Saturday, 11 May 2013

Here's to us, and wha's like us? Verra few, an' they're deid.

It's been a bad week for me, as far as Jewish leaders are concerned.

Well, to be honest it's been going on for a while. Years, i suppose, but certainly a good few months. In the winter, there was the Chaim Halperin scandal. A 'chashuva' (important and well respected) dayan (Rabbinical judge), with a synagogue, a school, and a position on the Beis Din, who sexually abused naive women. It turns out a lot of people knew about it, but no one said anything - some were scared, and some thought it was ok because he's so holy.

Overlapping with that was the Weberman trial in New York, when the whole world learned that a man whom everyone already knew violated the laws of yichud (isolation with members of the opposite sex, intended to prevent opportunities for sexual activity) and forced vulnerable girls to visit him for private counselling, also sexually abused them in the most degrading way. AND then used his 'chashuva' status to blackmail and threaten them into staying quiet, to convince all around him that they were mentally unstable, non-'frum' individuals, and was supported in all of this by the top rabbis of his chassidus. Who, like with Halperin, continued to stand by him as the evidence piled up against him.

Both of these men gave in to their evil inclination  for sexual activity, again and again, and abused their positions of authority and trust to do so. And others around them permitted it, again and again, whether out of fear, or denial, or a desire to keep their own power as well I do not know and don't really want to go into now. 

Then a few weeks ago, it was revealed that Rabbi Dr. Michael Broyde had used pseudonyms to praise his own work, increased his importance by writing positive reviews under an assumed name, and, it now seems, made up important halachic source material in order to bolster his arguments. I have again heard that 'everyone' knew he did this and accepted it.

Last week, I heard that 'rabbi' Berland (I put the word 'rabbi' in inverted commas, because it is a title that connotes respect and he does not deserve any) has fled to Morocco after he was found naked with a girl (also naked) on whom he was performing a 'purification ritual'. Not surprisingly, it wasn't the first such 'ritual' he'd performed. One of his biggest students, Rabbi Shalom Arush, the famous author of 'Garden of Emuna' and many other inspirational books, has allegedly stated that Berland is a kadosh (holy man) and that anyone who believes the 'claims' against him has no part in the garden of Eden. See above, Halperin and Weberman, but add in 'cult of personality'.

Alongside this, last week also brought a 'firestorm' around MK R' Dov Lipman. I don;t know exactly what he said in the name of R' Yaakov Weinberg zt"l, the former Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisrael, but it brought down the wrath of R' Aron Feldman - the current Rosh Yeshiva - upon him, in a letter which said that Dov Lipman does not at all represent the views of Ner Yisrael. I read Rabbi Slifkin's response to this, in which he wrote that when he was weathering his own controversy about Science and Torah, R' Feldman - who had been his rabbi - was very supportive of him for the first 6 months or so, flying in to talk with gedolim (Torah world leaders) to try to convince them to rescind the ban they had placed on R' Slifkin. But that then, R' Feldman changed his position dramatically and published a letter that fully supported the ban.

A couple of years ago, I heard from my own Rabbi whom I do trust and respect that, after R' Feldman published his recent book ('Eye of the storm', I think it is called), he was asked why he included articles on so many 'burning issues' but did not address the issue of poverty in the charedi world at all. R' Feldman's response was that if he did write about that, no one would then listen to him even about other matters.

In my mind, I have been putting all of these together. I have come to the conclusion that Rav Feldman is a weak-willed coward and is not a leader. I still accept that he is a talmid chacham (Torah scholar) and extremely knowledgeable, but that does not make him someone I respect. It is time that we allowed people to be 'only' a rabbi, 'only' a halachist, 'only' a maggid shiur (teacher), even 'only' a Rosh Yeshivah, because they do not have the backbone to stand up for what is right.

I have realised that i should have followed my instincts about Shalom Arush's sect long ago. I had bought a couple of his books and begun reading them, but never got very far. I have read various of Lazer Brody's Torah articles and found huge holes in them. I have been able to demolish them in terms of Torah, and what do I know of Torah? I pushed these things to the back of my mind before now, on the basis that it is just me, it will mean something to others, and fine. But now I realise that there is something rotten in the whole shuvu banim structure. It stems from Berland. and it can be smelt in even Shalom Arush's Torah guidance, and even in Lazer Brody's inspirational writings. When the foundations are rotten, the whole edifice is unstable, but you can;t tell that from looking at the outside.

This is real chillul Hashem (betrayal of God's name). A rabbi is a representative of God (like it or not). When a respected, knowledgeable, 'frum' rabbi betrays the trust of those who had followed him, he destroys the image of God which he represented in their eyes. When other representatives of God support that man, they make the betrayal exponentially deeper. And you may point out to me that Broyde and Feldman have not abused anybody and I shouldn't lump them in the same boat with sex abusers. And you are right, it is of course not the same. But what is the same is the betrayal by a would-be, once-was leader. At least in my eyes. 

Has this rocked my faith in God? Not at all. I know that this is not from Him. But it has rocked my faith in man. I shall try to trust my instincts more, not to be impressed by someone whose torah i have never probed, or to ignore my qualms when i do pick holes in someone's teachings. I used to feel that it was wrong of me to probe and question and argue with rabbonim/s divrei torah. After all, I'm only a woman, I haven;t spent as long in yeshiva or learned as much Torah as they have, who am I to question them? But now I think that perhaps I know more than I think I do.

Most of all I wonder - what is the higher meaning behind all of this? i jolly well hope that this is one of those final unravellings before Moshiach arrives, because when i think about what our Sages wrote about how the time immediately preceding Moshiach;s arrival would be so terrible that they said 'let him come, but let me not see it', i wonder how things can get much worse.

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