The Problem Isn’t Molesters, It Is Haredi Rabbinic Leadership

By Yerachmiel Lopin (Frum Follies blog)
March 4, 2013

A colleague wrote me,

That is one thing I never get, with any of these incidents. I get them not involving the police and courts and jail. I just don’t get why they insist the perp continues to be a teacher or counselor.

I wrote back:

I struggled with that question for a long time. My allies inside Satmar who are genuine devout Hasidim struggle with that even more. Mrs. Engelman keeps saying to me, “This is not yiddishkeit (conduct according to Jewish values) with puzzlement and anguish. But facts are facts.

I think you have to disabuse yourself of the conviction that we are dealing with people and start understanding that institutions have no souls, just interests. Hasidism was always about malchus (royal power). But these days the money is bigger for the big movements and the internal infighting is nastier because there are no longer any accepted rules for yerushah (inheritance). Almost every rebbe’s son and son-in-law is sees himself as rebbe material and every askan (communal activist) plays court politics. These Hasidic trends are spreading throughout the ultra orthodox world.

In molesting, as in other corrupt religious politics, look to the Catholic Church for guidance. Whatever was already exposed in their world will eventually be exposed in the haredi world. It will just take longer because Jews don’t have an official hierarchy, don’t keep as many records, and are even better at fooling and intimidating victims.

While many of the Archbishops and members of the Vatican machinery are hypocritical, career minded SOBs, I am sure there are also many decent, caring priests who spend their lives trying to do good. Yet, institutional interest trumps decency. They speak of “avoiding scandal,” we call it chillul hashem (desecration of G-d’s name) and protecting mosdos (institutions of) Torah. They worry about reputations, we call it “not hurting someone’s shiduchim (marriage prospects).” These are vocabulary differences but for all practical purposes we are dealing with the same mindset. When push comes to shove, decency always gives way to higher interests.

It has been decades since Vaad hatznius (modesty committee) extortion stopped being a bug and became a feature. Somewhere in the intricacies of their politics Weberman and his vaad cronies established a power base. So the children were disposable and he was allowed to go on. If he had been a schmendrik (loser) with no power base he might have been stopped. Rabbi Avrohom Reichman was removed once but then his influential family pushed back and many years passed before he was finally removed from his position in the Satmar school system. (I am told this was necessary as part of a lawsuit settlement).

We have reached the point where we have to acknowledge that power politics trumps decency and halachah (religious law). How else would Rabbi Aaron Shechter Yeshiva Chaim Berlin be on the moetzes (Council of Torah Sages) of Agudath Israel of America when he was declared lo tzayis dinah (in violation of an order of a Jewish court) by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ztz”l and retains that status to this very day. The Moetzes, headed by a Chaim Berlin alumnus, Rabbi Perlow (Novominsker Rebbe) knew that, but Chaim Berlin was too powerful to be denied a seat at the table.

The situation will not change through lomdus (rabbinic scholarship). Never before has the frum world had so much. We need rabbis with spines. However, they are now very hard to find unless they are power fressers (gorgers). I have concluded that change will have to come through civil and criminal suits aimed at the powers that be, not at the molesters themselves.