Monday, February 06, 2017

The Importance of Rabbis Listening to Experts

Rabbi Shimon Russell
A few weeks ago, Montreal Beis Yaakov principal, Rabbi Shneur Aisenstark wrote a guest column for Mishpacha Magazine in which he gave some startling advice to parents whose children have dropped observance (popularly known as going OTD – Off The Derech). These young people often do not stop with that but go on to anti social behavior involving sex, alcohol and/or drugs.  

None of this is new. Most professionals that work with these troubled young people advise parents very strongly to give these children unconditional love. Rabbi Aisenstark does not agree. He insists that there are lines that – when crossed have to be firmly dealt with. In other words the love cannot be unconditional. Which is what he means by the title of his column, ‘Not a Hefker Velt’. 

Quoting R’ Chaim Kanievsky he said we do not live in a world where our actions shave no consequences. Parents must therefore insist on certain lines not being crossed on pain of ultimate rejection if necessary.  Even troubled children have responsibilities says Rabbi Aisenstark adding Yesh Din V’Yesh Dayan. There are rules and a Heavenly Judge. 

Children that are so rebellious to your religious requirements must be eliminated from your lives. That full acceptance comes only with the acceptance of Torah ideals. The door will be open only at such time that a child shows consideration for others in the house by at least observing the rules if not believing in them. Otherwise you love will take place only from afar.

In the course of his article he says that we don’t really know why a child goes OTD. I have said in the past that there are indeed a variety of reasons that young people go OTD.  But based on people that work in the field have said - the reasons a young person goes OTD narrows to two basic ones.

Last week a Rabbi Shimon Russell, a Charedi professional ordained in Lakewood and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LSCW) wrote what can only be descried as an angry response to Rabbi Aisenstark – even though he said that he respects him as a Mechanech – a Jewish educator. He has an insider’s view as well as a professional one. And he completely rejects the notion that what applies to normal Chinuch applies to those that have gone OTD. 

They are two different worlds requiring radically different educational approaches. It is one thing to tell young people that there are religious boundaries that cannot be crossed without consequences which will be visited upon them when they are crossed. But someone that has gone OTD is a horse of an entirely different color. 

Speaking form his professional experience, Rabbi Russell then says that we in fact know very well why most young people go OTD  - citing 2 primary causes. One being that they suffered abuse or molestation. (The abuse Rabbi Russell speaks of is not just sexual. It can be physical, mental, or even spiritual abuse.)

The former is easy to understand and has been discussed here many times. When a child is abused, it is usually by someone he knows and trusts. Like a parent, aunt/uncle, older sibling or teacher. And when reporting their abuse they are often disbelieved and sometimes even accused of lying for some vendetta they might have against the accused! When that happens the entire foundation of belief is so shaken that they start thinking everything they were taught is a lie. 

The latter is when a child simply can’t keep up with his class in their studies. They end up feeling inadequate and unwanted. Sometimes that is caused by a dysfunctional family situation. And sometimes it is a plain old fashioned learning disability like dyslexia.

Rabbi Russell then chides Rabbi Aisenstark for quoting Gedolim to support his views - countering that he can quote Gedolim and Chazal that say the opposite!

The bottom line is that dealing with the OTD phenomenon should be left to the professionals. Those that have been trained and have experience working with these young people. It is their advice that should be taken and not the advice of laypeople – even respected Rabbis and Mechanchim like Rabbi Aisenstark. No matter how well intended. 

I think this good advice in all areas where rabbis are not experts. For example, it is the experts that should be deciding policy in matters of reporting sex abuse to the authorities. Because no matter how well intended the rabbis who say you should go to them first are, they are not trained experts. They cannot therefore possibly see the entire picture the way a trained professional can. There are those that say that rabbis can be trained to properly. But that still does not give them the expertise that a professional has.

I don’t know whether Rabbi Russell would agree with those of us that advocate reporting sex abuse directly to the authorities. But I have to believe that he would be consistent with that view based on his experience with so many young people who because of that have gone OTD. 

Rabbi Russell is not just an experienced  professional. He is Charedi. If as I suspect, this his opinion then I think the rabbinic establishment ought to listen to him.