Saturday, November 17, 2012

R' Avi Shafran's offensive article regarding child abuse

 Rabbi Shafran's recent article [below] - The Evil Eleventh - is a highly offensive and insensitive (or perhaps mean spirited) attempt at defending the Orthodox Jewish community against charges of child abuse. Rabbi Shafran is a highly intelligent and dedicated polemicist who on occasion misspeaks. An example of this is his infamous article in which he said that the loathsome Madoff who ruined many people in a $50 billion swindle was superior to the hero of the Hudson who saved many lives with his skillful landing of an airplane on the Hudson river. Why is Madoff better according to Rabbi Shafran? Because he mentioned G-d. He retracted the article, but didn't acknowledge that he had made a serious mistake, when he discovered no one could fathom his "brilliant" insight.

In his article, Rabbi Shafran seems to feel that there is a conspiracy to assert that child abuse is a more serious problem in the Orthodox community than in the rest of the world. In particular he focuses on  two writers who have dealt with the topic of abuse in the Orthodox community - Robert Kolker of NY Magazine and Hella Winston of the Jewish Week. While he can claim that these two are outsiders - he conveniently ignores others within the community who have been saying the same thing. One of them is Rabbi Yakov Horowitz - who runs the Aguda approved Project Y.E.S. - and is a highly respected defender of abuse victims. He addresses Rabbi Shafran's points and rejects them http://haemtza.blogspot.co.il/2012/06/rabbi-yakov-horowitz-responds.htmlClick here for Robert Kolker's response to R Shafran

Furthermore he claims that it can't be because of the positive Torah values and fear of G-d. That is a defense which can be rejected by anyone who has followed cases such as Mondrowitz or Weingarten. These cases weren't exceptions but unfortunately follow a fairly common patter of denial and cover ups. Rabbi Shafran wrote:

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.

It is clear to all those who have dealt with this topic within the Orthodox community - that the above values have been and are displaced when it comes to concerns for mesira, lashon harah, chillul haShem, financial loss, shidduchim etc etc etc.  These are things which are obvious and well documented for years. I myself spoke with Doron Aggassi the director of Rav Yehuda Silman's abuse program in Bnei Brak. Rav Silman is a highly respect posek and member of Rav Nissan Karelitz's beis din. Mr. Aggassi noted that the Orthodox community is paradise for abusers. 1) chareidi children don't know anything about sex and don't understand what is being done to them and don't know how to report it 2) there is a code of silence not to report abuse 3) victim's and their families are especially unlikely to report abuse.

As I have noted in my books on abuse - Rav Sternbuch told me he is upset about the refusal within our community of rabbis and school officials not even wanting to listen to allegations of abuse. In fact he published a teshuva on the subject. He is upset by the lack of concern for the victims - even telling me that those there is no justification in halacha for not protecting kids by calling the police - because of fear of financial harm to the yeshivos! He told me such an attitude is an American rationale.

In fact at a time when significant progress is being made in the Orthodox community regarding abuse  - it bizarre (or perhaps sinister) that Rabbi Shafran should spout this nonsense which has been rejected by the leaders of our community for at least 5 years. The best justification I could come up for this rubbish is that Rabbi Shafran simply wanted to use the BBC scandal to make Orthodox Jews look better than the goyim. Unfortunately he didn't succeed because he didn't bother getting acquainted with the reality of abuse in our community.

Rabbi Shafran's article The Evil Eleventh - appears in full below.

============================
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

34 comments:

  1. RDE:

    I believe this Jewish Week article would be of great interest to you for sharing with your readers, as it deals with the issue you have done a lof of work on:

    http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/new-york-news/re-capturing-friedman-story

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Looks like another case of a false conviction of molestation against innocent men.

      It isn't the kind of story that folks who like to portray the accused as guilty until proven innocent like to share.

      Delete
    2. thanks for the link - yes the article is interesting

      Delete
    3. RDE: You're welcome. I would suggest you post an excerpt of the JW article as a new post on your blog.

      Delete
  2. Yanky Horowitz does NOT work for the Agudah.

    The Agudah approved of his PROJECT YES when it first started. That's his only connection to the Agudah.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Rabbi Shafran and Agudah jumped the shark in like the 60s. The part of this article that sticks out to me the most is R' Shternbuch blaming the coverups on "America". Reminds me of how in America, they blame everything on "tznius" because it's an easy scapegoat without easy definition.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Rav Shafran exemplifies the old adage: when you can't attack the message, attack the messenger!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Rabbi Horowitz is at times an important advocate against the problems of abuse but he has not broken ranks with the Agudah in their opposition to extending the Satute of Limimitations (SOL) through vehicles such as the Markey Bill in New York State.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I disagree. Like Rabbi Horowitz, I feel all statute of limitations should be removed, though that is unlikely to happen for legal and political reasons. In reality, once an alleged crime is far enough back in history, it becomes nearly impossible to prove through evidence, and prosecution loses the chance to convict.

      The Markey Bill was a mistake, and should never have been proposed. There is useful legislation that could have been written. There were subsequent efforts to write something more effective. The old Markey Bill that was resisted did NOTHING to protect any child, anywhere. It only served the purpose of punishing yeshivos (many who deserve it), running them through the court system with its immense legal costs, without doing a single thing to create a safer environment in any existing yeshivos and schools. With the only motive of the bill as revenge, it was smart to oppose it. This revenge has no clinical benefit to the sufferer from abuse. I wish there could be legislation that would target the perpetrators, with mandatory tracking mechanisms for private schools. The legislation should also mandate safety programs to be presented in every single yeshiva/school, training children (age appropriate), parents, and staff/faculty. There should also be something about reporting, and making all educators and school staff mandatory reporters.

      One can have his head in the right place and still be against the foolish Markey Bill that failed to make schools safer.

      Delete
  6. I am puzzled by the timing of this inane offensive denial of the problems of abuse in the ultra orthodox world.

    I can only speculate that Agudah may be gearing for the avalanche of bad publicity from the likely convictions over the next two months of: - Rabbi Emanuel Yegutkin (who was a Yeshiva principal when arrested)
    - Rabbi Nechemya Weberman (of the Satmar Vaad Hatznius whose referrals of girls came from the Satmar girls school, and
    -Rabbi Yosef Kolko (a yeshiva rebbi in Lakewood)

    In addition there is a case involving a haredi rav in Golders Green, London which will likely get much more publicity. The BBC is working on a story. They are doing a bang up job and even doing interviews in the US. They may be determined to delve deep to make up for the way they messed up the Jimmy Savile case and another case.

    The media coverage will not merely portray ultra orthodox Jews, they are all rabbis and all of them involve cover ups. Moreover, all involve very serious offenses and high likelihood of convictions and stiff sentences. Moreover all of this will happen in a space of about two months.

    The Yosef Kolko case will hit especially hard for Agudah. The evidence will show that the Lakewood hanhalah absolutely knew he was a molester and tried to keep it private. With Malkiel Kotler on the Moetzes inner circle they will not be able to distance themself.

    I think the upcoming avalanche is the reason for Shafran's inept attempt at preemptive innoculation. But it will not work.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Weberman case seems headed for an acquittal.

      Delete
    2. The Kolko case will likely end in a plea bargain on a misdemeanor, based on current negotiations.

      Seems like much of the same result of the Brooklyn Kolko case.

      Delete
  7. What is really offensive is how Cross Currents can allow Shafran to attack individuals by name and then close the comments section.

    ReplyDelete
  8. You're really overreacting here. There's nothing offensive in this inane statement of hashkafa--and, no, failure to address the root problem at hand is not in itself offensive. Clearly the purpose of his editorial was to counterbalance certain journalistic excesses, not to address anything substantive. As for "claim[ing] that it can't be because of the positive Torah values and fear of G-d," he did no such thing. You're projecting; just read the article again.

    ReplyDelete
  9. We clearly are not reading the same article. I stand by what I said

    ReplyDelete
  10. I don't see what you are reading in the article. I see at best valid criticisms not addressed in the article brought to light by you.

    ReplyDelete
  11. You did over read the article however valid your points.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Shafran points an accusatory finger at the Brits, saying, "The British National Health Service, police, and the BBC all stand accused of turning a blind eye to the man’s crimes...", yet amazingly, he blindly continues to believe that all is in order in his own chareidi house!

    For decades, the gedolim, rabbonim, batei din, yeshivas, and countless communal organizations waged a campaign of denial, cover-up and intimidation against abuse victims, their families and their advocates! And they continue to do so to this very day, as evidenced in this very editorial, which follows their long standing pattern of deflecting and minimizing the nature of the community's moral failures.

    ReplyDelete
  13. On a slightly separate note, I would love to hear R' Eidensohn's view on this suggestion:

    We have seen in the past few years many many Rabbonim (including very choshuve Rabbonim for example the current scandal in London) who have had allegations of abuse, rape, seduction brought against them by women. Whether the allegations are true or not I do not know. However, to protect everyone (the reputation of Rabbonim and the safety of women) I think it would be a good idea to require any Rov giving advice to a women to only give it while his Rebbetzin is in the room with them. I know this can make it uncomfortable and maybe more difficult for in terms of availablity, but I believe it should be mandatory. If the Rov is willing to talk about those issues in front of his wife, if he is willing to ask the questions he asks in front of his wife, there is a lot less chance that he will do anything wrong or be accused of anything. I know of one choshuve Rov in Rechovot that does this - he will not see a woman unless his Rebbetzin is in the room with them. Rabbonin are not trained psychologists, not licensed with a state authority, not subject to all the consequences of a professional abusing his fiduciary relationship, therefore, I believe this is a necessary safeguard both for the women seeking advice and the Rabbonim that there yetzer horo does not get the better of them or to protect them from false accusations. R Eidensohn - what do you think of this?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There have actually been very very few such allegations against Rabbonim.

      Delete
    2. It is interesting to note that Rav Zilberstein has called for psychologists not to see patients of the opposite gender - but I don't here any calls for rabbis not to provide counselling to women. Search for Zilberstein in the blog's archives

      http://daattorah.blogspot.co.il/2012/02/dr-bonzels-explanation-of-rav.html

      Delete
    3. Who would provide rabbinical counseling for women if not for rabbonim???

      Rabbonim, by definition, must be men.

      Delete
    4. He didn't say 'rabbinical counseling', just counseling. Read it again - "...I don't here any calls for rabbis not to provide counselling to women."

      Counseling can be done by anyone with the right experience, and rebbetzins are often quite qualified to do so.

      Delete
  14. Also, there is no way to require or make mandatory what you suggest. Every rabbi decides on his own. No one else can force him or mandate he do things any specific way.

    Judaism has no Pope.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. true but there can be general agreement on issues across communities

      Delete
  15. Abe,


    If the charedi gedolim come out and say that this is what should happen, then at least across the charedi world this will become a norm and an expectation. A Rov not complying would already alert people that he may not be accepted as a normative Rov. Would you be able to run this idea by Rav Sternbuch?

    ReplyDelete
  16. R. Shafran starts his article with the following quote:

    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.

    Are you aware of any studies comparing the rate of abuse in the Orthodox community vs. the non-Orthodox secular community, or the non-Jewish community in general? Because if the answer is "No" then he has a point -- there is no evidence that the rate of abuse is higher, and someone claiming so is simply engaged in group libel.

    (And please, spare me tales of this or that notorious case. There have been plenty of cases that have been badly handled in both communities. You want to claim that the Orthodox community handles charges of abuse poorly, or that it can learn something from secular experts, that is one thing. But if you want to make a claim about the rate of abuse, you had better have something to back it up other than your own prejudices.)

    So that is the challenge: please produce evidence backing up that assertion.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You make an interesting point- If someone says that since there are no reliable statistics we should assume that concerted community efforts as well as widespread valudes and assumption of halacha and ignornance of abuse etc etc - make absolutely no difference to the phenomana of abuse. You call those who are aware and publicize this reality - as being engaged in "group libel" Let us start with the reasonalble - though as yet unproved assumption that the rate of perversion in all communities is the same - why would you condemn those who point out the unique factors which reasonably increase the rate of abuse. Factors that people working with the frum community - who clearly are part of the community and are obviously not biased against the frum community are noting. Rabbi Yakov Horowtiz, Doron Agassi and the experience of therapists dealing with the frum community assert that the opportunities for abusing children are greater in the frum community as well as the smaller risk of being reported.

      I spoke with an askan yesterday - who has an organization dealing with the abuse in the chareidi community - and he noted that the work of his organization was rapidly growing as word is spreading.

      Rabbi Shafran was looking to score points by claiming the opposite - that contrary to the BBC scandal - we have factors which should lower the abuse rate. He presented no evidence - because there is none. As anyone working on this issue knows there are rabbis, teachers, parents who are highly regarded as religiously observant - as wonderful people - who are abuse others including their own children!

      Rabbi Shafran following statement is absurd to anyone who has minimal knowledge dealing with the issue. As is clear the gemora he cites means just the opposite of what he is claiming. People are more afraid of man and his punishment. Where a pervert has nothing to fear of man - his supposed fear of G-d is no protection.
      ===================

      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!’.”

      Delete
  17. You make an interesting point- If someone says that since there are no reliable statistics we should assume that concerted community efforts as well as widespread valudes and assumption of halacha and ignornance of abuse etc etc - make absolutely no difference to the phenomana of abuse. You call those who are aware and publicize this reality - as being engaged in "group libel"

    Have you ever heard of a "straw man" argument?

    Please don't distort what I said. Clearly, the social structure of the Orthodox community differs from the general populace, and that may impact the rate of abuse. That works both ways -- some factors might increase it, others decrease it. (For one thing, studies show that in the general populace, one is far my likely to be abused by a close relative than a stranger. Yet, at least judging by the notorious cases, it seems that in the Orthodox community, it is relative strangers, such as rebbeim and others in authority, who are the biggest abusers.)

    The question asked on the other blog was whether a claimed statistic that 1 in 3 Orthodox children are abused is valid. R. Horowitz begins his answer that he knows of no studies to confirm that. He should have ended there. Instead, he stated that he would not dismiss it out of hand, and listed a number of factors he thinks might support such a number. Utterly ignored are other factors that might not support it, or might indicate that the number is lower, or at least lower than in the general populace.

    One also cannot ignore that there those out there with an anti-Orthodox agenda who are using the abuse issue to attack Orthodoxy and indeed the Torah in general. In one of the famous articles on the topic, the author identified two factors -- the laws of NIddah, and the laws of Negiah -- which he claimed made the rate of abuse worse. That was sheer speculation, and done with malice aforethought (as we lawyers used to say). Do you have any evidence for such an assertion?

    R. Eidensohn, I respect your work, and I agree that the Orthodox community has at times handled cases of abuse poorly. That being said, it ill serves you to rely on pseudo-scientific statistics or to try to justify with boich sevaras something which amounts to nothing more than speculation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tal Benshachar - I think there are two desirable but contradictory agendas here. 1) that the Orthodox community should not be libeled 2) there is a need to warn our community that there are dangers out there.

      I have heard from many talmidei chachomim - "I know that man. He can't possibly have done the disgusting things he is accused of because he is so wonderful and frum" or I know that man - he is a big talmid chachom and therefore can not be a pervert" - when it clear the accused was guilty.

      The point is that it is the qualities which we take pride in that often protect the pervert in our community. Incest is not rare - but people don't want to believe it because a heimishe yid would not do such a disgusting thing.

      You want to emphasize the need to protect the name of our community with the consequence of reducing the protection of our children. Unfortunately it has become clear to those who work with abuse victims - that screaming anti-semitism or chareidi hatred etc - does not protect our children but rather those who are abusers. Rabbi Safran starts out by attacking 2 reporters as if it is obvious that they are biased against the frum community and perhaps they are. But unfortunately as I pointed out the picture they described of the frum community - agrees with what people such as myself see from within the community. If their articles serve to wake up our community of the dangers - then I am not going to check their tzitzis before I listen to the message. Kolker's article in 2006 was a critical wakeup call that infuriated the gedolim but got them to pay attention to a problem that they were "sweeping under the rug". Similarly Hella Winston's articles might sometimes not be the highest level of pure journalisim - but they sure have had a very positive impact on our awareness of the problem and have done much more to galvanize action than the piour pronouncements of the Aguda.

      The issue is not statistics at this point - it is what best protects our children. We all know the saying - "there are lies, damn lies and statistics." And yes I have studies statistics.

      Rabbi Shafran's arguments are appropriate tools for a polemical war against outsiders. However again - from an insider who has talked to many in our community about the issue - his arguments are counter productive as is the whole Aguda approach to child abuse. His arguments made sense 5 years ago - but the reality of abuse in the frum community makes them an embarrasing public relations piece which simply is counterproductive to either protecting the children or maintainig the reputation of the Orthodox community. Who is he writing for? He sure doesn't impress the non-Orthodox who have read the descriptions of Orthodox child abuse. He doesn't impress the Orthodox - who no longer rely on the leadership of the rabbis to protect their children from a scourge that we all are too familiar with at this point.

      Delete
  18. Just to follow up, the logic used by the article R. Shafran quotes -- "there’s reason to believe the answer to that question might be yes" -- could be used for anything.

    Try this assertion:

    Is the rate of abuse among psychologists higher than among the general population? There are no reliable statistics, but there is reason to believe that it is higher.

    Psychologists, after all, are in a position where they elicit deep trust and learn the most intimate secrets of their patients. Their doctorate and professional standing give them authority over their patients, and inspires confidence among parents and guardians of children patients. We have seen a number of cases where psychologists (and other therapists) have indeed been involved in abusing their patients.

    So it stands to reason that, although there are no studies, that there is a higher rate of abuse there than in the general populace.


    Such an article, IMO, is shoddy at best, and would constitute a group libel on psychologists. Especially if I knew the author had an axe to grind anyway.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Please note my reply above. We can have many long intellectual arguements about the logic of Rabbi Shafran vs myself. Just imagine that we are in our building arguing about the likelihood of the building being on fire. I can argue that it is reasonable since the building was condemned by the fire departmentment for keeping combustible materials improperly and besides I hear fire alarms. You can counter that the fire department is run by known anti-Semites and is biased against frum yidden and that the building has been operated for many years without a fire - and the alarms I hear on next door in a building run by a secular organization. I can counter but I see smoke coming in the room and that there are screams within the building of people crying fire. You counter by saying those are mentally unbalanced people who are screaming because the rabbis are remaining calm and the smoke must be caused by some construction work.

      What type of information would motivate you to assume that the building is on fire and that maybe lives are in danger?

      When I was taking statistics the professor asked what is statisfical significance. We answered it is .05 level that the results are not by chance that we reject the null hypothesis. He said wrong. "Statistics are significant when you are willing to put money on them. It doesn't matter what level it is. There are life and death situation where anything which makes you suspcious that they are possible truth demands that you act as if they are true. Someone can die if you wait for more scientific evidence. There are other situations where even a .00001 level is ignored because there is no urgency to take action."

      The harm from a possible unearned smear of the frum communities reputation for child abuse is signficantly outweighed by the smear on the communities for coverups and denial of abuse as well as the persecution of those who report it.

      Delete

ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED!
please use either your real name or a pseudonym.