While sexual attitudes change over time, controversies relating to sex are ageless. Perhaps as an octogenarian there is a generational gap between me and younger people, but I'm no prude. Based on my belief that consensual sexual relations are a private matter, when it was fashionable to demonize homosexuals, I never discriminated against them, never supported ostracizing those who wished to be otherwise religiously observant, and unhesitatingly employed quite a few.
At the same time, I oppose gays flaunting their sexuality (for example in pride parades) or denigrating the traditional family. They should be free to live their lives as they deem fit but they should not be glorified, as they sometimes are on TV. This only encourages young people to experiment unnecessarily with their own sexuality.
This brings me to the same-sex marriage issue. Marriage implies a heterosexual union. To religious people, it is a uniquely sacred institution. While I fully support equal rights for gays, and they should be encouraged to commit to long-term partnerships, such unions should not be confused with traditional marriage.
The gay marriage debate has descended into bullying and vilifying anyone who dares to defend tradition. But objecting to gay marriage is neither discriminatory nor homophobic.
Putting aside the issues of LGBT rights and gay marriage, an entirely separate and unrelated aspect of the so-called sexual revolution is how we relate to predation and abuse.
People who are otherwise normal sometimes engage in deviant and dark sexual behavior. This may be why medieval rabbis imposed extreme divisions between the genders and obliged women to cover themselves up – to avoid tempting sexual predators. Many men, including rabbis, also regrettably regarded women as sexual objects whose primary role was reproduction.
From the Victorian era – an era of sexual debauchery – to the early 20th century, public display of sexuality was taboo. It is only in the last 60 years that sex has found its way into public discourse.
The early 1960s featured ugly whispers, subsequently confirmed, about the Kennedy brothers' exploits. Since then, exposés regarding the predatory behavior of powerful men have become commonplace.
But the world was shocked when, beginning in the late 1980s, many cases of abuse of children in schools and churches were exposed. Yeshivot were not immune to such abuse. These tragedies were frequently compounded by rabbis who, rather than reporting the incidents, simply transferred the offender to another institution.
New Yorker magazine and The New York Times recently published a number of investigative articles on movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, providing detailed coverage of some of the sexual assaults he had allegedly inflicted on actresses and employees. This triggered a reaction from dozens of women claiming that over a 20-year period, Weinstein had also assaulted them. It also unleashed a flood of harrowing stories of women abused or raped by others in the entertainment world.
Once the issue went public, the media was inundated by a flow of condemnations and moral outrage. Yet many of those now condemning Weinstein had previously been aware of this behavior and silently stood by.
This is a worldwide phenomenon and not restricted to the entertainment industry. The current U.K. government is on the edge of an abyss because a number of cabinet ministers and MPs have been forced to resign after having abused their positions to extract sexual services from underlings.
The overnight exposure of this behavior unleashed hysteria from some women who, after a failed tryst or just seeking publicity, began accusing all and sundry of abuse. In the current climate, the media publicized every accusation. Many were undoubtedly valid. But when Elie Wiesel, of blessed memory, is smeared and unable to defend himself, this is outrageous. A person who has died should not be subjected to such accusations without clear evidence. People who claim to have been abused should be encouraged to immediately report the event, so the courts can swiftly indict or exonerate the alleged offender.
And it is crucial, though sometimes difficult, to distinguish between initiating a relationship, subjecting a person to a tasteless joke or an unwanted touch, and actual coercion.
One thing is clear: An employer should never engage in a sexual relationship with an employee unless both parties first publicly announce their intention to become involved.
If we are to return to a normal society without becoming prudes and enable men and women to coexist naturally, we must also do something drastic with the visual media.
The major sources encouraging such behavior are television, movies and the internet. While movies in Hollywood's earliest years were libertine, from 1934 to 1968 a puritanical production code was enforced. It was even prohibited for a man and woman to be filmed sitting together on a bed.
Today, the pendulum has swung from ridiculous prudishness to quasi-pornography. Movies and TV shows now regularly include detailed depictions of sex. Watching these films with my grandchildren, I feel embarrassed almost to the point where ultra-Orthodox bans on movies and the internet start to make sense.
The shock waves triggered by Weinstein may well spur reform and create a healthier society. A shakeup is needed. The sexual depravity that surrounds us reflects decadence and corruption reminiscent of Sodom and Gomorrah.
We must strive for a society that respects the right to live one's preferred lifestyle without imposing it on others, respects women's rights and harshly punishes abuse.
It's not too late. Most people are sickened by this behavior and will support reform. Traditional Jews should be at the forefront of a public campaign to restore our sanity.