Thursday, October 15, 2015

Tamar Epstein and the Scarlet Letter: The Kaminetskys and Rabbinic sanctioned adultery

Jewish society is faced with a major crisis - how to deal with a case of rabbinic sanctioned adultery. On the one hand we have adultery - which is one of the worst sins and one which is based on betrayal of the most important human - that of husband and wife. This betrayal aspect is why it is used as a metaphor for betrayal in the relationship of G-d and the Jewish people. There is a primal revulsion towards the betrayal of  a wife who has an affair with another man. It also is one of the most defiling of sins - because of its violation of the sanctity of marriage.

At the same time we are faced with another theme - loyalty to rabbinic authority and gedolim. There is no higher praise than to say one has emunas chachomim i.e., obeys the decisions and views of G-d representatives - the rabbis. In this case Rav Shmuel Kaminetsky and Rav Nota Greenblatt are American gedolim who have the stature of being of the select group of transmitters of G-d's Torah and Mesorah.

The halacha is very clear - Tamar Epstein is a married woman who is married to a man not her husband - the definition of adultery. But she did it with the guidance and encouragement of two major rabbinic figures. However the rabbis who sanctioned this adulterous relations refuse to justify their actions. By their silence they are demanding acceptance of their activities simply because of their status and authority as gedolim - not because they are experts in the halacha - or are correct.

From the point of view of the Kaminetskys and Greenblatts they are saying they have no need to justify anything they do - no matter how horrific in appearance - because they are gedolim. They are hoping that the perceived obscenity of what they are doing will eventually be forgotten and they will succeed in getting away with distorting the Torah. Thus they are not only giving the appearance of violating the Torah by facilitating apparent adultery but they are violating a specific requirement of halacha - that decisions which appear wrong - need to explained in detail to the public.

What about the other rabbis who know that R Greenblatt and the Kamenetskys are wrong? Why haven't there been loud cries of outrage from our rabbinic leaders? The answer is that the rabbis are very uncomfortable with being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Thus they are dodging the question with a technicality. They acknowledge that it is highly unlikely that there is a valid justification for the marriage without a get. However they say that they can not judge whether this is truly a case of adultery - unless they see a written justification for the act to which they can agree or disagree. Without this written justification - they feel they need to assume that what great rabbis have done - must be correct. The fact that the failure to provide a written justification is a violation of halacha - while puzzling - is also something which they say must be given the benefit of doubt.

So the crisis continues - a blatant act of adultery, a brazen concealing of justification,  demands of "trust me I am a gadol", timidity and fear of rabbinic leaders in addressing the issue - and the accelerated loss of emunas chachomim and growth of cynicism by the masses.

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