Rabbi Jen Krause responds to Two's Company the other experts say

Noah's alleged ménage a trois gets an eight on the crackpot scale. Given the array of sexual escapades either alluded to or colorfully detailed throughout the Bible, imagining Noah in a drunken threesome is not entirely out of the question. As a matter of fact, the rabbis also conjectured that Noah was, to use an ancient term, gettin' jiggy in that tent. Some say Ham forced Noah to have sex with him; others say Ham didn't want his father producing any more offspring, and therefore purposely caught Noah in the act. The interruption, they contend, rendered Noah, incapable of cough, cough completing the transaction. And before all you Maxim men pass judgment on Noah's performance, remember the guy was 600 years old, under the influence, and living before Viagra.

Here's the flaw in the threesome theory: the Bible is a basically patriarchal narrative. If Noah had been engaging in said act, Ham would probably have been rewarded for telling the tale. After all, a threesome every guy's fantasy, is it not? Too far-fetched? Okay, okay. Seriously, if the lesson lies in what Noah was doing in the tent, or with whom, we would likely be party to the details. And while it is true that creating rules around particular couplings is a recurring biblical theme, it simply does not appear to be central in this instance.

In this case, boundaries are crucial, but in a different way. We aren't meant to focus on what Noah was doing in the tent, but rather that Ham made the private thing he saw Noah doing public. Whether this meant announcing that Noah was drunk, naked, and sleeping it off or drunk, naked, and not sleeping alone it doesn't matter. What matters is that Ham violated Noah's privacy, exposed him in a moment of raw humanity, and diminished his dignity as a result.

On the contrary, Shem and Japheth understood that safeguarding their father's dignity was a primary value. They were not interested in exploiting Noah's exploits, just in making certain that no one else found him in flagrante. They knew that if they or anyone else, for that matter saw him in such a state, it would change the way he was seen forever.

In this age in which personal human screw-ups are must-see reality TV, we may need a refresher course in the connection between privacy and dignity. What role do we play in safeguarding the honor of others, whether they be family, friends, or the latest name on the crawl? Imagine yourself in a less than shimmering moment in your own life. Would you want someone else in your tent, and if so, would you want that person to tell all when he/she emerged?

The Mishnah teaches, "Let the honor of another be as dear to you as your own." The story of drunken Noah and his sons reminds us of this practice. Because once the story's out, it's out. That is where there is no in-between.

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About Rabbi Jen Krause

Tammi J. Schneider, Associate Professor of Religion at Claremont Gradate University, writes, "Emily has done her homework. The end of Noah's story is a bit confusing and I am not convinced that her take on it should be dismissed." Read on
Author Stephen Mitchell says, "Crackpot? Your theory seems entirely reasonable to me. As a matter of fact, the Tao Te Ching elucidates it perfectly in its 42nd chapter." Read on