Tuesday, July 03, 2012

“It Just Can’t Be True!”

I am loath to mention Avreimal Mondrowitz again. But I think it is instructive to note why people like him seem to be so strongly  protected by his community. This is not a surprise to me.  But I make note of it here in light of a line in a recent Jewish Press article about this sordid and on-going injustice. The line reads as follows:

“Reportedly, his neighbors like him and are unaware or deny the allegations about his past.”

His neighbors like him. One should not dismiss this point lightly. To simply say that the attitude about sex abuse in the right wing community is a function of their readings of Halacha – misses an important factor. The human one.  There is clearly another more human reason for protecting a monster like Mondrowitz.  They see a very charming fellow who has a nice family; living among them for many years; and who emphatically denies all charges - and wonder how it could be possible that someone like this could be even remotely guilty of what he is being accused of.

I think the emotional component is a much bigger problem than people may be aware of.  Bigger - in my view than trying to fight notions about improperly applied Mesirah or anti secular biases. Experiencing someone in only positive ways creates a natural bias toward him that is hard to shake when accused by a stranger of abuse.  I think it might even be easier to convince someone of erring in their Halachic analyses than it is to change their ‘sixth sense’ about them.

I admit to at one time being guilty of this kind of thinking myself. About 20 or 30years ago - there were rumors circulating about one individual here in Chicago that he had molested some young girls.  At the time I refused to believe it. It couldn’t be that this fellow who was well integrated into the community was capable of it. He was a merchant on Devon Avenue - a busy shopping area  at the time (similar to ‘13th Avenue’ in Brooklyn) in an Orthodox neighborhood. All 3 of my daughters actually had an after school job with him when they were in high school. I just did not believe it about this man. Nor did many other people who frequented his shop.  He was charming fellow - a family man with a wonderful wife and wonderful children.

Although I still find it hard to believe, I do believe those rumors now. There is no doubt about what he did. His wife passed away and his children are all married adults. And at over 80 years of age -lives alone and in virtual house arrest. Thank God nothing happened to my daughters.

The point is that if you know someone well and you never see him do anything but the right thing – it is easy to fall into the trap called “denial”. If a community can deny the accusations against Mondrowitz in this way, it is understandable that other communities can deny the accusations about other molesters as is the case with Rabbi Nechemia Weberman – a man that takes off his glasses when he walks down the street so he won’t be able to accidently  gaze at a woman as she passes him by.

I suggest that this may in part be behind the thinking of the Agudah Moetzes - in their approach to requiring all accusations of abuse to pass before a Rabbi for approval before reporting them to the police. When a man that is well respected and has no known history of abuse is accused, it shouldn’t be all that surprising that caution is mandated about reporting him to the police. It doesn’t make it right. But it does make it understandable. The human predilection to rely on your own observations about someone  can outweigh common sense sometimes.

I don’t know how one deals with this. Just to be clear, I absolutely agree that all accusations of abuse should be reported directly to the police. While we can argue this point saying that not doing so impedes justice - how can we counter the human factor? How do we counter the “It can’t be true about him!” thought process so as to convince people of the injustice of relying on an irrational emotion? Just some food for thought.