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COVID-19 Lockdown Interview Series: Barbara Thiede

Rabbi Dr. Barbara Thiede

When my university (University of North Carolina, Charlotte) went on spring break March 2, I made the decision to see if I could put all my classes online. Because I also teach online for ALEPH Ordination Programs (a Jewish seminary which ordains rabbis, cantors, and rabbinic pastors), doing so was not as difficult for me as for some of my colleagues. In the meantime, my spouse, Ralf, and I moved roomfuls of furniture around in our little ranch house to accommodate our son and daughter-in-love, who moved out of a tiny one-room studio apartment in Brooklyn, New York,  into our tiny home library (now outfitted with a bed, sitting area, and workspace!).  We joked about how much the room would go for on Airbnb and promptly dubbed it R&B (Ralf and Barbara). We’ve been alternating the cooking, so I’ve been treated to some real culinary variety.

Next, we started a huge project in our backyard, clearing away a veritable mini-forest of dead shrubbery that wisteria had marked, claimed, and devoured, and built three raised garden beds. This also necessitated digging up loads of mulchy dirt, moving it aside, creating the beds, refilling the beds with the dirt and home grown compost, and planting our vegetables. This explains the picture of me lying face down in the grass while our son grins up at his dad. His back is stronger. So far, everything is thriving and we look forward to the first products gracing our table.

For the first weeks, working was very difficult indeed. Finding a routine was challenging. My students have felt the stress and, since we take the time to check in, it is clear to me that they are facing a range of serious issues.  One is a refugee whose mother works at Wal-Mart; another is taking care of an elderly and sickly grandmother. I’ve known what it is to have students in vulnerable situations every semester of my teaching life, but now, I think it is fair to say, they all are vulnerable. One student has a daughter whose best friend died of Covid-19 — she was in her early thirties; another was clearly suicidal and needed connections with health care professionals. Sometimes, I start our check-ins with lighter questions just to relieve the stress: “A package just arrived at your door. It is perfectly safe to open it. What’s inside?” Answers included, of course, masks, cures, vaccine. And they included: “My mom!” “A puppy!” “A boat!”

Which aspects of your work past and present might be particularly interesting for supporters of the Shiloh Project?

My current book, Male Friendship, Homosociality, and Women in the Hebrew Bible: Malignant Fraternities, treats a set of texts that  demonstrate how male friendship depends on women’s bodies for its creation and sustenance. I am also preparing a paper for SBL entitled “Gang Rape, Murder, and Dismemberment in Judges 19-21 and Little Bee: How Biblical and Modern Authors Inflict Moral Injury.”

How are you bearing up and what’s helping you most? Am I behind in my work? Of course. Do I feel — all the time — that I can’t actually grasp the depth of dislocation the world is experiencing? I do. Do I sometimes resent the “we can get through all this” when so many won’t? Yes. Do I fear that we will not learn the lessons of this experience? I do. Humankind is notoriously insufficient at caring for humanity and the planet it lives on. 
I am bearing up by walking a lot, by gardening as much as I can, and by listening to a lot of Sephardic-Ladino-Iraqi-Turkish music. It reminds me to dance. And I hope and pray for humanity to pay attention to the obvious lesson, here. We share this world unequally. We suffer its pain unequally. We are obliged to flatten that curve, too.

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Holocaust Memorial Day 2020

Today, 27 January, marks Holocaust Memorial Day  and 75 years to the day since the liberation of Auschwitz.[1] The Shiloh Project joins the many people worldwide solemnly marking this momentous day.

While other genocides and other mass human rights violations have occurred and continue to occur, the Holocaust is also singular. The Holocaust, or Shoah,[2] has taken millions of lives and has affected and warped millions more, as well as influenced the course of history, consciousness, scholarship and much, much more. For these reasons and others, it remains important to talk about, to remember and to commemorate the Holocaust if any good at all is to come from this tremendous carnage, in the form, for instance, of recognizing the enormous damage and tragedy that comes from the confluence of discrimination, dehumanisation, unquestioning obedience to authority and terror. This recognition is then, hopefully, taken forward as commitment to preventing any further human rights atrocities.

Given the focus of the Shiloh Project, let us point out, too, that sexual violence carried out as part of the Holocaust is slowly beginning to receive more attention.[3] This is demonstrated, for instance, in the important work of Shiloh member Miryam Sivan. Miryam has presented on sexual abuse in Holocaust literature at the Shiloh conference (see  here and here) and has featured in our series on the 16 Days of Activism (see here).

Last year, Miryam published her novel, Make It Concrete.  (For a review, see here.) This novel tells the story of Isabel Toledo, a strong and independent woman, living in today’s Israel. Isabel has three children, several lovers and works as a ghost writer, recording the narratives of Holocaust survivors. But her life and equilibrium is unsettled by a past that predates her life.

What is most affecting about Miryam’s novel is the feeling of the past bearing down heavily on the present. Her account makes clear that our grandparents’ and parents’ lives and the fear and pain of the past can resonate and reach harmfully into present lives and times. This is worth reminding ourselves of as we reflect today on the Holocaust and on the wars and atrocities and refugees’ fates of our own time: how might what is happening now shape and harm lives in times to come? What can we do better?

Please read Miryam’s novel: Miryam Sivan, Make It Concrete (Brooklyn, NY: Cuidono Press, 2019).

[1] This is not to be confused with Yom HaShoah, commemorated in the Jewish calendar on the 27th day of Nisan. This year, in a grisly coincidence, Yom HaShoah will begin at sundown on 20 April, the birthday of Adolf Hitler.

[2] I have written elsewhere about the names ‘Holocaust’, ‘Shoah’ and ‘Porajmos’, as well as about the problematic practice of ascribing the word ‘Holocaust’ to other grand-scale horrors, e.g. ‘The African Holocaust’ to the HIV and AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa. See Johanna Stiebert, ‘The African Holocaust: What Is In a Name?’ Missionalia 37/2 (2009): 192-209.

[3] For one example, see The Guardian (October 2019),reporting on Nazi atrocities committed against the Sinti and Roma. The article (see here) makes reference to Hermine Horvath’s ‘unusually explicit’ account of sexual abuse perpetrated by an SS leader.

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UN 16 Days of Activism: Day 6 – Barbara Thiede

I teach full-time in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina Charlotte and serve as the Program Director for our department’s graduate program. I am also an ordained rabbi and teach for ALEPH – Alliance for Jewish Renewal.

In both settings, I teach a range of courses focused on gender, power, class, and race. These fall, broadly, into two categories. As a historian of Jewish history, I teach the history of European antisemitism and the marketing of the Holocaust. As a biblical scholar, I teach a wide range of courses that focus on gender, power, and violence in the Hebrew Bible. I am currently writing a full-length monograph entitled Male Friendship, Homosociality and Women in the Hebrew Bible. I am also working on a volume for the Routledge series “Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible” entitled Rape in the House of David: A Company of Men.

Writing about causes I support has been a significant part of my activism in public realms, too. For some twenty years I wrote for a regional section of The Charlotte Observer as well as for the Observer’s Viewpoint page as a community editorial columnist. Here, I was able to address a range of issues, from domestic violence and sexual assault to antisemitism and racism. Likewise, my blog, Adrenalinedrash, includes writing on sexual violence, racism, and antisemitism from a rabbinic perspective.

From my earliest days at UNC Charlotte, when I created the first women’s group for addressing eating disorders, to my campus involvement today in our annual Sex Week, addressing the very real concerns of my students has been one of my primary goals. One in every four of my female students will be the victim of sexual assault during their undergraduate careers. While teachers of Religious Studies regularly engage with class, gender, race, sexuality, and ability, classroom conversations are often detached from the rape culture that surrounds them. But the rape culture of the Hebrew Bible is familiar to my students for a reason; like today’s rape cultures, it relies on a web of male friendships, alliances, and social relationships that are essential to its preservation. In the classroom we can analyze how hegemonic masculinity that supports rape culture works both in ancient texts and in contemporary settings. And we can talk about what must be done to change the statistics and make college campuses safe for women.

Though I am involved with efforts to combat racism and gun violence as a speaker and rabbi, much of my activism has centered on working with local church and civic groups. For almost two decades, I have regularly addressed sexual violence and hegemonic masculinity in the Hebrew Bible in a wide range of denominational settings. Because biblical authors present sexual violence against women as permissible, we need to interrogate the texts we hold sacred.

I participate in marches and rallies and speak for a host of causes I support – from protecting voting rights to winning citizenship for undocumented immigrants to saving our broken planet. And I have found that my greatest impact takes place in classroom, faith, and community education. There, I can develop relationships, open doors, unpack a conversation, and empower those I am working with – from the eighteen-year-old college students to eighty-year-old grandmothers. We are all needed in the struggle against rape culture.

Between now and the 16 days I will be helping students at UNCC with the organization of this year’s Sex Week (sexual violence is a key topic), writing a piece for my blog on the male alliances that support rape culture in both the Hebrew Bible and our own time, and working with a full class of students who are writing their final papers – almost all of which center on sexual violence in Hebrew Bible. Teaching in two different academic settings, spending many Sunday mornings with faith groups, and writing offer me opportunities to address and confront the rape cultures we must combat and eradicate. And in our time.

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Religion and Gender Journal: Call for Manuscripts for Special Issue on Religion, Gender and Violence

Religion and Gender Journal

Call for Manuscripts for Special Issue on Religion, Gender and Violence

The journal Religion and Gender invites article proposals for a special issue on Religion, Gender and Violence. The relationship between religion and violence is highly contested and has come under considerable scrutiny by scholars of religion.  Less understood is the relationship between gender, religion and violence and this special issue aims to contribute to understandings of the ways in which religion intersects with institutional, familial and public gendered violence as explored through current research via an interdisciplinary lens.

With the current roll out of public inquiries into institutional child sexual abuse across Ireland, England and Wales, Scotland, Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, it is clear that at a global level, it is religious organizations that have had the most widespread and highest levels of abuse against children with characteristically poor institutional responses to victims and their families. Public inquires have clearly established that religious organizations made strategic decisions to limit reputational damage at the cost of child safety and the implications of this for religious institutions is yet to be fully understood.

Violence against women and children in domestic settings where religion is a significant factor has also been the subject of ongoing and recent research indicating that there are specific issues at play for women and children in experiencing and reporting abuse and how it is managed by faith traditions. In important public debates on the status of gender diversity and difference, for example the marriage equality issue, there have been forceful responses to vulnerable cohorts from religious leaders, in social media and religious publications.

At the same time, there has been an important counter discourse articulated by religious groups around building religious and social capital that contributes to a pluralist understanding of the value of multi-religious societies and gender diversity. These discourses, most often articulated by more liberal religious groups but also increasingly by mainstream faith traditions, utilize the language of social justice and theological interpretation to construct narratives of gender inclusion and equity. This brings faith traditions into conflict within themselves over the framing of gender relations for the new century.

For this special issue, we invite manuscripts that address this convergence from a variety of perspectives on the function and meaning of gender, religion and violence and its counter-discourses.

The editors are particularly interested in receiving manuscripts that showcase empirical research that address, but are not limited to, the following areas and/or questions:

o What role does gendered violence play in mainstream religious groups re maintenance of the faith tradition?
o How are the impacts and experiences of gendered violence managed by religious organisations with regard to pastoral care and processes of remediation?
o Who are the victims of gendered violence in religious organisations?
o In what ways can feminist theory and theology contribute to and expand understandings of religion, gender and violence?
o What role does non-religion and/or secularity play in relation to responding to and managing the disclosure of violence in religious organisations.
o How well do public inquiries address gendered religious violence and what are the impacts on religious organisations with respect to particular case studies?

Submissions should be between 5000 and 8000 words in length (including abstract, footnotes and references). See Brill’s page for further information on submitting an article https://brill.com/view/journals/rag/rag-overview.xml Affiliation and email address should be supplied in the first submission. In order to guarantee a blind review process, all submissions should be anonymized with the name of and references to the author removed from the text. We are happy to receive inquiries about prospective submissions.

Please send all queries to the special issues editors:

Kathleen McPhillips, University of Newcastle, Australia

Email: Kathleen.mcphillips@newcastle.edu.au

Sarah-Jane Page, Aston University, Birmingham, UK

Email: s.page1@aston.ac.uk

SUBMISSION DATES

15 January 2020: Abstract Submission

15 August 2020: Full manuscript submission

 

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Shiloh Project Research Day Report

Mmapula Kebaneilwe (University of Botswana) is a womanist biblical scholar and project partner for an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) grant entitled ‘Resisting Gender-Based Violence and Injustice ThroughActivism with Bible Texts and Images’.

Her recent research visit brought her to Yorkshire, where both the project’s principal investigator (Johanna Stiebert, University of Leeds) and co-investigator (Katie Edwards, University of Sheffield) are based. All three, together with co-lead of the Shiloh Project Caroline Blyth (University of Auckland), who is spending part of her sabbatical at the University of Leeds, organized a research day at the University of Leeds.

The aim of the day was to bring together a diverse group of researchers and practitioners who all engage with some aspect of confronting, understanding and reducing the prevalence of gender-based and/or sexual violence. All share experience of working on or with victims and survivors of gender-based violence; all share a commitment to and drive for facilitating information, practical help or healing; all are open to opportunities for effective collaboration and networking between academic and public sectors.

The Shiloh Project is a collaboration of scholars and activists and was launched in early 2017. It seeks to explore and promote ways for better understanding the dynamics and intersections between religion, the Bible, gender-based violence and rape culture. This is in acknowledgement that matters of religion and faith have diverse and profound impact on human interactions the world over – including when it comes to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. Such impact was amply borne out by all participants in the research day on 25 March 2019, which was attended by 20 active participants. The research day was co-sponsored by the AHRC and the Centre for Religion and Public Life. It represents one of several Shiloh Project initiatives.

Here is a quick summary of participants and organizations. Each participant, or participant pair, gave a summary and introduction to their work and expertise.

Angela Connor and Esther Nield represented the Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) team of the Hazlehurst Centre in West Yorkshire. Angela is the Hazlehurst Centre manager and Esther works in the Centre as a crisis worker. SARC provides acute service (for up to seven days post incident). The SARC is commissioned by the National Health Service (NHS) and Police to provide forensic healthcare, alongside free support and practical help to anyone in West Yorkshire who has experienced sexual violence or abuse. The majority of victims (around 80%) are referred by the Police. The majority are white women under the age of forty but the service is available to anyone, for no charge, irrespective of age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or immigration status. The Centre strives to become more accessible to diverse demographics and nurses take pride in providing sensitive expert care.

Misbah Ali (Legal Assistance and Senior Development Worker) and Michelle O’Neill (Senior Capacity Builder and Recovery Worker) together represented Staying Put, a charity providing gender-sensitive services for men and women in the wider Bradford area of Yorkshire who experience abuse from a family member or intimate partner in a domestic setting. The charity attends to about 1200 to 1400 users per year. They work with situations in the area of domestic violence, intimate partner violence and forced marriage and assist in reducing victimization, preventing domestic homicide and facilitating domestic safety and security. The organization fulfills diverse services – including providing information about female genital mutilation (FGM), conducting family interventions, issuing legal advice, evidence gathering, support for attending court, as well as practical and emotional support. Their Freedom Programme operates in several languages (Urdu, English and Polish). Misbah and Michelle reported on the relative frequency of ‘spiritual abuse’ – that is, abuse attributed to possession, witchcraft and djinns, for instance. The told the group that they come across such matters more and more often but do not always feel adequately trained to address some religious justifications of violence.

Ziona Handler is the Manchester keyworker for Jewish Women’s Aid (JWA), working for and with victims of abuse in Jewish communities across all of the North of England. JWA is a registered charity and Ziona is emphatic that Jewish communities are as affected as other communities when it comes to the spectrum of domestic violence, which encompasses physical, sexual, psychological, economic, spiritual and cultural abuse. In terms of recognizing and addressing such abuse and supporting victims, many of the strategies detailed by representatives of Staying Put resonated with Ziona. But she also pointed out that some matters are bespoke to Jewish communities and best supported by a Jewish practitioner. (The SARC representatives mentioned that they had never, knowingly, assisted a Jewish victim of sexual assault, in spite of West Yorkshire having a sizable Jewish community. This might indicate that Jewish women have preference for groups such as JWA.) Ziona reported that the average period of suffering prior to reporting is a shocking 11.5 years in Jewish communities. JWA offers a variety of core services – including a helpline, client support, counseling, therapy, the Dina Project (a response to #MeToo), children’s therapy and an educational outreach programme that visits schools, synagogues and universities. JWA has launched a Safer Dating campaign in universities and training to address Lad Culture. The charity also has a toilet door campaign (placing stickers bearing information about accessing help from JWA on toilet doors) and provides input and training for non-Jewish groups working with victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

Rabbi Dr Deborah Kahn-Harris is a former congregational rabbi and university chaplain and is now Principal of Leo Baeck College, a rabbinical seminary and centre for training of teachers in Jewish education. Leo Baeck College represents primarily members of Reform Judaism and Liberal Judaism and the institution also trains and ordains women and members of the Jewish LGBT+community. Deborah facilitates training from JWA and stresses that even in progressive communities – where the expectation might be that topics such as ‘consent’ are widely discussed and understood – such training remains essential. Deborah pointed out that low-level microagressions persist – often very publicly – and that biblical and rabbinic texts, which continue to be plumbed and interpreted, have the potential to propel abusive ideas and actions. In a tradition with ancient roots, where ancient texts continue to be given authority, the possibility of internalizing damaging attitudes is considerable. But, as Deborah pointed out, Jewish tradition also offers tremendous scope for critical thinking, debate and resistance. In response to a question from Angela Connor about Jewish attitudes to emergency contraception, Deborah was able to demonstrate this versatility, with recourse to a range of Jewish texts reflecting multiple viewpoints.

Sam Ross is a WRoCAH (White Rose College of the Arts & Humanities) funded PhD candidate in the School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science (University of Leeds). His provisional thesis title is ‘Queering the Ketuvim: Queer Readings of Representations of Pain and Trauma in Biblical Hebrew Poetry’. Sam has particular interest in trauma research – not least, because the LGBTQ community is particularly vulnerable to discrimination, abuse and prejudice. Sam is using the Bible both because of its persistent influence in faith and secular contexts and because it offers stories that address pain and trauma head-on. His plan is to fuse biblical criticism and autoethnography to explore queer individual suffering (through the book of Job), and queer communal suffering (through the book of Lamentations). Sam also highlighted the particular vulnerability of the trans community and the abusiveness of the so-called ‘trans debate’ in targeting trans persons as aggressors and predators when they are, in actuality, far more often victims of violence, including sexual violence. Representatives from Staying Put confirmed Sam’s point by stating that even professionals are sometimes abusive towards trans persons, citing instances where trans women have been denied access to women’s refuges, with no offer of any alternative help, even when they were at acute risk.

David Smith is Victims Services Commissioning and Third Sector Adviser at the West Yorkshire’s Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner. David has worked in third sector and local government for several decades and has expertise in the area of strategy, planning and policy development. That is, he has expertise in making actions effective. David’s role is to commission support services around domestic abuse and sexual violence. These are usually funded at (increasingly cash-strapped) local and regional levels. David’s work is focused on policy and he has an informed interest also in the language of his subject – such as the language of the victim’s code and witness charter. He agrees that the terminology around sexual violence – of ‘victims’, ‘perpetrators’ and ‘complainants’ –is problematic. He is supportive of the position statement being more inclusive now in its language of violence against men. Male victims, he stresses, are a significant part of the agenda – something which should not take away from the very serious issues facing women and girls. David’s policy-focused perspective was a fascinating one.

Adriaan van Klinken (University of Leeds) is Director of the Centre for Religion and Public Life and an academic working in the areas of religion and public life, gender and sexuality, especially in contemporary Christian contexts of countries in southern and eastern Africa (predominantly, Zambia and Kenya). He is about to embark on a project working closely and collaboratively with Ugandan LGBT refugees in Kenya through using story telling and life stories as a tool for creative and liberating self-expression as well as a research strategy. As Adriaan points out, violence is central in the lives of LGBT people, as well as in the lives of refugees. This violence, moreover, is multi-dimensional and can include religious violence, political violence and police violence.

Sarah-Jane Page (Aston University) is a sociologist of religion. She researches, among other topics, attitudes and practices around sexuality and how these are negotiated in relation to religious tradition. She spoke about two current projects. The first – in the very early stages – examines the Church of England inquiry into child sex abuse. She is focused especially on how organizational and institutional structures serve to enable abuse, as well as in the hierarchies and class dimensions at work in this. Her second project is ethnographic and partly funded by the British Academy. This project looks at varieties of activism, ranging from silent prayer to displays of graphic imagery, outside of abortion clinics. She is especially interested in the reactions and responses to these forms of activism, both from religious and secular sources.

Gordon Lynch (University of Kent) has conducted long-term research and public engagement activities on the history of UK child migration programmes. These programmes, responsible for sending some 100,000 children to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Zimbabwe, resulted in extensive and sustained abuse, which only came to light much later. He has also served as expert witness under instruction to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. Gordon’s work has served to raisepublic awareness about historic abuse. He has, for instance,contributed to and organized museum exhibitions, musical performances, and TrueTube films, alongside his many academic publications. Gordon highlighted the dysfunctional relationships between government offices and organizations, including the competing interests, fragmentations and difficulties in terms of challenging groups involved in the networks facilitating migration at the various stages. All of these enabled the abuse to go on for very many years. Moreover, regarding organizations overseen by the Catholic Church, monitoring was minimal,due to assumed ‘bonds of trust’. Gordon asked what it is about religious organizations that exempted them from scrutiny. What permitted the religious exceptionalism that saw the suspension of so many otherwise widely adopted recommendations? When the usual recommendation was to advise that children be adopted, fostered, or raised in small-scale residential units, why were exceptions made by national policy makers to permit religious institutions to run large, understaffed orphanages where abuse was able to thrive?

Sema Khan represented Barnardos, a long-established charity that protects and supports above all vulnerable children and young people, as well as parents and carers. She is based in Bradford where Barnardo’s has a family support and a child sexual exploitation (CSE) team. Semareports that more children on the autistic spectrum and more boys and young men are seeking help to address emotional needs, including the help of recovery groups following sexual exploitation. Sema explained, too, that Barnardo’s is less pronouncedly Christian in focus than it has been historically. It has a diverse staff and works for a diverse community, including many Syrian refugees and asylum seekers.

Saima Afzal has worked in all of research, consultancy, local government and community development, particularly in matters to do with religion, gender and South Asian communities of Lancashire and Yorkshire. She is an elected councillor for Blackburn. Saima has conducted research on child sexual exploitation in South Asian communities of the UK, on sexuality in Islam, and on police stop and search powers against minority ethnic communities. Saima has founded her own community interest group called SASRIGHTS CIC (see also Saima Afzal Solutions). She works as a freelance criminologist and has served as expert witness for cases involving domestic abuse, forced marriage and so-called “honour”-based killing. She has received an MBE for her services to policing and community relations.

Bob Balfour is founder of Survivors West Yorkshire(SWY), formerly called One In Four (North). SWY is action-oriented and works in supporting survivors of sexual abuse. Prominently included in this support are male survivors of sexual abuse. Bob was also instrumental in the creation of Ben’s Place, a West Yorkshire support service for male survivors of sexual abuse, named after Ben, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who took his own life soon after his twenty-third birthday. The mission of Ben’s Place is to deliver specialist support and advice to adult male survivors (i.e. aged 16+) who are ready to disclose experiences of sexual crimes committed against them and who want to access support to explore options for understanding and integrating what was done to them. SWY and Ben’s Place work in partnership with Rape Crisis and challenge the silencing and alienation of survivors. One of Bob’s campaigns is ‘Challenge the Silence’ and he has written for ‘A View From Inside the Box’. Bob has been vigorous in his resistance to denial. He has not only founded support groups and actions, he has published on the topic, devised practical strategies for post-traumatic growth, collaborated with universities as ‘expert by experience’ and in the role of Teacher at Liverpool (paid for by the NHS), and is currently supervising four Clinical Psychology students.

Jo Sadgrove has considerable expertise in the area of faith-based international development – both as an academic researcher and a practitioner. She works part-time as research and learning advisor to the United Society Partners in the Gospel (USPG), an Anglican mission agency engaging in community development and theological education around the world. Jo discussed the imperialist echoes and tendencies of some of the work of USPG but also the ways that being part of such an organization can give access to networks and opportunities for making a difference. Jo’s particular interests are in intersections of religion and health and in Christianity and sexuality in cross-cultural perspectives. Jo talked about workshops she has conducted with perpetrators of gender-based violence, which bring men together to talk about being men and about violence in their lives. She sees great value in working with perpetrators as well as victims of gender-based violence.

Jo has direct experience of We Will Speak Out, a global coalition of churches and Christian NGO’s challenging prevailing patterns of violence.

After presentations from all participants, we had an open discussion to begin to explore ways of collaboration and support. During the coffee and lunch breaks already, representatives from different institutions and organizations had begun to chat in small groups and exchange information, advice, and ask questions.

The following arose in discussion:

There is little available in the way of accessible, succinct and helpful information on the topic of spiritual abuse. More discussion and more research on the topic are required. This would be invaluable for a range of practitioners encountering perpetrators and victims of gender-based violence. (Representatives of Staying Put reported that a defense of spiritual abuse – blaming demons, possession, djinns, or witchcraft for inciting violence, including sexual abuse – comes out with some regularity in one-on-one conversations with both perpetrators and victims.)

More emphasis on prevention is necessary. Often crisis support is the preserve of highly trained effective individuals. But more expertise needs to be invested in recognizing the signs before the tipping point.

Not infrequently – and this is sometimes due to the sheer strain on service providers (something that received repeated mention) – professionals become part of the problem for already vulnerable groups. Sometimes, for instance, there will be insistence (by social welfare or by NGO or charity staff) that service users take a particular training course, with the threat that otherwise their children will be removed. The effect of this can be to alienate already vulnerable people and to deter them from continuing to seek professional help.

Practitioners welcomed the opportunity to meet others working in related areas. They would very much like more work between groups. SARC, for instance, would appreciate information about JWA, to make bespoke help available in their networks targeting vulnerable people in the community at risk of sexual violence.

There was acknowledgement that communities are diverse and that multi-faceted expertise is needed (e.g. from all of police, social services, consultants, charities, etc.) to address gender-based and sexual violence. Again, better communication between different groups is recognized as important.

There was an expression of need for more religious and cultural literacy – and for academics who could providethis in accessible ways.

Practical micro-level and macro-level strategies are required to address the structural problems that facilitate much of the violence on the ground.

David Smith mentioned that he is often looking for research pieces towards capacity building. He recommends that we all register with and join Blue Light Services, to let emergency services know what we can provide.

There was widespread acknowledgement that religious leaders are often obstructive when it comes to addressing domestic situations of violence and abuse. More needs to be done to train religious leaders in gender-sensitive strategies, as well as in encouraging them to facilitate professional advice for their community members – as opposed to attempting to handle delicate and complex matters themselves when they lack the necessary training and expertise.

The Sex and Relationships Education curriculum, to be rolled out September 2020, is likely to lead to a deluge of referrals. Help will be needed urgently to manage these.

Some practitioners predict a backlash to the extent of safeguarding training – a backlash that will include alsotheological and ethical questions. Again, collaboration between practitioners and researchers will be important in addressing these.

All in all, it was a stimulating, thought-provoking and fruitful day. We will take the conversations forward in our ongoing work in Project Shiloh. This was just the start of the conversation, and we hope to sustain it through ongoing collaborations.

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ANNOUNCEMENT: Routledge Focus Book Series on ‘Rape Culture, Religion, and the Bible’

We are delighted to announce our new Routledge Focus book series ‘Rape Culture, Religion, and the Bible’, edited by The Shiloh Project co-directors Caroline Blyth, Katie Edwards and Johanna Stiebert.

Titles are peer-reviewed, short form publications between 20,000-50,000 words, published within 12 weeks of submission.

If you would like to discuss a potential proposal, contact the series editors at shiloh@sheffield.ac.uk

Look out for exciting titles coming later this year!

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UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 14: Deborah Kahn-Harris

Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do? 
a. Name: Rabbi Dr Deborah Kahn-Harris
b. Job: Principal, Leo Baeck College, London, UK (www.lbc.ac.uk)
c. As Principal of Leo Baeck College (LBC), I run the only institution training rabbis for progressive (non-Orthodox) rabbis in the UK and one of only two such seminariesin Europe. I have overall responsibility for the institution, which includes everything from budgets to teaching to managing staff and most points in between. I teach a yearlong course on the megillot – Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther – with a particular emphasis on contemporary methodological and hermeneutical approaches. My personal academic research is focused on feminist interpretations of biblical texts, finding ways of incorporating classical rabbinic hermeneutics with feminist hermeneutics and reader-response theory to create modern midrash. In my teaching practice I am particularly keen that students should draw connections between the ways we read the biblical text and the impact these readings have on our communities. In the context of the Bible and sexual violence, I aim to help students discover and uncover the ways in which biblical depictions of sexual violence might shape both our personal and communal attitudes and approaches to dealing with this issue in the lives of real people.
In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?  
a. During the coming year on the academic front I hope to continue to be able to write about issues relating to the Bible and sexual violence. On the vocational front, I am committed to continuing to ensure that LBC students have training on sexual violence, how to support congregants dealing with sexual violence, and, in particular, to run further workshops (a workshop was already run in the 2017/18 academic year) on the MeToo movement. From a personal perspective, I have recently become a member of Jewish Women’s Aid and hope to find more ways of working with JWA to support their work in the Jewish community.

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UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 10: Miryam Sivan

Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Dr. Miryam Sivan and I am a fiction writer and lecturer in literature at the University of Haifa in Israel. I am originally from New York City and it was growing up on the ‘tough’ city streets that caused my feminist consciousness and inevitable recognition of male predation to be formed. For decades I was involved in Holocaust stories and the silence around sexual violence inflicted on Jewish women during the war always seemed ‘off’ to me. I am not a historian so I did not research primary archival sources to unearth the violence that did occur, but as a literary critic I focused on the threads of this violence as seen in testimonial literature and fiction. My article on the Polish-Israeli writer, Yehiel Dinur, whose early novels were concerned with sexual predation in the concentration camps, was included in Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust. Published in 2010, decades after the war ended! it was the first scholarly volume that dealt with the topic. For many years I have been an Advisory Board member of Remember the Women Institute, dedicated to “including women in history since 1997,” including the exposure and dissection of gender based violence. In 2014 I published a short story collection, SNAFU and Other Stories in which one story, “Traffic,” deals explicitly with this kind of violence. In 14 short vignettes I ‘expose’ scenarios in the various religious and ethnic communities of Israel where women’s bodies are violated not in exceptional ways but in socially ‘common’ ways.  In Israel where there is no separation of religion and state, outdated and misogynistic religious laws still govern women’s lives to a frightening degree.

How do you think the Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to and enrich discussion and action on the topic of gender activism today? Is there more we can do? What else should we post?

I think the Shiloh Project is engaged in important and wonderful work. I think your range of articles is extensive and highly informative.

In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?

In April 2019 my novel, Make it Concrete, will be published in New York. It is a story about a woman who ghostwrites Holocaust memoirs while her own mother, a Holocaust survivor, will not talk about her war time experiences. To avoid ‘spoilers’ I won’t give any more details, but I can say that sexual violence and its repercussions play a critical role in the unfolding narrative drama.

I will continue to include in my curriculum, particularly in my Literature of the Holocaust course, literary texts that deal openly with sexual violence. In my Israel Stories course (both these courses are in the International School of the University of Haifa – with students from many countries) we read texts and watch films that directly show how religious Jewish law blatantly and unapologetically discriminates against women.

In addition, I am working on a screenplay about a sexual predator and the atmosphere of male privilege which is part and parcel of patriarchal religions and the societies they are a part of will be highlighted and critiqued.  

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The White Ribbon Campaign and Domestic Violence in Jewish Communities

Today’s post is by Simon Phillips. Simon is a Community Engagement Officer for West Yorkshire Police and the Director of Interfaith for the Leeds Jewish Representative Council. 

Much of the public discourse of ‘violence’ on the one hand and ‘Jews’ or ‘Judaism’ on the other, focuses on anti-Semitic violence. The gender-based forms of anti-Semitic violence have featured previously in a Shiloh post by Miryam Sivan (see here).

This post, however, looks instead at domestic violence within Jewish communities and at how men and boys can be and are engaged in resisting and bringing an end to gender-based violence.

Simon is actively involved in the White Ribbon Campaign. Please read and get your ribbons ready for 25 November. 

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The White Ribbon Campaign is an increasingly popular campaign to encourage men and boys to take a stand against domestic violence. The Campaign was founded in 2007 and works with men and boys to challenge those male cultures that lead to harassment, abuse and violence.

Some of these cultures incorporate elements of religion and belief, because understandings of domestic violence – including physical, sexual, financial and emotional violence – are influenced, too, by biblical and other scriptural sources. Some examples from Judaism are cited below.

Volunteer ‘ambassadors’ of the Campaign engage with other men and boys towards eliminating domestic violence and to promote, instead, a culture of equality and respect. Men and boys wear white ribbons as a symbol of engagement in the endeavour to end violence against women and girls. This is particularly visible on 25th November, the UN Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Interesting, including from a faith perspective, is that the white ribbon was since its foundation in 1873, the badge of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. The white ribbon was initially selected to symbolize purity. But in this Campaign the white ribbon is a symbol for anti-violence against women, as well as for safe motherhood, and related causes. 

We know that whilst anyone can be at risk of domestic violence, irrespective of cultural or religious background, some forms of violence against women and girls are very much rooted in culture or religion. This includes Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Forced Marriage and Honour-Based Abuse (for a Shiloh post on forced marriage and honour-based violence, see here). 

An estimated 66,000 women living in England and Wales have been subject to FGM. Meanwhile, in 2017 alone, the Forced Marriage Unit gave advice or support related to a possible forced marriage in 1,196 cases. 73% involved female victims. The oldest victim was 100 and the youngest a mere 2 years old. 

In my capacity as White Ribbon Ambassador, I am currently co-ordinating a project with the Leeds Jewish community. This project is funded by the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Safer Communities Fund and is aimed at raising awareness of the Campaign, through engaging with a range of community organisations across the Jewish religious spectrum. 

The project is entitled Shalom Bayit, which is Hebrew and means ‘Peaceful Home’ or ‘Peace in the Home’. The project aims to empower Jewish men and boys to stand up against domestic violence. The term sh’lom beto (Hebrew for ‘peace of his home’) is found in the Talmud and refers to domestic peace in general. Nowadays, it is mostly used with reference to matrimonial peace. Shalom bayit signifies completeness, wholeness, and fulfillment. Hence, traditionally, the ideal Jewish marriage is characterized by peace, nurturing, respect, and chesed (roughly meaning ‘kindness’, or ‘loving-kindness’), through which a married couple becomes complete. It is believed that God’s presence dwells in a pure and loving home. I return to Jewish perspectives on violence in due course.

There are various reasons why abuse might be prevalent in faith communities and these reasons coexist with wider societal beliefs, perceptions and stereotypes about male roles and character traits – such as the stereotype of the man as head of the family who is strong, powerful, a leader, competitive and authoritarian. 

Some of these attitudes and behaviours are reinforced by religious doctrines and have sometimes had devastating consequences, particularly for women and girls. This has led some police forces to consider the introduction of misogyny as a separate strand of hate crime. Faith communities (and I am not confining myself here to Jewish communities) are sometimes characterized by: 

  • attitudes that have potentially damaging impact for reporting abuse within the family or community, e.g. izzat (‘honour’)and sharam (‘shame’, compare Hebrew bushah), and which can lead to social exclusion or victimization;
  • powerful religious/community leaders of ‘closed’ communities who may not always respond in supportive ways to disclosures of abuse, or who put pressure on those in abusive marriages not to leave the marriage (e.g. because marriage is perceived as a divine covenant, or as being for life);
  • scriptures that lend themselves to justifying abusive or controlling behaviour, or to resisting separation/divorce even when a marriage is violent;
  • viewing a degree of violence as ‘acceptable’ or ‘normal’ in some circumstances or settings;
  • a lack of access to accommodation which provides for cultural/religious needs
  • difficulties pertaining to language or literacy, as well as to immigration status or financial resources.

Let me focus again on Judaism. Ironically, Judaism’s emphasis on family life and family values can be the very thing that makes it difficult for women suffering domestic abuse to come forward and ask for help. All too often, Jewish women may remain silent in the face of abuse on account of shame, embarrassment, a feeling of guilt, or of fear that they will not be believed. They may feel alone, that no-one else has experienced what they have and that, somehow, the abuse must be their fault. 

Research undertaken and information disseminated in the last ten years by the dedicated service Jewish Women’s Aid, highlights the scale of the problem and the need for a cross-communal response in dealing with this complex issue. 

The 2011 research, ‘You know a Jewish woman experiencing domestic abuse: Domestic abuse in the British Jewish Community’, reveals the following:

  • 68% of the British Jewish Community believe that abuse happens at the same rate in the Jewish community as in British society at large
  • 62% were not aware of a communal Rabbi publicly addressing the issue but where a Rabbi had, 88% had condemned abuse
  • Synagogues, communal organisations and leaders should do more to educate on the topic of domestic abuse
  • Young women need financial awareness training and post-pregnancy support
  • Jewish experiences should be understood in the context of other Black-Minority Ethnic (BME) community experiences.

Looking back at Jewish Scriptures, acts of sexual assault and abuse against women are regularly viewed in terms of violating male property rights (e.g. Deuteronomy 22:29). The husband is sometimes termed ba’al (‘master’), implying ownership and lordship. If a wife is physically harmed by someone, compensation is paid to her husband (e.g. Exodus 21:22). In the Mishnah and Talmud, too, there is no discussion of wife-beating as a distinct category of violence. Yet there is discussion around immodest behaviour considered worthy of punishment, which includes ‘going out with uncovered head, spinning wool with uncovered arms in the street, [and] conversing with every man’.  

Responsa literature, which includes rabbinic rulings, including on domestic abuse (7th-10th century C.E.), sees some declaring wife-beating unlawful, while others justify it under certain circumstances. Striking a wife without a reason is forbidden by all. However, violence against ‘bad wives’ is justified if it is for ‘educational’ purposes, or if a wife is not performing the duties required of her by Jewish law, or if she behaves immodestly, or curses her parents, husband, or in-laws. 

Moving next to Jewish medieval attitudes in the Muslim World, Rabbi Yehudai b. Nahman (Yehudai Gaon, 757–761) writes that: ‘…when her husband enters the house, [a wife] must rise and cannot sit down until he sits, and she should never raise her voice against her husband. Even if he hits her she has to remain silent, because that is how chaste women behave’ (Otzar ha-Ge’onim, Ketubbot 169–170). Moses Maimonides (1135–1204) recommends beating a ‘bad wife’ as an acceptable form of discipline: ‘A wife who refuses to perform any kind of work that she is obligated to do, may be compelled to perform it, even by scourging her with a rod’ (Ishut 21:10). 

In medieval Europe, attitudes in Jewish writings tend to reflect a Jewish society in which women held comparatively high social and economic status and many writings reject wife-beating without any qualification. Rabbi Peretz b. Elijah, for instance, writes: ‘one who beats his wife is in the same category as one who beats a stranger’. Some Rabbis considered violence as grounds for forcing a man to give a  get (that is, a divorce agreement). Rabbi Simhah argued that like Eve, ‘the mother of all living’ (Genesis 3:20), a wife is given to a man for living, not for suffering. 

Sixteenth century views acknowledge that wife-beating is wrong, yet tend to avoid releasing a woman from a bad marriage and Halakhah (Jewish law) is based on husbands’ dominant position in marriage. In more modern times, too, domestic abuse is not automatic grounds for Jewish divorce. An abused woman whose husband refuses to give her a divorce is considered an agunah, a chained or anchored woman.

The depiction of domestic abuse in Jewish sources through time is, therefore, mixed and sometimes ambiguous. 

The stimulus for my current community project is the partnership between, on the one hand, the Leeds City Council’s Domestic Violence Unit and, on the other, a range of Leeds faith communities. This partnership encourages religious and lay leaders, as well as other members of faith communities, to engage with the White Ribbon Campaign. One way to do this is through posting ‘selfies’ to make participants’ support visible and public. 

Last year in November I organised a roadshow at the Marjorie and Arnold Ziff Community Centre in Leeds to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Along with members of Jewish and other faiths, I sourced quotations from many sacred scriptures to demonstrate that in accordance with portions of sacred text abuse against women and girls isn’t justified or legitimate. Acknowledging, as illustrated above, that in Judaism certainly, scope for ambiguity exists, it is these passages the Campaign seeks to highlight. 

Here are some examples:

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The project seeks to demonstrate that a community-wide response can publicize and challenge domestic violence, alongside informing and empowering those who stand up to it. Shalom Bayit, maintaining peace and harmony in the home, is often seen as primarily a female responsibility, when it needs to be everyone’s responsibility. 

Jewish Women’s Aid does a fantastic job in helping hundreds of women locally and nationally whose lives have been blighted by domestic abuse. But more needs to be done in terms of preventative (rather than just reactive) measures if we are to break the vicious cycle. One way of doing that, I believe, is to engage with men and boys inside the community.

The project is aligned with wider campaigns on domestic abuse led by both Jewish Women’s Aid and the West Yorkshire Police. The funding we’ve secured from the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Safer Communities Fund will go some way towards enabling us to deliver the next phase of the project to a much wider audience over an extended period of time, and in doing so, we will have a much greater impact on both preventing and addressing the key issues surrounding domestic abuse against women and girls.

I would welcome your participation and involvement.

For further information, please contact me at either interfaithljrc@outlook.com, or simon.phillips@westyorkshire.pnn.police.uk

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White Rose Collaboration Fund Project Update

On Wednesday 10th October members of our White Rose Collaboration Fund Project met for an update.

The White Rose Collaboration Fund is designed to support emerging collaborative activities across the three White Rose universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York. Our project focuses on using religious imagery in popular culture to explore and challenge everyday sexism, sexual harassment and abuse together with secondary school students.

In consultation with secondary schools from all three White Rose regions and Fearless Futures, a third-sector organization offering gender equality training for school-age girls, the network will conduct three pilot workshops with secondary school students (girls and boys) to investigate interactions with religious imagery in popular culture and the ways in which these representations shape understandings of gender, sex and sexualities.

Members of the White Rose universities involved in the project include Professor Vanita Sundaram (University of York), Professor Johanna Stiebert (University of Leeds), Dr Katie Edwards (University of Sheffield), Dr Meredith Warren (University of Sheffield), Dr Valerie Hobbs (University of Sheffield), Dr Jasjit Singh (Unversity of Leeds), Dr Caroline Starkey (University of Leeds), Sofia Rehman (University of Leeds), Dr Sarah Olive (University of York) an Emma Piercy (University of York).

As usual, the meeting buzzed with energy, ideas and enthusiasm. We’re very much looking forward to working with our partners Fearless Futures and the local schools. We’ll update again after our training!

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