Tuesday, January 31, 2012

An Iconic Abuser

When I was in elementary school back in the late fifties. I had a Rebbe that used corporal punishment. He used to actually slap boys on the back of their hands. It stung. And it turned our hands red. But he was a beloved figure. Every slap on the hand was given with great love and care and we knew it. His every action towards his students spoke of his love towards them. Eventually he stopped using corporal punishment because it was made illegal. His career in Chinuch lasted many decades. He has just recently retired. But he has left behind a legacy of literally thousands of students – including me - who remember him with great fondness and love.

Corporal punishment was a more or less accepted method of discipline back then. But as I said it has become illegal. And for good reason. It was abusive in most cases. Some children suffered severe injuries when teachers who were not as kind and as caring as that elementary school Rebbe I had would paddle a child on his bare rear end until it would bleed! There were various and sundry other methods of physical beatings that took place under the guise of discipline. Now all forms of corporal punishment have been outlawed. Good riddance.

Which brings me to an article in the Jewish Week about Rav Aharon Bina, a popular Rosh Yeshiva of Netiv Aryeh (prior to which he ran the program for the foreign students inf Yeshivat HaKotel). This 63 year old Mechanech has been around for a long time too. Over 3 decades according to the article. But his story seems to be a bit different than mine. Apparently he still uses corporal punishment. But in his case it is on students that come to him post high school for their ‘year in Israel’. Perhaps even worse than the physical pain of corporal punishment is the psychological punishment he uses on some of his students. From the article:

A significant minority of former students, employees and colleagues maintain that Rav Bina is controlling, manipulative and emotionally coercive in ways that would never be accepted in other schools. In what has become known throughout Israeli yeshivot as “Bina Stories,” he is said to regularly yell at, humiliate and insult students in public; threaten to expel them for seemingly no reason (and make good on that promise with a few every fall, sometimes without first notifying the parents); press psychologists he hires to share private information about the students he has sent them; and tell those in disfavor that they are cursed.

With this kind of behavior going on in a school by its leader it doesn’t matter how many people praise him. And I’m sure that there are many. When a Mechanech abuses even one child, all his ‘good deeds’ become worthless in my mind. People can go and do Off the Derech (OTD) with this kind of treatment.

But this means little to Rav Bina because in his mind the student he expels is already there. He is therefore not going to put up with him - and will expel him immediately so that he can influence and indoctrinate the remaining ‘good boys’ without the danger of these ‘abominable outcasts’ negatively influencing them.

Public humiliation is not a legitimate disciplinary method. It in fact has the opposite effect causing even more rebellion and even hatred of not only the Mechnech – but of what he represents and is trying to teach.

There are those who will say that the Jewish Week article is nothing more than a smear campaign by some disgruntled students of a wonderful and successful Mechanech – a man who was a positive influence in a great many students.

Hearing good things about him - I actually thought that might be the case and did not want to comment on the story – giving him the benefit of the doubt. Until I spoke to a former HaKotel student - someone I have known for a long time – dating back to his early childhood. He is now a very successful and accomplished professional in a very difficult field. He is as honest as the day is long. He is a kind and caring person who would not hurt a fly and would certainly never say a bad word about anyone if it wasn’t true. He corroborated the Jewish Week story. And he told me that R’ Bina is the only reason he will never donate a penny to any Yeshiva he was ever associated with - past or present. That inspired me to write this post.

Every student should be treated with dignity and respect even if he breaks the rules. No student deserves to be publicly humiliated. The way this article describes Rav Bina’s behavior I should think he has a lot of introspection to do about just how many young men he turned off of Yiddshkeit. That he possibly inspired may others is no saving grace in my view.

I say this with a heavy heart. I don’t like hurting people who have devoted their entire lives to Chinuch. But if - as I suspect - what this article says about Rav Bina is true he ought to be fired. And if he is not under the control of a board of directors, then his yeshiva ought to be boycotted. If I were a parent contemplating sending my son to a yeshiva in Israel, I would certainly cross Netiv Aryeh off my list.