Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Our Double Standard

Update. I have removed the photo that originally accompanied this post and I apologize to the copyright holder and to the individual who was in the photo for its use. 

After reading all the apologetics for the lack of outrage about Shlomo Carlebach’s sexually abusive behavior and passive acceptance of his iconic status, I am struck by similarities to the defenses made for other sex abusers by their communities.

In my previous post I asked what the difference is between the attitudes expressed about Carlebach’s fans versus the attitudes express by Lanner, Weberman, or Kolko’s fans.

Here are some of the answers.

One difference mentioned is that Carlebach is dead and there is nothing to sue. There is no point on dwelling on something one cannot do anything about.


Does it matter to the victims who were abused that their abuser has long ago died? I don’t think so. Ask the victims of now deceased Rabbi Ephraim Shapiro, a Baltimore day school principal who was accused of abusing the young boys he privately tutored for Bar Mitzvah lessons. He died many years before those accusations were made. He had a long and successful career as a principal. Anyone want to give him a pass?

And is money the motive here? Is the reason YU is getting so much negative publicity because they have money for which they can be sued?

Not according to victims or their advocates. None of the victims are doing this for the money. Not even the ones who came forward recently and added their names to the lawsuit. It is all about justice for the victims.

Well what about justice for Carlebach’s victims? Is his aggrandizement in a fawning Broadway play justice for them?

Some have argued that the difference is that he was never convicted of anything, and question whether those accusations are real. Well, neither was Ephraim Shapiro. How many people think this distinguished gentleman is an icon?

Some have said YU is grossly different since they failed to act and allowed the situation to continue for decades. Really? Carlebach  had hundreds of victims for many decades. He gets a pass and YU doesn’t?

There are those who say his acts were not as serious as those perpetrated by Weberman. Sorry. That argument doesn’t wash. Victims and advocates will tell you that unwanted sexual contact of any kind are extremely harmful which can cause years of pain. Besides - is what Finkelstein did any worse than what Carlebach did? It was unwanted by the victims in both cases. How many think Finkelstein is an icon?

What I am detecting here is what I detect in Williamsburg or any other community when one of their respected members is accused of sexual abuse: a defensive posture. The fact that he is so valued makes his fans very suspect about accusations of sex abuse. It is out of character about everything they know about him. Take Weberman for example. He used to take his glasses off in the street so that he wouldn’t accidentally gaze upon a woman.  And look at how many young people there are that he treated so successfully?

It is almost impossible to believe that someone you so strongly admire and so exemplary in his public behavior could ever do anything like that. The same thing is true about the hierarchy at NCSY during Lanner’s years there. He was an icon to those people because of his successful Kiruv.  And what they heard about him… wasn’t that bad they thought. So they looked the other way. Of course his victims thought it was that bad. Very bad.

The fact that Baltimore’s Orthodox establishment initially responded with outrage at the publication who published those accusations against Shapiro is because they too could not believe it about a man who during his lifetime was known as exemplary.

This is what is happening with Carlebach. He is to us what Weberman is to Satmar or Lanner was to NCSY, and what Shapiro was initially to the Baltimore Orthodox establishement. He is someone we all worship and he is given a pass. All questions are batted away. Because we love him… the same way Satmar loves Weberman; NCSY’s former leadership loved Lanner; and Baltimore loved Shapiro.

The outrage I so often encounter about any accusations of sex abuse is flaming in nature. It is unforgiving. Rightfully so. But I see none of that with Carlebach in the responses by people who are normally infuriated by people like that.  What I have mostly seen here is a lot of - is a debate about the value of his music.

There are as of now 79 comments on that Carlebach post and I don’t recall a single one being outraged by Carlebach’s inability to keep his hand off of his female fans… or his unwanted sexual encounters with so many of them. Some of it physical; some of it sex talk talk over the phone with a female fan.

Big deal? It’s Carlebach after all? We love his music? We can’t vilify him? Because if we did, how in good conscience can we love his music so much?!

I’m sorry. This is a double standard. And it should give us pause.

The truth is that we are all selective in who and how we condemn different people for similarly bad acts. When it comes to our own personal biases - we rationalize. We make excuses. We love Carlebach’s music. We therefore cannot allow ourselves to think of his sexually abusive exploits whenever we hear or sing one of his songs. He is too big to take down. And yet I cannot tell you how many times I have heard advocates say that it doesn’t matter how exemplary an individual is in all his other endeavors. If he is a sex abuser - he is garbage. How many people think Carlebach is garbage?

So we dismiss his behavior as though it never happened. We ignore it or minimize it. He’s dead after all. Long live his music. Anyone want to see a good play on Broadway?