Live and Let Live?, Forward Thinking Orthodoxy

My wife and I just went to see a truly excellent film named “Spotlight.” It tells the story of the investigative reporting team for the Boston Globe newspaper by the same name that broke the story regarding the mass cover-up of catholic priests who were caught molesting thousands of children over the course of decades. The local dioceses worked to silence victims and quietly pay them off while at the same time denying that there was a well-known and systemic problem of child abuse being facilitated by the church. The acting was superb and the story was gripping – and admittedly quite disturbing.

When the film ended and my wife and I were exiting the theater, we were greeted by several couples from our community who amid sighs of relief said, “I guess we should be glad that we’re Jewish!” My wife and I looked at each other and replied, “The Hasidic and Haredi communities throughout the US and Israel are plagued with the same problem of pervasive child abuse and they are covering it up in much the same way.” The response we got was one of shock. “But in Judaism we don’t believe in celibacy so how could we be having the same problems as catholics?” I proceeded to explain to them that although Judaism doesn’t believe in celibacy, the Hasidic and Haredi views of sex and sexuality were adopted from catholic asceticism centuries ago. I further explained that the unnatural segregation of the genders ultimately leads to objectifying women and the absolute silence and lack of education about sexual development and healthy sexuality in those communities contributes prominently to the problem. Add to this that Hasidim and Haredim almost universally forbid going to the police to report cases of abuse by their rabbis, and you have something very close to what was experienced in Boston and many other cities across the globe.

As we watched the film we were absolutely stunned at the parallels between the two communities and their issues with pedophilia and deviant sexuality. The studies cited in the film showed that the majority of priests involved in such activities were emotionally stunted, having the mentality of a 12 or 13 year old and an inability to properly function socially. This reminded us of the very many Haredim/Hasidim whom we have encountered and seen who have weird social ticks, an almost inability to process social cues, can be seen picking their noses in an almost obsessive manner in public, don’t regularly bathe, and who exhibit just a general immaturity in most areas of their lives. The way in which the offending priests were constantly shuffled around from parish to parish is reminiscent of elementary school rebbes being caught and transferred to other schools – all while the administrations and “gedolim” are aware of such behavior. The way in which the cardinal went out of his way to defend and protect the offenders for the greater “good” of the catholic church reminded us of the many instances of rabbis and leaders showing up to court to defend the molester because they feel that it is wrong to “take him away from his family.” The similarities were eerie, but not surprising.

I myself have had the unfortunate experience of sitting in a meeting after having blown the whistle on a scandal in the Jewish community thinking that I was going to see justice served and then hearing the words “So, how much will it take to keep you quiet?” come from the lips of the “gadol” sitting to my right. A Satmar man whom I was working for had been making sexual advances toward a non-Jewish employee. This young woman approached me and produced texts and emails from him in which he made such advances. She told me that she had decided to ask me for help because she trusted me. I in turn called the “rabbi” whom I trusted and set up a meeting, only to have my trust betrayed by him covering it up. When I tried to warn others about this sick individual, these same “rabbis” to whom I had spoken told those who came to confirm my story with them that I was a liar and anything that I had said about this Satmar “hasid” was lashon hara and was not to be believed. I have also felt my heart break as a friend related to me that these same “rabbis” covered up the accosting of his young daughter by a known molester who had visited the community from New York. And the list goes on. These things are real and are as pervasive and as sick as you can imagine.

Many times when I speak out passionately against the Haredi and Hasidic communities I am told to “stop being so negative” and to have more of an attitude of “live and let live,” but I am not so sure that this is the right thing to do. There is a mentality within Judaism that has true Torah values in a stranglehold and is desperately trying to suffocate them and replace them with and evil doppelganger known alternately as “Toyrah” and “Yiddishkeit.” These people – whether knowingly or not – have taken a Near Eastern religion and have turned it into a Euro-centric phenomenon. The way they dress, the way they [mis]apply Jewish law, the way they censor and sanitize Jewish texts and Jewish history, their ascetic and ostensibly catholic ideas about sex, and their cult mentality of “Daas Toyrah” – all of it is literally destroying Judaism from the inside out. And if we are honest with our history, the mentality of “live and let live” is how we got here in the first place. If we continue to allow this movement to speak for and represent Judaism, then we are all headed for disaster, has wa-halilah. I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, I am completely serious.

And it is not the issue of child sexual abuse alone that is proof of how out of control the problem is, there are many more. Judaism is a religion of law, and almost every facet of halakhah has been infiltrated by these impostors and has been redefined. Kashruth, Hilkhoth Shabbath, Taharath HaMishpahah, Tefillah, and the list goes on – everything is being re-invented and re-interpreted to levels of absurdity never before sanctioned or tolerated by religious Jews in history. If we want our reasonable, intelligent, compassionate, honest, and morally sound Judaism back, then we need to take it back. We need to stop giving our money and resources to Haredi and Hasidic institutions. We need to stop buying their books and their sefarim. We need to stop sending our sons and daughters to their yeshivoth and seminaries. We need to stop attending their shuls and kollelim. We need to stop paying their salaries through our dues. And most of all, we need to stop kidding ourselves that the problems are relatively minor and that the “gedolim” are the true spokesmen for authentic Torah Judaism. The Haredi/Hasidic system is one that subsists almost entirely on fear and welfare. If the givers stop giving them their allegiance and their money, then the system will ultimately shut down. And if we give our time and resources to those working to heal Judaism and restore it to its authentic expression and values, then truly Torah-based institutions and their rabbinic leadership will flourish.

Many who speak out against the things taking place in Judaism are angry people, and understandably so, but too often they are branded as “trouble-makers” and “naysayers” and cast aside while their words fall on deaf ears. I want to go on record right now and say that I love Judaism and I love Jewish people. I care about the futures of my children and my grandchildren very much. I also am not a fan of conflict. It turns my stomach to have to fight and – like most everyone else – I would rather just leave all of these issues alone. “Live and let live” is the easy option and not rocking the boat has the added advantage of allowing one to pass through the orthodox world undetected. But the problem is that, like all the catholics in Boston who decided to remain silent in the face of blatant corruption and evil within the church learned, such silence only makes things worse.

I’m not angry. I’m not flying the flag of “Dati Leumi” or “Modern Orthodox.” I am not denying that there are truly good Jews in the Haredi and Hasidic camps – there certainly are. I am just trying to say that if we truly love each other as Jews, if we truly love God, and if we truly love the Torah, then “live and let live” is simply not an option.

I would love to be able to speak about these things in more positive terms, but honestly, what we are talking about here is truly negative so how can we speak about it in any other way?

May HaShem help us all to be vocal and do what is right.

Shavua tov,


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