Thursday, April 28, 2016

Binah Magazine writer criticizes the view that authority must not be questioned - even if corrupt and against halacha

I just came across the letters section in the current Binah magazine. It clearly is relevant to the Kaminetsky- Greenblatt Heter for Tamar Epstein. A reader strongly attacks  Binah for publishing a story in which the school principal was corrupt and did things against the Torah - and the heroine was the school secretary who obtained guidance from her rav how to deal with it. This reader's point  being that one does not raise the possibility in students minds that the principal can make mistakes that one needs to do something about it. Furthermore she asserts that it is
wrong to question the system - but rather we must ignore these
corrupt deviations.[disclaimer - I did not read the story]. I was very impressed by the response of the story's writer - and for Binah for publishing the original story and the author's response presented below.
Sara Wiederblank responds:

Dear Fellow Teacher,

I am glad to have this opportunity to discuss my intentions when writing The Secretary. The point I was trying to make is this: When
someone in authority fails to live up to his or her sacred charge, what are the bystanders to do? For some of those among us who have experienced the tragedy of failed leadership, the trauma of these discoveries is so great that they are left doubting the entire system. This serial was intended to show the responsibilities and potential of the average bystander, and also to demonstrate that when the halachic process is followed, the community's good can be served and we can all emerge from the experience whole and proud. 
 You claim that what the principal did was "quite minor" and perhaps "grossly blown out of proportion." I disagree. Lifnei iver lo siten michshol charges an advisor to only provide advice that is in the best interests of the seeker. Mrs. Hertzberg failed to do that most egregiously. Not only was she swayed by her own negios, she actively lied to pursue her own agenda. This is unacceptable in a leader and is not mitigated by her many years of outstanding service.

In fact, the Torah warns us against the likelihood that we will be hesitant to approach wayward leaders because of their history of impeccable service. In the topic of navi sheker, the false prophet, the Torah warns us not to be swayed by the man's Illustrious history of prophecy (see Ohr  Hachaim on Devarim 13:3).

Moreover, I take issue with your claim that it is terrible to allow the possibility for students to ever question authority.

I agree with your concern that people might rush to issue such judgments on their own educational leaders. This is a legitimate concern that I have kept in mind throughout writing this serial, and because of its seriousness I worked in close consultation with Binah's content director.

I hope that no one uses this story as an excuse to declare open hunting season on their own mechanchos. However, that concern is one side of a coin; the other side is passively standing by while corruption rules. That, too, is a tragic situation that this serial addresses.

You suggest that the goal of the serial was to please people who would think, "Good! Finally someone is putting the principal in her place." I certainly hope that there weren't many readers who felt this way. Indeed, I have gotten a lot of feedback from people who sympathized with Mrs. Hertzberg, and realized that she was not an evil person, merely a complex person with a mixture of good and bad, as most of us are. She is not a villain whom we rejoiced in trouncing. However, she  needed to be checked - and she was.

You also claim that going to the Rav was inappropriate and made the situation a bigger deal than was necessary. However, Ariella behaved correctly. Lo saamod al dam rei'acha demands that if you see something, you say something, to the appropriate  party, as Ariella did, 

I would like our readership to be aware that Ariella's actions were guided by my consultation with two Rabbanim, and Rabbi Eisen's response was based on their explanations of how a Torah leader should handle claims such as Ariella's. I included his detailed explanation to show readers that this is a Torah matter and has to be handled by daas Torah.
Certainly, Rabbi Eisen acknowledged the possibility that nothing untoward happened - this was no witch hunt - but the Torah demanded that he properly investigate, to avoid innocent people being hurt , I don't see how going to a Rav with a serious concern could ever it be construed as "over-responding"': it is the responsible thing for a Torah Jew to do when faced potentially serious concern.
The fact that Ariella is the heroine of this story should not detract from the daily heroism of our teachers and principals. To point to one failed leader is not to condemn them all. Is is because we so revere our leaders that we need guidance as to live with the possiblity that one of their members is perhaps not what we had hoped.
May we always maintain our respect for our leaders, and maintain our discernment for retzon Hashem 

Sara Wiederblank

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