Thought for the Day: The scourge of Sexual Violence: Chanukah 2023
“…there is no excuse for it, wherever and against whomever it is perpetrated”.
Just one candle can bring light to the darkest of rooms.
This is the inspiration behind the kindling of candles during the eight-day festival of Chanukah, which commences this evening.
Chanukah recalls a period of deep darkness for the Jewish people, when, 22 centuries ago, the Hellenists sought to destroy Jewish life. At Chanukah-time, we recall individual acts of deep inspiration which lifted a nation enduring the darkness of persecution. None more so than a woman called Judith.
In one of a number of versions of this story, the Midrash, a second century anthology of teachings, records that the Greek governor of Jerusalem was known for using sexual violence against women. He decreed that before every wedding, the bride must first be brought to him so that he could attack and abuse her. When Judith, the daughter of Yochanan the High Priest, was about to be married, she was brought before the cruel governor. With extraordinary courage, Judith got the better of him and managed to take his life to protect herself and her people. Her heroism emboldened a nation to take on the might of the Greek Empire and prevail.
Judith’s response to the horrific crime of sexual abuse provides inspiration right now, when we are marking the United Nation’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence, which culminates this coming weekend in Human Rights Day.
As reported on the Today programme this week, women in Israel have recently endured unspeakable sexual violence. When I was in Israel three weeks ago, I visited the Shura army base, to where the victims of the Hamas attack on 7 October were initially brought. The descriptions by witnesses of the systematic and premeditated acts of horrific sexual violence and mutilation are simply too horrific to bear description here, but they surely constitute one of the most despicable organised atrocities perpetrated against women in living memory.
And those atrocities have been made harder to bear by the fact that it has taken so long for them to be widely reported and condemned. The UK charity, Jewish Women’s Aid, have told me how isolated they have felt when trying to raise awareness about these crimes.
To mark their 16 Days of Activism, the United Nations has launched a campaign which uses the hashtag #NoExcuse, calling for urgent action to prevent violence against women and girls.
We will only be able to rise to this challenge and to truly banish the darkness of the crime of sexual abuse, when we can all agree that there is, indeed, no excuse for it, wherever and against whomever it is perpetrated.