In last weeks Daf Yomi, there are a whole series of Mishnayot that deal with whether one can testify in court as to their own status (I was married but now I am divorced, I am a cohen etc.).

One of the cases that stands out for me is the case of a woman who is taken captive (a fate that was assumed to include rape). In one permutation the woman testifies both to the fact that she was indeed taken captive and to the fact that she was not raped and is still kosher to marry a Cohen. The Rabbis argue that if she willingly tells us that she was taken captive – and is essentially prohibiting herself from certain marriages- then we will also believe her when she
says ‘I was not raped’- removing that same prohibition. However when someone else offers the information that she was taken captive, the statistics (the assumption that most women are raped in captivity) determine her fate and she has no option to add the information that she personally was not raped during her captivity.

I find myself thrown back and forth between two images of women. One image is the conniving women, who is willing to lie in order to save herself. She is the woman the Rabbis worry about, the woman who hides that she was taken captive and only when an outside source reveals this fact does she counter by saying nothing happened during her captivity. On the other end of the spectrum I imagine a meek quiet scared woman, who naturally might want to keep quiet about her embarrassing or perhaps terrifying experience in captivity. She indeed was not raped and now will not be believed because she had decided not to speak about her experience.

I guess real women are somewhere in between, though I have compassion for both the woman who chose not to speak and lost her chance to save her reputation, and the brazen woman, brave enough to lie in order to save herself from prohibitions against her. I understand that courts need rules- but if a woman can’t testify about what happened to her body and is rather judged on statistical grounds, it doesn’t bode well for their voice in society.

The power of witnessing and then testifying or speaking about ones traumatic experiences has been lauded as one of the most important ways of overcoming trauma. Part of this process is of course to have a listener who accepts and validates the person’s experience. On the one hand this gemarah encourages women to speak out about what has happened to them immediately- like filing a police report right after an incident. On the other hand it leaven little room for the very natural phenomenon of an initial period of silence before people feel capable to talking about their experiences.

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