Penn State Scandal: Learning Torah from the Goyim

By Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn (Daas Torah blog)
November 14, 2011

One of the ironies of the Penn State scandal is the embarrasing spectacle of a Jewish writer trying to show the superiority of Judaism by the misdeeds of non-Jews. He condemns certain non-Jews - who while acting according to their legal obligations - failed to act on the highest moral level. This article unfortunately failed to note that in fact the widespread response of Jewish rabbis and communities in dealing with abuse is not only not in accord with the secular law - but it is not in accord with the halacha and is morally bankrupt.

I find it embarrassing as an observant Jew to acknowledge the shameful fact that in contrast to our rabbinical leadership - the Penn State trustees acted in accord with the highest moral standards in order to protect children and ensure that the college should be an example of moral leadership. They showed real moral courage by firing the extremely popular football coach and the popular president of the university - simply for failing to do what was right. In fact we need to understand that the Torah imperatives for these situations are those of the Penn State trustees - protect the children, to provide moral leadership - and accept full responsiblity to do everything possible to help others.

So even though our Sages (Eicha Rabba 2:9) say if someone says that there is wisdom amongst the goyim you can believe it but not if they say there is Torah - in this case it is appropriate to acknowledge in this abuse case that the goyim of Penn State have shown us what the Torah truly expects us to do.

Aish HaTorah

When Paterno realized that the Penn State administration was not dealing with the situation (or perhaps covering it up), what should he have done? Was he under any further obligation? Even if he was under no legal obligation, is there a difference between the "letter of the law" and the "spirit of the law"?

The Torah states: "Do not stand idly on your brother's blood" (Leviticus 19:16). This is an imperative to get involved when a situation goes awry. The Almighty created the world as a workshop for self-perfection. No matter what our station in life, no matter what our innate abilities, the Almighty puts us in a particular situation in order that we make the right choice – no matter how uncomfortable or how politically inexpedient.[...]

The Torah says that if you have a chance to fix something in the world – whether stopping your colleague from an illegal act, or helping to feed starving children – and you do not act, then you ultimately bear responsibility. Perhaps, for that reason alone, the firing of Joe Paterno was justified.