Sunday, May 31, 2015

Creepy Behavior? Or Sexual Predation?

 Jonathan Rosenblatt. - a respected rabbi.  Note dignitaries in the background
It appears that the power of the sex drive is so strong that it can overwhelm all manner of restraint and common sense in people that ought to know better. People with reputations who command a lot of respect. People who have worked hard to achieve the kinds of things that garner them that respect. Nevertheless the fall prey to their own desires and throw caution to the wind.  And take chances in order to satisfy their  cravings.

One of the most famous examples of that is former President Bill Clinton. This is a man that could not resist the advances of a young woman and had a few sexual encounters with her in the oval office. Then there were accusations of even worse behavior when he was the governor of Arkansas. Behavior that might even be called rape.  The victim that made those accusations passed lie detector tests.

That didn’t seem to tarnish President Clinton’s reputation. To many people he is a beloved figure. And he is given great honor wherever he goes.  Sometimes to the tune of great sums of money for speaking engagements. Bloomberg reports: “The Washington Post found that Bill Clinton made $104.9 million in speaking fees between January 2001 and January 2013…”  

I don’t hear anything more about his sordid past. Now it’s all about his great humanitarian efforts. 

There seems to be a never ending stream of public figures getting caught in various kinds of sexual misconduct. Just last Thursday, the media reported about former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. He was discovered to be paying off an individual with whom he had inappropriate sexual conduct during his time as a high school teacher and athletic coach in downstate Illinois. Paying him in excess of a million dollars over time in a steady stream of smaller denominations.

Then there was Jerry Sandusky, a beloved and widely respected assistant college football coach who was found guilty of abusing or molesting young men in his charge.  

And need I mention all the pedophile priests in the Catholic Church? Or the numerous instances of identifiable Orthodox rabbis guilty of sex abuse and/or molestation? Jews in all segments of Orthodoxy from Modern Orthodox (YU) to Charedi (Lakewood, Ger, Satmar).

The people that do these things are often very accomplished. Rabbis with PhDs that teach in top drawer universities. People that through actions have gained tremendous respect and prestige. And they throw it all away to satisfy their lust. This is what happened with Barry Freundel. He basically ruined his life because of an insatiable desire to see naked women live via a camera he secretly installed in his Shul Mikva. Which he also recorded for his future viewing pleasure.

He went from being a happily married man with a beautiful family, a rabbi with a position of great respect and admiration, a rabbi to some of the most powerful figures in Washington, to being a disgraced man who lost his family and is now reviled and ridiculed. He fell from the apex of respect to the nadir of a 6 and ½ year prison term.  All because he couldn’t control his sexual appetite for voyeurism and actively used his position as a respected rabbi to feed that appetite.

And now as reported in the New York Times we have another respected rabbi engaging in some very creepy behavior: 
For years, Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt, the leader of an affluent Modern Orthodox synagogue in the Bronx, did something unusual with the boys in his congregation. He took them, some as young as 12, to the gym to play squash or racquetball, then showered beside them and took them into the sauna, where — often naked, and with them often naked — he engaged the boys in searching conversations about their lives, problems and faith.
This is yet another rabbi with a huge resume of accomplishment. And yet he had no compunction about stripping naked in front of young boys in a shower and spending time with them in a sauna also completely naked. Here is a brief description of his credentials: 
Rabbi Rosenblatt (is) an accomplished scholar who married into rabbinical royalty, grew to be one of New York City’s most prominent Orthodox leaders…
He was considered for the post of chief rabbi of Britain several years ago, is a visiting scholar at Harvard this year and is often invited to speak to and teach young people…
(Rabbi Rosenblatt holds) a master’s degree in comparative literature, (and)  is a great-grandson of a famed cantor, Yossele Rosenblatt, known as the Jewish Caruso. His wife is descended from both Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, a giant in modern American Orthodox Judaism, and from the Twersky Hasidic dynasty
Now I don’t know if taking a shower next to students - or sitting naked with students in a sauna is actionable behavior. But at the very least it’s creepy. Especially if one considers the accusations by those that experienced it: 
Very soon, the new rabbi began inviting the local boys to gyms in the area. “It was sort of a rite of passage in Riverdale,” recalled one man, now in his 40s…
(He) recalled that the rabbi paused to take in the sight of him naked. “In the shower, and as I got into the tub, I remember him gawking,” he said. He was 12 at the time.
Another man said Rabbi Rosenblatt took him to the sauna and hot tub more than a dozen times from 1986, when he was 13, until about 1993. The nudity, he said, always made him uncomfortable. “We’d be 15 minutes in the shower, then 15 minutes in the sauna, then 15 minutes in the hot tub,” he said. “There was no rush.”
Another former congregation member said that at the ritual immersion bath known as the mikvah, when he was about 15, “I remember getting out of the water and him watching me.” He asked the rabbi why. “He said, ‘I had to make sure that the whole body went underneath…’
As time went on, Rabbi Rosenblatt became known as a trainer of fledgling rabbis, many of whom went on to prominent positions. He combined an attentive personal style with the pedigree and connections that could launch a career. The squash-and-shvitz sessions were a well-known part of his process. 
The strange thing about all this is that Rabbi Rosenblatt did this out in the open. He did not hide these activities from anyone.  But it eventually caught up with him and he agreed to stop hosting rabbinic interns. 

I don’t know what you do with a guy like this. His behavior is sick enough to be repulsed by it. And yet, I’m not even sure you can do anything about a rabbi taking a shower that simply gawks at you when you are in the next shower stall… or gawks at you  while both he and you are naked together in a sauna …or in a hot tub.

But if I had anything to say about it, he would no longer be working in any capacity as a rabbi or mentor to young people. Legal or not, this behavior is disgusting. And if his behavior has caused psychological damage (as it may well have) - then he ought to be prosecuted under the law cited in the article by former sex crimes prosecutor, Linda Fairstein.

What a sad world we live in when sexual predation has becomes so common that a popular President guilty of it is glorified by the public while those past sins are ignored. I have to wonder if people like Freundel and Rosenblatt are emboldened by this kind of public reaction to a fellow who - like them - was a man of great accomplishment but could not control his sexual urges.