What's Important To Us As a Community? We Need To Decide

By Wolfish Musings blog
June 3, 2012

This week's Mishpacha magazine has an article about Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, the executive Vice President of the Agudath Israel of America. In the article, Rabbi Zwiebel gives us an interesting insight into the priorities that exist in the chareidi mindset.

In discussing blogs and bloggers, Rabbi Zweibel makes the following statement:

"I do believe that among them are people who are deeply pained about certain issues and feel that this is the way they can express their pain. I will even go a step further and say that through the pressure they've created, communal issues that needed to be confronted were moved to the front burner and taken seriously. A case in point is abuse and molestation issues. The question is, if the fact that they've created some degree of change is worth the cost. At the very least, it's rechilus, lashon hara and bittul z'man. That's a high price to pay."

A high price to pay? Really? I'm just utterly flabbergasted at the statement. Does he truly believe that there is any possibility that it's better to not pay the price and keep the molesters in a position where they continue can abuse children? In my opinion, if one could engage in those sins and wipe out the instances of child molestation among us, I'd engage in it all day long and call it a bargain.

He goes on to discuss another potential price to be paid by the recent attention that bloggers have put on the issue of molestation:

"Then there's is the damage wrought to the hierarchy of Klal Yisrael. We've always been a talmid chacham-centered nation, and it's dangerous to ruin the fabric of Klal Yisrael by denigrating the ideal of daas Torah and by allowing personal attacks on gedolei Yisroel."

I agree with Rabbi Zwiebel. There has been considerable damage being done to the reputation of the gedolei Yisroel -- but the primary cause of that damage are the gedolim themselves -- not the bloggers. Had the gedolim chosen to confront the issues early on, there would never be a need for a bloggers such as OUJ to point out that the gedolim and yeshivos have long since failed to protect the abused among us. Our communal leaders thought that they would be able to keep abuse issues silent forever and that no one would ever be any the wiser about what goes on. By covering up cases of abuse, they left the abused and their advocates with no other choice but to go public to force change. So, yes, the damage to the gedolim is a high price to pay -- but, again, one that needed to be paid and paid willingly to protect those who are being abused and to prevent further abuse. The protection of children is worth more than the honor of gedolim; and the protection of children is worth more than rechilus, lashon hara and bittul z'man.

Ultimately, however, it's how we make these decisions that define us as a people. We will not, ultimately, be judged by the deviants in our midst -- any large enough population will have its share of deviants -- but rather how we decide to deal with these deviants and how we protect those who would be victimized by them. We will be judged on how we prioritize our resources and attention as a community, and how we decide which problems are important enough for us to address publicly and with force. And, sadly, we are failing that test miserably. When the executive vice president of a major rabbinical body in America can publicly state that there's even a possibility that lashon hara about actual abusers is worse than the abuse itself, we are failing the test.

Our priorities are so messed up that a part of our community is so determined to prevent a person from seeing a woman's forearm or breast that they can fill a major sports stadium with people, but cannot muster the same will to gather and send a message that people who actually touch, abuse and rape children in our community will not be tolerated. Clearly, we see which issues are important to the people who purport to be our leaders -- and in their choice, they show the failure of their leadership.

The sad part about all this is that the choice shouldn't even be necessary. Were a gadol to get up tomorrow and announce that he is taking abuse and molestation issues seriously -- and then publicly follow up on it by taking active steps to expose and rein in molesters and see that they actually pay for their crimes, they would have the honor that they deserve and there would be no need to publicly talk about their failures on the issue. They would be honored for their handling of the problem and we would have protection for children. The fact that they do not seem to consider this to be a viable course of action is a further sign of the failure of our community.

It's up to us to make a choice. Is it more important to keep the honor of the gedolim intact by being silent about incidents of abuse, or is it more important to bring attention to those incidents? Is the honor of a gadol worth more than the soul of a child? It's up to us to decide. Heaven help us if we make the wrong choice.