Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rabbis need to investigate charges against community leaders

Journalism, Controversy, and Responsibility: halachic Analysis \ Steve Oppenheimer DDS

Mahari Weil, z"l, was asked about a community leader who had served the public for twenty years and now was being accused of inappropriate behavior. Was it appropriate to have a public investigation and give a detailed accounting to the public? He answered that an investigation should be conducted by a committee of trustworthy individuals appointed by the public. If this is not feasible, a dayan, a rabbinic judge, should appoint such a committee. The dayan should thoroughly investigate the matter so that the truth should emerge and justice prevail in this world. Unfortunately, he lamented; many communities are victimized by unscrupulous leaders who act more to serve their own interest rather than the interests of the community. These dishonorable leaders shirk their responsibility and further burden those who already suffer. The details of the investigation should not be discussed publicly, so as not to cause undue embarrassment to other involved parties.

We see that it is incumbent upon the community to appoint representatives from within its midst to examine the behavior of those who serve the public lest the weak and the vulnerable in the community suffer the consequences. In fact, based upon the responsum of Mahari Weil, the Ramo states that in order to be innocent before G-d and Israel, all people who deal with the community must give an accounting of their actions.

Any questionable behavior must be promptly investigated under the guidance of recognized poskim. While the details of the findings may not be revealed to the public, the public must be given assurance that the matter has been corrected properly and that the public interests have been protected.

Detailed revelation of the investigation may only serve to cause additional, unwarranted pain and embarrassment and this serves no public need.


  1. But wasn't the assembled beit din regarding Kolko also "under the guidance of recognized poskim?"

    Don't we see that in our time, the spiritual decline has progressed to such a point that such batei dinim cannot be trusted, and that such private committee's, while potentially assembled with the best of intentions, (and surely Mahari Weil has the best of intentions and explains them in a considerate way), often in today's world of the past ~100 years such "private diplomacy" consists of sweeping things under the rug and in a practical sense doing absolutely nothing?

    Perhaps given what has occurred recently within klal Yisrael, this approach, with all due respect, is severely, dangerously limited and inappropriate to our concerns. Unless I am misunderstanding its actual application, I humbly suggest that this is not the proper way to guide us at the present time in dealing with these issues.

    What do you think, Rabbi E?

  2. Who watches the watchers? At some point we as a community need to acknowledge that sunshine is the best disinfectant. We've learned a lot about the way good government/administration works since the times of the Rema.

  3. This is an excellent post. In particular, your remark, "Any questionable behavior must be promptly investigated under the guidance of recognized poskim. While the details of the findings may not be revealed to the public, the public must be given assurance that the matter has been corrected properly and that the public interests have been protected" is most appropriate.

    That said, I have a question: When is it appropriate for the klal to know of inappropriate behavior? Clearly there are times when full disclosure is necessary (the pirsum of pedophiles, for example).

    In the Tropper case, does not his 'outing' serve the greater good? If nothing else, the matter has focused attention on the 'business' and money side of the geirus industry.

    Further, there might be times when the individuals we ask have a vested interest in the investigation. Bizmananu, the world is a much smaller place. The internet, email, fax, etc., have made finding uninvolved parties a lot more difficult. Rabbonim from around the world are in instant contact and certain pratim are well known. Kashrus. for example is a now a global imndustry business conducted in all four corners of the world.

    There was a time when a rav in Warsaw might never have known what transpired in Kiev. Those days are long gone. Today, vast distances have shrunk and direct deposit and ATM machines allow anyone to be global and local player.

  4. Do we even have 'communities' nowadays?

    In any case, this is so depressing!! Now it seems that it is even against halacha to clean house?

  5. Joseph-

    Your question, "Do we even have 'communities' nowadays?" is one of the main issues we face today.

    'Supra' Rabbonim and programs that usurp local rabbonim, minhagim and standards weaken communities. The idea that kehillas will be strengthened is absurd.

    Identity is derived from 'home'. Take that away and even more aimlessness will plague our olam, with tragic consequences.

  6. A 'local-only' approach seems to also be prone to corruption. Perhaps the best system is one of 'checks and balances' as the USG has these last 225 years?

    Underlying that would be accountability of some sort to the people whom they both are supposed to serve.

    Of course, as they say, 'the devil is in the details!'

  7. Joseph-

    Checks and balances are always a good idea. 'Trust and verify' lets people sleep at night.

    When you know you will be accountable to your own community' the incentive to 'get it right' is built in.

    In the Kolko matter for example, there were no checks and balances, no trust and verify, and no accountability. There was only a culture of denial and obfuscation, a culture that in many ways still dominates our kehillos.

    Not so good.

  8. The big problem is that everyone in the yeshiva world is on salaries which don't pay their real expenses, and therefore most of them survive by accepting large contributions from wellwishers, disciples and admirers and are thus sopmewhat beholden to them. It does not matter whether you like Rabbi X or Admor Y or not, hardly anyone does not depend on extras because salaries are low.
    If we provided roshei Yeshiva and rebbeim with apartments and allowed their children to attend schools for free and paid a stipend sufficient for food and clothes etc. then they could be neutral, but in the real world they are all desperate for extra help. Let me know when you hear of a Rosh Yeshiva making a wedding in his living room with a small portion of a home made chicken on paper plates for a couple of minyanim of guests. Then we will know he is a free man. But our world is not comfortable with that, and so we condemn good well-meaning men to a life of constant shnorring...

  9. Please can you provide a source for the Mahri Weil? Thanks.

  10. Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Please can you provide a source for the Mahri Weil? Thanks.

    Click on the link of the title of the article - that provides the full article including footnotes


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