It is inevitable that at some point in one’s learning one will encounter a statement(s) of Chazal and/or Rishonim that seems out of line with one's own moral compass. How is one to square what Chazal or the Rishonim teach with one’s own sense of justice and fairness? The solution to these type questions will generally fall into one of three categories: 1) denial of the validity of our moral compass, usually accompanied by the argument that our moral compass is influenced (or corrupted, depending on how strongly one wants to formulate this position) by Western thought, which the Torah transcends; 2) denial of the superiority of Chazal’s moral virtue, usually accompanied by the arguments that Chazal were influenced by their own cultural and social mores as well as the fact that their moral teachings are not absolutely binding in the same sense halacha is; 3) attempts to bridge the gap by contextualizing Chazal or showing that our own moral compass is not absolutely at odds with their moral teaching. Many on the right show more sympathy than I do for the first approach; many on the left show more sympathy for the second. My preference is for the third approach.
So much for the general; I want to focus on the specific problem of Rashi’s attitude towards rape. The Torah in Ki Teitzei distinguishes between two different cases of sexual assault: the case of rape in the field, where there are no onlookers, and the case of a supposed assault that takes place in the city. In the latter case, since the woman did not cry out for help (when such help would have been available), the assumption is that she consented to the act taking place and she is punished along with her attacker. Commenting on the description of the attacker “finding her in the city,” Rashi (22:23) writes that it is the very fact that this woman wandered out into the city that invited the situation. Rashi’s comment here brings to mind his comment on the episode of Dina’s rape, “VaTeitzei Dina bas Leah,” (Braishis 34:1) where he explains that Dinah did not act as Ya’akov’s daughter should, as she "went out", and therefore precipitated the situation.
Is this not blaming the victim? While the case could be made that the woman our parsha is speaking about is not a victim, as her lack of protest indicates consent – she is an adulteress – yet it is still noteworthy that she alone and not her male partner is criticized for inviting the opportunity for such a liaison to take place. Furthermore, the Netzi"v explains that the command, "V'la'na'ara lo ta'aseh davar," not to punish the woman in a case of rape in the field, is necessary because although this is a clear case of "ones," unwilling sin, without the pasuk one might have thought the woman should receive some punishment for being out of the home. Certainly Dina was a victim, and she is criticized. Is one to be blamed for being mugged, or does the guilt lay at the muggers feet alone?
One approach to understand Rashi, taking option #3, is to contextualize his comments. “Going out” to the city in Tanach was not the same as a woman taking the subway to Manhattan today. Our parsha tells us that Amoni and Moavi men may not marry into Bnei Yisrael because of their failure to show compassion to Bnei Yisrael by bringing them food and drink when Bn”Y were in desperate straits. Why do the women escape blame? Chazal explain that women did not venture out of the home, therefore they cannot be blamed for not going out with food. We see that kol kvudah bas melech pnima is not limited to the Jewish people, but was part of the value system of antiquity (my wife gets the credit for this observation). A woman “going out” alone would have been promiscuous behavior, inviting an “accident” to happen.
I would like to suggest a different approach, or maybe another layer to the previous one. Robert Mnookin, director of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, in one of his books draws a distinction between consequences and blame. Mnookin writes that when trying to discuss or negotiate while in conflict with another party, the conversation often fails because each side tries to shift the blame to the other party. Who’s at fault overshadows any discussion of what happened and what can be done to correct the situation (sounds like most business meetings : ) Successfully charting a course away from conflict demands shifting the frame of discussion from blame to an exploration of the consequences of each sides behavior, regardless of who is right and who is wrong. If the behaviors that create the conflict can be changed, a settlement can be reached.
Perhaps Rashi’s comments about “going out” need not be taken as a statement of blame, but rather as a statement of consequence. Mnookin (if I recall correctly) does not hesitate in his book to say that a person who is mugged contributed to the consequences – but contributing to an event does not mean one is at fault or to be blamed for what happened.
I don’t know if my reading can stand on its own; I think both approaches together make the most sense. What do you think?