Sunday, January 02, 2011

Moshe Katzav - President and Rapist

What do Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy, John Edwards, Martin Luther King, and Moshe Katzav (pictured) have in common? No it isn’t only that they have committed immoral acts that have been made public. It is also that they are people who achieved great success in life. The success they achieved far surpassed that of most people catapulting their careers into the public arena and making them celebrities.

Celebrity brings with it a certain degree of power. Which is a very powerful aphrodisiac. The combination of celebrity and power creates opportunity and simultaneously a false sense of infallibility. That can cause reckless immoral behavior and ultimately lead to one’s downfall. If that person is an identifiable Jew – especially a religious one – it is a terrible Chilul HaShem.

These gentlemen are not inherently evil people. Nor are they an exhaustive list of those who have fallen prey to human frailties. Far from it. They are men of great achievement. In some cases even heroes to be admired despite their failings. In other cases their failings have negated much of what they have achieved in life. The point is that even people of legitimately great achievement can succumb to temptation under the right conditions. It demonstrates Chazal’s wisdom in their Talmudic Dictum ‘Ein Apitropus L’Arayos’ - there is no ‘guardian’ for sexual arousal.

There is no way - no matter how righteous – to completely protect oneself from succumbing to temptation. That’s how powerful the sex drive is. We are all capable of this kind of behavior given the right circumstances – from the greatest Gadol down to the common man. And when one achieves great success and power in one’s life – it increases opportunity to fall prey to temptation.

Moshe Katzav was a man whose personal achievement led to his being nominated to the ceremonial position of President of Israel. This honor is usually reserved for people who have served the people of Israel in extraordinary ways and are considered role models of behavior. I’m not exactly sure what his claim to fame was. But that he was elected to this office over older people of great achievement means that he must have done some pretty incredible things.

If I understand correctly he was also religiously observant. When he was elected – many of us felt a sense of pride that the secular Israeli political establishment choose an observant Jew to represent their country as its titular head. He exemplified family values - being a devoted husband of many years and a loving father. He was exactly the kind of person a nation could want as its public face.

But as was the case with others who have achieved fame and power, he was presented with opportunities and he succumbed to his libido in ways far worse than the others in the illustrious list cited above. Forcing oneself sexually upon another human being is one of the most despicable acts any human being can do - far worse than simply having an extra-marital affair – which is bad enough!

And yet he had a lifetime of public service good enough to become President of Israel. And his family seems to be standing by him – even after the verdict finding him guilty of rape.

What are we to make of all this? How can a good man be so guilty of such a heinous crime as rape?

Rabbi Benjamim Blech has an excellent take on this that can help shed some light on it. He points to another Israeli leader whose power led him to do something terribly wrong. This one is biblical and one of the greatest figures in Jewish history - King David. He too was a victim of circumstances combined with power. He saw the beautiful Bathsheba from afar – and he wanted her. He was willing to send her husband Uriah to certain death in battle so that he could marry her – which he did. For this the prophet ‘Nathan forcefully told the King by way of a parable that David was no better than a murderer.

One of Rabbi Blech’s primary points is that no one in Judaism is above the law. In the biblical days of old - King David had to acknowledge his sin. Modern day Israel has just demonstrated the same idea by finding its ‘king’ - a man who had an impeccable public record guilty of a horrendous sex crime.

The lesson to be learned here I think is to realize that none of us can claim to be so in control of their sex drive that they can act recklessly. Anyone can succumb - given their own unique challenges. The higher up the ladder of success one goes – the greater will be the opportunity to succumb to temptation – no matter how moral one believes themselves to be.

One needs to make they recognize that and take steps to prevent it. This does not mean cutting oneself off from the world. On the contrary that is even worse in my view. It is counterproductive and can easily result in even more serious consequences as has become increasingly evident by the number of abuse victims coming out of the closet telling their stories.

Engaging with the culture does not mean we that we shouldn’t use every means available to us to prevent succumbing to temptation. It is relatively easy to discount Rabbinic figures as examples for ourselves. After all we are not on their level. But it is not only our own great religious figures that can do it. I believe that the behavior of a man who is not even Jewish (and may have even been anti-Semitic according to some reports)- the Evangelist preacher Billy Graham – can nonetheless serve as an example for all of us.

He utilized a method of protection that is actually a Halacha for the Jewish people. One that is generally ignored by far too many of us. Ignoring it has seen the downfall of many great people. It is the Halacha of Yichud – the prohibition of a man secluding himself in a room with a woman even for innocent purposes.

Billy Graham never met with any woman without his wife being present. If we would only follow his example it is highly unlikely that we will ever be overtaken by our libido and commit immoral acts. If Moshe Katzav and all the others mentioned above would have followed Dr. Graham’s example, none of them – including Moshe Katzav would have gotten into trouble.