Friday, May 17, 2013

Kolko case: Learning to believe the unbelievable

When we read about a horrible crime, we look for a rational explanation by seeking out the words regarding the accused, "he was a loner", "he was strange". We typically do find this to be true for those who fire automatic weapons in school massacres or cases such as the kidnapping, abuse and murder of women and children. However in the case of sexual abuse by pedophiles - we are stuck with the fact that often the perpetrator is amongst the most beloved of the community. Typically the pedophile picks a lonely child and grooms him for abuse by being his "special friend".  Consequently many can't believe that this distinguished family man, this charismatic teacher, this deeply spiritual clergyman would do such a thing. Many can't accept that the pervasive belief  that a man who abuses and rapes children is  mentally ill, a loner, a stranger - is typically wrong.

Because of the deeply seated belief as to the inherent evilness of pedophiles, we have a hard time accepting that the beloved uncle or neighbor is a child rapist. Consequently even when a pedophile confesses - it is often not accepted as being true. And surely when the accused is convicted despite his protests of innocence. The belief that nice people don't do horrible things conflicts with the fact that this person was convicted or confessed. 

This is the problem of cognitive dissonance - resolving strongly conflicting facts. However this dissonance is difficult to live with and thus we have a need to resolve it. One resolution is that we decide he wasn't so nice after all. That his good deeds were fake and that we really didn't know him. While in fact his accomplishments are often genuine - but viewing him as a phony allows us to accept his guilt.  

The other way of resolving the dissonance is to say that the conviction or even confession is not true. How does one ignore the fact of confession by the accused. One rationalization is that he was being railroaded by lying, vindictive kids who were trying to cover up their own misdeeds. Furthermore the accused could not handle the expenses of years of legal help. Therefore when faced with the likelihood of a life sentence or a plea bargain of 5 to 10 years - the plea bargain is the rational option. Because this does happen - it is possible for a rational human being to discount clear evidence of guilt. However the fact that it is unlikely - should cause the true and faithful believers in innocence to at least have doubts.

The Seridei  Aish notes that for a person to be a believer, the fact must move from being an outside assertion - to being accepted internally. This is true of all beliefs. Therefore there are those who keep externally the facts of confession or conviction. They acknowledge that a conviction or confession has occurred - but it is not internalized. The question then becomes, "What helps us internalize these unpleasant facts?"

The most helpful aid to accepting unpleasant facts is education. As we become more educated about the niceness of pedophiles, the dissonance becomes reduced.  As we learn that genuinely loving and spiritual people can do these horrible crimes - the more readily we will deal realistically with these crimes - both in terms of prevention and conviction. As the dissonance is reduced, the easier is it to accept reality.  It is time to accept reality.


  1. One of the biggest, continuing hurdles is the seeming inability of people to accept the truth of horror. It was true during the Holocaust, and remains true now. People will look for any excuse or pretext to deny the undeniable. They will raise the evidence bar to a height that cannot be reached. Victim testimony, for sure, will be dismissed as biased and unreliable. The police and DA will be accused of witch hunt, seeking prosecutions to bolster their careers. Audios and videos will be attacked as manufactured. Guilty pleas are meaningless because they are pressured and coerced. Civil suits for compensation are proof that greedy victims and their lawyers only seek a payday, and therefore, they cannot be trusted. It all boils down to selfishness, lack of empathy, and even cruelty.

  2. Rabbi Eidensohn,

    Everything you said about denial and its mechanisms is true. I would add on, that in the hareidi world there is a strong additional bias of subordinating personal judgment to the opinions of higher level rabbonim. The Kolko case is complicated because higher level rabbonim in Lakewood were divided, but everyone understood that while they were quiet, r. Malkiel and CEO Aaron opposed the criminal prosecution. So they are left in an additional state of dissonance.

    I suspect there will be no official pronouncements by rabbis in Lakewood on either side of the divide. They just wish the issue would go away. Into the gap will jump "yesh omrim," midrash and pilpul. Of course another faction will be hushing things up, invoking and shouting "Loshon horah, loshon horah!"

    The bad news is that only a few will draw the necessary conclusions and act on it. The good news is that the Kolko case will provoke some long overdue debates, and in some cases, rethinking.

    This case will not yield to easy dissonance resolutions.

    PS- factoid. Yossi Kolko was not a family man. He is a 36 year old who never got married. I find it surprising, given the norms of Lakewood, that this fact was not raised against him more often. It suggests that either he was not interested in marriage or more likely, no one wanted to make a shidduch with him because of koiloi deloi passuk.

  3. It is observed that we presently live in a world of fantasy. We consider the entertainment industry filling a primary human "need", not a luxury. All fantasy. Our own frum community deifies each and every person who occupies a position of leadership, whether the respect is earned or not. Just glance at the proliferation of photos that adorn every publication. Even Sukkah decorations have entered the photographic world, with collections of portraits. The subjects of the pictures might be worthy, but the almost worship of images is bluff, all fantasy. We believe that our systems are producing gedolei Yisroel, yet they are increasingly hard to find. Yes, our batei medrash ring with an audible kol Torah, but not the wisdom, the foresight, the achdus generating voices of budding true leaders. For all the professing about manufacturing gedolim, we have fantasy, just dreams. We have also deteriorated into the magical thinking, once recognized as infantile, where we simply pretend that we know the truth when it is only a figment of our imagination.

    One place where the pattern occurs all the time is the perceptions and beliefs about the individualized "Kedushas Yisroel". How wonderful to believe that violations of kedusha did not occur. But reality is frightening. Transgressions occur. Maybe not an epidemic, but they do happen. To play dumb and resort to pediatric defenses to pass off the fantasy of "no evil" should be something we have outgrown long ago. But it is live and well, and flourishes in the words of most rabbonim, community spokespeople, and even some parts of the media. Many in the public are "oilem goilem", foolishly playing utopia while reality continues its steady dance.

    It is time to emerge from hiding, face reality, and maybe make a sour face when we taste those less than pleasant facts that we encounter. We need to mature. Perhaps the explanation of the statement of Chazal about the times of Moshiach, נערים פני זקנים ילבינו is that the elders will whitewash their faces with immaturity. It is a provocative translation, but it seems to dominate our community.

    I might be a bit kinder to today's leaders than Mr. Pasik, but I do not accept their folly either. Time to grow up.

  4. As someone heavily involved in this case , I will just say the following to all of you.. A confession of guilt in no way makes someone guilty. Everyone will come to their own conclusion if he is innocent or guilty. But to all you that came to the conclusion of guilty just think on what grounds your basing it on, and if you're like everyone else it will be based solely on the kids accusations because you have no other facts. Would you stand by and say guilty in any accusation other then molestation based solely on the kids testimony? Now.. I am in no way saying he is innocent. I wouldn't trust my kids with him and neither should you. It just seems like when it comes to molestation our justice system fails us, its no longer innocent until proven guilty. If anyone of you were even slightly involved, you would know all the stuff that went on behind the scenes which they don't write about in the news. You would know that to come to a guilty conclusion is not possible nor is it our place to judge. If he is guilty then he should get what's coming to him, but if he is innocent.. I shutter at the thought of all the Rabbi's that will have to answer for that. We are allowed and should be cautious with anyone, but even if we had facts its not our place to judge.. Keep an open mind. Don't be someone that will have to answer for your conclusion after 120.

    1. For someone "heavily involved in this case," you conveniently ignore that Kolko confessed to Rabbi Blech and other Rabbonim as well as the report of Gavriel Fagin, the social worker whom Kolko opened up to. The Rabbonim were slated to testify on Monday. Had their testimony taken place, the sordid details would have been made public. Wonder if that influenced his decision to finally plead guilty?

    2. Rabbi Blech and the other Rabbonim were slated to testify Monday. By pleading guilty when he did, Kolko avoided the embarrassing and damning testimony of these Rabbonim and the Bais Din's social worker to whom he confessed.
      As "someone heavily involved," you conveniently ignore all this. It is you who will have to answer for your conclusion.

    3. Dear Mr. Play Dirty,

      Just as someone skilled enough can declare someone tahor who toiveled with a sheretz, anyone oblivious to the facts can adduce arguments for his innocence. Over the years I have heard them all, but never in such a contradictory sloppy package.

      Only 1 child witness- no, two more young adults came forward to report on his conduct in earlier years.

      Only the word of a child- No. He himself admitted the charges to respected rabbonim.

      Guilty till proven innocent- No! He pleaded guilty.

      Because of lakewood pressure- maybe- But if so lakewood did not want it revealed that they protected him when they knew he was guilty. The hanhalah had no interest in concealing proof of his innocence.

      Because Mickey Rottenberg on orders from AK cut off the legal monies. No! because lawyers usually insist on pre-payment for a trial.

      I say, stick with the simplest explanation for why someone pleads guilty mid-trial when two more victim witnesses show up. He pled guilty because he was now certain he was going to be convicted and he knew that it was too late to even play martyr by claiming it was just a he said/he said. By now it was also she said, he said. So he cut his losses and will get out of jail as a middle aged man instead of relying on the chevrah kadishah to shlep him out.

      At this point Kolko has no interest in this argument. He is focused on planning for a decade or so in jail.

      However, Yisroel Belsky, "He who knows without facts" has a desperate interest is sustaining the myth of Kolko's innocence. If he really was a talmid chacham and not just a lamdan he would admit his mistake. Fat chance that is going to happen.

    4. A guilty plea admits guilt. That means he did the crimes. What am I missing?


please use either your real name or a pseudonym.