Thursday, September 11, 2008

Askanim - Protecting the Guilty

I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why it is that good people, people with high motives can be so stupid. It seems so obvious to me what the right thing to do is. And yet there are good people who seem to do exactly the opposite.

By now most people know that Dr. Benzion Twersky (pictured on the left) was intimidated to resign from a Task Force designed to deal with child molesters. Dr. Twerski holds a PhD in psychology from the University of Pittsburgh and is an illustrious descendant of a famed Chasidic dynasty.

The Task Force he resigned from is not some ad hoc group of vigilantes. It was to be a group consisting of professionals like Dr. Twerski and Poskim to examine every claim of molestation and make sure that credible claims were not swept under the rug.

How can anyone in their right mind possibly object to this? Especially Askanim -community activists who are themselves interested in the community’s welfare.

I have in the past been very critical of these Askanim. Vehemently so. But one cannot simply dismiss them as evil. I see them as good people who are motivated by noble goals. At least at first. When someone becomes a community activist - it is usually for the right reasons. They generally mean well and have the best of intentions. But unguided they will go astray. And that seems to be more often the case than not. There have been too many instances where well intended actions have resulted in evil triumphing.

Ostensibly they want to protect their community from sin. So they ban a book because of perceived heresy - or a concert of because of its potential for violations of Issurei Arayos, the forbidden activity between the sexes. I’m sure an Askan sees himself as a noble and brave guardian of our morals and traditions. At least that is how he starts out. But after a while I have to wonder if those good intentions haven’t turned into something else.

When one bans a concert to protect young people from possible violations of Issurei Arayos, it boggles the mind that these same Issurei Arayos are over-looked when it comes to the most vulnerable and innocent among us. I can think of no more vulnerable and innocent victim than a child. And yet when it comes to protecting children from molesters these same Askanim do an about face. They protect the accused.

So I scratch my head. How can these people who spend their lives trying to do good be so clueless - with an evil result? How can they allow the molesters in our midst to roam free and leave our children vulnerable to them? How can they allow that about someone whose many victims have come out with disgusting story after disgusting story about what he did to them?

The answer is denial. They simply do not believe it – no matter how many victims come forth - they do not believe them. Shocking as this may be I can understand it. If they and their loved ones are not victims - all they see what is the person in front of them. They see a charming fellow that looks and dresses like them. They see a family man with many lovely children who are well adjusted and happy. And after knowing this person for sometime in this way, they simply do not believe it charges of molestation against him when they spring up in the media.

They therefore seek to protect the accused molester seeing him - as the innocent victim! They see him as a victim of malicious gossip - the gossip of an anti religious or gullible media that are swayed by a bunch of lying kids with vendettas.

I think this is the dynamic here with these Askanim. They take their zeal very seriously and think they are doing the will of God. They will not be intimidated. But they do intimidate others in what they foolishly think is a just cause.

That is the only way I can explain their actions. The only alternative to that explanation would be to say they are co-conspirators. I don’t think that is the case. So even though this doesn’t make them evil - it does make them stupid and arrogant. And the results are just as bad as if they were evil incarnate.

This time they have taken their zeal to a new low. Their view of doing what is just and right in the eyes of God will end up costing untold psychological damage upon innocent victims for many years. In their arrogance and stupidity they have decided that they know better than experts in the field, both secular and rabbinic. With the best of their ill informed intentions they have intimidated Dr. Benzion Twerski to resign from a group designed to reduce and hopefully eliminate this scourge from out midst. But now it will most likely result in more children being molested. This is a victory for evil - pure and simple. More children will become victims and suffer lifelong psychological and spiritual damage.

By being so arrogant and stupid they reveal a very ugly side of themselves. They have taken a path from protecting their community form spiritual harm to one of arrogance and self gratification that destroys any original good intent. When one looks at this particular event, it should put the entire enterprise of self-appointed Askanim in its proper light. It makes everything they do suspect. Are they really interested in their goals anymore? Or are they interested in exercising the power they’ve achieved?

This is a victory for evil there is no other way to look at it. As Dr. Twerski points out - molestation is underestimated in the Frum community. And because of this it is likely to grow.

These Askanim must be stopped. What they did to Dr. Twerski - and worse to the children he would have saved from molestation - is unconscionable. Perhaps the Torah world should consider a new cause. One that I think is key to changing things. It should be given the highest priority. They must enlist the aid of every Rav and anyone they consider a Gadol to rid the world of these Askanim. They will not go away by themselves.

As long as they are around, evil will continue to triumph. If there was ever any ban that I would it would be to ban Askanim. We need to make certain that anyone who does these kinds of things will be ostracized form the Torah world.

Postscript: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz writes about this event on his website today. As usual he hits the nail on the head.

Updated: 9/11/08 2:50 PM CDT