Monday, September 20, 2010

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?



  1. I should have elaborated that last paragraph more... It's my argument why someone can't take refuge in saying that anecdotal evidence doesn't rule out the likelihood that statistically, we as a community are better.

    My point is we're distinguishing between following the Truth and other belief systems. Evidence that can't be simply seen prima facae as self evident falls short of what we would expect from such a stark difference in cause.


  2. what are you trying to say? I'm trying very hard to figure out if there's anything significant buried deep inside.

  3. It's a teaser.

    All that it says is that the need for a book like this proves we aren't quite doing things as Hashem intended.

    You are left with an open question, which you won't get answered until you read the book.

    It's a question that burns in the heart of a victim. How many victims of abuse end up rejecting not only the authority figure who attacked them, but also the Torah they represented? Rather than simply say "don't confuse Judaism with the Jews", separating the ideal from the community of very human people who aspire to it, I suggest where much of the gap between the two lies.

    Most of the essay are sources to show justify this statement as being within the realm of traditional thought, and I close with a proposal (deduced from those sources) for what to do about it.


  4. Micha (Rav Shach Yarmulka, Kapotoh and all) is widely viewed as a kook. (And I don't mean that as in Harav Kook either.)

    Which I guess will serve to de-legitimise your book, which is probably a good thing, anyway.

  5. Micha: What's up with the coffee every morning (re the bus)?

  6. Anonymous: you assume it's hot enough to burn? I make sure it isn't.

    I almost always have a hot drink with me. My throat was damaged by radiation (treatment for lymphoma) and gets raw quite readily.

    I'm a little surprised by these responses. I am quoted saying something provocatuve, and the topic shifted from that to personal.Don't be so busy shooting the messenger that you fail to analyze why you are bothered by the message.

    If necessary, do both. But I don't want people to ignore the proposition that the O community as a community can't be hashkafically healthy if this book is necessary.and to brainstorm about what to do about it.


  7. Devarim 26:19. Yishar Koach, Rabbi Micha.

  8. Rabbi Micha - When you say something that calls into question the status quo, this type of response you are seeing here is par for the course. I hope you are stronger of will than to let such frivolities bother you. These insults are the peeps of mice, and they happen because certain people are afraid of discussion because they care more about glory and power and the established hierarchy and image than they do about righteousness.

    However, in regards to your own blogsite, rabbi Micha, I would caution that one should be very careful, even as a victim of the vicious reactionaries here, not to fall into a similar trap through which they stumble by heaping insults onto perceived threats of his own. Maybe I'm wrong, but this potential danger is worth one's thought.


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