Thursday, June 14, 2018

Predators and Zealots

I have personally known two rabbis that were later exposed as sexual predators. In one case, I was flabbergasted. I just couldn't believe it (and I still have a hard time believing it). His personality was exactly the opposite of what you would expect such a person to be. He was quiet, pleasant, modest, a mensch.

In the second case, on the other hand, while I was naturally surprised, I could totally grasp it. He himself had proudly told me that he was a mechutzaf, and it fit with his domineering personality. Like the rabbi in the first case, he also worked with seminary girls.

When the accounts about Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro being a serial predator came to light (and there are constantly more people coming forward, hopefully some of whom will go public), I was completely unsurprised. It made perfect sense, for two reasons.

One reason was the nature of the work that Rabbi Shapiro had done over the years. He ran a website called Frumteens for teenagers struggling with difficulties, including those regarding religious identity and sexuality, and he had personal counseling sessions with them. Now, there are certainly many very fine, idealistic people in such lines of work. However, there are also, I believe, a disproportionately high number of predators in roles that put them in contact with vulnerable females - counselors, to'anim, etc. - because they recognize that these lines of work are likely to provide many opportunities. And so you have to be particularly suspicious of any signs of inappropriate behavior. The fact that Shapiro would drive around in a red Camaro, picking up teenage girls for counseling sessions, might not have set alarm bells ringing when he was doing it 20 years ago, but with our heightened awareness today, it is certainly a red flag. And in an excellent article about abuse by Shayna Goldberg, she warns about "Teachers who deliberately try to alienate their students from everything they come from — their parents, families, homes, previous schools, communities, shuls, and even shul rabbis." This is exactly what Shapiro did with FrumTeens, trying to convince teenagers to turn against their families and schools and shuls and to place their trust solely in him.

The second reason why it made sense that Yaakov Shapiro was a predator was his obsession with delegitimizing everyone who didn't fit his very narrow view of Judaism. He would constantly condemn Religious Zionism, Modern Orthodoxy, and rationalist approaches to Torah/science as heresy. He even said that they are worse than child molestation! So he was an obsessive zealot, and that was very significant. When my books were banned, I learned about a number of zealots who were involved. In every case, there was some kind of major personal shortcoming in their lives:
  • The rabbi who initiated the campaign, Leib Pinter, spent time in prison decades ago for fraud, and went back to prison for another offense shortly after launching the campaign against my books. 
  • Rabbi Leib Tropper, who was involved in rallying support for the ban and who emailed me at the time to tell me that everyone is appalled at my "nefarious" behavior, turned out to be involved in the most disgusting abuses of power involving women, going back for years. At the same time, he had authored a book on Hilchos Yichud, and set himself up as a crusader for the purity of religious conversion, delegitimizing all kinds of other people.
  • The rabbi who called me from Bnei Brak to deliver the ultimatum that I must retract my books or "face scandal and humiliation," had to flee Bnei Brak and go into hiding as a result of his involvement with a financial scandal. A Rosh Yeshivah in Bnei Brak, Naftali Elzas, who was also involved in engineering the campaign, had some of his talmidim renounce him in disgust as a result of his involvement with the same financial scandal. 
And so on, and so forth. The psychoanalysis seems obvious. Nobody likes to feel that they are a terrible person. People who know that they are committing major wrongs have to feel good about themselves. So they become crusaders for a cause, usually one that attempts to show that it is actually others who are bad people.

The combination of the two - working with vulnerable females, and being a zealot - is kal v'chomer a warning of danger, as per Leib Tropper. A rabbinic hero of mine, who took a strong stand against Nechemya Weberman, told me that people had challenged him, saying that Weberman surely couldn't be guilty of such things, because he was the head of the Vaad HaTzniyus! My friend replied that he considered this to be further evidence that he was an abuser.

27 comments:

  1. Newly published scathing review of Yaakov Shapiro's book in major NY paper - http://www.5tjt.com/the-empty-wagon-a-review-of-r-yaakov-shapiros-attack-on-zionism/

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    1. That review is full of inaccuracies, simplistic generalizations and infantile appeals to authority

      The book is probably terrible, judging by Shapiro's track record. But in the gutter, he wins from experience

      Delete
  2. From the moment that book came out, I knew that Shapiro would be viciously attacked. The frothing-at-the-mouth jingoists, who dominate all public discourse about Israel, will certainly not ignore 1300 pages devoted to criticizing their idol. They will do everything to have Shapiro destroyed.
    And is there an easier and surer way do destroy somebody than spreading accusations like these? Particularly on the internet. Words are so cheap but words like these are sure to assassinate a character.
    Never mind that Malky Wigder's account is bizarre (that late night motel invitation...). Never mind that the timing of her "expose" is conspicuously convenient. God sent you may say.Never mind that she made similar accusations in the past and they were not taken seriously by various agencies. He is an outspoken anti-zionist - this is what, by definition - is making her credible. He worked with at risk teens - then by definition - he must have molested somebody.
    There. Over and done. Easier than debunking 1000+ pages worth of writing.

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    1. "Never mind that Malky Wigder's account is bizarre"

      It's only bizarre insofar as how this is predators operate.

      "Never mind that the timing of her "expose" is conspicuously convenient."

      Good grief. She made the accusations years ago. Someone told me about it after my post last week, and so I asked her to post them again.

      "Never mind that she made similar accusations in the past and they were not taken seriously by various agencies."
      There are no "agencies." There are people, like yourself, who choose to ignore such claims.

      "He worked with at risk teens - then by definition - he must have molested somebody." Never said that. What I said was that all this fits well with the claims made by SEVERAL people about him.

      Of course, there are always people, like yourself, who don't want to believe that a rabbi is a predator. That's how Tropper and Weberman and so many others got away with it for so long.

      Delete
    2. The more you write, the less you have to say. That's a truism, of course, and doesn't always apply. When you're writing over 1000 pages to rail against something that the vast majority of Jews accept (even if they don't promote), you are probably writing complete Shtuyot.

      Delete
    3. "you are probably …."

      not bad. but according to a comment here, http://frumteenswatch.blogspot.com/2005/05/frumteens-religious-zionists-are.html
      Just a word of advice: the frumteens moderator is extremely knowledgable. If you are going to rebut his arguments, you are going to have to have to do so agressively and skillfully. I am not sure you have done that as of yet, but best of luck in the future with this noble task.

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    4. Hi Mr. Shapiro. I hope you'll get jail time.

      Delete
    5. Avi,
      More than 1000 pages have been written in support of something that vast majority of gedolim oppose (even if they don't say it out loud). The edition of "Eim Habanim Semeichah" that I have, has around 600 pages. Must be complete shtuyot then.

      Delete
    6. He said vast majority of Jews (including Rabbis of all sects), not "vast majority of gedolim". By definition, you can't be one of the "gedolim" if you are openly zionist. Also, most of the "gedolim" are actually azionist, not anti-zionist. Almost none opposed the creation of the state at the time.

      Delete
  3. Just to clarify, is the rabbinic hero of yours the same person you describe as your friend in the last sentence of the essay? (Not all that important, for sure, but a bit unclear.)

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  4. I am many miles away from ever having been part of the target audience for Frumteens, but I have to say that on the rare occasions I stumbled in there, it struck me as very creepy.

    I will also say that all these episodes demonstrate the need for highly religiously educated, skilled female counsellors or advisors who can work with young women in these communities. The current setup is ripe for abuse.

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  5. I know nothing about this case.

    But the idea that 'there are fine idealistic people in this line of work' requires qualification.

    When a person is a Rabbi, he says shiurim, decides halachic questions and serves as the Torah backbone of a community, he has justified his title Rabbi. If afterwards he decides, as a part of his public responsibilities, to assist teens at risk, damsels in distress or any other marginalized persons, I can understand calling him a 'fine idealistic person'. That is not just for a Rabbi. If he/she is a trained (important word) therapist and works in counseling people and then answers the call of society to extend their talents to he marginalized ones of society, that title may also be justified
    However, when a person grabs the job of counseling teens with none of that background, it is suspicious, at leastto me. He may be able to retroactively justify the name Rabbi with some Yoreh Deah test he once took, but in that case, the purpose of the title is the counseling, the counseling is not a product of his Rabbinics.

    There is a world of difference.

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    1. And not directly related but I would say the same distinction is true of the role rebbe/teacher, not just rebbe/counselor.

      (PS: the phrase 'damsels in distress' is wrong.)

      Delete
  6. I think girls and women should be counseled and taught by women exclusively. A lot would be gained and little lost.

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    1. Men often abuse boys. Women can abuse girls. Anti-abuse policies, if enforced, would probably be more helpful.

      Delete
    2. I would imagine that female abuse of girls is probably far less common, particularly with teenage and adult students.

      Delete
    3. Female abuse of boys is far less common than male abuse of boys. By your reasoning, boys should be counseled and taught by women exclusively.

      Delete
  7. "In one case, I was flabbergasted. I just couldn't believe it (and I still have a hard time believing it). His personality was exactly the opposite of what you would expect such a person to be. He was quiet, pleasant, modest, a mensch."

    This is the key. There probably no good profiles for sex abusers other than that they seek access to victims. How normal or nice they are or even how pious they seem is irrelevant.

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    Replies
    1. So if somebody said the person you trust most in your life is an abuser, you would never say it cannot be?

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  8. So they become crusaders for a cause, usually one that attempts to show that it is actually others who are bad people.

    I THINK THAT YOU BELIEVE that most of your opponents didn't do so because they were scum, but because they made the stupendous, horrendous, horrific, terrible mistake that that all devout went with the young-earth/infallible-Chazal narrative. So any scum who opposed you likely did it for the same reason as the decent people.

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  9. The perverts and cult leaders all try to create good cover stories and personae to shield their activities from critical scrutiny. To see past their incessant, inventive PR, we have to learn to separate the real from the fake.

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  10. "The rabbi who initiated the campaign, Leib Pinter". Can you point me in that direction where I may find anything by Pinter... Thanks in advance

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    Replies
    1. Well, he wrote a book called "Don't Give Up"

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    2. Was his book directed at you...I am looking for things specifically towards you or a campaign directed at anyone for that matter... Thanks once again

      Delete
  11. "She is not completely unknown to me"
    "Good grief. She made the accusations years ago. Someone told me about it after my post last week, and so I asked her to post them again."
    It seems from what you wrote that herself and her claims only came to your attention after someone told you about her and her claims how exactly is she "She is not completely unknown to me".
    Secondly as a rationalist on what halachic grounds do you base your belief in her claims, I imagine as an animal expert you come across many things on the internet posted and taken as fact that are utterly false after scientific exploration.

    ReplyDelete

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