The Pence Fence

The Pence Fence

By Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld

 For the last month or so, America has been treated to a new headline daily with the latest update of who has been charged with some terrible abuse. Will it be a politician? A journalist? A Hollywood mogul? A comedian? A TV news host? A symphonic conductor? The guy next door? Stay tuned and tomorrow will surely bring you another surprise.

And what is the country’s reaction? You’re charged; you’re fired! No due process. No questions asked. The axe gets re-sharpened routinely as celebrated heads go rolling every day. It is understandable that people – both men and women – who behave with utter disrespect for those in their environs, should not be allowed to continue to work where they have been. It is also understandable that society needs to take a strong stand against promiscuous behavior, especially when the behavior is not consensual.

As with the crazed mass shootings plaguing our country, there is no attempt to deal with the root causes of the problem. Just cut the snake’s head off, with no effort to determine how the snake got there. Violence, gore, and sensuality are celebrated in our society to the point where, in the entertainment world, “anything goes” is the order of the day. Anyone who condemns sodomite behavior is consigned to the Neanderthal era by the leftist elite.

Just cut the snake’s head off, with no effort to determine how the snake got there

This, of course, is followed by the feigned expressions of shock and outrage: “How could this happen?” or “This behavior is outrageous!” Isn’t that something? Since the end of the 1960s, society has been hell-bent on tearing down one barrier against deviance after the other, be it in the form of violence or promiscuity. Then we are supposed to be shocked when people actually become violent or promiscuous.

Vice President Mike Pence, one of the finest human beings to hold public office, has been excoriated by the media and the entertainment world alike. (Remember the treatment he received by the Hamilton cast?) Not too long ago, he stated that he would not take a woman out to dinner unless he was accompanied by his wife. Wow! The torrent of mockery, derision, and various accusations of one kind or another came pouring down on him. Why? Because he dared to declare that his loyalty to his wife must remain unquestioned, while he is aware of man’s failings with temptation. How awful of him. Do you think we will read headlines about Mike Pence being vulgar? I doubt it.

The Chazal, fully understanding man’s flawed tendencies in this area, made various protective g’darim, or “fences.” In fact, Naomi let Ruth know that if Ruth wants to consider joining the Jewish People as a convert, she must be made aware that we have some tough rules to live by. Among the first things mentioned is the law of yichud: not being in seclusion with a woman whose intimacy is prohibited (Talmud, Y’vamos 47b). There are laws of n’giah (of prohibited physical contact between the sexes). There are laws of kol ishah (of not being entertained by the singing voice of a female that could lead to improper thoughts). Some of these laws may seem a bit harsh, maybe a bit archaic to some. But guess what? They work.

I recall years back that I was very friendly with a fellow in yeshivah known as Zeke (Yechezkel) who was a few years older than me, and he was a highly intelligent and independent thinker. Today he is a researcher for a major Jewish publishing house. One Purim, my wife and I were invited to his house for the s’udah. There was another couple invited, as well, that was friendly with us. The woman’s name was Chayah Goldstein (last name fictitious). Zeke would constantly refer to Chayah as Mrs. Goldstein. “Zeke,” I said, half jokingly, “I didn’t know you were so frum that you need to call her by her last name.” I will never forget Zeke’s response: “Wrong; it’s because I’m not so frum that I need to call her by her last name!” Point delivered.

When I served as a rav on Staten Island, a married man in the community who worked in Midtown Manhattan would innocently offer a married woman a lift home to Staten Island on a regular basis. The story, as you might imagine, did not end well, and ended up with both couples divorcing.

Mike Pence is correct to build a fence. The Chazal were, of course, correct to build their fences. The rest of the world, which breaches those fences on a daily basis, is left to scratch their heads and wonder how the demons got through.

Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.


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