Saturday, December 30, 2006

Curse Of The Hidden Mirror

My eyes opened wide, unable to dislocate from that position, my jaw dropped, and the knife in my hand also nearly dropped. I just couldn’t believe what I heard. A colleague of mine, rank-and-file yeshivish guy, came in to relate an upsetting event, and amidst his harangue blurted out a four-letter word. I was amazed.
“What?” I asked in disbelief “Did you just say that? Is it really possible?” I was sure that it was a slip of the ear - my ear. But he nonchalantly answered, “What’s the big deal? I’m just like you”. That left me wondering – although this was by no means an excuse, what, takeh, gives me the right to talk that way? Yes, I do work in an environment where foul language is very much the order of the day, but that’s no justification either. On the spot I decided to try to curtail my mouth’s output. Again I was taught a lesson to hold first and foremost myself to standards at least as high as I expect from others.

And some others could do the same.

On the heels of Yehuda Kolko’s indictment came a flurry of information and advice dealing with sexual abuse in the orthodox community, as well as a resurrection of the hate-fest of yore, the excuse being this time support or opposition to the UOJ.

Regardless of one’s position about the issue, I feel that there is a strong sanctimonious element in those orthodox bloggers and leaders who suddenly lecture excessively on sexual abuse per-se. Not that it isn’t Chas Vesholem an important matter in and on itself, – au contraire. However, a large part of the talk entirely misses the point;

I assume that most readers are familiar with at least the notion (not the halochos) of “Eglah Arufah”: the sages and leaders of the city are responsible for their communities’ welfare, and if a serious crime has been committed, they must demonstrate that everything in their power was done to prevent the crime. This however requires at least a corpus delicti. Even with taking all the allegations at face value, in all probability the leaders who were smeared and attacked probably didn’t know about the accusations until recently. The molested people and those who allegedly knew about them were first and foremost responsible to report what they knew to law enforcement and prominent rabbis. The fact that they were silent for so long (now citing fear and claims that they did actually report it to “the rabbis” – unnamed of course – doesn’t give the impression of too strong arguments) inculpates them as much as those whom they are now targeting.
As I have said before, the main issue at hand is not how to deal with child abuse per-se, but how to change the mentality of entire communities who hush their own children’s plight to avoid a bad name, ostracism and “bad” shidduchim. This mentality cannot be blamed solely on the leaders – it is, however, in great part, the leadres’ responsibility to fight such trends.

Another point that I haven’t seen addressed elsewhere, is that scores of anonymous comments on UOJ claimed to care for the welfare of our “heilige kinderlach”, hypocrisy and corruption among rabbis. They used this as an excuse to smear and besmirch not only all rabbonim, but the entire “charedi” community. There wasn’t however anyone attacking the MO/Mizrachi movement, who, unfortunately, are just as guilty. I wonder how Gil Student or Rav Schachter would have reacted, had an unruly “Un-Modern-Orthodox Jew” besmirched Rav Kook and R’ Joseph Bear Soloveichik because of acts carried out by Shlomo Aviner, Ze'ev Kopolovich and others in that sector (alleged and convicted sex offenders). Allegedly, there was a similar pact of silence among top Mizrachi leaders. Agudah leaders, neither in Israel or the USA, didn’t come out mere days after the convictions and scandals, drooling with glee and lecturing everyone on sex abuse. I’m not saying this to relieve them from responsibility or to justify their actions (inaction, rather) but because it is a fact. (
It has been insinuatedthat an Agudah speaker hinted at MO Rabbis not being true gdolim. If it is true, it was a critical error. This however does not justify retaliation.) Is it possible that leaders of both sectors are unhappy with the ever broadening social cut without distinct affiliation, and the slowly eroding border between these segments? I pray it isn’t the case. I might be over-sensitive, and as a matter of fact I wish my analysis is wrong - unfortunately, there are just too many details pointing to the contrary.

Although a beneficial aspect of the UOJ phenomenon is hardly deniable, the unfortunate truth is that instead of a good solution to the problem, in its broader sense, we’re not only back at square one, but the flames of hatred have been revived as well. Despite my firm belief that the end does justify the means, determining which ends justify what means is all too often an arduous –and risky- task. Although in our times prophecy has been bequeathed to fools, it is probably safe to speculate that Kolko’s arrest won’t have a deep effect on hareidi community. I wonder what prominence the story will get in the mainstream Orthodox media, if any. The corrupt justice system, coupled with evidence being nearly impossible to produce (such crimes are usually not committed in front of a wide audience, and so far there were no allegations of penetration) only increase Kolko’s chances to clear his name. If that will ח"ו be the case, the big losers will not be UOJ’s gang but the community at large, and the big winners will again be the criminals, emboldened would-be criminals, and their abettors. And in case of a conviction, will the school and Beis-Din systems be changed and improved? I really hope so.

I only hope that if it will ח"ו be the case, all of the weekend warriors, Monday morning quarterbacks and holy crusaders will stick to their words and practice what they preached by creating enough outrage and fury within the community, so that the situation doesn’t return to what it was.

Instead of sectarian animosity, rabbis and leaders of all sectors should unite and try to mend our common troubles.

© Joseph Izrael 2006

No comments: