Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Folly of Focusing on Minutia

Folks, the radar is pickin' up a line of thundershowers extending along a line and five-and-a-half miles either side of a line from Kansas City to Fond-Du-Lac. O' course, the radar is also pickin' up a squadron of Russian ICBMs, so I wouldn't sweat the thundershowers.... George Carlin as Al Sleet, the hippy-dippy weatherman.

How appropriate these words - uttered almost 50 years ago - are today.

Rabbi Yakov Meir Shechter’s radar has to detect that there are more serious problems in the Torah world than not 'putting rubber soles on your shoes'. That was one of the items he pointed out that needs to be corrected by religious women as a matter of Tznius. He and other rabbinic figures like him have to know there are more serious problems facing the world than that. One would have to be deaf, blind, and dumb not to know about sex abuse in Orthodoxy.

But instead of focusing on that issue and other serious ones - religious leaders like Rabbi Shechter who are known for their great piety will instead often be found focusing on the minutia of Tznius.

Not that Tznius issues aren’t important. Of course they are. They are dealt with in the Shulchan Aruch. The laws are spelled out there and are interpreted by today’s Poskim.

Poskim will differ somewhat from each other based on their respective communities. Any Posek worth his salt will factor in community standards into their Psak. As long as Erva is not violated Tznius standards can vary greatly.

And yet there are some Poskim who insist that only the strictest of standards should be observed - and when they are not, they speak out as though our very existence as Jews depended on it. But is not the near epidemic occurrence of sex abuse an exponentially greater danger to our existence? Shoudn't their outrage be far greater about the sex abuse that is going on? Why the focus on minutia?

I really did not want to post again so soon on this subject. This is not a one issue blog. But I can’t help it. The media is being inundated with the issue.

Here is a just a small sampling of media that focused on this issue just in the last couple of days:

The Yeshiva University Observer, The Jewish Press, The Jewish Week, and ABC News. Not to mention the Jewish blogs.

It seems we have an epidemic at hand. A true ‘missile’ loaded with ‘nuclear weapons’ is pointed at our children. But it is not the kind of missile the public can see or feel. It is is taking place literally 'under the covers'.

The story that motivated me to address this issue so soon again is case of Stefan Colmer. From the Jewish Week article:

A married Jew with peyos and a black hat, Stefan Colmer used to spend hours, according to reports, reading the Talmud in the main study hall of the Mirrer Yeshiva on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn. While there, he also befriended some boys in and around the yeshiva and, on occasion, invited a few of them to his nearby home.

And, according to a source close to the case, Colmer allegedly sexually abused several of them — in addition to other young boys from the “general neighborhood” near the yeshiva, a law enforcement source believes.

What makes this case different than the rest is that many good people knew of him and his abuse. But he was not accused by anyone of molestation. In 2002 he voluntarily admitted himself for treatment at the Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services - a social services agency that serves the Orthodox community in Brooklyn.

Here’s the problem. Apperently there is no legal requirement to report an abuser to the authorities if no accusations were made by anyone. And yet there were molestations taking place by Colmer by his own admission. He walked away from treatment because it did not help him. He continued abusing children even while undergoing treatment.

Colmer is now awaiting Justice. In 2007, years after many of the abuses took place -someone finally spilled the beans. But how many children were abused by him until then? And how many Colmers are there that are out doing ‘their thing’ with impunity?

How many victims simply do not report abuse for various reasons - reasons including the shame they know it brings upon them, their families, and their communities?

How many victims are there really?

It is almost impossible to know the true extent of this epidemic. I used to think it was a relatively small number. But I now realize that the number of victims is huge.

I know and have written about the other side of the coin. There are innocent people who have been accused of this crime – only to later be fully exonerated but ultimately tainted. Whispering campaigns tend to perpetuate doubt about an individual so accused.

This is a serious issue and cannot be ignored either. Such people are victims too. But I now believe that abuse victims are far greater in number. And the reluctance to do everything we can to stop it – even for the best of reasons – ends up enabling these sick predators to continue satisfying their abnormal urges.

I don’t think we can afford to continue to be complacent about it. Most of us are lucky. Our children were never abused. Most of us probably don’t even know anyone who was abused. But it exists – and often goes undetected while the victims suffer in silence… until their egos are shattered. When they finally do talk, the damage done to their psyches is so great that sometimes it cannot be overcome.

I appeal to leaders of the Torah world of all stripes to re-double their efforts to stop abuse in any way they can and stop worrying about ‘thundershowers’. If we can’t take the giant steps that Rabbi Yakov Horowitz correctly urges is needed, then we need to take the baby steps of a Markey Bill. All other issues should go on the back burner for now. The patient is in critical condition. Please don’t let him die. We cannot afford to fiddle with minutia while Rome burns.