Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Does reality matter? Accepting one's llimits

Fox News

Scoring the team's only touchdown in a 35-6 loss is normally nothing to celebrate. But sometimes the touchdown counts as more than six points on the scoreboard.

In a high-school game in Snohomish, Wash. on Friday, the hometown Snohomish Panthers avoided a shutout in inspirational fashion as junior Ike Ditzenberger -- a 17-year-old with Down syndrome -- scored on a 51-yard touchdown run after entering the game for the first time with just 10 seconds remaining.[...]

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Abuse: Facebook & pediophiles

Fox News

The world’s largest pro-pedophilia advocacy group uses Facebook to connect with its members throughout the world; to find and exchange photos of children; to hone its members' predatory behavior; and to identify, target and reel in child victims, an investigation by reveals.
Facebook says it has a strict policy against the posting of content that supports groups engaged in child exploitation, yet a simple, five-second search on Facebook, conducted on Sept. 23, yielded dozens of pages devoted to the infamous North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA). Many of those pages featured numerous photos of unnamed boys, some of whom appeared to be too young for kindergarten.  [...]

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Child abuse:Bringing out the crazies

When I started working on my book of abuse I was well aware that the issue elicits strong emotions. I was well aware that the traditional understanding of halacha and rabbinic authority and the suspicion of mental health workers as well as the inherent disgusting nature of abuse  and informing the government - would cause some talmidei chachomim to disagree strongly.
But what has actually happened so far is something far different. In the last two year there has been a strong shift of the mainstream chareidi organizations and rabbinical authorities to publicly acknowledge the need for involvement of mental health workers, lawyers and even the police. In fact so far I have not found any talmid chachom that I talked with who is strongly opposed to my views. As one of my friends said, "the pendulum is already swinging toward a more enlightened view and if you don't get your book out soon then it will be the mainstream view instead of a pioneering effort."
Instead what is happening is that it is bring out the crazies. These people are very frum - some are FFB and others are well educated baalei teshuva - who are acting weird in the clinical sense because of the discussion of this topic. They present themselves as if they were concerned with piety and knowledge of the halacha - when in fact it has nothing to do with halacha and everything to do with mental illness. In fact none of them display an understanding of the halachic issues. But that doesn't stop them from viewing me and others as a manifestation of Satan. This is clearly seen by the individual who has sent in a number of off the wall comments to the posting of the excerpt of R' Micha Berger essay. I have received a number of emails containing very strange comments - that have everything to do with the break down of ego boundaries and clear indications of trauma and disassociative states and nothing to do with dealing with abuse. In short they act as if they have been abused or have suffered severe trauma or mental illness and perhaps are currently abusing others.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Important Halacha Regarding Arba Minim

Five Towns Jewish Times

Recently an unofficial poll taken in Far Rockaway, New York revealed a startling and alarming fact.  Over 90% of women polled were unaware of the halacha of “Lachem.”  The Torah tells us of a requirement in the laws of Lulav and Esrog that applies on the first day of Sukkos.  The Arba Minim, the four kinds taken on Sukkos, must belong to the person who is performing the Mitzvah.  It may not be borrowed – it must be owned.  One may, of course, rely on the concept of “Matana al menas lehachzir” – a conditional gift where the recipient will eventually give back the item – but this is not akin to borrowing.  It is still considered ownership. [...]

Monday, September 20, 2010

Abuse Book - Table of Contents

Abuse book excerpt:Watering the Weeds – Changing the system

by Rabbi Micha Berger


When a pharmaceutical company tests a new drug, they cannot simply look at its effects on an individual.  After all, they cannot know how this particular patient would have fared without the drug and thus lack a basis for direct comparison with the results of how he fared with it.  Instead, these tests are statistical.  The researcher looks at two populations:  one that uses the new drug and one that does not – the control group.  If the population that uses the drug has fewer outbreaks or symptoms than the control group, then we know the drug works.  For example, even if outbreaks occur during the test period in as little as 10% of the control population but only among 5% of those receiving the drug treatment, we conclude that the drug is helping the entire population – even those 90% who otherwise would not show the more measurable symptoms with or without the drug.

The goals of Torah observance can be viewed in a number of ways, but the basics are generally defined as follows.  A life of observance is one of seeking closeness to the Almighty to emulate His Perfection.  Torah ennobles and refines the person who observes it. 

This means that the Torah actually makes a testable claim.  Chazal call the Torah a "sam hachaim" – an elixir of life.  Would our "drug test" protocol recommend following the Torah as we witness its results manifest among those who observe it currently, relative to those who do not?

As in the test of a new drug, we cannot really see the effect of following the Torah on an individual.  We have no idea what anyone would be like had they not been exposed to a life of Torah and mitzvos, so we cannot say how much more refined they are now as a result of being blessed with such exposure.  Instead, we could assess the effects of Torah observance using a parallel technique to that used in medicine, as summarized above.  Here too, we can compare the two groups of people who on average are similar except regarding the one factor we are testing.

Unlike the pharmaceutical company's test, there is a basic difficulty in measuring the symptoms.  Without performing a systematic study, how do we get statistics on unethical behavior, unaltered by differences in the likelihood of people in each community reporting the events?

Realize that the claim being made about the Torah is an extreme one.  The difference between living blindly and following the Truth is immense, and disparate ramifications should reflect this difference.  For our claim to be true, we must see significant, tangible differences in ethical behavior in our communities compared to others that aspire for what they believe to be their higher callings, have similar incomes, etc.  If our abuse and other crime statistics are not clearly superior to those of communities which are not Torah observant, – especially after we correct for other socio-economic factors, examine other faith communities, and account for other variables – it would be experimental evidence that what the mainstay of our community is practicing does not fit the Torah's self-description.  In truth, the difficulty in obtaining statistics may be offset by how pronounced the claimed effect should be.  The Torah is describing a uniqueness that should be self-evident and obvious at first glance, without requiring a systematic study.

How would we fare in such a test?


Suicide & teshuva: Dying rather than allowing abuse

Gittin (57b): It was taught: There was an incident in which 400 boys and girls were captured for prostitution. They realized what their captives wanted and they asked, “If we drown ourselves in the sea will we get the World to Come?” The most important of them interpreted Tehilim (68:23): The L‑rd said, I will bring again from Bashan, I will bring again from the depths of the sea.” This means that G‑d will bring again all those who drown in the sea. When the girls heard this they all jumped into the sea. The boys drew the follow conclusions from this. They reasoned that if the girls committed suicide to avoid being forced into a normal sexual intercourse then in the case of boys shouldn’t they commit suicide to avoid unnatural sexual intercourse? They then also jumped into the sea. Concerning them Tehilim (44:23) says: For Your sake we are killed all day long, we are considered as sheep being slaughter.

Tosfos(Gittin 57b): All of them committed suicide by jumping into the sea – In contrast it says in Avoda Zara (18a): ‘Let Him who gave me my soul take it away, but no one should injure oneself.’  [Thus one should not commit suicide even to avoid sexual abuse!] The answer is that in our case concerning the 400 children they were afraid that they were going to be tortured as it says in Kesubos (33b): If they had beaten Chananiya, Mishael and Azariah they would have worship the idol. Thus they would have tortured the children but not killed them.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Abuse – is escape to safety a mistake?

The idea is clear and obvious. A traumatized person needs to be rescued and brought to a safe area where he can begin recovery.  For example, a soldier is suffering from shell shock. He is surrounded by death and destruction. He has finally snapped under the stress of random explosion of mortar shell and the screams of wounded companions. Would any rational person insist that he be forced to stay on the battle field with his unit?

A young boy has been abused by his teacher who has just been fired. The parents are told that it is best if their son were sent to his relatives 5000 miles away where he will be able to forget about the trauma. "Just being in the school will perpetuate the trauma", notes the social worker. "He needs a new place that has no reminders of what happened to him in order to recover."

A teenage girl has an alcoholic mother and no father. She has suffered much from her mother's incompetence as well her mother being overwhelmed 7 other children and by her many psychiatric and medical problems. It is recommended that she be placed in foster care.

The problem with the above is that removal from the traumatic environment is often itself very traumatic. It often means being stigmatized as a failure and the removal of support systems and more important a loss of identity. Studies with the Israeli army have shown that it is best to treat shell shock as an entirely normal reaction to stress. It works best if the soldier is not stigmatized by sending him to a hospital as well as not causing the loss of his identity and friends. Even forcing a hysterical soldier to take his gun and go back to his unit – is more beneficial in the long run than filling him with tranquilizers and having him escape the stress and horrors of war. Obviously there are extreme cases which need escape – but they are viewed as the exception rather than the rule.

Studies with foster family placement indicate that in most cases it is better to work with the family rather than to dismember it. Even moving to the safe environment of relatives is traumatic because the trauma is not dealt and unhealthy coping mechanisms develop. There are no friends and he learns to view himself as damaged goods – without familiar environment and resources to help with coping.

While obviously there has to be protection of the traumatized person, but it seems it is far better that treatment occur on familiar territory. The reaction of rachamim (mercy) does not work as well as din (strict law) for most people.

Medicine: Scientific control groups - the need to let some die

New York Times

Growing up in California’s rural Central Valley, the two cousins spent summers racing dirt bikes and Christmases at their grandmother’s on the coast. Endowed with a similar brash charm, they bought each other matching hardhats and sought iron-working jobs together. They shared a love for the rush that comes with hanging steel at dizzying heights, and a knack for collecting speeding ticket.
And when, last year, each learned that a lethal skin cancer called melanoma was spreading rapidly through his body, the young men found themselves with the shared chance of benefiting from a recent medical breakthrough. [...]

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Suicide & Teshuva:Shevus Yaakov - rejected by Rav M. Feinstein & R O Yosef

Igros Moshe(C.M. 2:69.4): ... Also this view (Yaavetz 1:43) that someone who has deliberately transgressed a sin that is liable to the death penalty and he commits suicide that he is not only not punished but it is also a meritorious act – is clearly prohibited even if he had been halachically warned not to do the crime. It is a shameful thing that Rav Yaakov Emden stated and his view on this matter should be totally disregarded.

    Rav Obadiya Yosef (Yabiyah Omer Y.D. 2:24.8)… In fact this issue is very confusing in my opinion. How is it possible that the mitzva of repentance can be done by means of the major sin of suicide? Our Sages have said that a person who deliberately commits suicide has no portion in the World to Come… This matter is an explicit verse (Yechezkeil 33:11): “Say to them, As I live, says the L‑rd G‑d, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked should turn from his way and live; turn, turn from your evil ways; for why will you die?” And there is nothing that repentance doesn’t help. So why would anyone think R’ Chiya's attempt to kill himself in response to what he thought was a sin with a prostitute - was according to the halacha (Kiddushin 81b)?  But look at Sefer Chasidim (#674) …How could he tell his students to do teshuva in a manner that caused them to be killed? It would seem that the Sefer Chasidim is a major support for the Shevus Yaakov. This is a very difficult issue that requires study. Nevertheless in my opinion one can not learn halacha from stories such as these. Therefore it is prohibited to kill oneself – even for the sake of repentance. I also saw this point in Shevet Shimon (345) which expresses great astonishment at this Shevus Yaakov and he concludes that the halacha is in accord with the Yafas To’ar [and not the Shevus Yaakov]. This is also the conclusion of the Chida in Birchei Yosef (345:3), that even though normally the Shevus Yaakov is more authoritative but logic is in agreement with the Yafas To’ar. [There are many other sources that come to this conclusion and reject this Shevus Yaakov]…

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Suicide & repentance:Shaloh

Shaloh (Yoma: Ner Mitzva): You should know that the technique for repentance of the Rokeach and Sefer HaMidos and that of the Arizal are both legitimate (eilu v’eilu). That is because there are many levels of repentance and someone who wishes that his repentance reach to the Throne of Glory needs to utilize both approaches. If the sinner thinks that perhaps the afflictions he does for repentance might cause him to become sick or even to die – it is of no concern. It is in fact desirable to die in the course of repentance. We in fact find in Kiddushin (81b) that R’ Chiya bar Ashi tried killing himself by sitting in an oven to atone for the sin of being with his wife when he thought she was a prostitute and he eventually died from the constant fasts that he did to repent… Thus we see that a person who was outstanding in Torah and piety and did not in fact commit the sin that he had intended to do – nevertheless he brought about his death through the process of repenting and this is also Rashi’s view.

Suicide & teshuva: Shevus Yaakov II

Shevus Yaakov(2:111): Question: Someone who has committed adultery and as an act of repentance to comply with the capital punishment he deserves, drowns himself in a river which is equivalent to the punishment of strangulation – is he considered as if he committed suicide or is it considered a positive act of repentance and thus he has the status of one who died a natural death? Answer: … a proof can be brought from Kiddushin (81b) which describes R’ Chiya bar Ashi putting himself in an oven as an act of repentance… Thus we see clearly that it is permitted to repent a sin by suicide… Another proof is found in Bereishis Rabbah (65:22) in which a man died by subjecting himself to punishment which involved the equivalent of all 4 death sentences and it was declared that this allowed him to merit the World to Come… He did this as an act of repentance and thus it was not considered as a forbidden act of suicide… We similarly see the case of the washer man in Kesubos (113b) who jumped off the roof when Rebbe Yehuda HaNasi died and a heavenly voice praised him. Thus it was considered a proper action. The Maharit in his commentary to Kesubos said that he killed himself as an act of repentance…We see then from these sources that if a person kills himself for the sake of repentance it is not considered as suicide and he merits the World to Come. That is because in the place where a baal teshuva stands, a complete tzadik is not able to stand.

I received the following comment:

Maybe it's because I'm an American, but for some reason, I find this teshuvah extremely troubling. I also wonder how many Rabbanei Kehillos in the US, if one of their mispallelim confesses to something like this, would have the courage (or perhaps the insensitivity) to counsel this course.

Having once or twice been boel my wife b'niddah b'ratzon, I wonder whether I'm mechuyav to follow this course myself.

G'mar chasima tovah and God help us all.

The Shevus Yaakov, and also the gemora in Kiddushin 40a, Kesubos (113a) as well as the Iyun Yaakov (Kiddushin 81b) and the Yaavetz (1:43) as well as Rav Ovadiya Yosef (Y.O. 2:24.8)- are not recommending suicide. What these sources are saying is that if a person afflicts himself, including death - it can in fact bring about atonement. Without this we would say that a suicide is either a wicked or crazy person. These sources  legitimize our saying that he is a baal teshuva.

Nevertheless the positive view that the above sources express is in disagreement with the view of Rav Moshe Feinstein (C.M. II 69.4) who strongly rejects this view which he saw in the Yaavetz. I am posting it because it gives a person a deeper understanding of the seriousness of sin and correspondingly the importance of repentance. Thus to answer the above comment - it is clearly not required for a sinner to commit suicide or for a rabbi to recommend such a course and in fact the sinner should be advised not to take such a course of action and all means should be used to stop a person from doing so. It is however the basis for viewing a suicide victim as not being evil or mentally ill but at least a baal tshuva. So l'chatchila it is definitely prohibited but if someone did it for the sake of teshuva it is understandable and a minority would say it is even a legitimate action.

Suicide & teshuva: Shevus Yaakov

שבות יעקב (ב:קיא): שאלה על דבר אחד שנכשל באיסור אשת איש וקבל על עצמו מכח תשובה דין ארבע מיתו' ב"ד להטביע עצמו בנהר שהוא חנק אי הוי כדין מאבד עצמו לדעת או נימא כיון דעושה משו' תשובה הוה ליה כדין מת על מטתו? תשובה ... יש להביא ראיה דכל כה"ג לא מקרי מאבד עצמו לדעת מהא דאיתא סוף קדושין (פא:) ר' חייא בר אשי הוי רגיל כל עידן דנפל על אפיה... הרי להדיא דמשום תשובה מותר להביא על עצמו מיתה ממש ...מ"מ יהיה איך שיהיה מוכח מש"ס דקדושין דלעיל דלא הוי בכלל מאבד עצמו לדעת וכן מוכח בבראשית רבה פ' ס"ה בפ' תולדות גבי יקום איש צרידה שקיים בעצמו ארבע מיתות ב"ד ואמר עליו ר' יוסי איש צרידה בשעה קלה קדמני זה לגן עדן ... דבעשה כן משום תשובה ודאי לא יחשב בכלל מאבד עצמו לדעת... גם מהאי כובס [כתובות קיג:] ... מ"מ אחר מעשה שיצא בת קול וקמיה שמיא גליא דכוונתו היה לשמה חזינן דשפיר עביד ועיין בחידושי מהר"י טראני /לכתובות/ שכתב דהאי כובס ג"כ עביד כן משום תשובה לקבל עליו דין שמים סקילה על שחילל שבת לפי שהשמש זרחה בשביל אשכבתיה דר' כדאיתא בירושלמי ע"ש דבריו באורך א"כ ג"כ מוכח דבשביל תשובה לא הוי בכלל איבוד עצמו לדעת ומזומן לחיי עה"ב כי במקום שבעלי תשוב' עומדים אין צדיקים גמורים יכולין לעמוד כנ"