UOJ ARCHIVES - JULY 10, 2006
A noted Orthodox criminal defense attorney writes
THE REAL PROBLEM IS NOT TALKING ABOUT "IT" TO OUR CHILDREN, AT HOME AND IN SCHOOL
Before I write about "the real problem," which everyone has their own opinion about, and everyone is right about, I need to say a few words of introduction about the disingenuousness of Rabbi Avi Shafran.
Rabbi Shafran, whom I have never met, is one of the best "spin doctors" in the world. He is an amazing writer and he does the best job of defending, deflecting, spinning, distracting, etc. everyone from negative attention on Agudah and the Haredi world. I truly and sincerely admire him. And I admire the fact that many newspaper editors – most notably, Gary Rosenblatt at the Jewish Week – will rightfully give him a forum to respond any time he feels there is a need for an Agudah response. I enjoy an open dialogue and reading his/Agudah's point of view.
That said, his recent article entitled "A Matter of Orthodox Abuse" responding to Robert Kolker's NY Magazing article on the Kolko-Torah Temimah sexual abuse and cover-up lawsuits, was Rabbi Shafran at his best – and yet glaringly disingenuous. Robert Kolker himself has done a much better job of responding to Rabbi Shafran than I could ever do. Let me pick his article apart, however, with two additional points.
Rabbi Shafran attempts to quell the panic about sexual abuse in the Orthodox community with a two-pronged approach: (1) There are no statistics, so why assume it is so bad? On the contrary, it's probably not as bad as it is in other segments of the American population, because… (2) "A Torah-observant life does not lead to aberrant behavior; it helps prevent it… That fundamental Jewish truth that human inclinations are harnessed and controlled by Torah-life and Torah-study is self-evident to anyone truly familiar with the Orthodox community."
Let's take them one at a time. Let's first deal with a lack of statistics or a lack of information.
Imagine, if you will, that you are walking about five blocks from your home when you get a text message on your phone that your 4-year-old daughter fell down a flight of stairs inside your home, with no information about the extent of her injuries. Let's assume you do not have the presence of mind to call home, or you do and the line is busy. Do you: (A) assume the best, that she fell only a few steps, and onto carpeting and is resilient enough to stand up and walk it off – and therefore you walk home at a leisurely pace, OR do you (B) assume the worst, that she is severely injured with broken bones and you, therefore, run home to see what you can do to help?
Project the same hypothetical about hearing from a neighbor that there is smoke coming out of your living room window – with no one at home. Do you assume the fire is contained to, say, a waste basket and walk home leisurely or do you run home afraid your house is burning down?
Without commenting on the Kolko case, Rabbi Shafran admits that "abuse of children unquestionably exists in the Orthodox community," but gives you the impression that, although there are no statistics and no one – including him – knows the extent of the abuse, it is wise to assume that it's not so bad.
Rabbi Shafran, your (our) house is on fire, you don't know the extent of the fire, and you are taking a leisurely walk home – a "shpatzeir" – to check on it! How amazingly absurd! There is nothing more Jewish than when there is a problem and we don't know the extent of it, to assume the worst.
(By the way, notice how carefully worded his big "admission" is: He calls it "child abuse" avoiding the term "sexual abuse," so that what he is admitting to could be "potching on the tuchis too hard." He does not mention rabbis or teachers or even a school setting; instead he talks about "in the Orthodox community," with which, if pressed for details, he could say he means parental abuse. And by saying "Orthodox" rather than Haredi he could be pointing a finger at Modern Orthodox and imply that it's less of a problem (or non-existent) in the yeshivish and chasidish world… See, I told you he was good!)
His second prong of the attack is even more absurd than his first. We would all like to believe that a religious lifestyle and dedication to God means a more ethical and moral way of living – and for most people, it truly does. Furthermore, most Jews respect those of other religions who are "frum" within their beliefs. Most Jews will tell you that they'd rather have as a boss or neighbor "a frum goy" than a non-religious Jew. Yet, when we observed the Catholic priest scandal it didn't shock us. We were rather smug in our attitude. It seemed NOT to be inconsistent for us that there are large numbers (again, no statistics) of Catholic priests who are homosexual pedophiles. Why doesn't their situation cause us concern about ours? Is it just because we know that their religion is wrong? Certainly their most religious, most pious leaders, believe, act and preach virtually the same morals and ethics that we do. And yet, so many OF THEM are flawed. Could we not have as many, and possibly more?
And how does one define morality and ethics? Is it limited to sexual abuse and deviation? Or does it broadly include business ethics and money matters? Although there are no statistics, if I told you that a higher percentage of Orthodox Jews cheat on their taxes than, say, Protestant Americans, would that shock you? Would you be as offended and protest? Of course not. It seems to be accepted and acceptable – and may even be a source of pride, since some call it a "mitzvah" – that we lie on our 1040's and cheat Uncle Sam out of as much money as we feel we can get away with.
(I recently became aware of this scam: In a certain Chasidic community, a major girls high school has done away with 12 th grade. Why? See if you can follow this: Many of their girls get married at 18. They marry religiously, and not civilly. When they give birth to their children, they file for welfare as unwed mothers. They recently found out that unwed mothers who did NOT graduate high school are entitled to a greater stipend than those who did graduate. To make sure their girls avoid the temptation of getting a diploma, this school did away with 12th grade.)
Why are we so foolish, so "na'arish", as to believe that we frum Jews can tacitly agree that it is acceptable to file for food stamps and get section 8 housing even though we are earning too much money to qualify for it but because it's a cash business or we're getting paid off the books, and that this lack of morality would not affect our sexual morality? That when we rationalize one thing, why do we deny it will cause us to rationalize others?
When our sages said "Mitzvah goreres mitzvah, v'aveirah goreres aveirah," they didn't mean that an doing an aveirah would cause us to do the same sin again. They meant that rationalizing one sin will cause us to rationalize another sin.
STAY TUNED FOR PART 2 IN WHICH I GET TO THE REAL PROBLEM.