We must not stand idly by the blood of our women

Ohr Torah Stone supported the early-December strike protesting increasing violence against Israeli women. “We have an obligation to better the world and lead the next generation,” explained Rabbi Brander who participated in the Jerusalem rally with other members of OTS leadership. “It is especially important to deal with these topics in our post high school yeshivot and midrashot, our rabbinical seminary and our women’s halakhic leadership institute, recognizing that part of leading entails seeking solutions to social problems and pursuing tikkun olam.”

When an additional woman was murdered just a few days later, protest organizers called for 25 minutes of silence to honor the 25 victims in 2018. Rabbanit Devorah Evron, director of the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership (WIHL) took a unique approach:

We must not stand idly by the blood of our women

By Rabbanit Devorah Evron

Devorah Evron
Photo credit: Rony Natan

Last week’s stormy protests and demonstrations gave way to a different type of protest yesterday morning, which lasted 25 minutes. These were 25 minutes of silence and striking in memory of the 25 women who were murdered since the beginning of the year, the most recent murder having occurred on Tuesday. The contrast between storm and silence is perhaps the most significant part of the attempt to conceive of the inconceivable – namely, how those women were murdered – and it may also be the manner which best expresses the necessity for action. We approached yesterday morning’s protest differently.

When I heard about the preparations for the nationwide strike, and about how teachers, parliamentarians, students and office workers joined in, we at the Susi Bradfield Institute for Halakhic Leadership joined in as well, in our own unique way. Because we are engaged in the study of Torah, and we do not encourage bitul Torah – wasting precious opportunities to learn  we decided that at 10 a.m., we would dedicate our Torah study specifically to the appalling phenomenon of violence against women.

We spent 25 minutes studying the commandment of “Thou shall not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor,” but studying was only the beginning. According to Yalkut Shimoni, the commandment appears in the Book of Leviticus:

What do we learn from “Thou shall not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor”? If you have information that could acquit a person who is on trial, you may not remain silent. We learn this from “Thou shall not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor.” How do we know that if you see your friend drowning in the river, attacked by brigands, or being chased by a wild animal, you must rescue him? We learn his from “Thou shall not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor.” How do we know that if your neighbor is being pursued by someone trying to kill him (“din rodef”), you must save his or her life? From “Thou shall not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor.” Is this truly learned from this verse? Don’t we learn this from a different verse, in the context of returning a person’s lost belongings (“vehashevoto lo”); that is, that we must “return his body to him”? Rather, if I were to learn this principle from there (the commandment to return lost possessions), I would say that I must do so only in case I chance upon him or her in this situation. Instead, I learn from the verse “Thou shall not stand idly by the blood of they neighbor” that I must be proactive, that I must even spend my money, in order to save another person.

We know that we need to help a person stay alive. We learn this from another verse, a verse that seems extraneous – but it isn’t. The commandment “Thou shall not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor” doesn’t just teach us something obvious. We aren’t only required to personally rescue a person whose life is in danger – we must also take the initiative, work hard, and dedicate our time and money to mitigate these occurrences and prevent violence and killing, instead of just waiting until we witness these things ourselves.

The change we’ve made to our daily routine is designed to remind us that we must not remain aloof. There are women who are exposed to violence, who lack safety and protection every minute of every day, and need to be more cautious because of the emotional and physical threat they are under, a threat which, if it materializes, could harm or even kill them. Our study is crucial to staying aware and remembering what is happening in the world, in Israel and in our society. This awareness and remembrance should drive us to become involved and join the protest meant to change the public agenda, lead to the implementation of the recommendations of the relevant committees and allocate resources. It should grant legitimacy to the women who boldly speak out, saying “I am not safe”, so that they can know that someone will listen to them, so that they know that there is always someone who will listen.

But that’s not all. We must also bring about change within the educational agenda and begin educating at an early age. Last week, when the Ohr Torah Stone network joined the women’s struggle, it was explained that this was an opportunity for us to speak to our students, both male and female, and explore relevant issues with them. As religious women and future halakhic leaders, we have an obligation to demand tikkun olam – that the world be fixed – and lead the next generation toward that goal as well.

The author is the director of the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership, part of the Ohr Torah Stone network of 27 educational and social action programs

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