"…When we are in cultural survival mode, the focus must be on the attractive nature of our lifestyle. Our communal body was sick, wracked with disease, and our only chance for survival was to allow our wounds to heal in the background while we showcased our healthy limbs to the admiring public. It would have been too dangerous to be self-critical. We would have risked losing it all.…"
Above: Rabbi Eliyahu Fink
Rabbi Eliyahu Fink writes in the Forward about the Modern Orthodox community's handling of the three-decade-long "sauna" scandal involving Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt:
…In 1964, Look magazine predicted that American Jewry would disappear completely by the 21st century. Three years later, Israel defeated its enemies in the Six-Day War. Jews around the world were inspired by their unlikely victory with monumental consequences, like the Kotel being liberated. In the four decades that followed, Orthodox Judaism grew by leaps and bounds. It was a war for the soul of the American Jew.
When we are in cultural survival mode, the focus must be on the attractive nature of our lifestyle. Our communal body was sick, wracked with disease, and our only chance for survival was to allow our wounds to heal in the background while we showcased our healthy limbs to the admiring public. It would have been too dangerous to be self-critical. We would have risked losing it all.
In 2013, the Pew Report confirmed that Orthodox Judaism has risen from the dead and is now a behemoth. Self-congratulations are in order. The late 20th-century’s iteration of American Judaism, the cultural reaction to the hippie revolution, and a great historical event all contributed to the success of Orthodox Judaism, which is now on solid ground. The demographics and growth are staggering, inspiring. There is nothing to fear from the outside these days. The threats to Orthodox Judaism are now internal threats.
And the key to fixing internal existential threats is self-criticism..…[W]e are strong enough to be ruthlessly self-critical.…
In other words, Fink is justifying earlier coverups of child sex abuse and similarly scandalous crimes because it was necessary to protect Orthodoxy's public image which highlighted the "attractive nature of our lifestyle."
But now that Orthodoxy is a “behemoth,” it should be "ruthlessly self-critical," but in Rosenblatt's case, too many people are still trying to cover up in order to protect Orthodoxy's public image.
That Orthodoxy is now a “behemoth” (in Fink's words) only because of its insanely high birthrate and because non-Orthodox Jews avail themselves of modern birth control and have a low birthrate seems to be completely lost on Fink. As many or more Jews leave Orthodoxy each year that opt to join it, and the only actual “success" of haredim (and to a lesser extent Modern Orthodoxy) is to reproduce like rabbits.
But past that, Fink's contention that it was justified to cover up the child rapes and abuse and stealing and wife-beating and so many other crimes because Orthodoxy needed to be in "cultural survival mode" is abhorrent. Do the victims whom Fink claims to advocate for matter? Does their pain and the pain and suffering of the victims who came before them not matter? Since when do the public relations and advertising needs of the Orthodox community trump human life?
The answer to the question is they never should short of an actual existential crisis created by the real and actually imminent fear of mass slaughter – perhaps in Nazi-occupied Warsaw in 1940 or 1941, for example. But short of that type of true existential threat, it is never justified to cover up rape and abuse and other crimes in order to preserve any part of the Jewish community's community's public image.
But Orthodoxy is not built that way, not because of the Look Magazine article or its once decreasing numbers. Orthodoxy is not built that way because the rabbis who created Rabbinic Judaism and made its law books ruled in way that perpetuate crime and abuse and hurt victims. They did this hundreds of years ago, long before the Holocaust of Look Magazine, initially for a combination of reasons that had to do with protecting accused Jewish criminals from an undemocratic non-Jewish legal system that was often arbitrary, capricious and sometimes even anti-Semitic.
Jewish criminals were sometimes imprisoned and held for ransom – a ransom Jewish communities were expected by the crown to pay. Others were tortured or murdered. And even when Jewish criminals were treated by the crown just as non-Jewish criminals were treated by it, there was the very real, credible fear that too many of these cases of Jewish criminals would lead to the crown punishing or even exiling the entire Jewish community.
At the same time, some kingdoms allowed Jewish communities to have their own courts of criminal and civil law based (at least on paper) on halakha (Orthodox Jewish law), and the rabbis who headed these courts guarded the power those courts gave them jealously.
From this toxic brew of limited self-governance and nearly unfettered state power grew the culture that, eventually, protected Jewish criminals from the crown or secular government while it marginalized and even demonized and harassed their victims.
Fink conveniently forgets this history, perhaps because it does not support his argument.
It bears repeating: there is no legitimate public relations, outreach-kiruv or other justification for covering up sex abuse and other crimes now and there never was one in the past, short of in very brief periods of actual threat, like during the Holocaust.
That a haredi rabbi who presents himself as a moderate and a supporter of victims of child sex abuse and related crimes does not know this speaks volumes about the quality and true intent of the "kindness" he purports to show victims, and victims should be duly warned.