Monday, February 28, 2011

Blind Leadership

What does Satmar and the Edah HaCharedis (and to a lesser extent other Charedi groups) have in common with the community of Religious Zionists in Israel? Not much. I can’t think of two more diametrically opposite Hashkafos than these two groups. Which is kind of sad if you think about it.

I don’t think you could ever find the leaders of either group sitting at the same table. But there is one area in which they are virtual clones of each other. When it comes to recognizing the fatal flaws of their own heroes they are completely blind to reality – taking the concept of being Dan L’Kaf Zechus to an abusrd level and in my view turning it on its head.

Examples on the Chasidic/Charedi side abound. Like the virtual fawning over the greatness of convicted sex offender Yisroel Weingarten (convicted of sexually abusing his own daughter over a period of many years). They boldly proclaim his innocence denying all the considerable evidence to the contrary and call his conviction a travesty of justice.

There is also the reaction of the Edah HaCharedis (whose leader also joined American Chasidic and Charedi rabbinic leaders in praise of Weingarten) to the conviction of Elior Chen, one of the most sadistic cult leaders of modern times; responsible for some of the most horrific tortures to young children in his cult. From Ynet:

Rabbi Avraham Froelich, who represents the Eda Haredit, also defended the convict. "Chen is a naïve and delicate soul. The evidence proves he did nothing. This is a Dreyfus plot," he said.

Not to be outdone by their Charedi counterparts, religious Zionist leaders have recently released a letter of public support for convicted rapist Moshe Katzav, the immediate past President of Israel. It was signed by perhaps the most respected religious Zionist Rav in Israel, Rav Shlomo Aviner and other religious Zionist rabbis. They still think he is innocent:

"To our country's former president, fear not because the truth will come out," the letter begins. "And even if it takes it's time, it will be revealed, and all those who pursue lies will be ashamed."

The rabbis slam the media, implying that the press was one of the factors which led to the trial's "false results".

"All of the people of Zion are sighing and groaning under the burden of the poisonous media, waiting for the return of pureness to our public life and hoping for the day when the injustice will be removed and the truth will come out – and then many, many people will be redeemed and rejoice with you."

Blindness about one’s own heroes is apparently an equal opportunity disorder. It seems like an impossibility to them that one of their own - whose widespread reputation was built over a long period of time - could have ever done the things they are accused of.

How is it possible, say the Charedi Rabbanim that a man like Weingarten who built such a great reputation in Chinuch over so many long years have ever committed the crimes he was convicted of? How is it possible say religious Zionist Rabbanim that a man like Moshe Katzav who was given the honor of being elected President of Israel, a position reserved only for those with a lifetime of achievement and dedication to the Jewish people in Israel – how could he be guilty of the crimes he was convicted of?

As the saying goes, denial is not only a river in Egypt. No matter how much one might be against sex abuse on paper – and I’m sure all these rabbanim are – they simply do not believe it about their own. It just isn’t possible about the truly great achievers who are so Frum and have contributed so much.

Their only conclusion is that the secular government or the secular media bias against the Frum community did this in their never ending quest to destroy the Torah world.

But that is not the right conclusion. Although sometimes innocent people get convicted most people in prison are guilty of the crimes they were convicted of – although most of them still swear they are innocent even after their conviction.

Is it possible that a high achiever – someone who has actually contributed to society to have secretly been a sex abuser? Not only is it possible – but a recent story in the New York Times actually has an example of it.

Dr. Melvin D. Levine who was being sued by a group of victims after years of dodging accusations of sexual abuse was found dead near his home with a gunshot wound to his forehead. He apparently committed suicide. Who was Dr. Levine? Perhaps the most admired man in education:

Dr. Levine was a leading advocate for children with learning disabilities whose fame spread through his books, including “A Mind at a Time,” as well as through a PBS documentary, “Misunderstood Minds,” and a nationwide schedule of lectures.

With Charles Schwab, Dr. Levine founded a nonprofit group, All Kinds of Minds, that has trained thousands of teachers. Dr. Levine’s approach stressed that whatever their learning disabilities — learning differences, he called them — all children also had strengths to build on.

In 2004, the New York City Department of Education gave All Kinds of Minds a $12.5 million contract to train 20,000 teachers, without the normal competitive bidding process, because, it said, there were no comparable programs.

In 2005, Scholastic Press named Dr. Levine the most admired person in education.

And yet he spent almost his entire career molesting young boys. How is it possible that such a distinguished contributor to society led a secret life of abusing children? I can’t answer that question. But the fact that it happened serves to demonstrate that just because someone is a hero in one area of his life doesn’t mean he isn’t a monster in another. At age 71 upon the realization that he would no longer be able to cover it up with repeated denials Dr. Levine committed suicide.

I wish that these rabbinic figures would recognize the bias that blinds them. To deny all evidence of sex abuse - chalking it up to lies and media distortion – just because of the remotest possibility that an innocent man was convicted does a disservice to the Jewish community. It perpetuates the crime by giving religious sex abusers the cover they need to continue their ways.

Thankfully we do have rabbinic leaders in the world that know when to be Dan L’Kaf Zechus - and when not to be. Chief among them is Rav Aharon Lichtenstein. In spite of pressure from supporters, Rabbi Moti Elon was removed from his position as a Rosh Yeshiva after Rav Lichtenstein determined the veracity of victim accusations of sex abuse. Rav Aharon Lichtenstein stood up for the victims then and togther with other religious Zionist rabbinic leaders he has done so again:

“Without getting into the details of the former president's trial and the punishment he deserves, we view the attempt to question the women who complained and the judges and to cover up the disgrace brought upon the presidency as extremely severe,” the rabbis wrote.

“The criminal law system in our country, the State of Israel, is based on Jewish Law, which allows the government system in Israel to enact laws and activate legal proceedings and punishments as required by the public's interest and welfare.”

One of the letter's initiators explained why it was written. "The letter in support of Katsav led to a strong feeling of blasphemy and to a complete loss of faith in the Torah on the part of the religious and secular public. The manifesto came from the ground, because the rabbis were infuriated."

According to the initiator, in personal conversations and yeshiva lessons senior rabbis slammed the letter supporting Katsav, using harsh words like "defamation of God" and "scandal".

My admiration for this man continues to increase. He is a truly a Gadol in my eyes in so many different ways. If only the rabbinic leaders in other segments of Orthodox Jewry would have his courage, I truly believe we would begin to turn the tide against the plague of sex abuse in the Torah world.