First Comes Love…Then Comes Rape?

So much of what Rabbi Steven Pruzansky (an Orthodox rabbi in Teaneck, New Jersey, who has a history of making controversial statements) actually says is disturbing and offensive.  But the more troubling part of his arguments, for me, lies in what goes unsaid. His assumptions — the way that he presents complete untruths as fact — are so much more damaging to us as a community.

READ: Orthodox Feminists Slam NJ Rabbi Over Campus Rape Comments

In his blog post dated March 31, Rabbi Pruzansky writes that solving the problem of rape is easy! He says that when sex “is preceded by a joyous ceremony known as a wedding, which too involves contractual obligations that are grounded in mutual respect” then “problem solved…”  This presumption that sex within marriage is always consensual is not only wrong, it is dangerous.  The narrative behind this statement is that by signing your ketubah (Jewish wedding contract), you have agreed to have sex whenever your partner wants — that regardless of issues of physical and emotional abuse, of pain, of the need for a choice about when and where and how to have sex, one can never have been “forced” to have sex because they consented the day they got married.  

I spent my first years out of college working at the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project, a subset of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. I helped educate doctors about the need to give emergency contraception to rape victims in the emergency room. Do any thoughtful, intelligent members of society actually believe that none of these women or MEN who came into the emergency room were raped by a committed partner? Should these doctors have turned these victims away from treatment because they were married? Or should they be sent home because, as Rabbi Pruzansky says, she or he “spent the night, or several nights thereafter, with her beau?”  

By making such sweeping statements, Rabbi Pruzansky does not even allow for the possibility that rape within a committed relationship exists, let alone that it is something that our community MUST address. How can a married person who is experiencing sexual abuse or rape by their spouse ever talk about this issue if they are being told as a matter of fact that what they are experiencing is not possible? How can we ever make a choice to say yes to our partner if we gave up our ability to choose the day we got married?  How are married men and women supposed to determine what makes for a loving, consensual sexual relationship if there is an obligation for “anytime, no matter what?”

All of Rabbi Pruzansky’s claims about the “gray” areas and the “he said/she said” minimize the real, significant issues that a married couple faces when they are legally committed to a relationship where power is not equal, where care and concern are not reciprocal and when sex can become an instrument of abuse, hate and denial.  One cannot help but conclude that the reason Rabbi Pruzansky does NOT see this in his own community, as he says, is because no one in their right mind would ever tell a rabbi their spouse is raping them if the rabbi himself does not even believe such situations can exist!

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