Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Why Was Rav Moshe Shapira Indicted?

There is a very strange story unfolding at the moment. I don't even begin to understand what's going on. But I do have a slight personal connection that may be relevant.

About two years ago, there were rumors of a pedophile ring operating in the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem. Eventually, one person was convicted and sentenced to fifteen years. But it seems that the tragedy was inflated to mass hysteria, Salem-style, leading to false suspicions about lots of people. It's difficult to determine what actually happened - and apparently, even the police had a very hard time figuring it out.

While everyone was up in arms, four men broke into the house of a 70-year old woman that they believed to be involved in the pedophile ring, as well as missionary activity. They severely beat her, breaking her arm and leg.

Today, news outlets are reporting that none other than Rav Moshe Shapira, one of the leading figures in the controversial ban on my books, was indicted for allegedly having told them to do it.

On the other hand, what the media does not reveal is that some months after the beating, Rav Shapira wrote a letter in which he condemned it in the strongest terms.

There are a range of possibilities here. The police presumably suspect that he did indeed authorize it, and the letter was an attempt to wash his hands of responsibility. The defense will be that he did not authorize it, and the assailants are merely trying to absolve themselves of responsibility. It seems that at the very least, Rav Moshe had some sort of connection - otherwise, why would he need to write the letter in the first place, and why would he be named as having ordered it? Another possibility is that he expressed some sort of disapproval of the woman, and his disciples took it too far. I have absolutely no idea what actually happened.

There is also another strange aspect to the story. The victim, about whom there are negative reports (although falling far short of pedophilia and missionizing) was the head of an institute for conversion that was associated with the infamous Leib Tropper. But Rav Moshe Shapira was also involved with Leib Tropper; they were both driving forces in the ban on my book, and Rav Moshe flew out to the US when Tropper made a wedding.

The case currently in the news bears similarities to Rav Moshe's involvement in the ban on my books. Reuven Schmeltzer was the person most involved in the groundwork of the campaign, collecting signatures for the ban. He was overheard saying into his phone, "I am a shaliach of Rav Moshe Shapira, being lochem milchemes Hashem!" Many important people who were opposed to the ban complained to Rav Moshe, and he responded to them that he himself is not involved and he does not have shlichim. But he told other people that he was very much involved and that Schmeltzer was indeed his shliach!

Schmeltzer also published the notorious Tropper-sponsored work Chaim B'Emunasam, which was directed against my books. In Chaim B'Emunasam, Schmeltzer edited the opinions of the Rishonim in order to claim that every word in the Gemara is from Sinai, nobody ever said that Chazal were mistaken in science, and to claim otherwise is heresy. This work bears an extraordinarily effusive approbation from Rav Moshe, who describes Schmeltzer as a "gaon" (!). It doesn't seem like he feels that Schmeltzer misrepresented him as authorizing his campaign.

Most significantly, Schmeltzer's book said that any such heretics, who deny the divine infallibility of certain statements in the Gemara (i.e. me), should be put to death by any means possible. (Thank God, nobody ever physically attacked me, but my wife and I were subjected to a terrifying phone threat.) Now, I truly don't believe that Rav Moshe thinks that someone should kill me. But on the other hand, as we see from the events in Nachlaot, there could well be people who would believe that and even act upon it, and who would claim to be acting on Rav Moshe's authority. As I once wrote in a post entitled "It's Not An Aberration," religious leaders who use or endorse violent language have a responsibility for violent actions that occur as a result.

Again, I must reiterate that I truly have no idea what actually happened in the Nachlaot incident. But I see that establishing whether someone is indeed a shaliach of Rav Moshe is rather difficult - even if you ask Rav Moshe himself.

UPDATE: I discovered that there is actually a video of Rav Moshe telling his followers to break into her home and destroy it. You can watch it at this link.

35 comments:

  1. There is indeed a Salem-like mass hysteria about "pedophiles in our midst" underway, and you contributed to it. Why, just a few days ago you wrote:

    "[a]gudath Israel has instructed rabbis not to report suspected pedophiles to the authorities without the permission of rabbis who have no training in such matters, and who have proven completely incompetent and to have covered up for molesters in the past . . . just minutes from Kobre's law practice in Brooklyn, countless minors are abused for unspeakable purposes (etc.)"

    I say this as a long time supporter of your viewpoint: You saw a club you thought could be used to bash the establishment orthodox, and you took it. Your beef with charedim was a legitamate one of hashkafa, but you made commmon cause with those who were attacking them on far more insidious grounds, thinking that by knocking them down you would raise yourself up. To a man, everyone who jumped on the "pedohile" bandwagon did so not out of actual concern for children, but because it was a vehicle with which to attack the entire society.

    Granted, there may have some good to come out of it. It's not uncommon for bad to have some good by-product. It doesnt change the fact that this witchhunt, as you accurately called out, was forseeable from the outset, and is jsut getting started.

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  2. I wrote that only to mirror Kobre. He claimed that Israel is in danger due to sexual immorality, and pointed to secular Jews as responsible for this problem. I responded that if you believe that sexual immorality is the problem, look in your own camp first.

    In addition, there are many more actual molesters who go unpunished than there are innocent people who are falsely accused.

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  3. Rabbi Pinter went to prison.
    Rabbi Tropper was caught in a scandal.
    Rabbi Lyons was caught in a scam.
    Rabbi Orlofsky was taped being mevazeh a major rabbinic figure.
    Rabbi Shapiro is indicted for ordering assault.

    Was there anyone involved in the ban who has not since been in major trouble?

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  4. Noone in ParticularMay 29, 2013 at 11:04 PM

    You always get so worked up on the Gedolim having been fooled by Tropper.
    Surely, wasnt Issac fooled by Esau and R Akive by Bar Kochba?
    Have you lost your trust in Yitzchak and R akiva
    Get my drift?

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    1. Bar kochba wasn't perfect and may have had subtle character flaws, but he wasn't evil or a scam artist was he? I don't think chazal claim those kind of things about him so let's not pretend Rabbi Akiva got "fooled" by some charlatan. The revolt failed and hindsight showed bar kochba wasn't the biggest tzaddik. Does that warrant comparing him with esau or even lehavdil with tropper?

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  5. Anyone can be fooled by someone really cunning.

    But to be taken in by Tropper?!

    Even before anyone (including me) knew about the scandal, I wrote a post about how he is obviously someone who should not be trusted. And there were stories going around Monsey about him for decades.

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  6. "Most significantly, Schmeltzer's book said that any such heretics, who deny the divine infallibility of certain statements in the Gemara (i.e. me), should be put to death by any means possible. "

    Statements like this give traction to critics of religion like Hitchens and Dawkins.

    This is where religion becomes evil. There are no two ways about it.

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  7. > Surely, wasnt Issac fooled by Esau and R Akive by Bar Kochba?
    Have you lost your trust in Yitzchak and R akiva

    You make a good point. Why should we trust Yitzchak’s or R’ Akiva’s judgment?

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  8. The article was posted on VIN -- and then taken down ... in record time!

    I guess it's progress when VIN even put its online for less than an hour.

    Baby Step progress? Or spitting into an ocean wave.

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  9. I asked them to take it down. It was written for this blog, for those who followed the ban and my work; it doesn't look right as a stand-alone article on VIN.

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  10. Not quite an apikoiresMay 30, 2013 at 12:31 AM

    Gone poof on VIN, what a scam mafia rules OK.

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  11. No, I asked them to remove it. See above.

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  12. If all your opponents have issues, would it be rationalist to say that it proves there is a god? :-)

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  13. Not exactly. See http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2010/08/providence-in-my-life.html

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  14. To a man, everyone who jumped on the "pedohile" bandwagon did so not out of actual concern for children, but because it was a vehicle with which to attack the entire society.

    Take this out of the context of Orthodox Judaism and you'll find cases of both hysterical overreach e.g. the McMartin preschool case and actual long term abuse and coverup e.g. the Catholic Church abuse scandals. The rational response is improvement in handling of abuse allegations by police, prosecutors and institutions where the abuse may occur. This requires reform.

    If anyone who suggests this obvious fact is automatically labeled as acting politically, you aren't going to get any improvement (or it will be more difficult to improve). And within Orthodox Judaism this should not be a left vs. right issue as we've had cases spread out across streams as you would expect based on human nature.

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  15. JE's list reminds me of the end of the movie "A Man for All Seasons", where the narrator lists the untimely end of everyone who defamed Sir Thomas More.

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  16. A little dangerous to be mixing these issues, in my opinion. In the end, I think the truth will sort itself out. With regards to the books - an educated public will find its way to the truth, and the ignorant will allow themselves to be misled no matter how many well-researched and well-thought out books and blog posts are written.

    Regarding the Nachlaot issue, better to let the police try to sort it out. Without the facts available, speculation is just that, and in my opinion is better off avoided, especially when there is a taint of nogea b'davar.

    If the little world described in this post is really as ugly and untruthful as it sometimes appears to be, I believe it will destroy itself in the end under the weight of its own lies and corruption.

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  17. The post you linked you is very, very troubling. That people are scammed and abused this way is inexcusable.

    As to ordering followers, this goes back to Henry II of England "casually" wondering, in public, if no one would take care of Archbishop Thomas Beckett for him. (Claims of the exact language differ, but that was the gist of it.) Four knights took the hint and "took care" of the archbishop.

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  18. >I don't think chazal claim those kind of things about him so let's not pretend Rabbi Akiva got "fooled" by some charlatan.

    Only the Bavli makes a distinction between R' Akiva and the rest of the rabbis. The yerushalmi writes that all the rabbis supported him.

    The Rambam, in an uncharacteristic manner, accepts the version of the yerushalmi:

    אין הדבר כן--שהרי רבי עקיבה חכם גדול מחכמי משנה היה, והוא היה נושא כליו של בן כוזבא המלך, והוא היה אומר עליו, שהוא המלך המשיח. ודימה הוא וכל חכמי דורו שהוא המלך המשיח, עד שנהרג בעוונות; כיון שנהרג, נודע שאינו משיח, ולא שאלו ממנו חכמים, לא אות ולא מופת.

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  19. Perhaps The Crucible will be part of the new Charedi curriculum, so that we can avoid these issues in the future. Of course, that assumes the achronim use the conventional perush that witch hunts are a bad thing.

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  20. Remember one thing: An indictment is little more than meaningless, just the formality required to get the legal process rolling. There is no defense attorney, and it is all done secretly and under seal. As the famous line goes, you can indict a ham sandwhich if you'd like.

    [I know nothing about this case or even about R. Moshe Shapira. Its just that as a defense attorney, it's irritating whem people pay lip service to the notion of "innocent until proven guilty", but then proceed to make judgments based solely upon allegations and indictments. The only thing I'd indict is the intelligence of the public, who never fail to jump to conclusions.]

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  21. I have first hand information that R' Shapira is one of the few rabbinic leaders that sides with victims in abuse cases. I am sure that is somehow linked to this situation.

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  22. DF - I assume that you are talking about the US. In Israel, it's not so easy to indict someone, and if it does happen, then it's serious. Very few police cases result in indicting someone, but something like 70% of indictments result in convictions. Presumably, then, the police are not indicting RMS merely based on one person's say-so, but have more substantial evidence.

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  23. See the comments at http://daattorah.blogspot.co.il/2013/05/nachlaot-abuse-scandal-rav-moshe.htm for more details about the case.

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  24. DF, there are no juries or grand juries in Israel, which makes a big difference, although perhaps in different ways.

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  25. He was not the only one to write a letter http://nachlaotchildabuse.blogspot.com/2012/06/english-translation-of-letters-written.html but even if so he has a connection in that supposedly they were his followers. It doesn't mean he felt he had to write for some reason that would make us wonder. If he was guilty why would he as asked on the Daat Torah site praise her? He should then just have said it was wrong to attack her. As for being accused of urging to attack by the defense lawyers for the attackers, first of all they are lawyers for the defense and second people interpret rabbis to support them. If he says he doesn't consider someone to be his Shaliach and the person says he is it doesn't show he would be lying here in our case. Denying someone is his Shaliach is a plausible situation and shows no prosperity to lie, at worst it would be him trying to be ambiguous, something which he is most definitely not being in his letter.

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  26. This may seem naive to ask, but I have always wondered about it. How can a person who is very observant, prays to G-d, deeply believes G-d is watching his every move, and believes that his actions will be judged in the afterlife engage in acts that he knows are immoral, unethical, and sinful?

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  27. "If he was guilty why would he as asked on the Daat Torah site praise her?"

    Because he wanted to make sure that he wouldn't get into trouble.

    "As for being accused of urging to attack by the defense lawyers for the attackers, first of all they are lawyers for the defense"

    No, it's not the lawyers for the defense. It's the police. Presumably they have reason to believe that this was the case.

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  28. This may seem naive to ask, but I have always wondered about it. How can a person who is very observant, prays to G-d, deeply believes G-d is watching his every move, and believes that his actions will be judged in the afterlife engage in acts that he knows are immoral, unethical, and sinful?

    I don't think that's a naive question at all. I think that's the question we should all be asking, and the answer should inform our decisions as to which, if any, rabbinical leaders we choose to trust and seek guidance from.

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  29. Reply to Baruch Gitlin: First of all, everybody has a yetzer hara. But second, when a person only has learning, and no occupation he needs sipuk hanefesh, meaning some deep satisfaction with his life. Now, if he is Reb Moshe Feinstein, his learning brings him great joy and sense of accomplishment. However, if he is bored with his learning, he will seek out thrills like joining a tznius squad where he can beat up people, and still feel like he has a deep purpose and avodas hashem.

    Chazal knew what they were talking about kol torah shein ima melacha sofa bteila vgoreres avon. When a person is working his head off to get a tech startup off the ground, and then spends hours at nite in beis medrash, he has a sense of fulfillment that is healthy, and doesn't have time and energy or some need to look for meaning and excitement as part of a tznius squad. Not that tznius isn't important, but it needs to be bdarchei noam.

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  30. A must read expose on the Nachlaot events by a rational journalist who draws comparisons to other cases of the phenomenon of alleged "paedophile rings" that did not actually exist but were created as an outcome of mass hysteria.

    The relevance here is that if this is the case and later RMS is found to be guilty, then he will be responsible for the severe and brutal beating of an innocent elderly woman.

    http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/117839/panic-in-jerusalem/5

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  31. It's inappropriate as well as premature to be making harsh judgments on a prominent talmid chacham at this point. However, assuming that the indictment reflects reality, it reinforces a moral and ethical lesson. A pesak halacha involving various parties may not be issued without hearing from those parties, or those who represent them. To do so is to invite misrepresentation and produce a distorted and falsely based pesak. In this case, it lead to violent and illegal action.

    One may assume that the rav in question heard shocking accusations made by a disciple and reacted emotionally. He may not have realized that his words would be carried out. After the attack, he became aware that the victim was under the auspices of someone close to Rav Elyashiv and had connections with other prominent Hareidi figures. He now had reasons, both and moral and political, to regret his initial reaction, and sent his letter condemning the attack. The letter itself can be viewed as an obliquely worded mea culpa. So, the woman who was originally considered to be a harborer of pedophiles and a hidden missionary was now regarded as a saintly woman - all based on hearsay. The truth is more complicated since the woman was,indeed, associated with a convicted pedophile and is accused by some of running a crooked Haredi conversion organization under the auspices of a crooked bet din - both have now been, apparently, disbanded.

    This tendency in some rabbinic circles to issue rulings not based on hearing both sides of a case is clearly unjust and not based on torah law. It bespeaks both a laziness and an inflated ego. If you don't have all the facts, then don't make a ruling. Sometimes not acting is more meritorious than premature action. In any case, those who are of an independent temperment will disregard or disdain such rulings made in haste, and not have much use for their issuers.

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  32. Reply to Pashuteh Yid: I'm not sure which of my comments you were responding to, but if you're reading this, I want you to know that I completely agree with what you write.

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  33. "Anonymous Just Observing said...

    "If he was guilty why would he as asked on the Daat Torah site praise her?"

    Because he wanted to make sure that he wouldn't get into trouble."

    He says she is a frum, upright woman in the letter. That's hardly just covering your tracks. Would he say that about someone he doesn't consider to be a frum righteous lady? You would expect him to say she may be a bad person but still it was wrong. Second you claim to know already.

    ""As for being accused of urging to attack by the defense lawyers for the attackers, first of all they are lawyers for the defense"

    No, it's not the lawyers for the defense. It's the police. Presumably they have reason to believe that this was the case."

    Suppose you are right and I haven't read anything to back you up but that doesn't prove anything. Police don't say if someone is guilty before they have someone get into trouble with them. You already know he is guilty? It shows you are not objective but instead out to defame him.

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  34. It's odd. I was a student of R' Tropper. He was always very nice to me and he was quite broadminded too. I don't know what to make of these claims against him. It's really hard to picture him being involved in a book ban.

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