"Is child abuse more common in the Orthodox Jewish community than it is elsewhere? There are no reliable statistics … but there’s reason to believe the answer to that question might be yes.' Those words, sandwiching an important admission between a sinister question and an unfounded speculation, were written back in 2006 by Robert Kolker in New York magazine. Mr. Kolker’s 'reason to believe' was based on speculation by the New York Jewish Week’s Hella Winston, who has since established herself as someone who views the Orthodox community through heavily jaundiced eyes."
Rabbi Avi Shafran has, again, spewed his hate, this time with the help of CrossCurrents Rabbi Yaakov Kenneth Menken.
Note that comments were, as always, closed on Shafran's CrossCurrents post because, even with moderated comments that are skewed to support him, Shafran lacks the ability to answer the many challenges he gets from his Modern Orthodox and even haredi readers. Shafran tries to cover for this by claiming that he lacks the time to adequately do justice to the comments. But you could give Shafran all the time in the world and he couldn't adequately respond – because there is no honest adequate response in many cases. Shafran can't defend what he writes so he cuts off all debate:
The Evil Eleventh
By Avi Shafran • CrossCurrents
Is child abuse “more common in the Orthodox Jewish community than it is elsewhere? There are no reliable statistics … but there’s reason to believe the answer to that question might be yes.”
Those words, sandwiching an important admission between a sinister question and an unfounded speculation, were written back in 2006 by Robert Kolker in New York magazine.
Mr. Kolker’s “reason to believe” was based on speculation by the New York Jewish Week’s Hella Winston, who has since established herself as someone who views the Orthodox community through heavily jaundiced eyes.
Our hearts must ache with the anguish of victims of abuse, especially children. And it’s natural for people who have met survivors of terrible things to feel deeply for them, and angry at their abusers. But extrapolating from the harrowing accounts of carefully sought-out victims that abuse, which sadly exists in the Orthodox community as it does in all communities, is somehow emblematic of Orthodox life is like visiting Sloan Kettering and concluding that there is a national cancer epidemic raging.
The New York writer went on to offer an even more offensive, even less grounded, conjecture, protectively qualified by the preface “There are some who believe…” What the safely unnamed “some” believe is that “repression in the ultra-Orthodox community”—namely, dedication to Jewish law and custom—“can foster abuse” [emphasis mine].
That is, put bluntly, an unmitigated insult to Judaism. Jewish life holds high the ideals of family, community, compassion for others, control of anger and passions, and ethical behavior. There will always be seemingly observant individuals who are hypocritical, or who may sadly fail the test of self-control, even with horrendous impacts on the lives of others. But does the existence of corrupt police and unethical doctors indict the professions of law enforcement or medicine?
If any belief system enables immoral and unethical behavior, it is not Judaism but its polar opposite, the conviction that no higher authority exists. While atheists may live upstanding lives, it should be self-evident that denial of a Higher Power and divine laws for mankind leaves a human being with no authority but himself, and no compelling reason—other than getting caught—to shun bad behavior.
These thoughts come to mind in the wake of a recent highly-publicized abuse scandal in England. One Jimmy Savile, a famous entertainment figure who died last year, was posthumously exposed as a serial abuser of children, including patients in hospitals he visited in the course of charitable fundraising work.
The British National Health Service, police, and the BBC all stand accused of turning a blind eye to the man’s crimes—which were the subject of a BBC broadcast that the network canceled.
Astoundingly, in Mr. Savile’s 1976 autobiography, he did not shy from describing some of his abusive behavior, which clearly crossed the moral and legal line, bragging that had “not been found out.”
“Which, after all,” he added, in an attempt at humor, “is the 11th commandment, is it not?”
It was a poignant choice of words. Because those who recognize the import of the Ten Commandments respect them as G-d-given, immutable, and binding. The entertainer’s imaginary Eleventh is the antithesis of those adjectives. It is the credo of someone who feels he is not ultimately answerable to any being, or Being. And it provides him license to do whatever he finds pleasurable or amusing, no matter the toll on others, or on his own soul.
No, Mr. Kolker and your “some who believe,” a religious Jew is imbued with consciousness that, as Rabi Yehudah Hanasi expressed in Massechta Avos (2:1): “An eye sees and an ear hears, and all of your actions are in the record written.”
That truth, though, can be occasionally forgotten even by us non-atheists. That is the message of the initially puzzling blessing Rabi Yochanan ben Zakkai offered his students as he lay dying, that “the fear of Heaven be to you like the fear of flesh and blood” (Brachos 28b).
“Is that all?” they exclaimed. The sage’s response: “If only!”
“Think.” he continued. “When a person commits a sin in private, he says ‘May no person see me!’.”
And yet, of course, he is seen all the same. Jimmy Savile was seen, and so are we all.
© 2012 Rabbi Avi Shafran
The above essay may be reproduced or republished, unedited.
Comments are closed.
Bob Kolker, who wrote the New York Magazine piece, On The Rabbi's Knee, that Shafran refers to reportedly sent the following letter to CrossCurrents. Rabbi Yaakov Menken, and accused clergy sexual abuser himself, has so far chosen not to publish it:
November 16, 2012
From: Robert Kolker
To: Editor, Cross-Currents
It is depressing to see Rabbi Shafran recycling, in his essay in Cross-Currents, the same arguments he's been using for years to silence the vulnerable people in his community who might otherwise expose abusers.
I am the author of the piece in New York magazine that Rabbi Shafran has apparently found so objectionable. For my part, I can only respond by saying what I said the last time he tried to villify me in print: Any society that shies away from open discussion of certain issues is a society that allows problems to fester longer - and abusers to stay in business longer. As one abuse victim told me, "Whether it's Jewish or Amish or Mennonite or Catholic or Muslim, it doesn't make a difference. I feel like this is kind of like a fungus. It grows in the dark."
His greatest mistake is to argue that the fervently Orthodox community is somehow being singled out as inherently worse than others. In fact, it is the argument of this community's exceptionalism that is what has made matters worse for victims. Rabbi Shafran continues to completely (and, one can only assume by now, deliberately) ignore the cultural forces of shame and denial in his community that have kept alleged victims from going public for decades. Many people been waiting for years for him to take on the so-called shonda factor, lashon hara, shalom bayit, mesira, and chillul Hashem, all of which are invoked to keep victims from bringing their community unwelcome attention by the authorities.
This is the repression that silences victims. This is the repression that enables abusers. But those issues apparently don't warrant his attention. Instead of encouraging abuse victims to go to the police, and instead of opening his community's school's to the same mandatory reporting policies as the public schools, he would rather go after New York magazine again. As I said in 2006, the last time he made this argument in a public forum, Rabbi Shafran is obviously more concerned with defending Judaism from paper tigers - illusory enemies - than he is with actually dealing with the problems of his community.
I hope that someday Rabbi Shafran will understand that every time he stands up to make the case that the fervently Orthodox aren't vulnerable to abusers, he is contributing to a tragic chilling effect. How many people in his community are afraid to speak up, knowing that those in power won't even acknowledge that their community is the slightest bit vulnerable?
And finally, I hope that someday he realizes that if he spent half the effort giving comfort to the abused than he does defending the powerful, his community would have a real reason to be proud of him.
New York Magazine
Kolker didn't send his letter to me, perhaps because New York Magazine helped the Forward falsely claim credit for much of the haredi child sexual abuse story the New York Times stole from The Jewish Week and from FailedMessiah.com (and to a lesser extent from Pix 11, The Guardian, The Jewish Star, Tablet Magazine, the New York Post and, yes, New York Magazine itself).
I publicly stood up for New York Magazine when the Times ripped all of us off.
Kolker saw what I wrote and sent me a note thanking me.
Several hours later, New York Magazine posted the first of what became a short series of posts crediting the Forward for the work Hella Winston did for The Jewish Week and I did for FailedMessiah.com.
I sent Kolker an angry email asking why he should expect me or anyone else to stand up for New York Magazine when it won't stand up for us.
He never answered.
And his letter to CrossCurrents ended up being circulated to the email list of Survivors for Justice.
And that very small audience is where it would have and should have stayed if I treated New York Magazine and Kolker the way they treated Winston, The Jewish Week, FailedMessiah.com and the other mentioned above.
And the fact is that New York Magazine stole the story Kolker eventually wrote from a freelance journalist who pitched it to the NY Mag's editors– something Kolker knows to be true. His editors gave him the leads and the basic facts they'd stolen from the freelancer and sent him out to confirm them and report the story.
So don't think Kolker's letter is posted above to somehow defend New York Magazine or Kolker – it isn't.
Kolker's letter is posted because it saves me the time and energy I would otherwise have to spend refuting Shafran.
And Avi Shafran – the vile little man who called me a Nazi and who made similar remarks about anti-child sexual abuse advocates – isn't worth that time or that energy and he hasn't been for many years.
Every vile word that drips out of this revolting man's mouth and off his grubby little fingers proves that.
As for why Agudath Israel of America and its criminal Council of Torah Sages employes Shafran, it's a question that has long since been answered and long since been proven true – they don't care about truth or about the lives of children or about much else besides their often illegally managed and run 'nonprofit' but really for profit yeshivas. In other words, what they care about is their money. And as long as they see Shafran's lies, his smears and his misbehavior as beneficial in protecting the money they have and in ensuring that donations and government grants continue to flow to them, Shafran will remain, no matter how many innocent people he hurts.