Thursday, December 14, 2006

torah authority and frustration with the system

Some questions I have no answers to... How is it that:

…A conference of a major Orthodox organization devotes a forum to attacking the excesses of scandal mongering in blogs and on the internet, but cannot clarify how they intend to deal with the issue of criminal allegations against Rabbinical figures in a way that is transparent, fair, and which would restore confidence in the system?

…A woman can be physically beaten in the zeal to prevent immodesty simply because she failed to surrender her seat to a man and move to the back of a public bus, but the Rabbinic establishment squashes a conference to consider how to help agunos trapped by recalcitrant husbands?

…hundreds can close their gemaras and take time from learning to protest, both through civil disobedience as well as more violent means, a parade which is seen as an affront to the sanctity of Yerushalayim, but this same community is conspicuously silent and offers no protest when thousands of Jews are expelled from their homes in the “territories”?

…Rabbinic figures sermonize about the need to place spiritual values above career and pursuit of wealth, but run yeshivos which require many times the average salary to afford with no oversight on finances by independent auditors or concerned parents?

This is not an exhaustive list, but a sampling based on current events. I am sick of reading the apologetics, the excuses, the justifications, the explanations, none of which are satisfying, and hearing the deafening silence from the "establishment" at the wrongs perpetuated by the system either directly or by creating an environment which tolerates them.

I do not applaud the gross anti-Chareidi bashing out there – the brush used is too broad and the paint applied with too much vigor and sheer ferociousness. But the excesses of the messengers should not obscure the kernel of underlying truth in the criticism. And were the establishment more responsive, who knows how much more muted and respectful the attacks might become in turn? Instead of invoking "Torah authority" to dismiss complaint, perhaps the system would be better served through more open dialogue between community and leadership to discuss what problems exist, what approaches to solving them are best and why, and how to act on them "l'shem shamayim". If transparency is seen as a threat, people rightly begin to wonder just what is being hid behind closed doors.

Perhaps my blog too can be dismissed as just another undermining of Torah authority in the blogsphere. I guess that is an easier response that dealing with the issues at hand.

33 comments:

  1. Frustrating system, eh? Tell me about it...

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  2. anon12:34 PM

    Great post. If I wrote anything at this point it would be be-geder kol ha-mosif gorea.

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  3. This is a very valid post and not an undermining of Torah authority in my humble view, with a few quibbles. I'll save them for another time.

    Why don't you email it to Rabbi Shafran?

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  4. I had a few comments but it got lost. I really don't want to type it again and I'll take it as a siman min shamayim that it wasn't meant to be written. :-)

    I will however second Bari's suggestion. If you really want to try and help change things for the better I would think opening a dialogue with Rabbi Shafran is a good start.

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  5. i believe that chaim and bari's suggestion has been tried, but the results have been less than encouraging.
    what really bothers me is the following question:
    is this failure of leadership a recent development, or has it always been around but easy to fudge?

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  6. Chaim Markowitz5:15 PM

    How do you know it has been tried?\
    Also, just because others have tried doesn't mean one shouldn't make an effort himself.

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  7. i believe that chaim and bari's suggestion has been tried, but the results have been less than encouraging.

    Not by Chaim B., and I am quite certain that Mishmarites have a high level of credibility with Rabbi Shafran, who is aware of that blog. My concern is that he will completely disengage from the J-blogosphere due to blatant violation of Halachah in unauthorized publication of his correspondence.

    what really bothers me is the following question:
    is this failure of leadership a recent development, or has it always been around but easy to fudge?

    Depends what you mean by recent. People have issues with the leadership re the Holocaust, people had serious problems re Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai and the Churban, G-d had problems with Aharon HaKohen at the Egel, some major Talmidei Chachamim thought Moshe Rabbeinu might be guilty of adultery, and others said he was pilfering funds for his own personal use.

    I know for a fact that there are procedures being worked on to prevent deviant occurences from happening. How to deal with them, if and when they happen again, C"V, is something that requires ALOT of thought, since it is really case by case, and I would hope it is being grappled with.

    The public's right to know are taken for granted in America ( more than in, say, Britain, on cases taken to court); less so, I think, by the Torah. Somehow the balance will have to be struck. I do have confidence in the wisdom of the leadership to find a way to strike that balance.

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  8. >>>is this failure of leadership a recent development, or has it always been around but easy to fudge?

    Interesting historical question. Would you agree that the information age gives greater public exposure to the failures and invites greater criticism and response? I personally do not think that is a bad thing, but others may disagree.

    >>>Not by Chaim B.

    I am not an Agudist for many reasons none of which are germane here, but I also note that my post does not mention R' Shafran or Agudah by name. My only feeling with regard to that organization is that since I am identified as an Orthodox Jew, whether I am Agudist or not, their failures reflect on my beliefs, much to my chagrin at times. Therefore I feel impelled to write something simply to make clear my disagreement with their policies. Their internal wrestling with these issues is best left to those in their camp who can serve as agents for change rather than an outsider with no official public position like myself. I fail to see what "credibility" has to do with anything. The jblogspere has been filled with sentiment similar to mine, and as I made sufficiently clear in the post, regardless of the excesses of many of the messengers, it would do Agudah and others well to take heed. They may not care about a loss of credibility in the eyes of those who profess open hostility to all that is Orthodox. Whether they care about a loss of credibility in the eyes of someone like myself, who may not agree with all their policies but at least will respect their validity as a bar plugta, is a matter for them to decide.

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  9. Bari, the Torah declares "Ubiarta hara mikirbecha" -- not "Avoid scandal. Hush it up. Don't jump the gun. After all the guy has a family." Evil is to be eradicated without mercy.
    "Vihiyisem nekiyim be'eyney Hashem ve'eyney Yisrael." There is a communal obligation to keep klal Yisrael clean from such infiltration of evil. The purity must be clearly apparent (not covered over) to all.

    My husband made me write this. [just kidding]

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  10. I fail to see what "credibility" has to do with anything.

    In the sense of being able to trust you. I guess that is a response to all of your points raised.

    the Torah declares "Ubiarta hara mikirbecha" -- not "Avoid scandal. Hush it up. Don't jump the gun. After all the guy has a family." Evil is to be eradicated without mercy.

    Yet what happened once when one witness came to Beis Din with some testimony of evil? The witness got flogged. Lashon Hara.

    Not jumping the gun is incredibly important. There is a Rebbe I know personally who was accused of molestation, which was investigated thoroughly, and it turned out that it was a retaliatory action on the part of the student. Made up from start to finish - this is on allegations of things done in private and hence very difficult to disprove.

    That the guy has a family is something that should be taken into account as much as possible (which isn't much). I heard a Maaseh of a rav who knew someone else in his Shul was a chronic borrower of money who did not pay back. This Rav asked another great Rav whether he could announce it in Shul. The Rav said no. What he could do was say that before anyone lends money to someone else in the Shul they should ask him. That is brilliant.


    "Vihiyisem nekiyim be'eyney Hashem ve'eyney Yisrael." There is a communal obligation to keep klal Yisrael clean from such infiltration of evil. The purity must be clearly apparent (not covered over) to all.

    This I agree with wholeheartedly - the leadership should explain what steps they are taking to rectify the situation. That is why I suggested emailing Rabbi Shafran - I know that there ARE steps being taken to ensure the likelihood of this happening is greatly reduced.

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  11. Chaim,

    Some quick thoughts. My comments are aimed at openess or broadness in hashkafa in the charedi media:

    1) It's a painful topic. One might say:

    Jblogs = torah authority and frustration with the system

    2) I think many people on blogs, though, are sincere and not, chas vesholem, bad people.

    3) It's a community problem which needs to be handled. Agudah leadership is aware of it and is trying to minimize conflicts. I think it's walking a fine line regarding the Slifkin issue. Yes, its taking stances rejecting evolution, but they are careful of "smol dochek v'ymin mekarev".

    4) I advise people to contact people in Agudah, whether R. Shafran or others. Communication is healthy, even if major changes can not be made.

    5) It's unfortunate that communications were made public as Bari referred to above. This was a breach of trust.

    6) It almost seems as if there are 2 communities. The insular, less spohisticated one that is publicly recognized in the media, and the others represented in the blogs. The question is how to bring the latter one closer to the Yeshivah world.

    7) I think that there can only be small changes on the level of the charedi media in terms of openess and tolerance which we need to be satisfied with. That should be the goal--*small* changes. So bloggers should contact Agudah or others to express concerns and try to bring small change.

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  12. Baruch, and I guess this is a response to Bari as well,
    The two critical points you raise that I disagree with:
    >>>The question is how to bring the latter one closer to the Yeshivah world.
    >>>So bloggers should contact Agudah or others to express concerns and try to bring small change.
    I don't view my mission as bringing people closer to Agudah or the "yeshiva world". As I wrote before, I am not an Agudist and I have deep reservations about many ideas that are accepted in the “yeshiva world” (the attitude towards religious Zionism and the secular culture being two that stand out). I would like to hope that there is room in the jblogsphere to bring people closer to Torah, in whatever form of commitment and learning they choose to follow.
    Agudah's response to the issues at hand is relevant to me only to the extent that their blundering is driving people away not just from Agudah, but from any respect for Orthodoxy. And it is not just Agudah - the events in Eretz Yisrael were governed by other forces. Do you suggest I e-mail R' Elyashiv as well?!
    For you, as supporters of Agudah, the solution may be to find some way to change that organization – good luck!
    For me, the solution is much simpler. I hope my blog and others make clear that one can be committed to Torah and halacha without needing to subscribe to the political and social policies of Agudah or the “yeshiva” world. This message is easier to convey (I think) in Eretz Yisrael, where there is a stronger representation of “dati leumi” yeshivos and programs. In America, the numbers of those who share this type of commitment is much smaller, and hence the message is too often lost. But that's why I have a blog : )

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  13. Bari, you asked for this! Let me explain something to you. There are stam aveyros and then there are 3 cardinal ones that fall under the category "yehareg veal ya'avor." What that man was accused of falls under the ayaros category of yehareg veal ya'avor. Furthermore, this is was not consensual but forced on innocent boys who would carry the psychological damage for being involved in such unspeakable things for life.
    I am trying very hard to refrain from just shoulting out to you, "Don't be an idiot!" So I will just say, "Your perspective is warped."
    If someone were even suspected of murder -- another one of the yehareg veal yaavors -- would you say, "But he has a family? [So he should be able to remain with them, given opportunity to kill again, and not pay for his crime?] If someone in a yeshiva were found to introduce avoda zara rituals to boys, would you argue that he should be allowed to keep his position in the yeshiva so that there should not be a scandal? Well, in this case, those boys were the korban to the avodah zara of your warped thinking that putting our collective heads in the sand will make the problem go away. The Torah calls for truth and justice. Your depraved [that is the best word for it] value system is the antithesis of Torah; it calls for lies that promote injustice and prolong damage to innocents.

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  14. Let me add 2 cents. Firstly, my post does not address the Kolko issue per se, so this is getting off topic. Secondly, the analogy to lashon hara in Bais Din or the standards of proof before Bais Din is irrelevant – the question is not whether we should carry our misas Bais Din, but whether we should take accusations of the sort which occurred in the Kolko or even the Lanner case seriously and have a system in place to handle these issues in a way that preserves the rights of the accused, but also insures that a fair, vigilant, and independent investigation is done. As far as I know, even Bais Din does not need to wait for 2 witnesses before taking those steps. No one from Agudah has stepped forward to present such a system or acknowledge a need for one. Thirdly, Kolko has been arrested by the police, who do not act on every rumor and unsubstantiated allegation presented – the DA is wary of going to court without a case. The fact that things reached this point without being stopped sooner means that the system has erred on the side of preserving the accused, and in this case, it comes at a direct cost to the victims. Most employers will act to dismiss an employee suspected of harassment long before the police are brought in. Fourthly, what irks most members of the jblogsphere (based on my perusal of some blogs) is the inconsistency of the rhetoric. Rav Matisyahu Solomon is reported to have publicly “referred to (disrespectful) blogging as a disease that is contagious and he said that the children of such people are a danger in our schools.” (hat tip: orthomom). Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz, editor of Yated, has written regarding flying El Al, "When you cross that threshold into the fuselage, it is if you have taken a Sefer Torah, thrown it on the ground and walked on it for your convenience." Need I go into the public vitriol against the parade in Yerushalayim? If your policy is consistently to handle things behind closed doors, then so be it. But when the rhetoric is so loud and brash on other issues, it demands a similar loud and brash statement regarding a case like Kolko. If bloggers are a disease, what is Kolko? When Avi Shafran says that Kolko is not their issue as he is only a former employee, one has every right to ask why El Al is their issue, or why bloggers that are not affiliated with Agudah are their issue? If you concern yourself with the effects of allegations of molestation on an individual’s family, where is that same sympathy for the children of supposedly dangerous bloggers who you label a “danger in our schools”?

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  15. Ariella,

    I'm not sure what yanked your chains here.

    Do you disagree that not jumping the gun is incredibly important?

    If I KNEW that it were true that someone was bringing in Avodah Zarah etc.,etc., then, sure, he's gone.

    Do you disagree that one should take this guy's family into account 'as much as possible' (which, like I said, is, quote "not much", end quote)?

    Everything else I agree with.

    (As a slight Kaf Zechus, I do think there may have been some lack of comprehension of just how possible it was to be a well-respected Rebbe, and have this 'uncontrollable' (in quotes b/c I don't know to what extent that is true) urge to do things that are despicable, recidivism, etc.)

    Good Shabbos and a Freilichen Chanukah.

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  16. Bari, I'll try to keep this very simple for you. If you smell smoke in a house, you do not just go to sleep. You call the fire department immediately based on the possibility of fire. And if someone reported not just smelling but seeing smoke, you evacuate. If you see flames, you make sure to get everyone out of harm's way first.
    Can you grasp the analogy here? When there is danger to someone, you act first to save them and then investigate. Maybe it will turn out the smoke was due to something else. Perhaps the flames will not spread. But you don't take a chance. Not on your life, not on your kids, not even on your house.
    If you see someone pouring gasoline on your child's clothes and reach for a match, you don't wait around because you don't wish to jump the gun or embarrass the pyronmaniac or his family. You jump in to save your child. And if you have knock him out to do it, you will. That is if you have any brains operating at all. You can find out what his real motivation was later. But if there is any possible chashash of danger to your child, saving him comes first.
    What you would do for your own, you should do for other innocent children, as well.

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  17. When it comes to such possible damage to children, I would much rather jump the gun to take protective measures than stand idly by to allow further damage. Your attitude, Bari, is deplorable b/c it prevents other innocent victims from speaking out. They will be subject to accusations like yours of spreading lashon hara needlessly. They will be asked to provide other witnesses, which, of course, they cannot. You would they it's their immature, unreliable word against a respected rabbi. Given all that, why would they every speak out to guarantee themselves pariah status as a reward? So if any other children suffer in silence, I hold people who share your attitude personally responsible.

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  18. "I would like to hope that there is room in the jblogsphere to bring people closer to Torah, in whatever form of commitment and learning they choose to follow."

    I share the same hope, and my attitude transcends both the OU and Agudah. I actually think both organizations complement each other, but that is another topic.

    My comments last night were a bit hurried, and I'm in a rush now as well before Shabbos Chanukah.

    But I think it's practical for those outside Agudah, as well, to establish communication with the RW, or with other unofficial leaders in the charedi community.

    The Agudah is influential(obviously that influence has its limits), and if they only hear from those who are to their right, the needs of the more "kannoish" elements will be taken more into account, than those of the "left-wing yeshivish".

    Obviously, there is a limit as far as how much they can take the less insular interests into account--the JO will never be the Jewish Action--, but the squeaky wheel gets the oil. So definitely, I advise people, to communicate with Agudah and others in the RW privately and respectfully.

    I am concerned with the issues in your post, but personally, my main concerns are:

    1) a broader , more open, tolerant, and inclusive chareidi press, as far as hashkafa and social issues are concerned. "Opinion" should not be a negative word, nonwithstanding the need to give respect to, and not undermine, the positions of charedi gedolim.

    (2) balance in the Slifkin/science issue(I don't agree with all of RNS' points, however)

    (3) accuracy and balance in Gedolim biographies

    I am not sure the exact way to bring effective change, but I think effective thinking would aim for:

    (1) being satisfied with small changes in the RW world

    (2) working with people inside the charedi world, perhaps privately

    (3) Even when critiquing on blogs, doing it in a fair manner, and acknowleding the strengths of the RW world. This way, one comes across as a critic from within, as opposed to a "basher".

    Have a good Shabbos and freilichen Chanukah.

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  19. Your attitude, Bari, is deplorable b/c it prevents other innocent victims from speaking out. They will be subject to accusations like yours of spreading lashon hara needlessly. They will be asked to provide other witnesses, which, of course, they cannot. You would they it's their immature, unreliable word against a respected rabbi.

    Your attitude is unfair because it would have caused a Rebbe I know, and perhaps more than one I don't, to have his reputation murdered by caprice of an irate student.

    What the standards of credibility are is a very good question, but for an accusation to be grounds for murder (yes, destroying his livelihood and his good name are comparable to murder) is unfair.

    There is no 'erring on the side of caution' by simply believing what a student says. That could be erring on the side of Shefichus Damim. It should be taken seriously, but to raise all hell against a Rebbe based on an accusation is simply wrong.

    The TRUTH should not be covered up.

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  20. They will be subject to accusations like yours of spreading lashon hara needlessly. They will be asked to provide other witnesses, which, of course, they cannot. You would they it's their immature, unreliable word against a respected rabbi.

    You are putting words in my mouth that I never said and wouldn't say.

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  21. Tal Benschar1:42 PM

    Ariella:

    I think a lynch mob will be forming soon. I think they are looking for a few members. Hang 'em first, ask questions later. That's the Torah spirit.

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  22. Practical11:34 PM

    Well, we're still in exile, an indicator that, despite everyone's best efforts, all is not hunky-dory. Large segments of our people are in spiritual chaos, while the segments faithful to Torah try desperately to keep the chaos from enveloping themselves---it has already made inroads, as typified by the events this post criticizes.

    We have not yet devised the perfect way to reconstruct Jewish life after centuries of disintegration. There are enough well-meaning leaders and followers to work out better community arrangements where necessary, but this will take time, and respect on all sides.

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  23. Tal, the Torah spirit is not one that leaves innocent people undefended. I never said to hang anyone. I said you remove the threat of danger even before you have ascertained everything. Otherwise, like Hamlet, you may decide to take action only once it is too late.

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  24. Anonymous7:06 PM

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    _____________________________
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