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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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