כן MEANS YES
THE ACTIONS: To do our part in the Jewish world to evolve towards a collective culture of consent we offer the following:
ACTION 1: Yom Kippur - we call on clergy to read our script as a one-minute addition to their Yom Kippur service, laying the foundation for conversations and education that define and teach the nuances of consent.
ACTION 2: The year to follow we will develop and implement consent education curriculum based on Jewish texts for all age groups.
THE CHALLENGE: Consent, what it means to get a real concrete yes when it comes to touch, is not yet part of the dominant modern American Jewish educational lexicon. More often than not we learned our cues from state-sanctioned sex education and mass media culture.
It is time, for our sake and for the sake of our children, for us to look to our own tradition and to teach what it carries.
THE SOLUTION: Harping on ancient Jewish texts we draw a mark, and a model, for what is acceptable. This call lays the foundations for a future culture of consent - teaching the ancient Talmudic nuances of what a real yes looks like, and how to recognize it.
Our hope is that in creating these standards we begin the process of conditioning towards safer sexual encounters, ones that are hinged upon mutual and resounding desire where all voices are heard, and that we, as a strong Jewish community, lead the way for others to do the same.
THE BACKGROUND: Mishneh Torah, Forbidden Intercourse (Issurei Biah), Chapter 21, speaks directly to the idea of consent. In this passage the author lists ways for a partner to approach their beloved. Anger and hatred are prohibited as leads into intimacy, as is proceeding when someone is afraid, when someone says "no," directly, and when one is unable to decipher the difference between a "yes" or a "no." In this Talmudic passage "yes," becomes nuanced, complex, and very important to healthy relations.
The male Talmudists, centuries ago, were in conversation about how to protect vulnerable bodies, and how to make intimacy mutually pleasurable. This is a Jewish value.
THE PLAN: This year at Yom Kippur we are calling synagogues across the country and the world to include the Talmudic conversation around consent. In setting this mark, based in Talmudic law, we open a broad conversation that will set a new standard for what is acceptable, what is safe, and what is loving.
THE FUTURE: Yom Kippur is just the beginning of this work. It is time we speak critically about consent to Jewish children, teenagers, to Jewish adults, to Jewish clergy and to set a trend that lights a path for the rest of America. After September, in 5779, we intend to roll out a new curriculum for adults, teens, kids, teachers and more using Jewish sources to teach consent as a Jewish value.
This Yom Kippur action is the gateway to continuing to reveal Talmudic teachings about the body, enabling Jewish communities to ensure safe and loving embrace.