish, that I was already in over my head.

Continue reading…

One Billion Rising 2014

1 billion rising

Graphic by Margarita Korol

Written by Tamar Fox. Tamar is the author of Permanent, a story published on Jewrotica that deals with issues of consent and sexual abuse, and Just One Kid.

Rated PGAt Jewrotica, we take the issues of rape and consent quite seriously. We believe that consent is sexy, and that sex without consent is rape. As advocates for consensual sexuality in the Jewish community, we are proud to partner with One Billion Rising to bring attention to the staggering statistic that 1 in 3 women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. With the world population at 7 billion, this adds up to more than ONE BILLION WOMEN AND GIRLS. On February 14, 2014, Jewrotica will join activists, writers, thinkers, celebrities, and women and men across the world as we express outrage, demand change, strike, dance, and RISE in defiance of the injustices women suffer, demanding an end at last to violence against women.

Jewrotica, of course, stands on the solid ground of the Jewish tradition’s deep well of thinking and writing about the many benefits of a consensual sex life. Jewish law recognized the unacceptability of marital rape more than 2,000 years ago. The vast collection of responsa literature repeatedly addresses domestic violence, and while there are a variety of historical responses to the beating of women, gratuitous abuse and striking a wife without a reason is forbidden by all. Today, rabbis and scholars are generally united in the position that rape and domestic violence—whether in a marriage, or outside it—are never permissible.

Despite this blanket condemnation, domestic violence does exist in the Jewish community. There is significant data to suggest that domestic abuse is a significant and under-recognized behavior in Jewish communities around the world. If you or someone you know is a victim of rape or domestic violence contact the authorities today. To speak with a mental health counselor, please email mara@jewrotica.org for more information. You may also contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-HOPE

1 – http://www.myjewishlearning.com/life/Relationships/Spouses_and_Partners/Domestic_Violence.shtml

2- http://www.faithtrustinstitute.org/resources/learn-the-basics/dv-jewish-women-faqs#Must%20I%20forgive

Double Mitzvah – Shabbat Shuva

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Tamar Fox. Tamar is Jewrotica’s Double Mitzvah columnist. (Please note that this post was pre-scheduled prior to the start of Rosh HaShana.)

Would you like to be regularly featured on Jewrotica? We are currently accepting applications for next year’s Double Mitzvah columnist and are always looking for new writers. Contact editor@jewrotica.org for more information.

For a commentary on last week’s parsha, check out Double Mitzvah – Nitzavim Vayelekh.



Rated PGThis week’s [glossary]Torah[/glossary] portion, Haazinu, is a long poem that Moses recites to the Israelites recounting their covenant with God and the consequences of straying from God. At the end of the portion, God tells Moses that he will die on Mount Hor before entering the land of Israel. Moses is allowed to look out over the Promised Land, but not to enter it.

This week’s [glossary]Torah[/glossary] portion also comes immediately after we celebrate [glossary]Rosh Hashanah[/glossary], the new year, when we may choose to make new years resolutions, hoping to improve our behavior in the coming year. This Shabbat, when we read Haazinu, is called [glossary]Shabbat Shuva[/glossary], the Shabbat of return because it is hoped that on this [glossary]Shabbat[/glossary] we will return to God, from wherever we have been.

So this weekend is a good time to think about combining both of these messages. It is a good time to take stock of our relationships, and the places where we feel we may have failed. Is there something that we are doing that is keeping us from advancing into our own promised land, whether that is a state of mind, or a better, more solid relationship? And is there a way for us to bring the concept of returning, and returning to God, into our relationships?

As we move into the New Year, we look back into our relationships from the past year, and forward towards the behavior we want to practice in our relationships in the coming year.

[glossary]Shanah tova[/glossary] and [glossary]Shabbat shalom[/glossary]!


Double Mitzvah – Nitzavim Vayelekh

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Tamar Fox. Tamar is Jewrotica’s Double Mitzvah columnist. Would you like to be regularly featured on Jewrotica? We are currently accepting applications for next year’s Double Mitzvah columnist and are always looking for new writers. Contact editor@jewrotica.org for more information.

For a commentary on last week’s parsha, check out Double Mitzvah – Ki Tavo.

Rated PG-13In this week’s double portion, Moses describes the Covenant between God and the Israelites, urging the Israelites to uphold the Covenant and honor the [glossary]Torah[/glossary] so that they may be rewarded with life in the land of Israel. Moses concludes his speech to the Israelites, blesses Joshua, and instructs the community to gather every seven years to read publicly from the [glossary]Torah[/glossary]; God predicts the eventual straying of the Israelites.

This week’s portion also contains the word fetish, which you don’t often hear in synagogue. Deuteronomy 29:15-16 says, “Well you know that we dwelt in the land of Egypt and that we passed through the midst of various other nations; and you have seen the detestable things and the fetishes of wood and stone, silver and gold, that they keep.” When you think of fetishes you may think of leather or lace, stilettos or whips. But fetish just means an object or idea regarded with awe or devotion. It can sometimes be applied towards the erotic, but it isn’t always.

It’s very possible that this particular quote from Deuteronomy is explicitly referencing the sexual practices of the other nations, but it also might be referencing the perverse devotion these nations had to these natural materials. The ambiguity here is actually helpful. It’s a reminder that we don’t always know the nature of the fetishization around us, and that we need to be careful not to allow the fetishes in our bedroom to run our lives. These nations are known for their fetishes. Wouldn’t you rather be known for pretty much anything else you’ve done in your life?

[glossary]Shabbat shalom[/glossary]!


Double Mitzvah – Ki Tavo

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Tamar Fox. Tamar is Jewrotica’s Double Mitzvah columnist. Would you like to be regularly featured on Jewrotica? We are currently accepting applications for next year’s Double Mitzvah columnist. Contact editor@jewrotica.org for more information.

For a commentary on last week’s parsha, check out Double Mitzvah – Ki Tetze.

Rated PG-13In this week’s [glossary]Torah[/glossary] portion, Moses continues giving laws (in this case, laws of the first fruit offering), and then goes on to offer the Israelites a blessing and a curse. If the Israelites choose to follow God’s ways and do as they are instructed by God, they will reap many benefits, including a plentiful harvest, victory over their enemies, and a general feeling of being blessed wherever they go. However, if they choose to stray from God’s instructions and follow after other nations or gods, they will be subject to terrible punishments, from starvation, disease, and slavery, to being conquered by other peoples, and generally being cursed in everything they do.

This [glossary]Torah[/glossary] portion also contains one of the few cases of self-censorship in the Torah. Generally speaking, we are careful to read exactly what’s written in the Torah. It is a sin to distort the Torah, to add or take away even a single word. But here we have an exception. Deuteronomy 28:30 is translated in the [glossary]Etz Hayim[/glossary] as, “If you pay the bride-price for a wife, another man shall enjoy her. If you build a house, you shall not live in it. If you plant a vineyard, you shall not harvest it.” Here we read the word [glossary]yishkavenah[/glossary], meaning “sleep with her.” You’re engaged to a lady, and someone else sleeps with her. I guess that’s bad. But the actual text, the word written on the text is [glossary]yishagelnah[/glossary]. And [glossary]yishagelnah[/glossary] means “raped.”

[glossary]Yishagelnah[/glossary] was deemed too vulgar to be said in synagogue, so it became customary to read the word as [glossary]yishkavenah[/glossary]. Meanwhile, the [glossary]Etz Hayim[/glossary] translation splits the difference with “another man shall enjoy her.”

What’s upsetting to me about this is that the actual verse seems to allow for focusing on the woman and her experience. She was raped. This, one can assume, is terrible for both the woman, and for her fiancé. But by misreading it, and mistranslating it, the focus shifts to the fiancé. He has been wronged by having been given a woman who is no longer a virgin. The girl is not really relevant once she has been defiled. There is no mention of the fact that the woman has been traumatized. It writes off completely an important and horrifying experience.

This tradition of reading the word as [glossary]yishkavenah[/glossary] goes back a long way, and I’ve never heard of a community that reads the word as it’s written. But this week, as I listen to the [glossary]Torah[/glossary] portion, I’ll be focusing on the woman whose trauma has been muted in this sentence, and I’ll be thinking of all rape victims, men and women and how their voices always deserve to be heard, and not silenced.

[glossary]Shabbat shalom[/glossary]!


Double Mitzvah – Ki Tetze

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Tamar Fox. Tamar is Jewrotica’s Double Mitzvah columnist. Would you like to be regularly featured on Jewrotica? We are currently accepting applications for next year’s Double Mitzvah columnist. Contact editor@jewrotica.org for more information.

For a commentary on last week’s parsha, check out Double Mitzvah – Shoftim.

Rated PG-13In this week’s [glossary]Torah[/glossary] portion, Moses delivers specific rules about proper family relationships. He continues with laws involving many aspects of daily living, justice, family responsibility, work, and sexuality. It includes several explicitly sexual laws, including:

  • the law that says that you can take a captive woman as a wife, providing you shave her head, clip her fingernails, and give her a month to mourn her parents
  • the law that says you have to respect the offspring of a wife, even if she isn’t the wife you love best
  • the law that prohibits cross dressing
  • the law that prohibits marrying your father’s ex-wife
  • the law prohibiting Israelite women from acting as prostitutes

and many more.

But perhaps the most famous and perhaps upsetting law in this week’s [glossary]parashah[/glossary] is the law of the bride in Deuteronomy 22. Here is the problematic text (13-21):

A man marries a woman and cohabits with her. Then he takes an aversion to her and makes up charges against her and defames her, saying, “I married this woman; but when I approached her, I found that she was not a virgin.” In such a case, the girl’s father and mother shall produce the evidence of the girl’s virginity before the elders of the town at the gate. And the girl’s father shall say to the elders, “I gave this man my daughter to wife, but he has taken an aversion to her; so he has made up charges, saying, ‘I did not find your daughter a virgin.’ But here is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity!” And they shall spread out the cloth before the elders of the town. The elders of that town shall then take the man and flog him, and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give it to the girl’s father; for the man has defamed a virgin in Israel. Moreover, she shall remain his wife; he shall never have the right to divorce her.

But if the charge proves true, the girl was found not to have been a virgin, then the girl shall be brought out to the entrance of her father’s house, and the men of her town shall stone her to death; for she did a shameful thing in Israel, committing fornication while under her father’s authority. Thus you will sweep away evil from your midst.

There’s a lot here to digest, and I can’t possibly break down all of the interesting and upsetting things going on here (for that, see Sex or Power? by Aaron Koller and Reading the Women of the Bible by Tikva Frymer-Kensky). But one thing that jumps out at me every time I read this text is that the first assumption of the text is that the man is lying. It’s setting up a legal precedent for dealing with a man who is lying in order to get his wife killed. The content is still rather horrifying, but it’s important to remember that the frame here is that there’s an assumption of innocence on the part of the wife.

The other fascinating thing about this law is that the legal precedent seems designed to incentivize tampering with evidence. If a dirty bloody sheet needs to be produced by the parents, not the husband, it is presumably quite easy for the parents, at this later date, to present a bloody sheet of some kind and say it was from their daughter’s marriage bed. If they don’t want their daughter to be stoned, there is a way out, regardless of whether or not she was a virgin.

I bring these up not because I think they fully solve the complex problems we’re seeing in this text, but because they remind us how many ways there are to think about sex in the [glossary]Torah[/glossary], and how the stories, when read closely, often break down differently than we first think.

[glossary]Shabbat shalom[/glossary]!


Double Mitzvah – Re’eh

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Tamar Fox. Check out last week’s post in this series, Double Mitzvah – Ekev.

Rated PG-13This week’s [glossary]parashah[/glossary], Re’eh, continues God’s instructions to the Israelites about how to behave once they enter the land of Israel. They are extensively warned not to worship any other gods, lest all kinds of terrible punishments be loosed upon them. They are given lists of what animals they may and may not eat, and instructed to tithe, giving 10% of their produce every year to God. They are given the law of the Jubilee year, and a brief summary of how to observe the pilgrimage festivals of Passover, [glossary]Shavuot[/glossary] and [glossary]Sukkot[/glossary].

One of the laws described in this week’s [glossary]parashah[/glossary] involves an indentured servant. If an Israelite has a fellow Israelite as an indentured servant, the servant can stay on for six years, but must be freed during the seventh year. If the servant does not want to be freed, there is a bizarre ritual to mark his desire to stay as a servant. The master is instructed to take the servant in front of the doorpost, and “take an awl and put it through his ear into the door, and he shall become your slave in perpetuity.” (Deuteronomy 15:17)

This raises a lot of upsetting questions. Why would an indentured servant choose to stay with a master when he or she could be freed? Why would choosing to stay need to involve mutilating the servant’s body? Why the ear? Why the doorpost?

I can’t answer all these questions, but one thing that strikes me while reading this is the way that the text recognizes that some life choices need to be manifest physically, on the body. The [glossary]Torah[/glossary] prohibits tattoos, but evidently allows for piercings–Rebecca is portrayed in the Bible as having a nose ring (Genesis 24:22). The servant who chooses to stay with his or her master is portrayed as having real love for their position as a servant, “But should he say to you, ‘I do not want to leave you’–for he loves you and your household and is happy with you,” (Deuteronomy 15:16). This love is marked with a piercing.

Love can sometimes be quite painful, and it can make us do otherwise unthinkable things in order to be with our partners. The narrative of the [glossary]Torah[/glossary] is recognizing this, recognizing both that we will sometimes make strange, even painful choices to be with the people we love, and recognizing that sometimes we need things to be external, we need some kind of physical act of bloodshed to mark our partnerships and life choices. In the same [glossary]parashah[/glossary] the Israelites are warned against human sacrifices, but God seems to accept and understand that there are less harmful but still effective ways that people can mark these milestones.

[glossary]Shabbat shalom[/glossary]!