My wife and I just went to see a truly excellent film entitled “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 virtually 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 the objectification of women. In the Haredi world there is near absolute silence with regard to education about sexual development and healthy sexuality, which contributes prominently to the problem. Add to this that Hasidim and Haredim almost universally forbid their followers from 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 both 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 in social settings. This reminded us of the very many Haredim and Hasidim whom we have encountered that 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 operate on a level of general immaturity in most areas of their lives.
The way in which the offending priests were constantly shuffled around from parish to parish was reminiscent of how elementary school “rebbes” are caught and then transferred to other schools – all while the administrations and “gedolim” possess a full knowledge of such behavior. The way that the cardinal featured in the film went out of his way to defend and protect the offenders for the supposed greater “good” of the church reminded us of the many instances that Haredi rabbis and leaders have shown up to court to defend molesters because they feel that it is wrong to “take him away from his family.” The similarities were eerie, but not surprising.
Many times when I speak out passionately against the practices of the Haredi/Hasidic community, 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 an 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 Eurocentric phenomenon. The way they dress, the way they [mis]apply Jewish law, the way they censor and sanitize Jewish texts and 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 to where we are in the first place. If we continue to allow this movement to speak for and represent Judaism, then we are all headed for disaster, God forbid. I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, I am completely serious.
It’s not 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 yet almost every facet of halakhah has been infiltrated by these impostors and has been redefined. Kashrut, Shabbat, Taharat HaMishpahah, Tefillah, and the list goes on – everything is being re-invented and re-interpreted to levels of absurdity that have never before been sanctioned or tolerated by mainstream 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 yeshivot 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 these communities and individuals present are being perpetrated by an unfortunate minority. We need to come to grips with the fact that the “gedolim” are not the true spokesmen for authentic Torah Judaism and its values – not in any way. The Haredi/Hasidic system is one that subsists almost entirely on fear and welfare. If the givers stop giving them either their allegiance or their money, then the system will ultimately shut down. And if we give our time and resources to those who are working to heal Judaism and restore authentic expressions and values, then truly Torah-based institutions and their rabbinic leadership will eventually flourish.
Many who speak out against the things taking place in Judaism are angry people – and, in my opinion, understandably so – but too often they are branded as “trouble-makers” and “naysayers,” being 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 the Jewish people. I care very much about the futures of my children and my grandchildren. 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. The philosophy of “live and let live” is how we got to where we are in the first place.
I might be indignant and passionate, but I’m not “angry.” I may be expressing harsh criticism of the Haredi/Hasidic world, but I’m not flying the flag of “Dati Leumi” or “Modern Orthodoxy.” And lastly, I am not denying that there are truly good Jews in the Haredi and Hasidic camps because there certainly are (and many of them share my sentiments on these issues). 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, when what we are talking about here is a truly negative subject, how can we truthfully speak about it in any other way?
May HaShem help us all to be more vocal and to do what is right.