Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, the spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, N..J., is no stranger to controversy. His statements have been condemned by the Orthodox Union, the Rabbinical Council of America and the Anti-Defamation League. As a former judge on the Beth Din of America, he has held some of the most prominent positions in modern Orthodoxy.
Pruzansky recently authored a blog post asserting that in many cases, women who report being raped on college campuses are leveling false allegations because they felt spurned by their romantic partners or were intoxicated at the time.
“If indeed there was a ‘rape culture’ on American campuses,” writes Pruzansky, “no intelligent woman would want to attend college. The fact that more women attend college today than men itself belies the accusation.”
Pruzansky failed to acknowledge that one in five women will report being assaulted during their time on a college campus. Rape and sexual assault are happening. While Pruzansky might want to pretend his words only apply to those engaged in the “hookup culture” or that those who adhere to “traditional morality” are immune from assault, Orthodox women might disagree.
Sarah Robinson, a Stern College alumna and a student in Yeshiva University’s graduate program in advanced Talmudic studies, boldly spoke out on the issue in The Observer, Stern’s newspaper.
“Our campus culture [at Yeshiva University] does not support victims of sexual violence,” she said. “It is immature and ignorant to think that consent doesn’t apply to students who are “shomer negiah” (someone who refrains from physical contact with members of the opposite sex.). Marital rape happens all the time. There are so many women who want to say no but don’t know how.”
Robinson added: “Rape can happen to anybody. Generally, rape occurs between two known parties. Shomer negiah doesn’t protect against rape.”
As Passover approaches, we are ready to say dayenu, enough.
On June 26, Pruzansky’s synagogue will host a daylong conference of Jewish educators with participants from more than 30 Orthodox yeshivas, day schools, publishers, youth groups and synagogues.
The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance is asking those attending to make clear that their sponsorship and participation is contingent on Pruzansky not speaking at the conference. We are asking people to reach out to partnering organizations with which they are affiliated.
Pruzansky’s insensitivity and failure to understand the violent and vicious nature of rape, confusing it with unsatisfying sex and “unrequited love,” indicates he should not be in a position to preach about values we want to pass on to our children.
Sharon Weiss-Greenberg is executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.