ArticlesVolume 5, Number 2 (1996)

A Comparison of American and Jewish Legal Views on Rape


Historically, American law has regarded the cry of rape with a high degree of suspicion. These misgivings on the part of jurists have led to unfair treatment of rape victims. Recently, feminist critics have been instrumental in highlighting problems with the way that rape law treats female victims. Examples of these problems include the evidentiary requirement of more than subjective non-consent, the extreme skepticism of rape victims’ testimony, the refusal to recognize marital rape, and the lack of an affirmative duty for bystander intervention. Although the law has changed somewhat in response to these criticisms, some critics still see room for improving the legal definition of rape and ameliorating its effect on victims. In seeking suggestions for improving American rape law, we can look to Jewish law because of its detailed treatment of rape. The following comparison of American and Jewish rape law will show that in some respects, Jewish law provides a more sympathetic and protective legal system for rape victims than American law does, both historically and currently.