This month the membership of the Rabbinical Assembly issued a strong Resolution Against Sexual Harassment and/or Assault that emphasizes the need for cultural change within Jewish institions and the imperative to “support survivors who speak up.”
We were therefore dismayed to hear about “small conversations” being organized by leading Jewish sociologists in partnership with Steven M. Cohen, the noted Jewish academic who admitted to sexual impropriety against female colleagues in 2018 after being accused by eight female colleagues. Over the years, many of our movement’s organizations engaged with Dr. Cohen or used his research.
In his statement at that time Dr. Cohen promised to “seek to apologize directly to, and ask forgiveness from, those I have unintentionally hurt” when the “time is right.” According to his victims, such teshuvah has not been accomplished.
“Secret conversations” perpetuate systems of power, access and controlled pathways to success that enabled Dr. Cohen's behavior in the first place. In solidarity with his victims, the Rabbinical Assembly therefore calls on Jewish studies scholars, researchers, sociologists, and those who support their work to avoid partnerships with Steven M. Cohen, and to work with their institutions to strengthen protections against harassment and assault within Jewish institutions and academia. Conversations with Dr. Cohen should be about continuing his process of teshuvah with his victims.
The RA will also do our own work to strengthen our partnerships with academic experts who share our values of protecting those most vulnerable, and supporting academic colleagues who are part of the cultural changes we are calling for in this realm.
As our resolution notes by quoting from Bereisheet Rabbah 24:7, “Know whom you put to shame, for in the likeness of God is s/he made.”