Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Exposing Predators and Deference to Gedolim

Rav Yitzchak Berkovits is rosh kollel of the Jerusalem Kollel, rosh yeshiva of Aish HaTorah, a prominent voice in parts of the Anglo-charedi community, and regarded as a sensitive authority on interpersonal relationships, although he has no professional training in that area. VIN News published a powerful video from him about Chaim Walder, a recording of a Zoom presentation to therapists and mental health professionals. Rav Berkovits makes powerful and excellent points about Walder, but his discussion about rabbinic authority is somewhat perplexing.

Rav Berkovits forcefully states the obvious truths that everyone in the Orthodox community should have said: Walder was a predator, a sociopath, a murderer who destroyed lives. He also points out that there are probably many more victims that we don't even know about. He has no sympathy for Walder's suicide, saying that it was not done out of mental depression but rather out of his narcissism and  manipulative inclinations. He says that there is no concern of lashon hara regarding Walder, as there are many constructive purposes in talking about it. And he says that his books have absolutely no place in anyone's home.

Rav Berkovits also makes some very important points about abuse and its prevention in general which are diametrically opposed to the message given by Rav Leff. He says that while it can happen that accusations are false, that is the exception rather than the rule. He insists that victims' testimony is absolutely acceptable even if it is not given in the presence of the accused. And he also says that he does not see any justification for men to ever act as private counselors/ therapists for women or have private meetings with them.

All this is entirely correct and appropriate. But this means that Rav Berkovits is faced with a problem: that the leadership in the charedi world didn't take this approach at all. And he attempts to address this.

Rav Berkovits claims that there are effective Batei Din that deal with these things, and he has "no idea" why the Walder situation was not dealt with. And he says that doesn't understand how when the revelations came out, and the suicide note, Walder was not treated accordingly. He notes that people are asking (and he seems to be asking it himself), "How can it be that a Gadol B'Yisrael can play dumb, and let him have his last laugh, and buy his story?"

And what about the rabbis and newspapers trying to silence all discussion about Walder's crimes? Rav Berkovits notes that in the world of the professionals with whom he is speaking, it's taken as a given that these things should be publicized, for reasons of justice as well as alerting people to dangers and making it more difficult for predators to act. And he agrees with that! Lemaan yishma'u veyira'u, he says - it's important to publicize these things.

So, then, why did the charedi leadership instead take a very different approach? Rav Berkovits says that they decided to change the buzz in the homes and the chadarim, for the sake of kedusha, and despite the fact that they will be criticized as primitive, from the topic of sexual predators to the topic of bein adam l'chavero (i.e. avoiding lashon hara), and to deal with things b'tzniyus. "They (the Gedolim) are older and wiser and understand priorities in Klal Yisrael. I hope you allow yourselves to understand this." But he then immediately admits that he's not happy, because they covered up for Walder's suicide, and for other unspecified (but easily guessed) reasons. And at the end he says that he's "sure that the Gedolim are rethinking things." But then he switches back again and says that we must accept their conclusions, whatever they are, because they are "older and wiser."

It's interesting that VIN News presented Rav Berkovits as having "clarified the position of the Gedolim in this complex matter." What Rav Berkovits actually did was to give their reasons, but only after presenting his own reasons for taking a very different approach, which seemed much more convincing. Rav Berkovits says that we must nevertheless take a leap of faith that whatever the Gedolim decide is correct, even if they initially made the wrong call, because they are older and wiser. 

And there is the crux of the matter. Do you believe that the charedi Gedolim, who are generally older, and know a lot of Gemara, are necessarily wiser? Or do you accept the statement of Chazal, powerfully presented by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, that being a great Talmudist does not at all necessarily mean that one is a wise person? And do you instead accept Rav Eliezer Melamed's definition of a Gadol B'Torah?


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51 comments:

  1. What he is effectively saying is that he himself does not have faith in the gedolim because he thinks they got it wrong and he would act differently.
    A great argument against following the gedolim.

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  2. It's also called "the moral of the tale of the Emperor's Clothes"

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    1. You're not the first person to compare to HCA's TENC. Close, but the comparison is untenable. In the tale, nobody actually believes they see the clothing. They either believes themselves to be fools, or fear they will be incorrectly be seen as fools if they speak out.
      That's not the case here. There are plenty of Charedim who believe in Daas Torah and have no qualms about it.

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    2. "Rav Berkovits says that they decided to change the buzz in the homes and the chadarim"

      But not a single Gadol said this explicitly. This is an inference made by Rav Berkovits. He is either imposing his own educated opinion into RGE's words, or he is applying his own educated opinion in interpreting RGE. Either way, it's not דעת תורה, but דעת רב ברקוביץ. (I think likewise that much of Charedi leadership is yet unequipped to deal with the issue, so they are avoiding it. But I don't see that this is an official policy handed down by the Gedolim.)
      As I commented yesterday, the statements of דעת תורה are so nebulous that they can serve anyone's agenda- either accepted via expansion & conflation, or rejected by speculative distinction. It would be better to be honest & say "I don't know what RGE actually meant, so I'm going to follow my own rabbis/opinion." The alternative, is to implicitly teach students that sophistry and intellectually dishonest mental gymnastics are acceptable.

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  3. I feel relieved that the preeminent halachic authority of the English speaking community in Israel has taken the bull by the horns and has proven his moral standing(as opposed to the moral bankruptcy that we witnessed last week).
    I feel that Natan is focusing on one area that he disagrees with instead of recognizing just how far a public statement like this is a welcome break from decades of wrong.

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    1. This is a good point, although it doesn't negate RNS's point either.

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  4. I feel relieved that the preeminent halachic authority of the English speaking community in Israel has taken the bull by the horns and has proven his moral standing(as opposed to the moral bankruptcy that we witnessed last week).
    I feel that Natan is focusing on one area that he disagrees with instead of recognizing just how far a public statement like this is a welcome break from decades of wrong.

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  5. It would be far better if the entire concept of rabbinic authority was consigned to the dustbin of history. Sure, rabbis can express their opinions but the idea that one should feel obliged to follow specific opinions is a nonsense, and yes that means the entire structure of orthodox rabbinic Judaism requires reforming as it has gone down a very wrong path.

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    1. Couldn't have said it better. But remember that authority is only as relevant as the people who accept it upon themselves. And the far majority of jews reject it, so it is already mostly in the dustbin.

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  6. The "Anglo-charedi community" is as close to the actual Haredi community as the RZ are (probably less so). This should not be viewed in any way as any reflection on the Haredi world.

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  7. From interviews that I've seen, it seems that Walder would pay off his victims, so that they wouldn't report his misdeeds. I understand that CW was asked to desist from his "counseling activities", but declined.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLhBA60q1SQ

    Those rabbis who were informed of Walder's actions already 6 years ago, could have tried a different method: to simply tell people not to go to him for counseling.

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  8. What do you expect from the protagonist, a rebellion in ranks? It simply might be too dangerous for him, putting his eligibility to sponsorship in a risk.

    BTW,"he does not see any justification for men to ever act as private counselors/ therapists for women": that's strange, because our Sages permitted male physicians to treat women except if there is a problem with "ychud".

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    1. That was because in those days, female Drs didn't exist.

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    2. Why don't you think about how a typical therapist-patient relationship differs from a typical doctor-patient relationship, and come up with your own answer.

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    3. Precisely. It is not possible for "men to ever act as private counselors/therapists for women" without the problem of yichud.

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    4. I was very glad to see R' Berkowits say this. The seminary I attended actually encouraged young, vulnerable, impressionable women to "open up" to rebbeim ( a specific one comes to mind) who would counsel them. The dynamic was so distorted to the point that girls would brainstorm "problems" so they could have these one-on-ones. I saw it for what it was, but predators know exactly who to target. A huge first step would be to remove the opportunity.

      Is it coincidence that R' Leff was hot on the seminary circuit (perhaps still is)?

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    5. Here is a shiur

      https://youtu.be/PzjtjKQigIU

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  9. So according to Rabbi Melamed who is a living Godol Hador? Who were Gdoilei Hador in the times of Rav Kook?

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  10. Can anyone close to Rabbi Berkowitz, ask him which Gedolim it is that he is deferring to?

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  11. I'm pleased with the pronouncements of RYB, but the point of RNS is well taken.

    "The gedolim have a cheshbon and know better" = Completely unfalsifiable, zero explanatory power AKA an intellectual get-out-of-jail-free card.

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  12. Here is Rabbi Melamed in his own words
    https://youtu.be/Cwd73KECZn0
    Rav Sherki succinctly explains the point
    https://youtu.be/OCb69WEQheg

    Makes sense to you, mates? Learn maamar 'הדור', it's the fundamentals of what these people believe and decide for yourself.

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    1. Where is maamar 'הדור' available?

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    2. It's available on-line. Rav Kook has a difficult writing style all of his own and it maybe better to read it with a ביאור. There are a few in print.

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  13. Interesting link about Rabbi Melamed. His definition of a "Gadol b'Torah" is knowing Torah + being Modern Orthodox. So according to him, R' Chaim wasn't a Gadol. The Chazon Ish wasn't a Gadol. But Rabbi Sacks was. Does anybody seriously believe this.

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    1. Sorry, should have qualified that. Is there anybody who believes in Yetzias Mitzrayim, who also seriously believes the above statement? I mean belief in Yetzias Mitzrayim literally as described in the Torah. I have found (unfortunately) that on this blog, belief in Yetzias Mitzrayim is a good litmus test for a whole bunch of other issues.

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    2. Interesting link about Rabbi Melamed. His definition of a "Gadol b'Torah" is knowing Torah + being Modern Orthodox.

      No; Torah + an accurate awareness and appreciation of the reality around him, in addition to common sense, i.e., daas. (Not judging the Chazon Ish.)

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    3. " I have found (unfortunately) that on this blog, belief in Yetzias Mitzrayim is a good litmus test for a whole bunch of other issues."

      What about קרח?
      If you're going to oversimplify, you're going to miss a lot. Using יציאת מצרים as a litmus test is like using a raft to catch the לויתן. There's a whole lot of heresy out there, and if you want to catch them all you're going to need a bigger boat.

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    4. The heretics here are not like Korach ;)

      I find that almost invariably, it is the same people
      -who deny Creation
      -who say improving the economy is more important than keeping Shabbos
      -who say that the latest secular "morals" and "ethics" are more important than mitzvos and halachos
      -who say it is better to shut down chadorim and shuls forever rather than risk one additional covid death
      -who say Chazal/Rabbis were/are misogynistic
      -who say Chazal didn't know what they were talking about
      -who say we need to "update" the Torah to be more inclusive of women
      -who say we need to "update" the Torah to allow open homosexuals
      -who identify more strongly with educated secular Jews than with chareidim/chassidim
      -who have a fondness for the maskilim
      -who deny miracles (making the point of the Rambam that those who deny Creation will deny any miracles)
      -who deny Yetzias Mitzrayim as written (they might say it was allegorical, or that the miracles were natural)

      On this blog at least, I have yet to see an exception to this rule. And not just this blog, but in general, nowadays the more extreme secularist "rationalist" positions tend to go together.

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    5. "(Not judging the Chazon Ish.)"

      You're engaging in the same ambiguities as R Berkovitz.

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    6. "-who deny Creation"

      False, but if you tweak it you'll get to the truth.

      Many other things on your list are true by the way.

      If you write a long comment, take longer time to write it correctly.

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    7. Anon, I meant miraculous Creation. Do you not deny miraculous Creation? That would be surprising. What about literal, miraculous Yetzias Mitzrayim? If you don't deny miraculous Creation, but agree with many other things on the list, you would indeed be an exception. Mazel Tov.

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    8. I also agree with some things on the list and not others. Way to show your narrow thinking and exposure, happy.

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    9. I meant it is a general rule, which it is. I am fascinated, which things on the list do you disagree with?

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    10. - I believe in Creation
      - I think improving the economy is less important than keeping Shabbos
      - I think that the latest secular "morals" and "ethics" are less important than mitzvos and halachos
      - I think the insistence on keeping chadorim and shuls open throughout the entirety of the pandemic was a shanda. (You put it in comically absurd terms, of course, but I agree with the sentiment.)
      - I think Chazal/Rabbis were/are in *some ways* expressing attitudes of the time. I wouldn't use the demeaning and insolent term, "misogynistic."
      - I think Chazal were at times expressing the knowledge of their times, which was imperfect. (Again, your description was unnecessarily chutzpadik.)
      - I think we need to change practices to be more inclusive of women. Like the CC did with Beis Yaakov, like the Moroccans made a gezeirah to allow daughter to yarshin, etc.
      - I think we may not "update" the Torah to allow open homosexuals
      - I do not identify more strongly with educated secular Jews than with chareidim/chassidim
      - I have a fondness for the maskilim
      - I doubt miracles not mentioned in Tanach (I assume "miracles" here didn't mean tanach miracles, otherwise that would be redundant to the next item.)
      - I believe Yetzias Mitzrayim as written

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    11. Dave, I agree with most of your list. I wouldn't think of you as a secularist. Your opinions are worthy of a Ben Torah who is slightly more open-minded. But the things you call "comically absurd", "insolent", "chutzpadik" are the actual opinions of the rationalists here.

      Delete
  14. To all those hemming and hawing about halachic procedure, loshon hara, blah, blah, blah:

    When it becomes known (call it anan sahadi if it makes you feel better) that someone is a rasha, or has acted horribly, none of the above technicalities matter.
    Was any historically evil person found guilty by beis din? Did someone take Heinrich Himmler or Joseph Stalin to beis din? Does that prevent anyone with half a brain from knowing who they are, rendering judgement, and speaking of them accordingly?

    It's beyond ludicrous already.

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  15. Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein removes Rabbi Tau's books over Chaim Walder case https://www.israelnationalnews.com/news/319776

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    1. That is cancel culture run amok. Maybe he should remove the Seforim of anybody who did not remove Rabbi Tau's Seforim from his library.

      Delete
    2. Not to mention that according to one girsa in the news he said he left the books "out in the rain".
      If this isn't an empty phrase, he is talking about gratuitously disresepcting Shem Hashem all to mitigate a Chillul Hashem...

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  16. If they are older, then they are 1 step closer to Ma'amad Har Sinai then we are, and therefore they have a higher level of authority.

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    1. If they are older then they are 1 step closer to Beit Din shel Maalah than we are, and therefore it behooves them to pay utmost attention to every word and pronouncement they make.

      "They are older and wiser...". Nonsense. It's just his way of escaping the dichotomy and paradox of it. He doesn't believe in the appalling opinion RGE published, yet he can't say so openly. He wants to remain part of the charedi world but can't accept their pronouncements or resolve the questions raised. So, essentially, it's a cop-out clause.

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  17. To clarify, are you calling for anarchy against rabbis? A shedding of bonds, so to speak?

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  18. It seems to me that Rabbi Melamed says the opposite of Rabbi Lichtenstein.

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  19. What should a frum Jew do when victimized?January 5, 2022 at 10:03 AM

    It seems Rav Berkowitz was on target.
    The gedolim are pivoting away from their original stance of ignoring the reports, suicide and the victims. They are now publicizing letters which state clearly that victims of abuse must be taken seriously and be handled professionally.
    Because of the timing of these letters, they are obviously referring to Walders victims without mentioning him.

    Here is a letter from Rav Edelstein: (see letter "alef" in paticular)
    https://www.jdn.co.il/j_world/1668825/?source=realatedArticles

    Here is a letter from Rav Eichenstein strongly condemning suicide and describing the horrible nature of abuse, and encouraging victims of abuse to come forward and get help. (I saw it was put up all over Mir Yeshivah where thousands were reading it):
    https://hefkervelt.blogspot.com/2022/01/tuesday-january-4-news-updates-lakewood.html

    I hope Rabbi Slifkin updates his post accordingly.

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    1. "I hope Rabbi Slifkin updates his post accordingly."

      Cheers to Rabbi Slifkin for keeping up the heat that helped get those statements issued.

      Delete
    2. What should a frum Jew do when victimized?January 6, 2022 at 2:36 AM

      lol. are you serious?

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  20. These "gedoilim" are certainly brilliant, and certainly know their talmud and poskim. How do I reconcile this with their behavior and their stupidity? Simple. Lookup the term "idiot savant" (or go see the movie "Rain man";-))

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    1. "These "gedoilim" are certainly brilliant, and certainly know their talmud and poskim. "

      One can be brilliant & know talmud without knowing poskim.

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  21. Can anyone explain how Walder was a murderer? I haven't heard of that one except for on R' Slifkin's article:

    "Rav Berkovits forcefully states the obvious truths that everyone in the Orthodox community should have said: Walder was a predator, a sociopath, a murderer who destroyed lives."

    Obvious truths?

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  22. !) Abuse = Murder. See R. Berkowitz's video because it often leads victims to attempt suicide. Right after the funeral, a victim was, unfortunately, successful in her attempt.
    2) Suicide IS Murder. See Parshas Noach. He killed himself. Ergo, he IS a murderer.
    Or do you not believe that he killed himself?

    Sheesh.

    ReplyDelete

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