Thursday, August 25, 2011

When ‘Daas Torah’ is Not Daas Torah

When Pinny Taub speaks, it’s hard not to listen. Pinny is a survivor of sex abuse. He tells his story in a two part video uploaded to YouTube. I featured it in a post last year when Chicago hosted the first in a series of lectures sponsored by the Jewish Board of Advocates for Children (JBAC).

He has recently written an impassioned defense of the Agudah Moetzes with respect to reporting sex abuse - requiring first going to rabbis and getting their permission before going to the police. He also had a scathing attack against bloggers and others for impugning the integrity and competence of rabbinic leaders on the Agudah Moetzes calling it Chutzpah and a Chilul HaShem beyond words.

He says that the kind of garbage being hurled at the Gedolim and their holy organizations is unprecedented in our day. And although it pains him to do it, he directs his anger toward people he believed were protectors of the abused in the Jewish community – people he once called friends.

I have no quarrel with someone who has been sexually abused. He has certainly more than earned the right to speak his mind on a subject like this. I would even agree that some of the criticism of the Agudah (and by implication – their Moetzes) has been overdone and undeserved. They have indeed made much progress in recent years in this area. But that doesn’t mean they are beyond criticism.

If one perceives a flaw in their attitude that they believe should be corrected, they not only have a right to say so, they have an obligation. They may be wrong about it. But speaking up is certainly better than keeping quiet. They may in fact be right. And urging the Agudah Moetzes to change its attitude may actually be the right thing to do as long as it is done respectfully.

The Agudah Moetzes reaction to any criticism should be taken in the spirit that it is given, and their response should of course be whatever they think is right. If the end result is no change, at least the objection was heard and considered. I would of course add that if the criticism is mean spirited and made merely to denigrate them; it should be treated that way and discarded.

I must however respectfully disagree with Pinny Taub here. I do not see those who advocate for the victims of abuse guilty of denigrating the Agudah Moetzes. They have simply questioned their most recent proclamation to first discuss evidence of abuse with a Rabbi before going to the police.

First - they fear that even a small delay may have harmful consequences. They also fear that rabbis no matter how sincere may be unduly influenced by the religiosity of the accused or his good reputation in the community. Or that rabbis unduly fear the consequences to his wife and children. Or that the concern for a falsely accused victim – which is indeed a legitimate concern – might make them too reluctant to report a case of abuse.

That Gedoloim can make such mistakes is clear. They definitely have the best of intentions. I have no doubt about that. But they can make grievous errors and this actually happened. Read on.

There is another individual for whom I have great respect. Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn’s Seforim can be found in Yeshivos, Kollelim, and Jewish homes all over the world. In a recent essay he describes one such error made by people he calls ‘genuine gedolim’. It led to devastating consequences even though it was done with the best intentions – totally L’Shem Shamayim.

The decision was made in complete ignorance of knowledge quite readily available. Had they consulted with experts, they would not have made the fateful decision they did. But they did not consult. They believed they had found a solution on their own - Daas Torah.

This was not Daas Torah. It was a decision made in ignorance and made by people not competent to make it. Here is what happened as told to Rabbi Eidensohn by a group of rabbis who have extensive experience dealing with these issues.

There was a brilliant young man from a distinguished family who was a Masmid with great character traits and very good looking. He did have one slight flaw, however. He was a pedophile who had abused over 100 children by the time he was 24.

The Roshei Yeshiva of the major Yeshiva this pedophile was at - became aware of the problem. They came up with what they thought was a brilliant solution to his Taavos - his lustful deviancy. They would marry him off and he could re-direct his Taavos toward his wife. They found a wonderful young woman who was orphaned and was ecstatic that these great Roshei Yeshiva thought of her and matched her up with such a wonderful catch. She had complete Emunas Chachamin and trusted them. They of course did not tell her about the young man’s predilections or his past.

To quote Rabbi Eidensohn:

Since they "knew" that the problem would be solved by marriage there obviously wasn't any reason to mention to her that this young man had destroyed the life of 100 children. They also didn't bother checking with a psychologist with expertise with pedophiles - after all what does a psychologist know?

The predictable happened. They got married and had a family. But her husband continued to feed his pedophile appetite - unbeknownst to her. Rumors persisted about him and eventually she found out about it ‘the hard way’. It was via a visit from the police investigating charges against him.

Needless to say she was ‘traumatized’ and the family was destroyed. She had been raised to think that all those who are considered Gedolim are near infallible in their decisions – born Tazadikim created as such while still in the womb. She trusted them. Now she was in fear that her husband might be abusing her own children. With the aid of a caring rabbi who raised the money, she obtained a divorce.

End of story. So I ask this of Pinny Taub. Does he not worry that this attitude might still exist at some level? I realize of course that there has been enough improvement in this area so that the above story would not happen today. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t criticize a judgment call by the Agudah Moetzes. Just because a particular story would not happen today, does not mean a bad decision might not generate some other trauma.

I’m sure the Agudah Moetzes gave their decision in this matter a lot of thought and believe this is Daas Torah. But then again so did the ‘genuine gedolim’ in the story above.

Bottom line is that no matter how much improvement there has been in how the Torah world deals with these issues it is imperative that we do not rely unquestioningly on the views of even great Rabbanim. We are obligated to ask and re-ask questions when we have them (respectfully – of course) about their decisions. If we don’t - we shirking our duty to our children and to Klal Yisroel.

Pinny Taub clarified his original post on Cross Currents in their comment section. Apparently he did not criticize those who have had constructive criticism - only hate filled criticism. I think we can all agree that hate filled criticism is wrong - as I said above. I only wish he had made that distinction in the body of the post instead of the comments. His post made it seem like any criticism of the Agudah is evil. I apologize to him for the misunderstanding.