Sunday, June 03, 2012

What's Important To Us As a Community? We Need To Decide.

This week's Mishpacha magazine has an article about Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, the executive Vice President of the Agudath Israel of America.  In the article, Rabbi Zwiebel gives us an interesting insight into the priorities that exist in the chareidi mindset.

In discussing blogs and bloggers, Rabbi Zweibel makes the following statement:

"I do believe that among them are people who are deeply pained about certain issues and feel that this is the way they can express their pain.  I will even go a step further and say that through the pressure they've created, communal issues that needed to be confronted were moved to the front burner and taken seriously.  A case in point is abuse and molestation issues.  The question is, if the fact that they've created some degree of change is worth the cost.  At the very least, it's rechilus, lashon hara and bittul z'man.  That's a high price to pay."

A high price to pay?  Really?   I'm just utterly flabbergasted at the statement.  Does he truly believe that there is any possibility that it's better to not pay the price and keep the molesters in a position where they continue can abuse children?  In my opinion, if one could engage in those sins and wipe out the instances of child molestation among us, I'd engage in it all day long and call it a bargain.

He goes on to discuss another potential price to be paid by the recent attention that bloggers have put on the issue of molestation:

"Then there's is the damage wrought to the hierarchy of Klal Yisrael.  We've always been a talmid chacham-centered nation, and it's dangerous to ruin the fabric of Klal Yisrael by denigrating the ideal of daas Torah and by allowing personal attacks on gedolei Yisroel."

I agree with Rabbi Zwiebel.  There has been considerable damage being done to the reputation of the gedolei Yisroel -- but the primary cause of that damage are the gedolim themselves -- not the bloggers.  Had the gedolim chosen to confront the issues early on, there would never be a need for a bloggers such as OUJ to point out that the gedolim and yeshivos have long since failed to protect the abused among us.  Our communal leaders thought that they would be able to keep abuse issues silent forever and that no one would ever be any the wiser about what goes on.  By covering up cases of abuse, they left the abused and their advocates with no other choice but to go public to force change.  So, yes, the damage to the gedolim is a high price to pay -- but, again, one that needed to be paid and paid willingly to protect those who are being abused and to prevent further abuse.   The protection of children is worth more than the honor of gedolim; and the protection of children is worth more than rechilus, lashon hara and bittul z'man.

Ultimately, however, it's how we make these decisions that define us as a people.  We will not, ultimately, be judged by the deviants in our midst -- any large enough population will have its share of deviants -- but rather how we decide to deal with these deviants and how we protect those who would be victimized by them.  We will be judged on how we prioritize our resources and attention as a community, and how we decide which problems are important enough for us to address publicly and with force.  And, sadly, we are failing that test miserably.  When the executive vice president of a major rabbinical body in America can publicly state that there's even a possibility that lashon hara about actual abusers is worse than the abuse itself, we are failing the test.

Our priorities are so messed up that a part of our community is so determined to prevent a person from seeing a woman's forearm or breast that they can fill a major sports stadium with people, but cannot muster the same will to gather and send a message that people who actually touch, abuse and rape children in our community will not be tolerated.  Clearly, we see which issues are important to the people who purport to be our leaders -- and in their choice, they show the failure of  their leadership.

The sad part about all this is that the choice shouldn't even be necessary.  Were a gadol to get up tomorrow and announce that he is taking abuse and molestation issues seriously -- and then publicly follow up on it by taking active steps to expose and rein in molesters and see that they actually pay for their crimes, they would have the honor that they deserve and there would be no need to publicly talk about their failures on the issue.  They would be honored for their handling of the problem and we would have protection for children.  The fact that they do not seem to consider this to be a viable course of action is a further sign of the failure of our community.

It's up to us to make a choice.  Is it more important to keep the honor of the gedolim intact by being silent about incidents of abuse, or is it more important to bring attention to those incidents?  Is the honor of a gadol worth more than the soul of a child?  It's up to us to decide.  Heaven help us if we make the wrong choice.

The Wolf

Hat tip:  Failed Messiah


Avi said...

For those interested, the article can be read here.

Zach Kessin said...

This is why I call R. Horowitz one of the very few out there who should be considered a gadol

Avi said...
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Avi said...
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Avi said...

While I pretty much agree with your analysis, there is a very important aspect of this whole debacle that I think you (and almost everyone else) is avoiding, maybe because the implications are too awful to face.

It's obvious to anyone with half a brain that the gedolim and rabbonim are not be trusted to handle these issues properly. So while it's great that people are finally waking up to the fact that the gedolim might be flawed people who mess things up, I have yet to see any writer allow themselves to openly acknowledge a much more serious consequence of their flawed nature: not just that the gedolim and rabbonim aren't to be trusted because of their cluelessness or incompetence, but rather that these individuals are guilty of purposefully protecting people they know to be dangerous criminals, and thereby directly responsible for any harm these perpetrators have inflicted since they were known about.

It may well be that they've been choosing this course of action because they have rachmanus on the molesters family, or because they genuinely think publicizing the issue will hurt the community, or be a chillul hashem, or any other well-intentioned rationale. (And I don't think we should rule out the possibility that their motivations may at times have also been far less than noble.) But regardless of their reason, if they actually were convinced that the allegations against the person were true, and they failed to report it - for any reason - then they are criminally responsible for any further harm these abusers inflicted! Let me say that again - THEY ARE RESPONSIBLE!

I think most people are avoiding thinking about the issue this way because the implications of it are just too profoundly difficult to face. So they choose instead to couch the rabbonim's offenses in much more forgiving terms ("they made mistakes", "they handled it wrongly", "they didn't understand the issue", etc.).

But we need to face up to this unpleasant reality. If the rabbonim knew about the danger (and after all the stories that have come to light these past years, we have no reason to doubt this) and they deliberately chose not to tell people about it, shouldn't they be held accountable? This is not just about people "making mistakes" which should result in a loss of trust. This is about people deliberately choosing a course of action that any reasonable person could expect would result in further children being harmed.

So why are we only saying "Don't trust the rabbonim anymore"? Why aren't we instead saying "Arrest the rabbonim for allowing these perpetrators to harm further children!!"?

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Why do most governments waste money, provide poor services and tolerate unacceptably high amounts of corruption? Because there's no alternative. Competition raises the need to perform competently and efficiently and this is absent when it comes to government.
The same is with the leadership of the Agudah. There is no competition. There is no central Orthodox non-Agudah authority to say "We are an alternative, we are just as frum as you but we will provide you with a more honest leadership".
About the only candidate for such a position would be the RCA but it is far too milquetoast an organization to mount an effective challenge to the Agudah.
But that's what's needed - an alternative.

Anonymous said...

I think you misunderstood: he said blogging in general has a high cost in lashon hara etc, he used abuse as an example of where bloggers have helped.

Atheodox Jew said...

All of it - concern over the perceived dangers of the internet, as well as the omerta-style silence and coverup in the face of abuse - is about control. The goal is control of information, and ultimately control over people - i.e. securing their allegiance, maintaining personal power and kavod.

It's no different than politics in this sense, except that the authority of religious leaders purports to be granted by the Almighty himself, so that Heavenly fear and guilt become the mechanisms of control.

That is the real danger, not the internet. And fortunately, thanks in large part to the internet, that control is starting to be undone.

BrooklynWolf said...

I think you misunderstood: he said blogging in general has a high cost in lashon hara etc, he used abuse as an example of where bloggers have helped.

Your reading might be correct, up until he says:

The question is, if the fact that they've created some degree of change is worth the cost. The question is, if the fact that they've created some degree of change is worth the cost. At the very least, it's rechilus, lashon hara and bittul z'man. That's a high price to pay.

In my estimation, that's a very *low* price to pay to shed light on (and bring about change regarding) abuse in our community.

In any event, even if your interpretation is correct, the rest of my post still stands, namely what we, as a community, choose to focus on.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

I was involved in the pursuit and incarceration of a known predator, and child molester. He was subsequently sentenced to numerous years in prison. His first free call from prison, was not to his wife or children, nor to his parents, but to the 14 year old whose testimony put him away. He called the boys cell number and asked him, "So did you ask daas Torah before you ruined my life? he proceeded to dump guilt upon the boy.
Lashon Harah and rechilus, Bitul Zman??? Reading such a ridiculous and irresponsibly wiitten article, as well as a mindlessly presented magazine is true bitul zman.
Then again. it was Mishpacha that when listing the years main events that effected Klal Yisrael, a few years back, neglected to include the boys that were killed in Mosad Harav Kook. Go figure.

Abraham said...

You claim to be dispassionate, free of selfish motivation,
That your judgment is unbiased, of emotionless sensation.

You say that your goals are to disabuse the masses of silly notions,
That the freeing of mistaken beliefs is the desire of your motions.

You seem never to be enervated after hours before the screen,
Typing and thinking doesn't weaken those observations so obscene.

You present stories and vignettes that belie the accepted theory,
That contradicts the status qua so much that I've become weary.

You assume that we are credulous, that we will believe all your facts,
That we are gullible and naïve, that we trust your verbal attacks.
You wish to divest the Gedolim of their positions, yes; you really do,
Deprive them of their rank and position and fill it with someone more like you.

More @

Anonymous said...

This is a tune many people are familiar with, though the verses they know are not in Hebrew or Yiddish.

One example: for "gedolim" substitute "bishops."

The hierarchy of the Catholic church in the U.S. still tends to resist efforts to uncover evil deeds and the officials who allowed them to happen, whose aversion to "scandal" (the usual ecclesiastic version of "chillul HaShem") caused them to conceal documents, to move molesters and rapists from one parish to another, and to work feverishly to silence those who protested.

Another example: for "gedolim" substitute "Penn State officials."

A community that tolerates such behavior, that enables it, is saying through its deeds that the molestation and rape of children is not as bad as other things might be, such as damage to our reputation or embarrassment to our leaders.

Anonymous said...

Writing something in verse doesn't make it true. It's just a waste of time.