Sunday, July 11, 2010

Furthering the Ends of Evil

There has been a lot of talk recently about listening to Torah leaders versus listening to secular authorities. This came to a head a few weeks ago in the Israeli town of Emanuel – where the secular Supreme Court ruled that Slonimer Chasidim violated court ordered integration of their Beis Yaakov school and were sent to prison.

The Charedi world saw this as a conflict between secular law and Torah law. Especially when chief Justice of that court, Edmund Levi, an observant Jew said that rabbis have no authority over the courts. With that - 100,000 Charedim were asked to protest in support of the idea that in a dispute between Torah leaders and secular leaders - the secular courts will be defied.

I am not here to argue the point. In fact I agree that as Jew - one must follow Torah law over secular law when they are in conflict. But I maintain now as I did then that this protest was made in error and the Emanuel case was not about religion at all but about ethnic prejudice which the court recognized as such despite the efforts of Chasidic parents to dress the issue in religious clothing. Charedi leadership however bought it and Charedim who never question the decisions of their Charedi leadership took to the streets in peaceful demonstration of solidarity with the jailed parents.

That issue was finally resolved to satisfaction of both the court and the parents. But that episode raises an important question. Should we always trust our rabbis in defining what constitutes a real conflict between Torah and the secular world? Is it possible that in their zeal to protect the supremcy of Torah law that they are in misjudging the situation and in reality undermining it?

This question applies not only in Israel but in the United States as well. And in one of the most troubling issue of our day, it has once again come to the fore. This time it is in the city of Lakewood, New Jersey.

An article by Michael Orbach in the Jewish Star reports on a story of an accused sex abuser - a nephew of the infamous child abuser Yehuda Kolko - and the way it is being handled by what seems to be establishment rabbis:

The case in question involves Yosef Kolko, 33, a Lakewood Yeshiva teacher and camp counselor who is accused of sexually abusing a boy under 13 in the summers between 2007 and 2009. Kolko faces several serious charges including aggravated sexual assault that could send him to prison for up to 60 years.

The boy’s father went straight to the police and reported the incident to them. Instead of supporting the aggrieved father there seems to be a move to paint him as a Moser - an informant! From the Jewish Star:

The charges against Kolko seem to have hit a nerve in Lakewood. A flier distributed in the New Jersey town last Wednesday that was provided to The Jewish Star names the alleged victim’s father in the headline and states that he “makes a mockery of the Torah.”

The father, dubbed “Harav HaMosser” (the rabbi, the informer) went to the police “without going to a beis din and without the Haskama (permission) of any” rabbi and proceeded to press charges even after he was approached by prominent members of Beis Medrash Govoha, the famous yeshiva founded by Rav Aharon Kotler, zt”l.

“The ground in Lakewood should be shaking by your reaction…” said the unsigned letter, which named the victim of the alleged abuse. “Surely Shamaim (heaven) is shaking over the Chilul Hashem Hanorah (the clear desecration of G-d’s name).”

One fellow by the name of Shaul Luban decided to pressure the victim’s father not to testify. He now stands accused of witness tampering. It is suspected that other cases may have been similarly tainted.

Before I get into the substance of my criticism, I want to express my sympathy for this fellow. I feel sorry for him. I’m sure he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. He probably thought he was doing the right thing. He was just following Daas Torah by asking the father not to testify. If he is tried I hope the courts are lenient with him.

But the bigger problem is what motivated him to do it in the first place. There is still this idea that sex abuse cases can be handled by ‘Unzere’ - that our own people via Rabbis and Battei Din (religious courts) can do justice for the victims and prevent any further sex abuse. Unfortunately this has proven to be an erroneous position. There are many religious leaders - including Rav Elayshiv - who have come around on this issue and support reporting credible accusations of sex abuse to the secular authorities.

But if the Jewish Star report is correct –the Lakewood rabbinic establishment still thinks it can handle things. And just like the Emanuel case it becomes an ‘us versus them’ situation - Daas Torah versus secular law and they ask rhetorically, ‘Who are you going to listen to?’

To me this illustrates that the real Daas Torah is not always what it seems to be. I’m sure that community means well. They probably think they are protecting an innocent man who was tainted by his uncle’s reputation as a sex abuser. Or perhaps they figure that even if he is guilty they can stop him on their own - without police involvement. But time and again it has been shown that the Frum world no matter how well intended, simply does not have the training to do it. The result is that justice is not served and sex abuse will go on.

But those who follow the Daas Torah of these rabbis won’t question their decisions. They will instead follow their lead in castigating the government, the father of the victim, and do everything they can to undermine the case against the accused sex abuser. No questions asked. Just like in Emanuel.

That spurred one man to violate the law and tamper with a witness.

Undermining the law is counter productive on many levels. It violates Dina D’ Malchusa. It can lead to an unjust verdict. It hurts the victim. It is a Chilul HaShem. And it encourages other molesters and sex abuser to continue molesting and abusing their victims. They know that the religious community will come to their aid in this way.

Like I said at the outset - a principled religious individual whose conscience mandates him to follow his God and not his fellow man when the two are in conflict will always follow his God. And he will willingly suffer the consequences. But one must first know that he is indeed acting in accordance with God before acting. Sometimes those informing his religious sensibilities may be wrong. Grievously wrong! And instead of making the Kiddush HaShem they think they are - are actually participating in a Chilul HaShem - and in the process furthering the ends of evil.