Monday, June 18, 2012

If Words Could Kill…

I received the following from an anonymous poster who does not want to reveal his identity. Although I rarely publish anonymous guest posts – after giving it some thought  I am making an exception in this case. The reason for this is ( …to put it in his own words): 
Family and friends are well known therapists and mechanchim and in the words of one of them I most respect "every rebbi is now a Child Molester waiting to be caught!".  I do not want to put them under the limelight. 

By itself this would not normally be enough to publish an anonymous post. But combined with his intelligent response I thought it only fair to present another view. His words follow.

Dear R' Harry & R Yanky,

You have both done a great disservice to our community and to greater society at large. You have allowed your personal biases to cloud your judgement, and you have slandered a  large group of chasidim - a group pretty foreign to the both of you. Neither of you are a product of or even a specialist working in this community. R' Yanky - Torah V'daas is not quite hardcore.

If words could kill you are both surely guilty of murder - slander of a large group you barely know.  On the one hand  I applaud you for taking victims side, and for valuing the need of protecting victims from intimidation on the other hand I abhor your blanket use of assumption and innuendo to advance the cause. 

To add some context - I too find many of the cultural norms of the far-right chasidim quite deplorable and applaud efforts to shed light on their archaic and backward approach to education.

However, the tally of disturbing abuse cases span the full gambit of modern orthodox to very yeshivahs to Chassidism. (In fact the most disturbing case in the past two years involved a litvishe rosh yeshiva and his sons who ostensibly abused their daughter/sister. )There is in fact no corroborating evidence that abuse occurs more in chassidic homes than in other communities. 

It is certainly possible to hypothesize that because of their insularity -chassidim therefore don't get treatment which ultimately perpetuates more abuse (statistics by the US dept of health claim that approx 33% of abuse victims go on to abuse). However, there is in fact little evidence or even suggestion that this (increased occurrences) is true in insular communities in general or in chassidic communities specifically.  Just innuendo from two very fine but highly irresponsible individuals. 

Abuse is a BIG PROBLEM and we need to fight it and weed it out. But we must also use seichel in dealing with abuse. There is another side to the coin that is often neglected. It's not just the case of the innocent person whose may be wrongfully convicted (I will however note that somehow for this statistic you are happy with the 'only 1% false accusation' for the general population applying to the chassidic community, but for the abuse statistics you are happy to veer from 10-15% to 25%-30%).

The other side I refer to is the countless menahalim, rebbeim and teachers who are now afraid to discipline in their classes. There were several stories I heard this year (all with names) of rebbeim who were threatened by students (in one case a student in a chassidish yeshiva told his rebbe when being rebuked for creating trouble in class that he would call 911 and accuse him of contact), or in some cases even by parents, of abuse that were unfounded and B"H ultimately dropped. In one case a Rebbi refused to continue teaching a class until a child was removed from his class after the child accused the Rebbi in front of the class of hitting him. 

The group of advocates who R' Yanky has associated himself with are folks who have shown themselves ready to 'toy with the details' and 'change the facts' if it will help their cause. Folks have been paid to lie in court, charges have been levied and unceremoniously dropped, and lives have been destroyed. [Samuel Kellner is a real name and the story he represents is the most deplorable outcome of a cause gone out of control. ]

One principal of a school (this one a licensed therapist) told me of a case where a child was being abused (he said -undoubtedly). The mother accused the yeshiva while the principal thought it was perhaps the father who was the abuser. He met with the assistant DA and found her depiction of proof (the child was afraid of people with beards -so obviously it was the rebbe) to be ridiculous in a community  where all have beards. The DA ultimately dropped this case against the rebbe, but it certainly points to why some in the community remain skeptical of law enforcement. 

We have a problem in the community of abuse, the chasidim likely have it a bit worse (in recognition, though not necessarily in numbers) because of their insularity, but this insularity breeds many behaviors that are outside the norms of general society - including their concept of when it's ok to lie and steal. I deplore these things and prefer to see chassidic leaders demonstrate once again appreciate honesty above all else, above piety, and above religiosity.

It pains me that we can get forty thousand chasidim to block internet from their homes but not forty thousand to demand honestly, integrity and love for their fellow Jews. I know many far-right chasidim (some are very close family) and they are honest and God fearing, they do not steal or cheat and go out of their way for Jews regardless of affiliation, but they certainly tolerate their brethren who don't. 

This is the failure!! This is what needs to change!!!

There is a an absence of leadership in the chassidic world (in the haredi world as a whole), and we should work to fix this, but this does not give me (or you for that matter) to malign an entire community.

There is work to be done, and it needs to be lead by an activist group. Several years ago a Dr. Twerski was selected by Dov Hikind to do just this and he was quickly dissuaded by threats. We should fix that - let Dr. Twerski or the next reliable and respected community member know that we have his back.

Make a hachtorah, crown him and ensure that we have someone who not only has the communities best interest at mind (which I believe the DA does) but also truly knows the community and its idiosyncrasies. Unfortunately, despite all the successes that Nochum and company have had ( and they have been significant) we cannot entrust our community members to their irresponsible form of southern justice.