Sunday, June 15, 2008

Of Teffilin Dates, Abortions, and Abuse

R’ Yitzchak Zev HaLevi Soloveichik (YZS) is the grandson of my Rebbe, Rav Aaron Soloveichik. Few Gedolim possessed the combination of qualities that R’ Ahron did. His belief in Emes probably cost him his health. His practice of Chesed is legendary. And few Gedolim had a greater love of all of Klal Yisroel and fewer still a love of Eretz Yisroel than R’ Ahron did. And even fewer still had his appreciation of the value of Mada.

YZS followed in his illustrious grandfather’s footsteps. He has inherited the same brilliant mind and many of the same character traits - not the least of which is his devotion to Emes. He made Aliyah, learned in a Hesder Yeshiva, served in he Israeli Defense Forces, learned in Kollel Torah Mitzion, and is about to receive his MD. He is now doing rotations in a hospital in Israel.

It is with his in mind that a statement he made is very troubling:

It pains me every day when I see chareidi children in the hospital who "fall down the stairs" and get broken jaws, who come in with broken arms "from falling off the swings". I weep for the chareidi girls who come in to terminate pregnancies becasue if their parents find out they will murder her.

In the past there had been much denial about he level of abuse in the Torah world, whether it was physical abuse or sexual abuse. That is changing - although at a pace too slow for my taste.

But there is still a virtual denial of consensual out of wedlock sexual activity among Charedi young people. In fact I don’t recall hearing any statistics about that. When religious Jews speak about out of wedlock sex they are usually referring to the modern Orthodox version - the so called ‘Teffilin date’. That is when a young modern Orthodox single man dates a girl in the hopes of having sexual relations with her. He therefore takes his Teffilin along in case he sleeps over. This way he can Daven there in the morning. The term ‘Teffilin date’ has become a euphemism for a 'Frum" person having sex on a date.

But never have I heard about out of wed-lock consensual sex in the Charedi world. YZS now cites evidence of such activity - just on his own watch – where in addition to Charedi domestic violence he sees out of wedlock Charedi pregnancies. Young pregnant Charedi women - perhaps still in their teens -are apparently seeking abortions! That raises the question of just how many other doctors are seeing this!

Before anyone accuses me of Charedi Bashing again, let me make clear that I do not believe that - as a percentage – out of wedlock pregnancies is that significant in the Orthodox population. Especially among Charedim. It is probably miniscule in comparison to the general population of permissive western cultures.

But in terms of numbers -I am surprised that there are any significant numbers at all. And that is just reported cases in Israel of pregnant Charedi girls seeking abortions. How many Charedi singles are there that experiment sexually, don’t get pregnant, - and never report it?

I guess the so called ‘Teffilin dates’ are not exclusive to modern Orthodox communities after all. It is a problem across the spectrum of Orthodox Judaism.

But one does not hear about it happening in Charedi circles. To the best of my knowledge there are no statistics about it. The question is, why?

Well, for one thing non religious people are generally more open to out of wedlock consensual sex. Most religious Jews on the other hand by their nature resist violating Halacha of any kind including those Halachos pertaining to sexual activity.

But that does not prevent all such activity. That now seems painfully obvious based on what YZS has witnessed. The religious community is not immune to temptation. And it is apparently not the rarest of circumstances when it happens. So why is there so little evidence - whether statistical or anecdotal?

I believe that in part it is because of the following. The Charedi world places great significance on image. For men: black hats, black velvet Yarmulkees. white shirts, black pants. For women: severely restricted clothing styles that have nothing to do with Tznius: like no jean skirts or no brightly colored blouses. It is as though it is more important to look Frum - than it is to be Frum. They literally wear their Frumkeit on their full length sleeves.

Protecting their image extends to keeping their problems in the closet. To put it the way they often do, ‘We should not air our dirty laundry in public’. They cannot have the world seeing their pure and pristine image being besmirched by such behavior even if it does exist in their ranks. So they encourage their members to keep these things quite.

The community pressure to do so is enormous. Can anyone imagine, for example, the Shiddach chances of a girl who is discovered to have had out of wedlock sex - or worse – an abortion? Or the chances for a good Shiddach - if a girl were raped?

There was an article in Time Magazine a couple of weeks ago that spoke to the issue of why there is so much denial. They see themselves - and wish to project themselves - as a pure and holy society. They thus virtually forbid any exposure or discussion of these topics. But their goals are not fully realized. What they accomplish instead is the facilitation of an existing ‘nuclear bomb’ that continues to spread its harmful radiation. Sometimes this results in sexual experimentation by hormonal adolescents and sometimes it results in a lot worse. Naomi Ragen put it very well:

"All of these taboos don't necessarily make them saints. Sometimes they become perverts."

It’s a good thing these things are coming out into the open. That forces confrontation with the facts and then dealing with them - instead of closeting them. Let’s hope it is not too little - too late.