The Forward Doesn’t Understand R’ Hershel Schachter

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IMG_3104R’ Hershel Schachter whom I admire greatly, is in a bit of hot water. The Forward published an article that is misleading and inflammatory about R’ Schachter.

The lede is particularly egregious: “A top rabbinic dean of Yeshiva University has warned rabbis about the dangers of reporting child sex abuse allegations to the police because it could result in a Jew being jailed with a black inmate, or as he put it, “a schvartze,” who might want to kill him.”

Sounds pretty bad, huh? Well once you actually read the article you see that it’s not quite so simple.

Let’s go in reverse order. R’ Schachter is not a racist. This is a certainty. He doesn’t have a negative bone in his body. He is one of the nicest, sweetest people I have ever met. He also speaks in yiddish a lot. When he says the “S” word, he does not mean it in a negative sense. He means it as the yiddish word for black person. There may be a little of this here as well. Sure, it sounds bad when he adds “who wants to kill him” but in all likelihood he was simply using an example, a poor example, of someone who would be in harm’s way if they went to jail. (Edit: It’s pretty clear he was referring to the Nation of Islam as a potentially dangerous cell mate.) More on that later.

A for the abuse and the reporting of abuse, the Forward totally hides the ball. For all his genius and piety, R’ Schachter is a genuinely committed halachic Jew. He does everything in accordance with halacha and his approach is to show how halacha would handle any potential situation.

R’ Schachter is among the most liberal halachic authorities when it comes to reporting abuse or any other crime to the secular authorities. I was in the room when I heard him say that there is no prohibition of mesira today. (For more on mesira see this: Mesira in Halacha.) This is a huge statement. One that the Forward should be championing. The primary obstacle to reporting abuse has classically been a misguided reliance on mesira. R’ Schachter says there is no mesira. That’s huge. Pop the champagne.

However, in R’ Schachter’s opinion, one can’t go to the authorities unless one has something to report. Unless a victim can state facts with a fair amount of certainty, there is nothing to report. So if a victim comes forward and says “So and so abused me,” and there is reason to believe the victim, I am under the impression that R’ Schachter holds that one is obligated to go to the authorities.

But the Forward doesn’t learn in a yeshiva. So the Forward doesn’t know that most of what we focus on in yeshiva are the non-obvious cases, the close calls, the cases that cut two ways or more. So R’ Schachter spends considerable time on the borderline cases. He explains that when the veracity or factual basis of the claim is unclear you need to bring in professionals to assess the situation. That’s also the right idea! But it’s only in a small number of cases. Most cases are more clear cut. But in our Talmudic fashion, these abnormal cases become the focus of the discussion.

R’ Schachter sprinkles in an anecdote too. In the anecdote he is harsh to a possible victim. He advises the victim to go to a professional because he doesn’t have enough information to go to the authorities. The victim does not go. R’ Schachter says that the victim is playing with fire. This is because more than anyone else, R’ Schachter understands the gravity of allowing an abuser to run free.

So it is easy for the uninitiated to focus on this part of the conversation. The non-automatic cases. But that is a mistake. The primary points were already established: No mesira, if a victim comes forward go to the authorities. Sure, there are grey area cases and in those cases, one should try to figure out how to proceed using the best available professionals. This is absolutely correct.

R’ Schachter also wants to show the gravity of a false accusation simply to show that halacha is concerned for everyone. The victim, the abuser, the falsely accused. All of them can be dealt with in the framework of halacha. Going to the authorities is very serious business. Halachically, we take responsibilty for what happens after we report abuse. We need to be careful and if we are careful, we must go to the authorities.

In my opinion, R’ Schachter is one of our greatest authorities on this issue should be praised by the Forward, not maligned.

If you can’t see the difference between R’ Schachter’s situation and R’ Manis Friedman’s and you need help, I am happy to assist you. But they have nothing to do with each other. Don’t even try to compare them.

Link: go find it yourself on the Forward’s website

Link to a discussion on Facebook about this post:

UPDATE: READ THIS –> The Forward Was Wrong, But So Was R’ Hershel Schachter

  • I’m not familiar with the current controversy, but this isn’t the first time R Shachter has stuck his foot in his mouth. And in 2013, no one should be using the word “shavrtza”, especially one of the most prominent Rabbanim in the Modern/Centrist Orthodox World.

    I do respect him and don’t think he’s racist, but that still doesn’t excuse using that word. He should be held accountable for what he says.

    As for his comments on abuse, I’ll withhold judgement until I read what he actually said & the context. I’ll only say that on the surface your post reads like an apologetic for R Shachter, at least in tone.

    • Robert G.

      As an Israeli, I watch alot of internet cable and TV. I see what the blacks call each other on tv, in public and at sports events. I think the short form is Mother – F…Nigg…and other lovable idioms. I don’t see a lot of Jews calling each other derogatory jargon except for occasionally when the Haredi call other Jews, Goyoim…I think Rav S. doesn’t use the names improperly so cut him some slack, Mr. Self-Righteous.

      • The level of casual light racism in Israel these days is appalling, so I don’t think your identification as an Israeli to make your point really helps any. Your reference to “lovable idioms” speaks volumes as to your perspective.

        • omg you actually sound like your being serious – you made like the most ironic statement ever I can’t believe its not sarcasm.

          • Israeli culture is not a race. I am not maligning an ethnic group, I’m expressing my observation of Israeli cultural racism. The fact that you cannot distinguish between the two doesn’t make my comment ironic.

            • Holy Hyrax

              For Israelis (in general) Americans are way to sensitive to race issues to the point you have to walk on egg shells. Israeli culture is littered with one ethnicity making fun of another ethnicity and everyone laughs together. Yes, you can find racism, but some stuff that Americans see as racists is simply not according to Israelis.

      • S.

        As an Israeli, maybe you really don’t know a lot about American culture. Feel free to learn about it from something other than television and then maybe you’ll know what you are talking about and what does or does not fly and why.

        PS if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a Jew call another Jew a “kike” or a “cheap Jew” I would have a lot of dollars.

        • kweansmom

          I’ve lived around American Jews all my life and I’ve never heard people use the term “kike” to refer to each other, even in jest. I don’t know what kind of circles you travel in.

        • Holy Hyrax

          I have to agree with Kweansmom. I have never in my life heard a Jew call another a Kike. Cheap Jew yes, but it’s always in jest and mockery, never as venomous as some blacks will use.

      • ksil

        hey Robert, your comment reminds of this bit on the jimmy kimmel show

  • UtterCynic

    This is one of the most poorly written articles I have had the displeasure of reading in quite some time. Your grammar is horrendous, you write in sentence fragments, and your arguments are ridiculous and not at all compelling. To say that R’ Schachter also follows the conventions of הלכה is ridiculous, ר’ שכטר is one of the foremost פסוקים in the world right now, and I don’t think he needs justification from anyone, and most certainly not you.

    • Yisrael Medad

      פוסקים and not פסוקים if you are going to correct spelling, grammar and syntax

    • You’re hired as my editor. You’ll get a commission of all the money I am paid to write these articles in my free time.

  • tesyaa

    If he had said “a criminal who might want to kill him” he’d be in the clear. No need whatsoever to use the word shvartze. I don’t understand.

    • There was definitely no need. But it doesn’t mean he is a racist. He was referring to a specific group, the followers of Louis Farakhaan, who are plentiful in prisons and hate Jews.

      He should have said “anti-semite” and I am sure in hindsight he wishes he said it.

      • tesyaa

        I’m not saying he is a racist. He just spoke like the old-fashioned guy he is. But since he does speak in public, frequently, he would benefit from working on his delivery.

        • I agree. He wasn’t choosing his words as carefully as he should have.

          • Lana

            NOPE. that’s racist terminology. i don’t care if you want to term it old-fashioned. racism is old-fashioned. this is R-A-C-I-S-T.

            • You are mixing up “racist terminology” and the person using it being a “racist.”
              A person can use racist terminology and not be a racist. Especially if they don’t know the word is considered racist terminology.

      • How does one infer that from the word “schvartze”??

        • Look below where I put down the full quote.

        • dGratt

          He said at the end of that sentence “black Muslim who wants to kill all the Jews.” I think you can infer Nation of Islam from that.

  • Aaron S

    If he needs a translator every time he speaks to convince normal people that he isn’t a racist, bigot or adovocate of molesters then maybe he shouldn’t be speaking in public anymore.

    • If you listen to the whole clip with an open mind, and with the knowledge that it is the context of a shiur, you are not likely to need convincing that he is not a racist, bigot or advocate of molesters.

    • Every time? Were there other times?

    • Moshe M.

      If a reporter is incapable of being impartial enough to try to figure out who a person is and understand where a person is speaking from, he shouldn’t be publishing articles defaming them.

  • S.

    Look, it’s old-fashioned, bu it’s….racist. If he said “In a cell with an African American” that would not be racist? I know, there is a parallel expression “In a cell with Bubba” which, such as things are, is not considered racist (you can pick on rednecks in America) but things are what they are. Even without saying schvartze which, let’s face it, Orthodox people his age do tend to say, it is a racist comment.

    People really need to learn sensitivity. Best is not to have those thoughts, but even if you do – learn how to navigate 2013, ya know?

  • Favorite line in the above post: “Link: go find it yourself on the Forward’s website”

    (thats not to say the post itself isnt good, just that i like that you wont send the forward traffic)

  • Here is the full “shvartze” quote:

    After saying that federal prisons were better for Jews . . .

    “Schachter told his audience that in state prisons ‘the warden in the prison can kill you. They can put you in a cell together with a shvartze, with a…black Muslim who wants to kill all the Jews.’”

    I think it is pretty obvious that he is referring to Nation of Islam followers who are plentiful in prison (Nation of Islam does a lot recruiting there) and whose leader is well known anti-semite. He isn’t making a racist statement even if he did use a term which has become offensive.

    • Guest

      Or he could have been describing a סתם African-American Muslim. He didn’t say “Nation of Islam” so why say it for him? It’s the principle of Occam’s Razor: “One should not make more assumptions than needed. When multiple explanations are available for a phenomenon, the simplest version is preferred.”[1] Or as many in the medical community are wont to say: “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.”
      – – – – –

      • Even granting that Occam’s Razor’s has any place in interpreting human behavior, it has a preface “all things being equal.” If there is more evidence on on the side of multiple explanations, then you should assume the more complicated version over the simpler version that has less evidence.

        Here he said “a black Muslim that wants to kill all the Jews.” He didn’t say all black Muslims want to kill all the Jews, he was describing a subset of black Muslims. I know of one such subset, the Nation of Islam. They also happen to be particularly prevalent in prisons. Therefore the evidence indicates that he was speaking about Nation of Islam.

        Or to put it differently, “if you are in a zoo and you hear hoofbeats, think zebras not horses.”

        • Nigritude Ultramarine

          “[…] he was describing a subset of black Muslims. I know of one such subset, the Nation of Islam.”

          The term “black Muslim” may describe people who are black people who are Muslims or members of African-American Black nationalist organizations. These organizations include:

          * Nation of Islam
          * Moorish Science Temple of America
          * United Nation of Islam
          * The Nation of Gods and Earths
          * Nuwaubianism
          * American Society of Muslims

          The term “black Muslim” may also describe:

          * Islam in the African diaspora
          * African American Muslims

        • Nigritude Ultramarine

          “I know of one such subset, the Nation of Islam.”

          The leader of the NOI has said some far out stuff about Jews, but I cannot recollect his advocating genocide against the Jews. Do you have ideas about that?

          • He has said things like “Jews caused the African-American holocaust.” I don’t know of any instances of him calling for genocide of Jews, but as a matter of caution I would stay far away from NOI adherent just as I would stay away from a neo-Nazi.

        • Nigritude Ultramarine

          “Even granting that Occam’s Razor’s has any place in interpreting human behavior […]”

          Detectives use it to solve murder cases.

        • Nigritude Ultramarine

          “[…] it has a preface “all things being equal.” If there is more evidence on on the side of multiple explanations, then you should assume the more complicated version over the simpler version that has less evidence.”

          But what kind of evidence? With Occam’s Razor, it’s implied that simple explanations come from evidence that is already known to be true — like empirical evidence — evidence that can be acquired through the five senses. Things that can be easily explained using empirical evidence tend to trump explanations that are based on evidence we can’t sense.

          I listened to the recording — I didn’t hear RHS utter the phrase “Nation of Islam” in his hypothetical state prison scenario. I did, however, hear him say: “schvartzer”; “Muslim”; and “black Muslim” — that’s the evidence we actually have.

          • He said “black Muslim that wants to kill all the Jews.” There is one black Muslim group that is particularly prevalent in prisons that has anti-semitic beliefs that arguably could be described as “wants to kill all the Jews,” Nation of Islam. All those are objective facts.

            Let’s be clear here. You are saying he meant all black muslims. I am saying that he meant a subset of black Muslims that harbor particular ill will towards Jews. Your explanation is no more simpler than mine. He didn’t say “all black Muslims want to kill Jews.” He said a warden (of unknown race) might deliberately put a Jew in a cell with a black Muslim that wants to kill Jews. The statement is ambiguous.

            He could mean, as you appear to be suggesting, that all black Muslims want to kill all Jews, or he could mean that there is a subset of black Muslims marked by the known hatred for Jews.

            If he would have said “aryan Christians” instead of “black Muslims,” would you have interpreted his statement to be saying that all white Christians want to kill Jews?

  • R’Schachter isn’t even a Dean. (Rabbi Yona Reiss is.) Given that the Forward screwed up on such a basic fact, I wonder if they missed anything else.

  • ari

    Schvartze and shiksa are not derogatory terms for yiddish speakers.

    • R Shachter isn’t someone just off the boat from the shtetl. He was born in Scranton, PA, and is a product of YU, where he has had his long professional career as well.

    • MarkSoFla

      Rav H Schachter is not a Yiddish speaker.

    • milhouse trabajo

      in any event, what did the reference to an african american add, unless the implication is derogatory? why not just say a goy murderer or even extremist muslim/terrorist? can’t say that he is without blame for his implication. we all know you gotta be doresh any extra/unnecessary word. “the warden in the prison can kill you. They can put you in a cell together with a shvartze, with a…black Muslim who wants to kill all the Jews.”
      Read more:

      i of course believe everyone is racist, sexist, religionist etc. based on our experiences, the good people just fight the inate tendency to be prejudiced when it comes up. here R’ Shachter let it slip and didn’t realize that what he is saying (re black muslims being worse) is derogatory and without basis. (I still like him as a Rabbi, but everyone slips up sometimes and he should apologize fully)

    • zach

      Nonsense. Shiksa (“vermin”) and shvartze are derogatory, and are almost always used in such a manner.

    • Modicum

      Schwarze not, it means literally black. Shickse very much so it means disgusting thing, and there is alternative word that is not deragotory, guyta literally female of the nations

      • kweansmom

        “Negro” also means black. I challenge you to use that word casually in conversation with African-Americans without offending.

        “Goyitah” is also considered derogatory and should not be used in polite conversation any more than you would call a non-Jew a “goy”.

        Words develop connotations and have meaning other than direct translation. You would probably take offense, or at least be unsettled, if a non-Jew started talking about “those Hebrews”.

  • MarkSoFla

    1. A community leader, a smart man, needs to choose his words very carefully. And if he doesn’t know which words have become unacceptable, he needs to remove himself from a leadership position because he cannot fully and effectively relate to the public anymore. Similarly, if an elderly leader begins to lose their faculties (dementia, Alzheimer etc), they also must remove themselves from the leadership.

    2. Why do the psychologists (to determine if police need to be involved) need to be talmeidei chachamim? What’s wrong with a plain old psychologist? Or a non-Jewish psychologist? Does he think Jewish abuse is different than non-Jewish abuse somehow? Also, why can’t the psychologists at CPS (Child Protective Services) determine the facts of the case? After all, they are often the most qualified for this task.

    2a. Furthermore, “a board of talmeidei chachamim psychologists” within each community will ALWAYS, and inevitably, be influenced by those who have power. And the end result will be that those with power will not be brought to justice while those who do not have power will.

    3. About the school psychologist comment. The statement is ridiculous because the school (I am mostly referring to the small yeshivot here, not the large institutions) psychologists are generally useless. Very often they are rachmonos cases that are given a minimal paying job (perhaps they are even a parent that happens to have a psychology degree who cannot pay tuition otherwise). And they are VERY liable to be influenced by people around them with power, see 2a above.

    4. Prison statements. How is he not embarrassed to list the “amenities” (minyan, daf yomi, etc) of Federal prison? As far as using the word “schvartzer”, anyone who grew up in NY at the time that he did would naturally use the word – it was totally acceptable and normal (and usually not derogatory) back then, completely equivalent to “black” at the time. Today it is not as acceptable, see comment 1 above. But in this case, a better example of danger in State prison would have been “Nazi skinheads” who want to kill or injure Jews, again see comment 1 above.

    Maybe more later. I have to listen to the clip again.

    • If you listen to the clip, he explains why he doesn’t trust CPS in some cases. The police have gotten a lot better about this, but innocent people are still indicted on occasion. Even more common is that word of the police investigation gets out and the accused’s life will be severely damaged even if the police never bring charges.

      I realize that we have to work very hard to end abuse in our communities. But that doesn’t mean that we have to blind to the fact that innocent people get accused, innocent people get reported and innocent people get indicted.

      Rabbi Shachter is proposing a system that would strike a balance. Where, in cases that are uncertain, the first line of professionals are not those whose job it is to report abuse, but someone who can be a little more objective.

      You might disagree with his position. You might feel that the imperative to protect children outweighs the potential destruction of the life and livelihood of an innocent person, tragic as that may be. I can respect and understand that position. But please don’t make it sound like the other side’s position is completely unreasonable and immoral.

      • Right, CPS gets it wrong, as opposed to the completely unblemished record of the rabbinic establishment. Schachter’s position IS unreasonable and immoral – in the time in takes for these self-selected “professionals” to hem and haw about whether this is abuse, the abuser could be hurting more children. Not to mention the fact that if certified psychologists were on this committee, they would be legally obligated to report the abuse to the authorities – for THEM to investigate. It’s not their right to decide — this is why we have law enforcement and a child welfare system. If YOUR child was abused, would you a. first report it to this committee instead of calling the police, b. wait around for them to make a decision, c. be satisfied with the result if they come back and say your child is a liar? I mean come ON.

        • You say that Rabbi Schachter’s position is unreasonable and immoral and then cite a reason that is easily correctable within this system. You have the professionals talk to the child within 24 hours, and in the meantime you force the accused take a sick day.

          If you, a close relative or friend was accused, would you want it to go straight to the police, or would you like an objective psychologist make an assessment first? If someone called the police and the DA decided to put in all his efforts into getting a conviction, even if you were eventually cleared after a year of fighting the charges, would you be satisfied with the “law enforcement and the child welfare system.”?

          Of course if we have a situation involving a close family member on either side we will be extremely biased and prone to making unwise, snap decisions. What we want is to examine the problem from an objective, unemotional position.

          I understand the position that says that we have to err on the side of protecting children even if it means ruining innocent people. But don’t think that innocent people won’t have their lives ruined if there is a blanket policy of calling CPS and the police. And don’t act like it is immoral and unreasonable to be concerned about that problem.

        • Guest

          More likely the abuser is being tipped off by a friend who has a connection to someone on the “panel of psychologist talmid chachams” and jumping on a quick flight to Israel (or some where else that has no extradition for abuse).

        • Beth Bennett

          DeDe, of course it should not be left up to anyone other than the victim to decide what to repot, but that does not mean that CPS is as clean and reliable as you think. I have friends, people I know well, who have been put through hell for no good reason. One couple I know were harassed because they helped the abused daughter of a neighbor, who happened to date a CPS employee. The rabbinate does not hold the monopoly on corruption.

    • Lana

      THANK YOU,

  • ari

    I’m sorry if this is a double post but I think my original one didn’t post.

    Shvartza and shiksa are not derogatory words for yiddish speakers.

    • kweansmom

      And it’s perfectly okay for Southeners to use the “N” word. That’s just the way they talk, you know.

      • I don’t get the comparison between the N word and the S word? The S word is literally the yiddish word for “black”. Yes it is offensive because it’s usually used in a negative context, but it is not inherently pejorative. The N word is.

        And it’s not like shiksa either because shiksa is a variant of a word that means “disgusting”.

        • kweansmom

          Actually the N word is a variant of the word “negro” which means “black” and was not originally meant as or seen as derogatory.

          My point is that being from a certain place or speaking a certain language does not excuse someone from using offensive language. Anyway, RHS is a native American and English is his first language. He’s not some senile old European who is out of touch with current sensitivities. He’s well aware of the connotations of the word in 2013.

          My guess -and hope- is that RHS will come out with an appropriate apology.

          • I am pretty sure RHS would never say it if he thought it was offensive.

  • J Efram

    This is a classic case of chachamim hizaharu bedivreichem. First of all, just using the word “shvartze”, even (or especially) in shiur. It doesn’t portray rabbanus in a favorable light. Second, R Schachter gives the impression that he is too concerned with the destination of the criminal, however halachically justified, than justice for the victim, despite his stance on mesira. No, this is nowhere near as bad as Friedman, but its not exactly a kiddush hashem either.

  • kweansmom

    Why are we all tiptoeing around the elephant in the room? He used a racial slur, he used to single out a certain race as being more dangerous and anti-Semitic than others, and it’s wrong. Maybe he’s not a “racist” (maybe some of his best friends are shvartzes) but he said a racist thing. Would we give Jesse Jackson a pass for calling NYC “Hymietown” because he’s “old fashioned”? Was everyone here so willing to put Manis Friedman’s words in “context”? I say this as someone who admires R. Schachter and is disturbed by his comments. But there’s no reason to make excuses for him when we wouldn’t tolerate the same behavior in someone we are less sympathetic to.

    • tesyaa

      Would we give Jesse Jackson a pass for calling NYC “Hymietown” because he’s “old fashioned”?

      Good point. Maybe, in general, we Jews should not be so quick to jump down the throats of others when they make slightly derogatory comments due to their old-fashioned upbringing or whatever. If we want to give Rav Schachter the benefit of the doubt, we should give Chuck Hagel the benefit of the doubt.

    • Did you listen to whole clip or read the whole sentence? He was talking about an anti-semitic Warden (race unknown) deliberately putting a Jew in a cell with a Black Muslim that wanst to kill all the Jews. I.e. a member of the Nation of Islam, a known anti-semitic group that has many adherents in prisons.

  • kweansmom

    RHS’s stance here on reporting abuse is indistinguishable from that of the Agudah, as voiced by R. Dovid Zwiebel. They both say make sure the allegation is believable before going to the police, which is against the law. The law says you need reason to suspect, not reason to believe. Your distinction about the non-obvious cases vs. clear-cut cases doesn’t make sense. Most cases of abuse allegations are “he-said-she-said” where the alleged abuse took place without other witnesses, and it’s a question of the child’s credibility. What makes you think that “most cases are clear cut”? How many abusers work out in the open in broad daylight and select good kids who never lie as their victims?

    • anon109

      False. Agudah says it’s Mesirah unless it reaches the threshold of Raglayim La’Davar. R. Schacter says that since there times that the authorities are overzealous and ruin lives, one shouldn’t go unless there is somewhat credible reasons to suspect (I disagree in that I think someone telling you they were abused is credible, what they’re making it up for fun?). But, it would seem that if you were a mandated reporter, according to R. Schacter you would follow the law, whereas according to Agudah unless you get a heter, it’s Mesirah.

      • kweansmom

        Then why does he say that the kid should first go to a psychologist, who is a mandated reporter and who will report the story anyway, even if the kid may be lying?

        • anon109

          You can listen to the clip at failedmessiah. I am not defending his view as I don’t agree with it. (I would guess that if the psychologist is convinced the kid is lying RS thinks the pyschologist wouldn’t report)

  • I think many need to be reminded that a Halachic Analysis is REQUIRED in ALL aspects of our lives. If you bothered to listen to the entire shiur, not just the alleged “salacious” part, I think you would realize that this is a tempest in a teapot.

    With regard to saying “shvartze”, listen to the audio for some context. If you commented without listening to the actual audio, you are part of the problem…

    • MarkSoFla

      Is halachic analysis required before jumping into the water to save someone who is drowning?

      • of course.

        • MarkSoFla

          Does it require a board of Talmeidei Chachamim?

          • requires sound halachic and practical judgment.

          • Can you really not see the difference between someone who will certainly die if you take the time to go to a board, and someone who might be child molester on the loose for one extra day?

            • If you see a difference you obviously don’t know anyone who’s ever been molested or abused.

              • Well I do, and I can see the difference between someone holding a gun and a molester. I am sure you can too.

    • walt kovacs

      not in this case. the law is clear. and if rav shachter is saying that one can break the law, he better bring down halachic sources that are more compelling than keeping a yid out of a jail cell with a black man

      • you need to listen to the shiur and then come back and comment.

        • walt kovacs

          i did. and he is wrong on all counts. and a protector of perverts

  • walt kovacs

    this article is wrong.

    unlike catholocism, we yidden do not believe our leaders to be infallible

    and i for one am disgusted by those who attack others for questioning rabinic authorities

    specifically in the area of child abuse, for generations, they have bee dead wrong…and rav schachter is dead wrong here and may have admitted to committing a criminal act by not reporting

    he should be forced to immediately retire to eretz yisrael

    • zach

      What do you mean “we yidden”? Most chareidim believe their leaders to be even more infallible than the Pope! The Pope is infallible for Catholics, but only when speaking of Christian doctrine. Chareidim treat every utterance by chazal, a rishon, an acharon, even their present day leaders as 100% emes and stemming from ruach hakodesh.

      • walt kovacs

        ya, i know people like that. they are fools

  • If in fact this is Talmudic discussion of an edge case, but in most normal cases things are clear-cut, I would expect that when RHS heard about abuse, in most cases he reported this to the authorities. Are you aware of such cases?

  • RRand

    Reposted from Facebook:

    Comment 1. “Incredibly sad. I know a lot of people who have tremendous respect for Schachter, but it’s time for people to realize that being a brilliant scholar doesn’t make you any kind of sage.

    And it’s time for people to be vocal about this being unacceptable.”

    Comment 2. “The thing is, to a certain extent I agree with him. The things that go on in American prisons are horrifying, and that it’s been allowed to continue for so long is a tremendous mark against our justice system. As if he was simply raising that issue I would applaud him.
    But he goes to far. He still seems attached to the idea that “Talmidei Hakhamim” need to first conduct their own trial before going to the police. And that’s terribly wrong. Institutions will protect themselves, and reporting allegations of assault to the proper authorities is crucial. And suggesting otherwise is dangerous. And you’ll simply have to trust that the US legal system will not throw a man into maximum security prison before determining his guilt. Tough as that may be, the alternatives are worse.”

    Schachter does not make it clear that he’s dealing only with outlier cases, where you truly have reason to believe the student is lying. (Though even in that case, you can go to the authorities.) It very much sounds like in any case he wants to go through “psychologist-talmidei chachamim” before reporting to the authorities, and that’s just wrong. The authorities have the ability to deal with these situations and the possibility of letting a child abuser remain on the loose in a school is too horrific to contemplate.

    (And, frankly, while the Schvartze comment was terrible (and not because of the word because of the comment), it pales so greatly in comparison to the bigger issue here, that even bringing it up is an unhelpful diversion.)

    Also, I don’t think this is comparable to Manis Friedman. I understand what Friedman was trying to, though he did it badly. But he wasn’t contributing to “let’s run it by our Rabbis first” which is a massive problem for any institution or religious group, so it doesn’t even warrant consideration in the same article.

    • kweansmom

      The comparison to Manis Friedman is about how their respective followers are trying to excuse their comments by saying they need to be understood in context, and that the rabbi is such a fine person he must have meant something else, and other such spin and attempts to whitewash. The content of the two rabbis comments are entirely different.

  • ahg

    You’ve fallen into the trap. A rabbinic panel is not qualified to conduct an investigation. That is the job of the Police. By defending his response, you are perpetuating an abhorrent practice.

    If you want to hear him in his own words, a little searching turned up the audio recording online:

    • Nigritude Ultramarine

      “A rabbinic panel is not qualified to conduct an investigation. That is the job of the Police.”

      It’s not even the job of law enforcement.

      In New York State, mandated reporters (e.g. police officers) are required by law to report suspected child abuse or maltreatment to the New York State Central Register (SCR) of Child Abuse and Maltreatment.

      The SCR accepts calls from persons who are required by law, or mandated, to report suspected cases of child abuse and maltreatment; and calls from non-mandated reporters, including the public.

      The Statewide Toll Free Telephone Number:

      If you believe that a child is in IMMEDIATE DANGER, call 911 or your local police department

    • He said psychologists who are talmidei chachamim, he didn’t say a “rabbinic panel.”

      And he was discussing a case where it wasn’t clear that there was reasonable suspicion that any abuse had actually occurred. The situation was ambiguous. He was recommending the use of psychologists who also had halachic qualifications to clarify the ambiguity. If the psychologist determined that there was reasonable suspicion than they would report it to SCR.

      That is what the law requires. There has to be reasonable suspicion (“reglayim l’davar” in Hebrew) before the law requires reporting.

  • I disagree with RHS. But even giving him every benefit of the doubt, he has to know how his comments play in the media. I frankly don’t care if the Forward understand RHS; it’s his job to understand them. He’s the leader of a major Jewish institution and looked to by many as the dean of Modern Orthodoxy. Leaders don’t just say publicly whatever comes to mind, especially when being recorded! I think what bothers me most is that he seems not to care.

    • That’s fair. But if you know him, you know that he doesn’t care. For better or for worse. Sometimes it’s good for a rabbi not to care what people think of him.

      • Indeed, it is but not for leaders. Leaders walk in the front of the line but have to occasionally look back to see how those they lead are doing. RHS’s talmidim shouldn’t have to keep doing what you had to do today.

  • Doc

    As a child and adolescent therapist let me weigh in here:
    The people who so valiantly spend their time defending the Rabbi probably don’t
    have children or patients who have been molested or abused by a rabbi or other
    authority figure (or at least they don’t know about it yet, probably because of
    their point of view). If they did, they would be more likely to want to protect
    their child/patient in the fullest way possible. At the end of the day my job
    just became harder. The scores of Yeshiva boys that I treat, many of whom have
    been abused, will now never disclose their abuse because their esteemed and
    idealized Rebbe said that doing so may have grave consequences FOR THE ABUSER
    and that it may be against Halacha to do so! These G-d fearing students will be
    left to carry the burdens and shame of their own traumas and will continue to
    suffer silently while the abuser will continue to perpetrate abuse on innocent
    victims. If you need to have a team of people constantly “put things in
    context” and act as a translator for a brilliant man who speaks perfect
    english then there is a problem. Certainly many of these adolescents and young
    adults will take the Rabbi Shachter’s words at face value.

    • You could not be more wrong about me. But thanks for judging me. You sound like a great therapist!

      • kweansmom

        Where do you see anyone judging you in that comment?

        • The people who so valiantly spend their time defending the Rabbi probably don’t have children or patients who have been molested or abused by a rabbi or other authority figure

      • walt kovacs

        ok, ill judge you. the rav doesnt know the reporting laws. and there is no excuse for ignorance, especially in a rav, so either he is stupid, which makes all his torah invalid, or he is evil, which does exactly the same

        in either case, you are wrong to defend him and you must do teshuva by apologizing to all the victims of the monster rav shachter refused to have locked away

    • guest

      stupid, the discussion is this: it is only a problem if it false,

      the second the student knows it is true, there is nothing to be afraid about.

    • “will now never disclose their abuse because their esteemed andidealized Rebbe said that doing so may have grave consequences FOR THE ABUSER
      and that it may be against Halacha to do so!”

      That isn’t what he said, even at face value. He never said that abused children shouldn’t report the abuse. Did you listen to the shiur?

      Btw, if you were a criminal defense lawyer, and you saw the way DA’s sometimes go after people and the tactics they sometimes use (in and out of the courtroom) or if you or a close relative/friend had been wrongly accused, do you think you might be a little more understanding of Rabbi Shachter’s position?

  • walt kovacs

    btw, remember the post you made about the asifa? do you recall the group that gathered outside of the event, protesting and trying to bring attention to the fact that things like molestation occur and have nothing to do with the internets? vast majority of those kid’s perps got away with it due to the attitudes just like rav shachter

    reporting laws are clear…the reporter is not to make a determination as to the truthfulness of the victim, nor whether there is enough evidence to bring the perp to trial. a mandated reporter must report the second they become aware of an allegation of abuse…period

    was thinking about moving to the venice area…gotta rethink that

    • I don’t understand your issue. RHS would have every single one their abusers locked up. Did you listen to the audio. He says it like 20 times. I am sure that he would require all mandated reporters do as the government requires of them.

      • I too, would lock up every abstract abuser. But I too, can think of a case where things where more difficult, more complicated. Oddly enough, for me also, it’s the case I am personally involved in.

        • This is very common. Unfortunately.

          • Which, having great clarity on abstractions and utter lack of clarity on realities, or devoting great thought and effort to secondary sources out of perceived difficulty in looking at primary sources?

  • I do not think the claim that “in most normal cases things are
    clear-cut” (quoted from commenter Bill Ze’ev Fellson) is correct with regard to abuse. In fact, it is the lack of
    clarity on exactly where boundaries lie that contributes to the high
    incidence of abuse and to the terrible emotional damage experienced by
    many victims. A victim, or even a perpetrator, I imagine, may not
    realize that a boundary has been crossed until it’s fading in the
    distance. The shame a victim feels for having, in many cases,
    unknowingly acquiesced to a trespass plays a huge role in the many
    problems of reporting abuse.

    Personally, I experienced something over fifteen years ago, and it changed my life. To a large degree, it destroyed my life and what had been my life’s path. And to this day I don’t know what to call it. Abuse? Harassment? Molestation? Incest? Lack of tznius? Lascivious behavior? It doesn’t help that words have agenda-driven subtexts in addition to subtleties of plain meaning.

    I hear what Schechter is saying as “there is no mesirah in reporting….but what are you reporting, and to what end?

    But blaming the victim for failing to stop the perpetrator? This I do not understand. I do not understand finding new reasons why victims must be interrogated, and by more people. As I said on fb earlier today, this is a mirror-image of Satmar. Isolate the damage to the victim, to prevent a larger impact on the community.

    Do you have any idea how many times rabbis have asked me if I my (abuser/harasser/molester) would/has/is do/doing it again to something else? It is almost always the first question. Yes, I’ve talked about this quite a bit. To several rabbonim. Nearly all laid it upon me to decide if he would attack again.

    It is not up to me. It was not up to that boy at YU. The prevention of sexual abuse is a huge burden that should be better handled by communities, but it should not be a problem laid upon the victims.

    Of course, the victim is the source of information. But the giving of information should not be a trial to him. He should not be blamed for the resultant troubles that reporting may bring to the perpetrator and the community, nor for troubles that not reporting may bring to prospective victims. Yes, we are all responsible for each other, but the victim of a crime must not be the point upon which the entire issue of criminal behavior and community responses to it rests.

    For fifteen years and change, I’ve lived with the knowledge that perhaps I should have reported a crime. Perhaps I was virtuous for not reporting it. Perhaps if I had, other women would not have suffered the way I have. Perhaps, because I didn’t, the man’s children have not experienced poverty and alienation and generalized misery. Perhaps, because I didn’t, his own daughters have suffered from his continued presence.

    It is clear to me that the biggest, hardest part of the problem is the failure of the American criminal justice system. Sex offender registries are an abomination. Sexual crimes are similar to many white-collar crimes in that they can be subtle. In many cases, they occur in increments. And it is possible to destroy a person without intending to do so. It’s so easy to blame the victims because “it’s over, it wasn’t so bad, move on.” I wish it were that easy for victims. But I recognize that it is that easy for perpetrators, because distorted thinking can lead to doing tremendous evil and lasting harm without intending it.

    It would be so much easier if all perpetrators were the Nechemya Weberman his victim experienced. But it’s not always like that. It’s very often not like that. The cases of the Finkelsteins of the world are very common. It’s a hard problem.

    But laying the crime on the victim, as if he has any control over the past of future criminal behavior of his attacker, and expecting him to somehow weigh this against the possibility of unjust harm perpetrated by the criminal unjustice system, is utterly unacceptable.

    Perhaps I have been very unclear. It is a very difficult problem, one that has no solution. But I am having a hard time seeing past the victim-blaming. Yes, the American justice system is very troubling, and offender registries are an abomination. But until rabbis have some way of responding effectively to crimes in their communities (cue messianic thoughts from those to subscribe to such beliefs), they need to back off trying to somehow make the victim “do the right thing” when “doing the right thing” seems to invariably result in demanding the victim suffer more pain, more skepticism, more invalidation, and all for nothing, because there seems to be no rabbinic consensus on when the full brunt of the American criminal justice system should be thrown at a perpetrator.

  • Doc2

    This piece is incredibly off base and disturbing. The therapist who weighed in below is 100% correct and Rabbi, if you cannot learn to hear other people’s comments without immediately launching into a counterattack- you need to do some serious reflection if you are going to continue to be a leader. Rabbis are supposed to represent morality and integrity and not just defend someone the first inkling of anything negative; they are the hearts of our people and they have to go into their hearts too before blurting things out. Your piece is a complete rationalization of all that happened witthout any seeming reflection on the child/ children who were affected. Why do only rabbis get sympathy but children whose lives were tainted get shoved under the bus? What happened to this community? its so glaringly embarassing!

    I understand you look up to him but he’s human and he too- like all of us- makes mistakes and clearly has some errors in his judgments.

    In New York State- school officials are not given permission to “decide” if they believe a victim. They are mandated reporters and they need to report cases of suspected abuse that are brought to them by children/ teens. End of Story. When will all of the rabbis wake up to the truth about the humility they are lacking? . The Rav would turn over in his grave if he saw/ heard any of this going on and all these rabbis defending each other over protecting children. Rav Soloveitchik stood for compassion and said himself that you don’t ask a rabbi to decide things of this nature.

    Rabbi Fink, if your child told you someone molested him – would you have Rabbi Schachter and company determine IF they thought it was true rather than believing your child? Coming forward with sexual abuse takes enormous courage in a community that more and more does NOT side with them and even blames them -and so if a child finally comes forward- its not a rabbis’ place to decide if he believes it first, before he reports it, unless we believe rabbis are above the law (which apparently many leaders believe).

    Additionally- there are so many problems with what Rabbi Schachter said particularly the fact that he not only messed up by not reporting this information which was HIS negligence which led to 100’s of more abused kids but he then turns it around and blames the victim for his errors? This is a serious problem that he will have to reckon with.

    • Hang on a second. The therapist was right that if I defend RHS that means I don’t know anyone who has been abused? What kind of sick is that to say? Neither or you have any way of knowing that. And that is what I objected to so strongly.

      You obviously did not listen to the audio. He says at least 20 times to go to the authorities. There is no mesira.

      The only issue is where there is a possibility that a child has been molested and no one knows if there is something to report. In that case he advised going to a psychologist, preferably one who is a talmid chacham, who is able to appreciate the gravity of reporting.

      In any case of a mandated reporter I guarantee that he would require reported because of dina d’malchusa dina. He is very makpid on that.

      In his anecdote he was saying that a victim has to speak up so that abuse will stop. That was his point. If the victims won’t speak up there is nothing he or anybody else can do.

      He was not a mandated reporter in that case, just for the record. Even the Forward has not accused him of breaking any laws. So let’s slow down with that.

      • The victim in his anecdote did speak up. If he hadn’t, it would not be an anecdote that Schechter could tell.

      • Doc2

        If children were still at risk of abuse (and Finkelstein stayed on past the 80s when this allegedly happened)- then I believe he was still required to report it.

        I’m not sure how you’re equating the two comments above. I wasn’t saying that you must not know anyone who has been abused- but I am saying you seem to be weighing in only to protect your rebbe from being fallible – over the possiblity of a child’s abuse. We Jews have Teshuva . God gave this to us as an acknowledgement that we are all fallible. If our community learns anything from all of this it’s that children matter more than reputations! Plus.. just b/c a leader is criticized (and he should be if he makes irresponsible impulsive comments) doesn’t mean he is bad…. it just means he’s human. Great. If we can acknowledge that- we raise the bar on integrity and humility!

        Also per comments below, a Rabbi needs to care about how his comments affect his community. Lately Rabbis seem to think they can say anything.. they can totally defend Rav Bina in the Hakotel abuse dismissing what’s been done “well he helps kids…so what if he abuses..?” and make sweeping psychological statements about victims such as “well they should have come forward sooner”. This is out of control and beyond insensitive and not their area to comment upon. More is asked of leaders. They need to carefully choose their words. Their words are very powerful and impact thousands. I think when you say it’s good for a rabbi not to care what pple think it applies more with regard to not being influenced / swayed by social fears (fears that jews will go to jail.. that a leader will look bad etc..) which I agree with. They need to be firm in their commitment to truth which seems awry here.

        I see that he says mesira is not an issue but I also do not think it’s a rabbi’s place to make decisions about not reporting ever. It’s not his place. It’s caused too much harm.

        Lastly, if someone molests children, they go to jail. That’s how it goes. They don’t get to be spared jail b/c they are a “yid” . They needed to consider that before they ruined the lives of jewish children.

        I don’t wish RHS any harm or vilification- I think he can make it right in some way by owning it.

        • Okay, first of all. RHS IS NOT MY REBBE. He doesn’t even know who I am. I heard his speak twice and spoke with him for a few minutes afterward. I’ve been to YU for around 200 minutes of my life. Twice for work and once for a concert. I admire RHS, but that’s the extent of it.

          You weren’t saying I don’t know any abuse victims, but the person whose comments you were endorsing did say that.

          I did not defend Rav Bina.

          RHS believes that every orthodox Jew wants to follow halacha. This is a halachic syhla in his opinion. Not everyone has to agree with that. He doesn’t think anyone should be spared because they are a yid. His concern was only that an innocent Jew be placed in mortal danger.

          • Doc2

            Sorry about the mistake. I listened to the audio. I believe he means well with his focus on mesira but he made an egregious error which is why rabbis should not be in this position of making such decisions. He dismissed and minimized the shame the victim felt about speaking to the school psychologist. At that point, Rabbi Schachter needed to report it. It wasn’t ok to leave it…. it led to much horror for years to come. The intention of his speech was a good one but he indicts himself in his off the cuff anecdote… This doesn’t mean he’s a bad leader.. it just means he messed up in a big way.

            • Look, personally I don’t agree with RHS completely. The point of this post was to show how terribly the Forward understood RHS. This little conversation between us does not negate that point. If the Forward had been fair, this post would have likely been in support of it.

  • Doc2

    See this blog for more info about how Rav Soloveitchik responded to child abuse allegations. I don’t understand how all these rabbeim / current Rosh Yeshiva at YU who were taught by the Rav have forgotten his message.

    “The Rav impassionedly cried out:” Those who ask ‘what about the parnassa
    of the teacher?’ must be rebutted with the question ‘what about the
    children, what about the children?”

  • lana

    that is among the worst apologetic b.s. i have ever seen. you’re defending a racist bigot. end of story.

  • Chrissakes

    “Edit: It’s pretty clear he was referring to the Nation of Islam as a potentially dangerous cell mate.”

    No, it isn’t. That’s precisely why listeners are confused.

  • . Having served as a prison Chaplain was he says is true. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

  • Having served as a prison Chaplain was he says is true

    • Bill Clinton

      Because anecdotal evidence is the best evidence.

  • Liz

    Rabbi Fink – I strongly encourage you to watch this short clip:

    Your defense of R’ Shachter’s character is a total red herring. You responded to the charge “he said something racist” with the claim “he is not a racist.” Unfortunately, the world is not divided into good people and racists. I’ve never met R’ Shachter personally, so if you say he is certainly not a racist, I’ll take you at your word – but you don’t have to BE a racist to SAY something racist.

    So it doesn’t matter that R’ Shachter “is one of the nicest, sweetest people” you have ever met, or that he “doesn’t have a negative bone in his body.” What matters is that he made racist comments, and he should be held accountable for that mistake, especially since he is a public figure and a mouthpiece of the Jewish community.

    But that’s only half the issue. You also claim that his use of the word “schvartze” was not racist at all because he wasn’t using it “in a negative sense.” I guess that what you mean by this is, he wasn’t saying “nigger,” he was saying “black person,” and furthermore what he really meant to refer to was the Nation of Islam. As other commenters have pointed out, R’ Shachter could have said that a Jew might get stuck in a cell with a skinhead, a neo-Nazi, a jihadist Muslim, or better yet simply an anti-Semite, who wants to kill him. The fact that he jumped right to “schvartzes” who want to kill Jews is racist in and of itself, because it enforces stereotypes of blacks as violent and indiscriminately angry. It’s not his choice of words (“schvartze” instead of “black person”) that’s the issue here – it’s the choice of black Muslims as his example of a dangerous cellmate for a Jew.

    I was so disappointed to see you defending these comments, Rabbi Fink.

    • I am sorry for disappointing you. But as has been noted several times, the S word is NOT the same as the N word. It’s just not.

      • Liz

        My whole point was that it’s not his choice of words that matters. It doesn’t make a difference whether “schvartze” is more accurately translated as “nigger” or “black person” – what’s relevant is that he chose the example of a black dude at all.

    • And I share that video with people all the time. It supports me in this instance. What R’ Schachter said was a racist statement. That does not make him a racist.

      • Liz

        It does not support you. You responded to the charge “R’ Shachter said something racist” with the defense “R’ Shachter is not a racist,” shifting the conversation from what he DID to what he IS.

  • Ladies and gentlemen of this thread, PLEASE read this update:

  • Guest

    “However, in R’ Schachter’s opinion, one can’t go to the authorities unless one has something to report. Unless a victim can state facts with a fair amount of certainty, there is nothing to report.”

    This is probably the worst possible for advice to give when trying assess abuse or maltreatment in young children through adolescence. His advice, if this is really what he said, presupposes that a young child or adolescent who has been abused or maltreated is going to be able to verbally convey what has happened to him.

    In order to determine suspected cases of abuse and maltreatment, adults with professional roles or official capabilities involving children need to watch for:

    * physical indicators of possible child abuse
    * emotional and behavioral signs of possible child abuse
    * physical signs of possible child neglect
    * signs of possible child sexual abuse
    * emotional and behavioral signs of possible child sexual abuse; these may be quite distinct between children under eight years of age and child over eights years of age through adolescence

    One who relies solely on what a child in his charge verbally conveys to him, is one who shirks his duty to that child.

  • Nigritude Ultramarine

    “However, in R’ Schachter’s opinion, one can’t go to the authorities unless one has something to report. Unless a victim can state facts with a fair amount of certainty, there is nothing to report.”

    This is probably the worst possible for advice to give when trying assess abuse or maltreatment in young children through adolescence. His advice, if this is really what he said, presupposes that a young child or adolescent who has been abused or maltreated is going to be able to verbally convey what has happened to him.

    In order to determine suspected cases of abuse and maltreatment, adults with professional roles or official capabilities involving children need to watch for:

    * physical indicators of possible child abuse
    * emotional and behavioral signs of possible child abuse
    * physical signs of possible child neglect
    * signs of possible child sexual abuse
    * emotional and behavioral signs of possible child sexual abuse; these may be quite distinct between children under eight years of age and child over eights years of age through adolescence

    One who relies solely on what a child in his charge verbally conveys to him, is one who shirks his duty to that child.

  • jail is a nasty place. child molesters are detested there and will suffer. and so what ?

  • David Issever

    I really appreciate what you said here and I’ve been trying to tell people this all week!

  • Grunk

    you should all keep in mind – agree or don’t agree with R. Schachter –
    that he essentially is correct. The black community, and more so the
    black muslim community, unfortunately share an extremely anti-Semitic
    view of our people. I grew up in a very black city that can’t be too
    hard to guess – the attitude of these people is so vile, I have never
    heard anything like it even from the WASP contingent, of which the city
    has plenty of as well.
    Take for yourselves every large city in
    America that had a Jewish population by the year 1935 – 40. Can you name
    me one city where the blacks didn’t riot in SPECIFICALLY Jewish
    neighborhoods? Find me a metropolitan area that doesn;t have a inner
    city where the ‘Church of Our God’ is crudely painted over the Shnei
    Haluchos, or a beautiful stained glass fresco depicting the Yomim Noraim
    is plastered with a poster of their despicable savior. For shame!

    • (Condemned to and replied to on the comment thread of the next post.)

  • Moshe Shoshan

    just saw this. people who know him have told me that Schvatze is the worst word in his vocabulary and it certainly has racist overtones when he uses it.