New York Governor Andrew Cuomo resigned Tuesday amid controversy surrounding the investigation of his behavior toward at least 11 women over the course of his career in public office.
Amid denials, Cuomo appeared to hunker down and not heed calls for his resignation from President Joe Biden, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both of New York’s U.S. Senators, Chuck Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand, New York State Speaker Carl Heastie. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will assume office Aug. 24 and serve the rest of Cuomo’s term.
As the fallout from the investigation ensues, it is a propitious time to remember the critical importance of women in Jewish life and tradition. Judaism itself would perish without women and they command and deserve not only to be cherished, but respected and honored — from infancy, through childhood, during adolescence, as young women, and throughout their lives.
The ideal of treating all women with respect is rooted in the essential Jewish value of kavod habriyot or respect for human dignity. Traditionally, women were tasked with making a Jewish home and child-rearing.
In modern Judaism, we recognize the scope of women’s lives has changed dramatically. Of course, we remember Devorah, the great warrior and judge, who led Israel for 60 years. And, we revere Ruth, who defined the essence of loyalty with her words “…whither thou goest, I will go; and where though lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, thy God, my God.” Ruth, 1:16-17
More recently, Jewish women have been pioneers and trailblazers. The poet Emma Lazarus’ sonnet, “The New Colossus,” is inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty. Henrietta Szold founded Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America in 1912. Golda Meir served as Israel’s fourth prime minister. Ruth Bader Ginsburg served as the leading lawyer for gender equality in the United States. As Justice Ginsburg, she achieved a brilliant 27-year career as an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.
However, the Jewish value of kavod habriyot — the inherent human dignity — is not only the right of Judaism’s great women of valor. Respect and dignity are the birthright of every woman, without regard to her professional, business or domestic achievements.
So, we must honor, cherish and respect women. All women. Those who go out into the world, those who are homemakers and those who fulfill multiple roles.
Moses, our faith’s greatest leader, trembled from his responsibilities. And, from Moses we know that public leadership requires humility. Governor Cuomo’s unbridled arrogance is devoid of humility and respect for those he serves. Despite the resignation news, his woes are not over.
Perhaps some good can come from this pitiful public display: reminding us all of our human frailties. Let us resolve to respect, honor and cherish women. Indeed, all individuals must be respected. As Rabbi Hillel taught “That which is hateful to you, do not do unto your fellow.” Governor Cuomo’s troubles remind us of the importance of this lesson.