The Making of a Predator
Many are acclaiming a powerful talk about Chaim Walder delivered by Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, rosh yeshivah of Toras Moshe. Full disclosure: Obviously, this is something that is difficult for me, given that (a) he was one of the worst behaved of anyone in the controversy over my books, slandering me personally, (b) he displays extreme dishonesty in his anti-science polemics, and (c) I despise his anti-Zionism, which led him to sit on the dais at the infamous "Israel is an evil regime" rally in Manhattan. Still, listening to his talk, I figured that even a broken clock is right twice a day. It's not a tremendous achievement to condemn a serial rapist, and there is presumably some schadenfreude for Rabbi Meiselman getting to criticize Rav Edelstein and Rav Eichenstein, who are on the other side of the Etz/Peleg dispute. But at least he got it right about Walder. Right?
Well, that's what I thought, until I got some feedback from professionals in the field. They were concerned about serious problems in his talk, which to be honest, hadn't occurred to me. But then again, I'm not remotely a professional in this area, which is why I run everything past professionals for their input.
The first problem is that Rabbi Meiselman stressed how Walder "did not have much of a yeshiva background." He claims that he didn't do well in either Kol Torah or Kfar Chassidim. He repeats that he had "very little knowledge of Torah" and was not successful in yeshiva, which is why he went to the army, "which is not what the elite of the yeshiva world does."
But, even if this is true, what on earth does it have to do with anything? The message being implicitly given over is that this explains how he could have become a predator, and that a person who succeeds in yeshivah, who has real knowledge of Torah, does not become a predator. If only that were true! It's mistaken attitudes like this which led people to believe that Rabbi Meir Pogrow, who was tremendously successful in yeshivah and became an outstanding Torah scholar, could not possibly be a predator. It's very dangerous to teach people that Torah scholars cannot be predators.
The second problem is what Rabbi Meiselman presents as the "take-home" practical message from all this. According to Rabbi Meiselman, the lesson is that laxity about modesty and looking at forbidden things can lead one down the slippery slope of becoming a predator. He stresses that cellphones and the like are the first step in the descent towards absolute evil.
I had no idea if this was true or not, so I consulted a professional, who told me that it is entirely false. Losing control over one's attraction to others might cause one to engage in a forbidden relationship, which is no small crime. But becoming a serial predator is generally a very different thing, which involves a personality that enables someone to manipulate others and not care at all about the power imbalance and the harm that they are directly causing others.
Does it matter if one does not realize the difference? According to the person that I asked, it matters very much indeed. The problem with rabbis thinking that predators are people who gave in to the regular yetzer hara is that they think that this can be solved with the regular tools. We can get him to do teshuvah! He'll get rid of his cellphone! If he's single, just get him married so that he stops abusing. And if he's already married, then it's his wife's responsibility to give him more satisfaction! Tragically, it's this naivete which prevents rabbis from reporting predators to the police, who are the only ones with the power to actually prevent them from harming people.
Finally, of course, all the problems and safeguards discussed by Rabbi Meiselman are only relevant to harm committed by men to women. But what about harm committed by men to boys - or by women to girls?
As someone pointed out, such rabbis should not be giving their perspective on these topics. They should either be running their planned speeches past professionals, or inviting the professionals to speak instead of them. Rabbis, even brilliant ones with long beards, need to accept the limits of their expertise and authority.
(If you'd like to subscribe to this blog via email, use the form on the right of the page, or send me an email and I will add you.)