Thursday, June 27, 2019

Is This Really Daas Torah?

Admitted (and convicted) sex offender Eliezer Berland (Ynet)
Unbelievable. That is about the only word that fits. Yeshiva World News reports about a Kol Koreh – a decree written and signed by numerous Charedi rabbinic leaders - often referred to as the Gedolim.

These are people that are seen by many as having the requisite piety and degree of Torah knowledge making them the most qualified people on earth to express Daas Torah – the wisdom of the Torah on any and every subject they choose to address. 

Added to this is ‘Lo Sasur’ - the Torah requirement (Vayikra 17:11) to not turn to the left or right when those representing the Torah express an opinion. Which Rashi tells us means that even when what they say is counter-intuitive, such as saying something is black when it is really white and vice versa, it doesn’t matter. We must listen to them. While ‘Lo Sasur’ is meant to apply to the ancient Jewish body of law known as the Sanhedrin, the Charedi world has extended that honor to their Gedolim.

I understand the logic. We have no Sanhedrin today, so we turn to the next best thing available in our day. Which is what makes what just happened in Israel so unbelievable. From YWN
A Beis Din comprised of three of the top Dayanim in Eretz Yisroel issued a Kol Koreh regarding both sides of the dispute between the Shuvu Bonim movement and those that dispute the leader of that movement R. Eliezer Berland. The Kol Koreh was issued by the three members of the Beis Din, and a letter of support was appended to the ruling of the Beis Din – expressing confidence in them. An addition was added by Rav Moshe Shternbuch that indicated the necessity to minimize Chillul Hashem.

That is followed by a translation of the actual words of the Kol Koreh (by Rabbi Yair Hoffman) that includes the following admonition: 
(I)n light of the fact that Rabbi Berland and his Kehillah have accepted upon themselves to adjudicate the issues before the Beis Din, therefore, the Beis Din is obligating all sides from this day onward to immediately cease all the hate, all the persecution, all the arguments, and all the slander.  They are not to speak nor publicize any negative matter one of the other, nor express any negative nickname, in any manner or form – neither in print or orally or through any medium printed or broadcasted.
Those who signed onto the decree are a virtual who’s who of Charedi rabbinic leadership in Israel.

Rabbi Natan Slifkin has expressed outrage at this admonition. And I pretty much agree with him. Here is his description of Berland:
One of the most sick, evil people to masquerade behind the title of "rabbi" is surely Eliezer Berland. It's almost impossible to grasp the extent of his crimes against humanity. He has sexually exploited God knows how many women and girls. He has had people beaten up and has tried to have them killed. He has declared himself a deity. He preys upon the weak to give him their life savings, and laughs about it. He's also utterly insane, happily being recorded on video talking about eating human fetuses on the black market in China. 
I can understand that this Beis Din wants to reach its own conclusion. I understand that when there are credible suspicions of sex abuse that they want to get to the bottom of things so that innocent people that are so accused are  not subjected to a lifetime of condemnation as a result of a false accusation. Whether a Beis Din like this is equipped to do a proper investigation is a separate subject.  But at least I get their motives. And understand their asking people not to gossip about it.

But this is not such a case. Eliezer Berland is an admitted sex abuser and rapist who at first fled Israel to avoid prosecution. He was captured, arrested, and extradited to Israel to face trial. He plead guilty; was convicted on two counts of indecent acts and one assault. And was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

There is no doubt about what he did. He even apologized for it and expressed remorse. This is public knowledge that has been publicized in virtually all Jewish media. And yet there has been a decree not to gossip about him as though he might be found innocent?! Is there any sane human being on earth that understands this?!

Well... shockingly, there are such people. Although I have to question their sanity. Berland still has followers to this day well after his conviction. He is apparently very charismatic. The institution he founded and leads, Yeshivat Shuvu Bonim is designed to bring Jews back to Judaism based on the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. Until his dark side was discovered he was so successful that Shuvu Bonim grew into: 
…ten kollels, three yeshivot for young men, a Talmud Torah, an elementary school for girls, a range of preschools and kindergartens, youth groups, and evening lectures for women. 
That has generated many followers that simply cannot and do not believe any of this despite the fact that he admitted guilt and served time in prison. Prior to his release in 2017 thousands of them held a vigil at Ma’aras HaMachpela in 2016 – praying that he be released on the last night of Chol HaMoed Pesach. (see below)

That might be even more mind boggling than what this Beis Din is doing. But cults are like that. They can explain away anything negative about their leader. 

However, the rabbinic leaders that have issued or support this Kol Koreh in writing are not cult members. And yet they are pursuing possible innocence in the face of clear and unambiguous evidence that this man is as at least as guilty as he admitted he was. What do they think they will find that will exculpate him from his admitted sex crimes?!

This is Daas Torah?!

I can only surmise that they must feel that an elderly man who looks like Berland; behaves with extreme piety in public wherever he goes; a man who was so successful in bringing so many Jews back to Judaism, a man with such a large following of people that believe in him, there might just be an explanation that will exonerate him.

They will not find one. The obvious fact is that Berland is a very sick man that forced himself on women for his own sexual gratification. And probably ruined their lives.

But… let us wait and see what this Beis Din will come up with. Perhaps they will ultimately put Berland into Cherem where he belongs. And publicize that decree in a Kol Koreh with the same fervor they published this one. I just hope they do it quickly.