Friday, July 29, 2011


Obvioulsy Rabbi Avi Shafran and Marvin Schick are fans of the Shomrim Society. In 2 separate articles published in Cross Currents, they take to task the Jewish Week and investigative reporter, Ms. Hella Winston for painting Shomrim in a bad light and accuse the reporter and her publisher as being unmitigated Charedi bashers.

I am a fan of both Marvin Schick and Rabbi Shafran. And I can certainly understand why they feel this way. I even agree that there is much that is positive about the Shomrim Society. And I can also understand why there is such antipathy for Ms. Winston and her publisher. They see a beautiful Torah world in communities like Boro Park and yet the only thing they see coming out of the Jewish Week and Ms. Winston are terribly negative stories about them.

The fact is that focusing on the Shomrim at virtually the same moment that the Kletzky family was sitting Shiva for the brutal murder/mutilation of their young son Leiby was a bit of an exploitation. And I agree that it was highly insensitive of the Jewish Week in light of what the Kletzky family and indeed the entire Jewish world was going through at that point in time. It did not accomplish anything to publish it so soon. They should have waited.

But the criticisms themselves about the Shomrim should not be ignored. I do not mean to say that they are necessarily valid. I don’t know whether they are or not. But to reject it out of some sense of undue animosity from a reporter seen as unsympathetic to Orthodoxy - is to ignore some possibly serious problems. Just because one does not like the accuser, that does not make the accusations invalid.

On the plus side the claim is being made that the Shomrim were a tremendous aid in trying to find Leiby Kletsky when he went missing. There is little doubt that to a certain extent this was true. Based on everything I read, they sprung into action immediately upon being called and had a massive search for him. Had it been left to the police alone, there wouldn’t have been a fraction of the manpower looking for him.

The police were not contacted until later. And there is no way of knowing– had they been contacted sooner whether their more sophisticated and better trained personnel would have helped find him sooner. That is speculation at this point. But it is well worth considering the possibility that informing the police sooner might have made a difference. Is that the fault of the Shomrim? Hard to say. They probably should have contacted the police as soon as they were contacted.

I have never been a fan of home grown vigilante groups. And although the Boro Park Shomirm are not known as vigilantes, there are Shomrim in other neighborhoods that are and have been known to take the law into their own hands. I am strongly opposed to that. Unless they are acting in self defense or protecting someone from being attacked, they have no business doing that.

If on the other hand Shomrim act as a community watchdog group, that is another story. That is a plus and to be encouraged. But only in conjunction with - and the blessing of - the police. It seems that the Boro Park Shomrim satisfy those conditions. At least I hope they do.

But at the same time if an investigative reporter finds some evidence of wrong-doing or incompetence, it should be further investigated and not rejected out of hand because of a perceived bias on the part of a reporter.

As for that bias, I’m not sure it is fair to say that a reporter is biased just because he or she focuses on the faults of a particular group instead of focusing on what’s good about them. Even if the good far outweighs the bad - as I’m sure it does in a community like Boro Park.

There may be bias and there may not be. But it is very possible that focusing on the negative is a way of crusading for changes in a community they actually support or are even a part of.

I do not know Ms. Winston. She may be biased. But she may very well be 100% L’Shma in digging for dirt. Because if you don’t dig for it, it will stay hidden underground and continue to embarrass and hurt the very community that you want to protect from the embarrassment of it being reported.

U’Biarta HaRa MeKirbecha, the Torah tells us (Devarim 21:21). Remove the evil from your midst. If it isn’t being done because the evil is hidden from public scrutiny, or because you don’t want to embarrass that community - we are obligated to uncover it so that it will be eradicated. So bias or no - Ms. Winston should be seen as a hero and not a Charedi basher.

If the stories are true and honestly reported, they should be published. Muckraking is good for the soul. Without it, it would be business as usual for far too many crooks and sex offenders in the Orthodox world for my taste.