Thursday, July 30, 2015

Another Seat Change Scandal

The stories are familiar from flights to/from Israel, but now we have one in Canada. Per CBC News, an "ultra-Orthodox" man on a Porter Airlines flight from Newark to Toronto requested that a woman, Christine Flynn, change her seat, so that he wouldn't need to sit next to her on the flight.

The article includes harsh indictments of the man and his religion:
Flynn said she might have been willing to accommodate the man had he spoken to her directly and politely asked her to switch seats. She admits language may have been a factor — saying his English "wasn't terrific" — but said his refusal to even make eye contact was offensive.
"He could have made a plan, he could have put in a request," Flynn said in an interview Wednesday on CBC Radio's Metro Morning. "When someone doesn't look at you, and when someone doesn't acknowledge you as person because of your gender, you're a lot less willing to be accommodating.
"Leaving it to the last minute and expecting me to move is appalling. He's expecting me to fall in to that archetypical feminine role and acquiesce."

Flynn says she's frustrated she was asked to move and upset others on the flight were willing to help the man.
"I have a problem with that. He [the flight attendant] probably, maybe, didn't realize that asking a woman to move because the fact she had a uterus made the man next to her uncomfortable ... I don't think he even would have put it together that that's kind of insulting and maybe even discriminatory," she said.
"If someone had refused to sit next to me because I was gay and maybe they were some kind of old-school religion that doesn't like gay people no one would have switched with him. It would have been off the table," she said.

[Update: I have now seen another CBC article on the story, here. Not any better, sorry to say.]

My three thoughts:
1. The man should recognize that taking public transportation may involve sitting beside women. If he believes that sitting beside her is wrong (and he certainly has basis in Shulchan Aruch), then it is not her job to move; it's his job to move. If he doesn't want to sit next to a woman, and he cannot select a seat guaranteeing that, then he should find another means of travel.

2. The man is guilty of chillul HaShem, desecrating Gd's Name, for voluntarily taking public transportation and then practicing this discriminatory act.
And yes, I do believe this qualifies as discrimination, per the Supreme Court of Canada (Andrews v. Law Society of Canada, 1989): Discrimination may be described as a distinction, whether intentional or not but based on grounds relating to personal characteristics of the individual or group, which has the effect of imposing burdens, obligations, or disadvantages on such individual or group not imposed upon others, or which withholds or limits access to opportunities, benefits, and advantages available to other members of society.
Since a man would not have been asked to move, this is discriminatory.

3. The people interviewed in the article and writing in the comments are depressingly judgmental. I know that they feel no obligation to assume the best of someone, but do they really need to assume the worst?
 They assume the man did this because he sees the woman as evil or dirty because she "had a uterus". In truth, separating men and women is simply a barrier against sexual impropriety - a woman might make the same request for a man to move.
Of course, society as a whole doesn't view sitting next to someone as a sexually charged situation - but society as a whole has an abysmal track record for sexual safety. I personally don't believe that switching seats was required by Jewish law, but frankly, if people would observe such strictures then we would be able to avoid much of the rampant sexual harassment and abuse we tolerate as "normal" in our world.
I wish the writer had interviewed someone with knowledge of Judaism.


  1. There is no proof that secular society is any worse when it comes to "sexual safety", whatever that may be. It's simply not true at all that secular women are generally promiscuous or that rape occurs with greater frequency, when adjusted per capita.

  2. Avi-
    Please read again.

    Who said anything about secular women being generally promiscuous, or about rape, or about comparing secular society with any other?
    What I said was that if these laws were observed, sexual safety would be better. And I believe it.

    A quote from a randomly selected report, from this site: In 2014, SSH commissioned a 2,000-person national survey in the USA with surveying firm GfK. The survey found that 65% of all women had experienced street harassment. Among all women, 23% had been sexually touched, 20% had been followed, and 9% had been forced to do something sexual.

    If society observed rules that banned physical contact between genders, then yes, I believe the rates would be lower. Of course, it wouldn't solve all problems, and it might even create certain others - but yes, it would eliminate many opportunities and triggers.

  3. I'd quibble with your (bolded!) line, "society as a whole has an abysmal track record for sexual safety". As compared to what? I'm pretty sure that modern-day Canada, let alone a short-haul airplane cabin, compares very favourably to any historical period in that regard.

    This sort of historical revisionism regarding personal safety is silly. See Rabbi Males' article in Jewish Action ( where he gives up on the mitzva of hachnasat orchim because of the 'danger' and his response to argumentative letters where he doubles down ( It's ridiculous to contend that some random beggar wandering into a small shtettle looking for accommodation (with at best an un-certifiable letter of reference) was less of a danger than than a traveler in our modern world with cell phones, 911, police and forensic evidence and this absolves us of the legacy of Avraham (who I'm sure got references for all of his guests).

    The truth is despite the headlines there has never been a safer time or place to be alive, whether you are a man, woman or child, in terms of accidental, physical or sexual violence, and from private, public or state actors. We shouldn't let the sensationalism of the 24-hour news cycle skew our actions and attitudes towards our obligations to God and our fellow man.

  4. Yannai-
    Thanks for commenting, but my point is not to compare today with anything in history. My point is to compare it with what we would have if a system of reducing triggers and opportunities were to be implemented.
    In terms of such a hypothetical comparison, though, I'm very curious as to where your statistics come from. How can you make such an assumption about any historical period?

  5. See this article from the NY Times (May 9, 2012), "Ultra-Orthodox Shun Their Own for Reporting Child Sexual Abuse":

    Scholars believe that abuse rates in the ultra-Orthodox world are roughly the same as those in the general population, but for generations, most ultra-Orthodox abuse victims kept silent, fearful of being stigmatized in a culture where the genders are strictly separated and discussion of sex is taboo. When a victim did come forward, it was generally to rabbis and rabbinical courts, which would sometimes investigate the allegations, pledge to monitor the accused, or order payment to a victim, but not refer the matter to the police.

    So there is no indication that the community that teaches these laws, and indeed numerous customs beyond those laws, actually does have a lesser incidence. No matter how bad a survey in the US might show, I would expect similar numbers among our own. In fact, the resulting atmosphere harms victims with no visible impact on prevention.

    But the gemara warns us that observance alone is no magic cure. Shabbos 88b (cf Yuma 72b):

    "אמר רב חננאל בר פפא: מאי דכתיב (משלי ח) שמעו כי נגידים אדבר למה נמשלו דברי תורה כנגיד - לומר לך: מה נגיד זה יש בו להמית ולהחיות - אף דברי תורה יש בם להמית ולהחיות.

    היינו דאמר רבא: למיימינים בה - סמא דחיי, למשמאילים בה - סמא דמותא."

    "R. Chananel bar Papa said: What is meant by, “Hear, for I will speak princely things,” (Mishlei 8:6)? Why are the words of the Torah compared to a prince? To tell you: just as a prince has power of life and death, so too the words of the Torah [have potential for] life or death. As Rava said: to those who go to the right side of it, it is a sam hachaim, a medicine for life; to those who go to its left, it is a sam hamaves, an elixir of death."

    If you build a culture in which the identification as Orthodox relies entirely on observance of black letter halakhah (as opposed to also including halachic imperatives that cannot be reduced to specifics, like "qedoshim tihyu" or "ve'asisa hayashar vehatov") you create a culture that does not distinguish "right" from "left". And so for some people the Torah becomes an elixir of life, for others a poison, but the demographics of who is good hearted and who is cruel doesn't measurably change.

    1. R' Micha-
      I agree with your latter points. On your first point, though, abuse behind closed doors is not what I am talking about. I'm talking about the "street harassment" described in the survey I cited.

    2. Street violence, miqvah violence, school violence...

      My thougts were more in the direction of noting that all these laws and customs (I really want to say "harchaqos") are not producing less predatory people. So... halakhah is halakhah. But why continue pushing beyond the letter of the law if it's ineffective anyway?

      The whole thing is likely objectifying and even counter-productive. Many of those for whom every encounter with someone of the opposite sex (MOS) involves thinking about harchaqos against it turning sexual will end up thinking of those MOSes primarily in sexual terms. (And it's likely those very people who we need to worry about.)

    3. I agree re: your second paragraph. Re: your first paragraph, though - I think there is value in preventing bad behaviour even if that does not rehabilitate the criminal.

  6. By anecdote -- you stayed in my house when you were in Calgary and didn't rob me!

    Obviously historical data is spotty at best. The literature is best for murder. See quicky chart:

    TED Talk:

    1. Interesting, but I'm not clear on why murder and street sexual harassment should be analogous for this? I reiterate that I am not comparing with history anyway, but if someone wanted to compare with history, I would say that the ratio of means-to-barrier for murder has remained fairly steady over the centuries, while the same ratio for harassment has changed drastically.
      And thanks again for your hospitality!

    2. To argue for your point, the means-to-barrier ratio for getting away with murder has declined sharply due to modern policing techniques and explains much of the decline in murder rates.

      On the flip side, I'm not sure what you mean by 'the same ratio for harassment has changed drastically'. The same policing techniques make catching and convicting sexual predators more likely as well - especially actual rapists. Social attitudes, especially those of government and authority are as anti-harassment as they have been in many years leading to increased prosecution and public shaming of perpetrators.

    3. I'd disagree re: murder - The means of murder have grown powerfully, too.
      Re: Harassment - Social attitudes and odds of being caught matter little to people who are caught up in an impulse, I think. I also think that the ease of access, as well as increase of temptation via modern exposure of skin, must be weighed on the scale.

    4. Getting off-topic but the means to catch a murderer have definitely outpaced the typical means to murder (very few murderers use high-tech sniper rifles or untraceable poisons, it's pretty much poison, physical attacks and short range weapons). Until very recently any competent murderer would leave nothing but circumstantial evidence. Mitchell and Web's caveman detective pretty much sums it up ( That said the standard for conviction were lower and severity and speed of punishments likely higher (with no class privileges at play) but the rate of false convictions and pubic vigilantism were much higher too.

      I think that factors such as modern exposure of skin actually make little difference. The same type of guy who would catcall a girl in a short skirt was probably catcalling girls with visible ankles a hundred years ago. Unless you completely mask the face and make all women wear the same box-like uniform that completely hides body shape you are still going to be having the same type of guy ogling the pretty girls and the ones with nice figures.

  7. If if a Jewish man accepts that he has to fly on a plane, and also can't sit next to a woman, and also can't inconvenience passengers or crew, is he obligated to buy his seat plus those on either side?

    1. I think if he believes that there is an abizrayhu issue in sitting beside a woman, then he would be required to spend significant funds to avoid it, yes.

  8. Micha BergerJuly 30, 2015 at 11:41 AM

    See this article from the NY Times (May 9, 2012), "Ultra-Orthodox Shun Their Own for Reporting Child Sexual Abuse":

    Scholars believe that abuse rates in the ultra-Orthodox world are roughly the same as those in the general population

    Any idea what those scholars are basing their opinions on?
    Joel Rich

    1. Well, given that they are talking about victims who are more likely to refuse to report, I doubt this is a formal survey.

      However, the same claim is taught to therapists who work the Ytty Leibel Hotline, run by Torah uMesorah as well as to those who work for Tikva -- OHEL Mental Health Services. And it's often made by R' Yaakov Horowitz as well as a few of the authors collected in R' Daniel Eidensohn's "Child & Domestic Abuse vol. 1".

      In the hashkafah section, I have an essay that goes further along the lines I started here.

      It's a nice sound-bite to say "don't judge Judaism by the Jews", but it's difficult to sustain. After all, the Torah promises itself a path to being shaleim (whole, nothing missing), tamim (complete, not fractured), and refining oneself into a better likeness of G-d.

      My suggestion to the victim was to look at Rava's words, as well as a number of other sources, and realize that the Torah is "only" a tool for getting there. Being observant doesn't guarantee being more shaleim; you have to actively work toward that goal. One cannot blame the hammer if the person weilding it never uses it to drive in a nail.

    2. I can't accept the "don't judge Judaism by the Jews" approach for exactly the reasons you state.

      If our numbers are the same, unless we are naturally worse to start with, then what happened to mitzvoth purifying us?
      Joel Rich

    3. As I tried to say in my 11:41am comment -- we aren't being taught to use them for purification. Rava and Rav Chanael bar Papa are quite clear, mitzvos and Torah study don't work on their own and can actually make things worse. You have to consciously choose to use them constructively.

      In "Tools & Goals" (the Aspaqlaria version expanded from the original Torah Musings post) I discuss it at far more length. It's a less judgmental version of the same ideas as in that chapter in RDE's book. I even try to get constructive, giving ideas about how to get from here to there.

    4. Micha, what if a mitzvah (not the one we're discussing) is a chok we don't understand? How could we distinguish among its uses?

    5. The ideas of being (1) humble enough to know that we can't know everything and (2) willing to submit my will to His Will are themselves more constructive than just "that's what we do".

      As the Rambam says in Shemoneh Peraqim: For some mitzvos the ideal is to align one's desires with the mitzvah, but for other mitzvos the ideal is to submit and say "I wish I could ..., but what can I do? My Maker told me not to."

  9. A patient of mine told me he'd read about this incident today and then asked me, "Lord Ironheart, what would you have done?" And I told him that I would have sat in my seat and kept my hands and eyes to myself. After all, it's "my problem" so why inconvenience anyone else?
    But this is the inevitable outcome of religious behaviour that emphasizes the Bein Adam L'Makom to the near exclusion of Bein Adam L'Chaveiro. I'm trying to observe a mitzvah as I understand it. If you don't help or if you get in the way of my need you're 100% at fault, yes?

    1. I would too.

      But if I held like this man did, I would have stood. It's my job to find another seat, not theirs.

      Rather than type in an old R' Yisrael Salanter story about being machmir one someone else's account myself, here is R' Aryeh Enken's telling:

      Rabbi Salanter was once invited for a meal at the home of a wealthy individual. The meal began, of course, with the netilat yadayim ritual, the pre-meal hand washing. However, it was noticed that while everyone washed their hands with an abundance of water, Rabbi Salanter washed his hands with only the minimal amount of water required.

      During the meal, the host could not hide his curiosity anymore and asked Rabbi Salanter why he used so little water in order to perform the pre-meal hand washing.

      “Rabbi!” He exclaimed, “Why did you use so little water to wash your hands? Thank God, I lack nothing and everything –especially water—is available in abundance! We are also taught that those who wash their hands with an abundance of water will receive extra blessings!”

      Rabbi Salanter answered with the following question: “How do you get the water – not from your home but from the well, is that right?”

      “That woman over there is my maid. Her job is to bring water form the well as needed” said the man.

      “I thought so” said Rabbi Salanter. “I couldn’t bring myself to wash with more water than truly needed knowing that your maid will then be forced to schlepp more water from the well. What a backbreaking job! I don’t want her to have to work so hard for me. I am much happier using the minimal amount of water if doing so will save her time, pain, and hard labor! God will send me blessing through the performance of some other mitzvah.”

  10. Yannai-
    One other note: Can we take it as a given that a woman sitting at a separate-seating wedding is less likely to face an unwanted advance or lewd comment from an intoxicated tablemate, than a woman at a mixed-seating wedding? That a woman on a mechitzah bus is likely to experience groping or leering than a woman on a subway?

    1. And by extension a woman locked in a basement her whole life will never be leered at.

      Sure we can eliminate all (non-marital) male-on-female harassment by completely segregating genders, but not for free. Maybe my wife prefers to spend our limited nights out in my company rather than trapped on the ladies' side, even if there is an off chance the grooms's third cousin's husband is a drunken buffoon. Maybe she wants my company or my help with the kids on the bus as well.

      And it won't do for the common space to be mixed-gender because she could get harassed at the ticket counter or on the way to the wedding hall parking lot, so we clearly need separate everything. Let's just segregate men and women onto different continents so nobody gets harassed ever. (And let's eliminate racism by separating be race too).

      In all seriousness I suspect that a lot of harassment is just a manifestation of some people's innate inclination to be jerks. At best you can direct it away from women and towards some other 'other'.

    2. And to counter with a little less hyperbole, if what kind of harassment would it be if she's harassed over her choice to sit next to me and take the chance of being (sexually) harassed?

    3. 1. I don't see anyone here advocating locking her in a basement?
      2. The point, as stated above, was not to say that everyone should desire these standards - only that society's failure to recognize these standards for what they are is frustrating. Our world could learn something from these strictures.

    4. 1. My point was that there are many ways to prevent a woman from getting harassed that the woman is likely to find more unpleasant than the (possibility or even actual) harassment so achieving that goal is by no means a measure of success.

      2. Society objects to these standards, or at least the way they are reported, because it always comes off as leading to the sanctimonious (man) inconveniencing others in the name of his own high standards. In this case we're talking about a very short flight -- he couldn't put on a sleep mask and say tehillim to himself for an hour? I'm sure there is selection bias here -- I'll bet you in most cases there's a polite request, a friendly seat switch (or not), and no news story for people to comment on. Those that truly value this stricture are probably willing to pay for an upgrade to an easily tradable seat even if they cannot afford to buy a whole row.

    5. That's like saying that since I might get shot at walking through downtown Detroit the cops should arrest me so as to avoid that situation.

    6. Garnel -
      No, it's like saying that the prospective shooter should not be allowed to carry a gun. Remember - the onus is on him.

    7. The guy who wants to avoid becoming a shooter could simply choose not to carry a gun (or walk around with his hands tied behind his back); instead he is insisting everyone else wear heavy body armour and stay out of his way.

    8. Yannai-
      That's not the law speaking; that's him speaking. See #1 in my original post.

  11. I was, without question deliberately, body-checked off a sidewalk in Jerusalem by a "gentleman" wearing black-hat Orthodox garb (and although it is not my usual custom to do so at home, I was dressed in full accordance with Orthodox modesty guidelines including covered hair). Is this supposed to be an example of how much better I'd be treated in religious Jewish society than in American secular society?

    1. You have my sympathy.

      But R' Torczyner didn't claim it doesn't happen in the Orthodox community, but that it happens far less often.

      And I didn't counter-claim that indeed this kind of sin does happen comparatively as often. Just that it's not producing a statistically better population. (But that holy few are truly inspiring, from the saintly rabbi to the 24x6 gemach volunteer!)

      What we are on a broad statistical level is a culture in which the miscreants are forced to find less public ways to harass people, so that yes, stories like yours happen -- but are indeed more rare than otherwise.

    2. Very sorry to hear it; that's terrible. But R' Micha is correct regarding my assertion.

  12. R. Torzcyner, you are also assuming that repressing what is considered to be normal contact in general society (i.e. men's sitting next to women and other strictures) would help with sexual safety, rather than create a repressed environment in which the lack of outlets may make those problems worse and risks objectifying people as purely sexual. It's the law of unintended consequences. Whatever happened to the Golden Mean? I agree that Western society is hyper-sexualized, and that unbridled expressions of sexuality have created a situation in which people feel empowered to do things that decades ago would only be done behind closed doors. But I fail to see how inhibiting every-day human contact is going to help.

    1. Joseph-
      Indeed, that's the problem I was referring to in my 10:58 AM response to Avi. Perhaps I should have included it in the post; I felt it was a separate point.

  13. His request had absolutely nothing to do with women's sexual safety, period.

    Canadian society already has laws against physical contact without consent. Sexually assault is considered deviant and criminal behavior. Legally, the laws are becoming more stringent - the age of consent has been raised, the Supreme Court of Canada has made it clear that consent must be explicit and cannot be given by someone who is unconscious, and various professional bodies have clear policies that prohibit sexual relations in situations where there may be an abuse of trust (for example, a psychiatrist who sleeps with a patient will lose his or her license).

    The risk of a woman being sexually assaulted at her seat on a small commercial flight is remote.

    The halacha (Jewish law) addresses additional prohibitions, which are not related to safety:

    1. Leviticus 18:19 prohibits a man from coming near a woman in niddah to uncover her nakedness. The Rambam concludes that touching with sexual intent is included in this prohibition. There are others who rule more strictly and prohibit ALL touching, whether sexual or not.

    2. There is a separate commandment that prohibits men from "spilling seed". Since the temptation to masturbate is so strong, some advise men to avoid doing anything that could possibly lead to sexual desire.

    These additional prohibitions have nothing to do with protecting women from unwanted sexual contact or attention. In fact, men who find themselves in a constant struggle to avoid any sexual thoughts or masturbation may start to view women primarily as sources of temptation to sin, rather than as human beings. This leads to hate, not respect.

    While I certainly hope that this is an exception, I was appalled to read the words of a young, newly religious man who coped with sexual thoughts by calling his former girlfriend (who had been a young teen at the time) "whore" and "slut" in his head, and thinking of women as literally being pieces of meat.

    1. Law Mom-

      I agree with you that "men who find themselves in a constant struggle... may start to view womn primarily as sources of tempation to sin, rather than as human beings." I agree that this is a problem, and it is what I was referring to in my comment to Avi at 10:58 AM, above.

      But I find the rest of your comment difficult:
      1. I would not claim to mindread the individual involved, but the law is indeed about sexual safety. And while it is true that the laws you cherry picked are not about sexual safety, other laws are, such as the license to execute a rapist who is caught in the act, and the yichud prohibition against being alone with someone of the opposite gender who is not your spouse.

      2. It is good that Canada has created laws in its own attempt to police sexual safety, but the track record isn't very good. See, for example.

      3. As far as the presumption of safety at her seat on a small commercial flight, I don't know why that should be true?

      4. While the words of the fellow in that forum post are appalling, I'm not sure why that's relevant? Surely you know I could bring thousands of posts that show appalling language from people who don't follow such rules?

    2. There are indeed laws within Judaism that do provide protection. For example, halacha is very clear that a husband cannot force his wife to be intimate, which is something that Canadian law did not recognize until 1983.

      In your original post, you wrote:

      "In truth, separating men and women is simply a barrier against sexual impropriety - a woman might make the same request for a man to move.
      Of course, society as a whole doesn't view sitting next to someone as a sexually charged situation - but society as a whole has an abysmal track record for sexual safety."

      I was pointing out that in this case, the halacha on avoiding touching someone of the opposite sex isn't primary about protecting women from non-consensual contact. The "sexual impropriety" in question relates to avoiding "approaching" a woman in niddah, and avoiding the temptation to spill seed.

      Since this was a case where it was the man who requested the seat change, what was the risk to the woman's sexual safety? Are you suggesting that he would have felt an uncontrollable urge to sexually assault her at her seat if he happened to have some accidental contact?

      Laws that exist in theory will always be different from how human beings act in the real world. This is true for both religious and criminal laws. You have suggested that in this case, the halacha regarding close contact in casual situations (ie. not contact for a romantic purpose) provides women with an increased amount of sexual safety. I don't see any objective proof for that claim. Someone who is willing to violate criminal law by committing a sexual assault might not be constrained by halacha either. I'm also concerned that there are other aspects of halacha that can have the effect of increasing the risk to safety. For example, the Agudath Israel's statement on the need to seek rabbinic approval prior to reporting suspected child abuse ( is problematic and can interfere with the proper reporting and investigation of child sexual abuse.

    3. Law Mom-
      Thanks for clarifying, but:
      1. On what basis do you say that the laws against touching have anything to do with niddah? I agree that they are partly about spilling seed, but I believe they are also about her protection - and yes, that he would have an impulse to touch her in a sexual way.

      2. As I indicated in my previous response to you, this sort of inappropriate contact is common in this world, municipal law notwithstanding. To offer another resource: MacLeans ( says that 28% of Canadians report having been sexually harassed at work. Municipal laws provide insufficient protection.

      3. I am not clear on why you say that municipal laws which are not observed provide safety, while halachah which is not observed does not provide safety? To my mind, both of them would provide safety if they were followed.

      4. And as with your previous closing web reference to the "Guard Your Eyes" blog, I again don't understand the relevance of your closing web reference, this time to Agudath Israel on child abuse. I didagree with their stand, but what does it have to do with the case at hand?

  14. Any time that I've asked about or looked up the source for the shomer negiah rule, I've been referred to the laws of niddah. Specifically, #161 and #175 on this version of Ramban's list of 613 mitzvot:

    I'm not a rabbi, and am certainly open to learning more if there are different sources.

    Threats to sexual safety generally come from people who are known to the victim, and it's more common for abuse or assaults to take place in private. I'm not suggesting that Canada is a utopia where laws have magically made all problems disappear. I am suggesting that the current criminal laws make it clear that non-consensual physical contact is a crime, and that public attitudes are increasingly viewing it as a serious crime. That doesn't mean that everybody will follow the law. It does mean that sexual abuse and sexual assault is regarded as criminal and deviant behavior by the general public.

    Again, how do additional rules on consensual touch or accidental non-sexual contact provide any more protection than the existing rules against non-consensual touch? The whole issue with sexual violence is that the perpetrators don't follow the existing rules/laws, they target people close to them, they target those who are seen as vulnerable, and they hide what they do. In both general society and in the Jewish community, victims are often reluctant to come forward. The perpetrator may be in a position of trust, they may fear that they will not be believed, they may feel ashamed, they may fear an invasive investigation. To truly compare the effect of halacha on sexual safety, you would need a reliable way to gather data confidentially from women, in a setting where they felt comfortable enough to be honest.

  15. Hi Law Mom,

    1. The prohibition regarding a niddah, which applies whether married or single, is against sexual relations. However, I believe the “harchakah” prohibitions which ban other forms of contact, lest one engage in sexual relations, are specific to husband and wife. The prohibitions against contact – “shomer negiah” – are out of concern for spilling seed, as you mentioned, as well as concern for him taking advantage of her.

    2. I agree that these crimes are more likely to occur in private, but that is hardly a statement that they do not occur in public, with or without criminalization; see my previous reply.

    3. To answer your question re: what these rules add: They create an additional barrier to contact. It is not foolproof. And as you and other commenters have noted, this added barrier can also have negative consequences. But that is what the rules add, to my mind.

  16. There are only a couple of examples where additional barriers to contact would actually help prevent unwanted contact.

    You could argue that some rules of yichud are useful, simply for sending out a red flap that certain situations could pose a risk. If the default is that a man will always make sure that he's not alone with a girl, then deviating from that would set off alarm bells.

    The other possibly useful rule would be refraining from most physical contact when it involves a position of trust. I've seen this in general society in some situations - for example, staff at a daycamp were advised that no physical contact was permitted with campers, period. (I think that was overkill, but understand the paranoia behind the rule.) A counselor, a rabbi, an employer, a teacher - these are all examples where someone could be intimidated by touch that slowly seems to cross the line.

  17. funny no one has mentioned Sota 22b:

    There are seven types of Pharisees... (3) the “bruised” Pharisee, who to avoid looking at a woman runs into walls...

    Nothing new under the sun(wing).