By Yerachmiel Lopin (Frum Follies blog)
February 3, 2013
BACKGROUND: Rabbi Manis Friedman, a popular Chabad speaker and director of Bais Chana Women International based in Minneapolis trivialized sex abuse in a speech captured on video. When the uproar began he substituted a different video. But he could not get away from the issue because a group in Australia threatened to sue him in Jewish courts in Melbourne and Crown Heights. At the same time he was being vigorously thrashed on blogs (e.g., Harry Maryles, Shmarya Rosenberg, Deputy DA Benny Forer, Chaim Levin, Asher Lovy, and many others). So he apologized. Time will tell if he means it. But in the meantime check out the transcript of an audio recording of the comments that provoked so much anger and embarrassment and even had Chabad trying to deny he was one of their emissaries (shluchim).
TRANSCRIPTION: The transcription of the thirteen minute tape was first done by ZT, a reader of this blog. I listened to it myself and made a few small corrections and added translations of Hebrew and Yiddish terms. These translations are in parentheses. They are not literal but serve to communicate their usage in context. To facilitate discussion I have numbered the paragraphs.
Rabbi Manis Friedman on Sex Abuse
The fear of an aveira (sin), the rejection of an aveira, is a very potent medicine and it has to be administered very carefully.
I don’t know what the percentage is, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but, uh, there’s hardly a kid who comes to a yeshiva, to a program, that hasn’t been molested, sexually molested.
And all the children who have been sexually molested, have serious emotional imbalances. And the question is – why? Why?
Just to make it dramatic, I was talking to this girl who was very, very, off the derech (off the orthodox religious path), not off the derech, I mean, that’s putting it mildly.
She decided she hates men, she’s going to be a lesbian.
Why? Because she was molested. And she has been going for therapy and she’s been talking about it. Been close to 20 years that she was.
So I said to her, “You’re not the only one who was molested.” “Well I was molested! Eeeehhhhhh.” [imitation of whining sound]. “You’re not the only one though.”
“And let me ask you a question, do you sometimes forget to say Al Hamichya?” Because she’s not keeping shabbos (Jewish Sabbath laws). I said, “Do you sometimes forget to say al hamichya (obligatory Jewish blessing after certain snacks) ? Because, that’s much,” I said, “That’s much worse than being molested.”
She was very upset, [MF laughs] until she finally calmed down. I said, “Look, you were 9 years old, and you didn’t do it. So what aveira (sin) are you guilty of? You forget to say Al Hamichya (after-snack blessing) that’s your aveira (sin), that’s much more serious. So it doesn’t bother you that you forgot to say Al Hamichya, but you can’t get over the fact that somebody else did an aveira?!”
In other words, what happened is that we stopped being Jewish in our responses. We’ve all become psychiatrists. A kid tells you he’s been molested, right away you’re thinking “Oooohh, emotional damage.” What do you know about emotional damage?
If a kid comes to you and says “I was molested” you open up a shulchan aruch (Code of Jewish law) and okay, let’s see, what’s the aveira (sin)?
What does it say in Torah if you are inappropriately touched? You know what it says? It says, [pause] Eh, it doesn’t. Throw him out. If a kid would come and say, “This uncle or this camp counselor is touching me” “Really? Don’t go in. Not nice, not tznius (modest).”
That’s all! There would be no damage, there would be no trauma, there would be no dropout. The problem is we tell children how bad certain things are, and then we don’t tell them how to handle bad.
The Alter Rebbe (Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad, 1745-1812) had to write a whole Tanya (a foundational work of Hasidism) to convince people if you have a machshava zarah (untoward thought), don’t freak out, you’re not a tzaddik (saint), it’s okay, you’re going to have a machshava zarah. You have a nefesh Elokis (a soul with aspects of the divine), you have ten kochos Eloki (powers with some divine features), what, and you’re freaking out over a machshava zarah (untoward thought)? What is it? You’re giving a zach (a thing) too much credit.
I could open an office and be busy full time just telling people who have been molested, “So? Nobody’s allowed to touch you; are you, holy? So you were touched? That’s it.”
So I said to this girl, her family comes from Russia, I said
“What do you think, you’re the only one who was molested? You think your mother and grandmother back in Russia made it through their teenage years without being molested by a sheiygitz (disgusting gentile)?
So what? They stopped life? They wouldn’t get married? They wouldn’t raise a family?
What, are you so fragile? What happened to you?”
It’s shocking, but you can actually hear this breath of relief after all those years.
We have to think Jewish. We’re not psychologists, we’re not psychiatrists. And sometimes the psychology makes more damage than the event.
When somebody comes to us, you respond from a Torah, from a halachah (law), from a hashkafah (outlook) of yiddishkeit (Judaism). What’s the aveira (sin)? Keep it in context. Zai nisht meshigeh (don’t go nuts). And if it’s not a big aveira (sin), then it’s not a big aveira. So what are you suffering from?
It’s a much healthier, truer definition of what we’re dealing with than this indescribable trauma that we can’t put our, can’t get a handle on it, and it’s just “Oh you’re that damaged? Oooohh okay.”
They’re not that damaged. Cut it out. Zei a mensch (be a decent person). And if in fact you did do an aveiraI (sin), so now do two mitzvos (positive religious acts). Regain your balance!
Audience Member 1: I had a talmid (student) who said he was molested for three years by a family member, and he feels he’s okay.
And he went out with a girl and after a while he revealed that to her, and she dropped him because she said if you feel okay, something must be wrong with you.
Manis Friedman (MF): What’s wrong with him is that he mentioned it? [audience laughs]
Groisah chochom (clever fellow). [more audience laughter]
They ask me that, “I’m going to start going out, do I have to tell that I was molested?” I say, “Do you have to tell that you once had diarrhea?” [audience laughs] It’s takeh (actually) embarrassing but it’s nobody’s business. [MF laughs] [audience laughs]
Audience Member 2: It sounds nice, but isn’t this a bit simplistic?
Audience Member 2: You’re dealing with massive trust issues, you’re dealing with all kinds of power differentials in relationships and these can have very serious implications when a person gets married and bein adam l’chaveiro (interpersonal issues).
And the fact that I can say well in the Torah it says this and this, when they were brought up with a certain mindset, and how they’ve absorbed that, and how they feel about themselves has been shaped by that. You know it’s very nice you can open up a Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) and say “Well, okay, no problem, just go say Al Hamichya (blessing after snacks),” but that’s not going to solve it.
Audience Member 3: There’s a psychologist here. [MF laughs.]
MF: Yeah, I know. Say Al Hamichya (blessing for after snacks) over the molestation. [MF laughs. audience laughs.] It’s a bracha acharonah (blessing said after an act) it’s finished, it’s over. [audience laughs.]
Yeah, but you see what you’re saying is there’s collateral damage. It’s not the event itself, it’s the loss of trust, it’s the feeling of weakness or vulnerability.
Those issues are issues even if you weren’t molested. You had teachers you never liked. You had teachers who insulted you, who embarrassed you.
So, of course those issues are real for almost everybody. Who do you trust? How vulnerable should you be? Those are issues worthy of attention.
But the event itself, “I’m damaged from the molestation.” No you’re not.
And if in fact you’ve learned that not every counselor is heilig (holy) and not every uncle is your best friend. You’ve learned an important lesson.
So the other issues, those are issues of maturity; those are valid issues. Those are valid issues.
But if that same person would know not saying al hamichya (blessing after snacks) is worse than something that happened to you 20 years ago, that makes a big difference.
Audience Member 2: Can we just take it one step further? Let’s take rape, alright? Rape is by all, I think, in agreement, a very traumatic event. And it can have serious, you know, emotional and psychological implications.
MF: It can.
Audience Member 2: You know, the fact that I could tell, the Torah says it wasn’t your fault, you didn’t do anything, you weren’t asking for it, and they accept that, but still, you know, there’s a lot of brokenness there. Would you say that it’s not the event that did that?
MF: In many cases it’s not. In many cases it’s the knife that is traumatizing. But, of course, saying “it’s not your fault,” does not help much because they know it wasn’t their fault. What they’re suffering from is the feeling that they’re damaged.
So it doesn’t matter who is responsible. The question is who is damaged.
I’m the one who is damaged. Damaged means, I’m not as lovable, I’m not as acceptable, I’m not as valuable as I used to be. Somebody is not going to love me because of this. Or at least not going to love me the way they used to.
A married woman, of course, finds it very hard to believe that her husband is still going to love her. Whether it’s her fault, not her fault, the result is the same.
From a religious perspective if I feel damaged can I really serve G-d anymore? Does He look at me the same way, or am I damaged in His eyes also?
So the damage is, if you want to be helpful, identify where the damage lies. Who is not going to love you? A person who says, “No, everybody loves me, everything is fine, I don’t love myself” that’s not legitimate guilt, or legitimate. Identify where do you think you’re damaged, and what are you supposed to do about it. If you feel damaged in G-d’s eye, ask Him.
Your future husband may not love you? It’s a good question. What do you do about that?
So, the more you identify it, the more you embody it, the easier it is to handle, to deal with.
But for a woman to say “I’ll never be intimate with a man again.” Why not? Why not? “Am I still valuable? Am I now second hand stuff? Am I damaged material?”
The answer is, we’re all damaged material. Join the club. We’re all damaged.
I start with, when I have the college women or older women, the first class, I open up the Tanya (the major work written by the founder of Chabad Hasidism) and I say, “This is a Sefer Shel Beinonim (the portion of the book aimed at the average joe who is neither evil nor saintly). Beinonim (average) means damaged. [MF laughs, audience laughs] We’re all damaged goods.
So let’s get together and plan a good life for ourselves because we’re not going to be tzadikim (saints).
And it is so cathartic. We’re all damaged. You want to spend hours telling me about your damage? I’ll tell you about my damage. What’s the point? We’re all damaged. Okay? That’s a given.
We live in a damaged world, and you can’t make it through 12 years of life without getting damaged by something and by somebody. Okay?
Can damaged people do good things? Damaged people can do very good things. So let’s do it.
Sometimes, trying to fix the damage is a lifeless pursuit. Don’t fix it. You are damaged goods. If you weren’t damaged (inaudible)
So go find some yeshiva for tzadikim or something. I don’t know. They can’t help you. If you are damaged, goods, I can help you. So [recording ends mid-sentence]