Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Clueless in Minnesota

Rabbi Manis Friedman
Manis Friedman is a great talent. Although he is a Lubavitcher Chasid, his reach extends far beyond Lubavitch. He has founded schools, mentored celebrities like Bob Dylan, and has been a guest lecturer all over the world.

And he has authored many books. His biggest claim to fame is a book entitled Doesn’t Anyone Blush Anymore? Reclaiming, Modesty, Intimacy, and Sexuality. It has gone into multiple printings.  I did not read it, but what I have read about the premise of this book (and what is suggested by the title) is something I agree with. The world has become a very immodest place judging by what is seen in various of the entertainment media... and society seems to have lost its sense of shame.

But that does not make him any less foolish. Dangerously so!

A conversation was recorded (and uploaded to YouTube) between him and an unidentified questioner about the impact of sex abuse on a victim the questioner knows. To make a long story short, he basically said the following  to victims of abuse (I am paraphrasing): “You were sexually abused?!  “Big deal!” “Get over it!” “What happened to you in the past is of less importance than forgetting to make an Al HaMichya” - the rabbinic requirement to offer a small prayer of thanks after eating a cookie or a piece of cake.

His entire approach in this video is one of arrogance as he makes light of the trauma suffered by a sex abuse victim at the hands of an abuser. In some cases – life-long trauma!  He belittles their feelings of being “damaged goods” by saying we are all damaged goods. As if to say that all the natural indignities that one may experience throughout life is the same thing as being abused. 

He even goes so far as to suggest that victims of abuse should never tell anyone they date that they were abused or molested - doing so with a laugh and a smirk! I wonder how Motty Borger's widow would feel about that? Motty committed suicide on his wedding night. It was later disclosed that he was a victim of sex abuse. 

Obviously Manis Friedman has never himself suffered from any form of sex abuse. Nor have his children or his wife. Nor his parents. He has ever been forcibly sodomized or forced to perform oral sex on an abuser. Or used as a sex object for the self gratification of an abuser.

He obviously doesn’t know anyone who has led a life of severe clinical depression because of the abuse they suffered. Nor does he know of anyone who ultimately committed suicide over it; or went OTD because of it; or tried to self medicate their emotional pain via alcohol or drugs.

No, to Manis Frierdman it is all an overblown phenomenon foisted upon the Jewish people by a society gone mad. In further dismissal of the public outrage  he says Jews should not be guided by the morals of the public but by the Torah. “What was the Aveira, after all?” He says. This is how how we should see sex abuse or molestation.

I guess there has been no penetration into his brain about the devastation caused to someone who was abused. His notions of sex abuse would free all the Kolkos of the world to keep gratifying themselves with selected students. I wouldn’t even be surprised if he felt that abusers should never be prosecuted let alone reported to the police.

Does this man have no Busha (shame)? Doesn’t he blush anymore? Does he really care about reclaiming modesty, intimacy, and sexuality, with his attitude that minimizes and even ridicules the trauma sex abuse victims suffer?

This is not the first time that Manis Friedman has gotten himself into hot water. And it will probably not be the last. That this man is given any credibility among Orthodox Jews is a bewilderment!  And yet, just last week he was given space in one of the Charedi magazines to write about matters theological. (Which I read and thought was an extremely juvenile way of looking at God’s incorporeality.)

The video that was posted on YouTube was taken down almost as soon as it was put up. Apparently Chabad leadership understands what Manins Freidman does not. You cannot trivialize sex abuse. It is not the ‘small’ sin he tries to say it is. It is a big sin tantamount to spiritual and emotional murder! That he has trivialized it shows that he is no man of wisdom.  He does not have any training in the field of mental health and yet arrogantly presents himself as some sort of expert based on his own understanding of what the Torah says about it.

That it was taken down is a good thing although cached copies are still around.  But Manis Friedman’s views have been exposed. This is how he feels. The proverbial cat is out of the bag. No apology can suffice in my view. It will amount to nothing more than damage control if and when it happens – which remains to be seen. The only thing I see changing his mind is if it God forbid happens to him or a loved one. And I do not wish it on him in any way. I do however wish that this man is never given any credibility on this issue by anyone.

I have changed the title of this post and removed a hyperbolic line from the text. In a moment of heated anger, I violated my own rules against flaming comments. I apologize for that. But I stand by the content.