Wednesday, January 30, 2013

More Damning Evidence

Promo for a speaking engagement in 2010
After listening to an audio version of Manis Friedman's lecture on how he believes the Torah deals with sex abuse, I was made ill. There is no better way to describe what listening to what he said does to you. It will make you ill.

The audio presentation is more complete than the video in that it records what he said just before that video presentation.  And that makes it more damning. The opening few lines not heard in the video makes it abundantly clear exactly what he was saying. There is no context that would modify it for the better.

To repeat what I said yesterday, Manis Friedman believes that if one is sexually molested, one should look in the Torah to see how to react. Nowhere in the Torah does it say anything about sexual molestation. Forgetting to say an Al Hamichya is much worse than your being molested as a child.

He adds that since the Torah has absolutely nothing to say about sexual molestation while it is clear about the requirement to listen to our rabbis (Lo Sasur) - the establishment in Halacha of Al HaMichya makes omitting it is a far more serious violation. And we should therefore treat it that way.

What about the feeling on the part of the victim? That – he says – is society’s fault. We have been indoctrinated to be far more sensitive to sexual molestation than we should be. So if a person suffers emotionally from being molested, it isn’t the molestation that makes them suffer, but societal attitudes post abuse. And the bottom line for a rabbi is to tell the victim that what happened isn’t so bad, that almost everyone gets molested, that their grandmothers in Europe were molested and that nothing unusual has happened to the victim. The victim should just get over it and get on with their lives.

All this was contained in the video.

This is the problem with the simplistic way in which Manis Friedman looks at the Torah. Does he really believe the Torah has nothing to say about sexual molestation? Does he think that societal attitudes are ignored by the Torah? If that is true, then he forgot – or never learned – about the concept of Shenios – a sexual violation mandated by the sages because of societal values… or the Cherim D'Rabbenu Gershom prohibition against having more than one wife.

Societal values are not ignored by the Torah at all. The sages understood that the Torah should never be seen as having a lower moral code than the rest of society.

Rabbi Friedman goes on to say that we are not psychologists.  That sounds like a nod to the professionals - that they should be the ones doing the therapy, not laypeople - even rabbis!  But he does not mean to say that we should leave therapy to the psychologists. If one listens carefully to what he says - he means that psychology is not Torah. And that we as Jews should not act like psychologists when dealing with a victim of abuse. Psychologists he contends makes things worse by foisting upon the victim societal attitudes about sex abuse that are not in the Torah!

In another video (below) that was apparently released in response to the controversy, he makes the same claim. Rabbis – he says - should not be psychologists and not do therapy. And a few moments later he uses the word therapy in connection with what rabbis should do. In other words, our therapy should be the Torah’s therapy, not the psychologists therapy. How naive. How arrogant. And how ignorant. 

There is not a single word in that video that deals with anything he said in the first one. All that is ignored as though he never said it and there is no controversy about it.

Much of the rest of that video says that a rabbi’s role should be to convince the victim that he is OK. That the Torah does not consider what happened to them all that bad. That what happened was not the victim’s fault… and then get on with their lives. There is nothing like half-truths to validate the untruths. And there is nothing worse than ignorance combined with arrogance when speaking to a victim of sexual abuse.

Rabbi Friedman is a widely respected figure in the Orthodox world. He gets a lot of attention. When he talks, people listen. I’ve read some of his stuff and most of the time, he gets it right. His views for example about internet use are similar to my own as are his views about how society devalues shame – as I mentioned yesterday.

But he is not all knowing. And yet I think he believes (at least subconsciously) in the accolades he often gets.  I guess human nature is such that if you hear praise about yourself enough times you start to believe it. Furthermore when a man gets that kind of Kavod, his views on matters like sex abuse become very dangerous. 

I'm told that Manis Friedman will have more to say about this by the end of the week. But based on what I heard in the more complete audio version of yesterday's video; and on the new video - I seriously doubt he will retract anything he has said. Although I hope he does, he will probably just try to explain his views better.We'll see. If he does not retract, I would urge all Frum professional mental health workers who are both trained and experienced in sex abuse to come out with a clear and unequivocal public refutation of what he said.