Over the past two weeks, we have seen many reactions and reactions-to-reactions to the story of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long pattern of reported sexual harassment and assault of women. Most of us are simply repulsed by the allegations of unchecked abuse of power and Sodom and Gomorrah-style depravity. And for some, the reactions are even more pronounced because Harvey Weinstein is Jewish.
While there is clearly plenty to say about the story, the focus on Weinstein’s “Jewishness” is wrong. That’s not to say that the fact that he is Jewish doesn’t add to our concern about the story — it clearly does. But that’s not because his Jewishness is an element of the offense. Rather, it is because any allegations of public misbehavior by a fellow Jew makes us uncomfortable, and we fear that that fact somehow lends credence to the historical trope that Jews are bad people.
This is an element of our communal concern that somehow Weinstein’s alleged misconduct is a “shanda for the goyim,” and reflects poorly on us. Thus, the misdeeds of a Harvey Weinstein or a Bernie Madoff cause great unease among Jews, even as most of the world may not even be aware that they are Jewish.
In that light, one might read the essay “The Specifically Jewy Perviness of Harvey Weinstein” by Mark Oppenheimer published last week in Tablet as an attempt to show just how unimportant Weinstein’s Jewishness is by turning him into a jokey subject of literary criticism. “The disgraced film producer is a character straight out of Philip Roth, playing out his revenge fantasies on the Goyim,” Oppenheimer writes.
Nobody laughed. We didn’t either. But white supremacists picked up the anti-Semitic theme of the Oppenheimer piece and circulated it. Following the negative blowback, Oppenheimer published an apology, but the original piece remains on the site.
Let’s be clear: Harvey Weinstein and his alleged misdeeds are not a Jewish issue. But what he is accused of doing is a moral (and legal) issue — it is so, no matter who is accused of doing it.
The Weinstein scandal has produced a lot of soul searching. Women who have been the victims of sexual assault or sexual harassment are taking to Facebook to declare, “Me too,” in the hope that a societal realization of the pervasiveness of masculine abuse will lead to its eradication. Reactions from our community have largely been in the same vein.
When it comes to this kind of global issue, especially regarding how to regulate the baser instincts of humanity, Judaism has much to offer. Central to our tradition is respect of the individual, a necessary precondition to preventing the kind of degradation allegedly inflicted by Weinstein. The abuse of others offends basic moral values and also breaks the law. We all join in the condemnation. pjc