The Forward Was Wrong, But So Was R’ Hershel Schachter

  • 0

soapboxPardon me, as I step up onto my soapbox.

On Friday, I defended R’ Hershel Schachter. It was an extremely odd experience. The reason it was so odd was because I actually did not agree with R’ Schachter. You’ll not see one word of agreement in my post on Friday.

What you will see is an attack on the Forward. What the Forward did was wrong, sensationalist, and terrible reporting.

Their lede was offensive and their lack of nuance was deplorable. I sought to set the record straight on what R’ Schachter said and what he actually stands for. I wanted to explain exactly what R’ Schachter meant and help people to see that what the Forward said was not accurate.

Some people disagree with me that R’ Schachter actually did not mean what I say he meant. That is, almost every case should be reported to the authorities except in a very small number of unclear situations. That’s okay. I am 99% positive that if you would ask him if I representing his opinion correctly he would say yes.

Other people were livid that I was “supporting”  R’ Schachter’s opinion on the halachic obligations as they relate to abuse. Those people are angry that I dared to lend credence to  R’ Schachter’s position that there should be some sort of gatekeeper between the authorities and the abuse victim.

The thing is, I didn’t do that. What I did was show, to the best of my knowledge, how what R’ Schachter said, or at least meant, was not what was being reported in the Forward. If the Forward had reported what was actually said, first of all it would have not been such a big deal, but more importantly, it would not have been as interesting.

The real story was R’ Schachter dismisses mesira as a reason not to report and unless there is serious doubt about the veracity of a claim one should go to the authorities. This is the most progressive position I have heard in a public statement from any Rosh Yeshiva on abuse.

However, for my liking, it does not go far enough. I know a lot of people only came to this blog because of this story. But my position on abuse was already outlined in a previous post: Weberman is Found Guilty: What It Means. Here is what I said there,  in case you have trouble following a link – but you should read the rest of the post too.

In order for our community to handle abuse properly, three things need to happen.

1) We need to discard the concept of mesirah. The word needs to be excised from our lexicon and it must be relegated to an anachronism and relic of the past. If you need three poskim to explain why there is no prohibition of mesira in sex abuse cases read this: Mesira (The Jewish Informant) in Halacha. People who cover up abuse are thousands of times worse than any moser. Stop covering up and making excuses. We cannot stand for this in our communities.

2) We need to understand the horrible effects of abuse. We don’t get it. We never really will get it. But we need to know that it is much worse than we could possibly imagine. Here are just some symptoms of abuse (that do not apply equally to all survivors). Abuse victims contemplate suicide. They don’t trust anyone. They hate Jews. They hate God. They cannot be intimate. They are scared to commit to relationships or jobs. They seek escape via substance abuse. They cry every day. They become numb and cannot feel anything. They isolate themselves. They never grow up. They need to spend thousands of dollars on therapy and are never really cured. As much as the abuse hurts, the apathy from the frum community hurts even more. Which brings me to number 3.

3) We need to accept survivors into our community with love and affection. We cannot judge them. We cannot allow them to feel second class. We cannot protect their abusers. We must tell them that we do not accept the monsters that harmed them into our communities. We cannot choose monsters over innocent victims. But here is the hard part. We need to acknowledge their pain and suffering without making them feel like they are damaged goods. Yes, their lives have been severely affected for the worse. But they can live beautiful, meaningful lives. We just need to let them. We cannot screen abuse victims from shidduchim and we cannot excuse bad behavior because one is a victim. Yes, they are going to have a hard time because of everything that we still need to understand about the harms of abuse. But that’s okay. We need them to know that we don’t mind if they have a few issues here and there. Who doesn’t? They cannot be stigmatized, otherwise they will never come forward and we run the risk of losing another generation of sex abuse victims.

Let us hope and pray that Weberman was correctly found guilty and more importantly, let us hope and pray that this case is a tipping point. Let us hope and pray that this case is the wake-up call we needed. Let us hope and pray that there are no more korbanos to the Gods of shem tov and chillul Hashem. Those are noble pursuits, but not at the expense of our children.

Ad kan. Enough is enough.

To be clear, my posek has no qualms about reporting all cases of abuse and that is who I follow. No gatekeepers, no investigations, no interrogations, none of that. Get rid of all of it. R’ Schachter should have said. It’s almost what he said, but he didn’t go far enough. I do not agree with R’ Schachter. But I don’t think the Forward was justified in their attack on R’ Schachter either. Not to mention, I don’t appreciate all the people out there who hate me now because they think I agree with R’ Schachter. I don’t. So don’t hate me. Thanks.

Also, I do not condone racial speech. Never. It was not acceptable. I don’t excuse it. I merely provided some context and a character opinion.

And do me a favor, share this post so that all the people who thought I said that I support R’ Schachter can have the record set straight.

  • RRand

    Okay. Now you’re not a bad person. (Not that I thought you were in the first place.)

    But you’re still wrong.

    “That is, almost every case should be reported to the authorities except in a very small number of unclear situations.” That doesn’t appear in Schachter’s remarks. It would be great if it did, but it simply doesn’t.

    He said what he said. YU shouldn’t be condemning his racist languages when they should be utterly rejecting the content of his talk. That’s what’s important: making it absolutely clear that any attempt to shelter possible abusers from the authorities is unnacceptable.

    • RRand

      Also a minor note: I don’t think Rabbi Schachter rejecting the notion mesirah is remotely groundbreaking. I don’t think that you would find any rabbi affiliated with Modern Orthodoxy who believes that reporting a crime to American police is halakhically problematic.

      • Daz

        Most poskim agree. It’s also the official Aguda position. According to Aguda, you need to go to a rabbi l’varer hadavar – to clarify the facts. Not to get a psak on the mesirah issue. It’s really the same position as RHS.

      • DRogoff

        Wanna bet Steve Pruzansky would? I’ll give you good odds…

  • Shragi

    Putting aside the racism aspect of his remarks (which, admittedly was the sensational part and was the only reason the Forward had a story), do you agree with him that there are cases where a *halachic* decision is required before going to the police?

    • I can’t think of one.

      • There has to be a medium where victims are in no way prvented from reporting, and innocents are not falsely accused. There will be kids who find an adult/teacher/rabbi thyey dont like and know, based on what’s in the newspapers every day that they can ruin this persons life. This has happened, and RHS is obviously trying to prevent this. Listen to his speeches, he gets asked this ALL the time in every community, he wants NO abuser protected from the law or in our communities. But there is abuse on the other side also.

        • I’ll let the authorities weed out the false accusations.

          • As a person who has done (maybe still does) kiruv, you’re not worried about this sort of thing?

            • Of course I am worried. But I take all possible precautions and am confident that my name would be cleared in the worst case scenario. But I don’t live my life concerned with worst case scenarios.

              • Daniel Wenger

                Our country lives on that confidence, but it may be misplaced. This issue has spawned many Facebook discussions and while they all were critical of R’ Schachter a surprising number of them took a major tangent on the state of the American justice system and how in so many jurisdictions the mere accusation and preliminary arrest is essentially a jail sentence. Coerced confessions, plea deals for years of prison as opposed to facing life behind bars. Nobody actually delving deep to find the truth. Even your worst-case where your name is eventually cleared has done irreparable harm. And these tidbits were coming from people in the legal system, not just kibbitzers like me.
                Essentially, the discussion ended by saying Rabbinic panels don’t work, but neither does our existing system…we’re still stuck.

                • Look, I am a defense attorney at heart. I hate the criminal justice system, but a society we should all be willing to buy into the flawed system despite its failings to keep our children safe.

      • Shragi

        In Friday’s post your explained R’ Schachter’s position this way:

        “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.”

        Not that you have to defend him but I’m wondering why a psychologist wouldn’t be a more appropriate person to judge whether there’s a case that needs to be reported. (Sorry, I wasn’t participating on Friday, don’t know whether this was addressed).

        • RHS suggested a talmid chacham psychologist.

          • Guest

            Not exactly. He suggested “Every community should have a board of talmid chachams who are qualified psychologists who can interview the people involved”. I struggle to understand why this would be necessary for the very rare case of doubt.

  • milhouse trabajo

    much better!

  • So you don’t condone what he said, but you don’t want anyone criticizing him for it either. Right.

    • Does your mommy cut up your food for you so you can eat it without doing any work for yourself?

      It’s amazing how difficult reading is for some people.

      • kweansmom

        Harsh. I thought this blog was classier than this level of discourse.

        • ksil

          yea, he can be one nasty person sometimes. classy indeed

          • Your friend

            Rabbi Fink’s better than a scummy web troll such as yourself.

        • Your friend

          He can class it up by cutting out the web trolls, but then he’d catch flack for that as well. Lieder’s comment was idiotic, and reflects the fact that he didn’t give Rabbi Fink’s post an honest reading. R’ Fink bothers to sit down, organize his thoughts, and give a considered opinion, which is summarily discarded by a douche bag with poor reading comprehension skills.

          And then he has to deal with snarky comments from people like you, not to mention that disgusting bottom feeder ksil.

  • Who’s your posek?

  • R. Fink,

    As you know, most sex abuse crimes in the US are prosecuted at the state level, not the federal level. By raising the question of murderous conditions in state prisons, Rabbi Shachter opened the door to rationalizing not reporting most sex abuse crimes.

  • ruvie

    “That is, almost every case should be reported to the authorities except in a very small number of unclear situations. That’s okay. I am 99% positive that if you would ask him if I representing his opinion correctly he would say yes.’

    That is not what he says or what he means. Its not the default position of the mo community – go to the police and not to a rabbi mental health professional. basically, his view is the same as the pre-lanner days. also, since most cases of sex abuse crimes all state related and the prisoner goes to a state prison, RHS holds IT IS mesirah; that’s the majority of all sex crimes.

    Its newsworthy and the forward it seems got it right. see what RHS in 2006:

  • IH

    On Friday, I ignored all the articles and blogs and only listened to Rav Schachter on audio. RHS indeed spends the bulk of the 10 minutes explaining that Mesirah is not what many people think it is. But the key part is that brief explanation (at the 8 minute mark) of what he thinks is Mesirah:

    “State prisons is mamesh hefker. The warden in the prison can kill you – they can put you in a cell together with a – with a – schwartze, they can put you in a cell with a Muslim – a black Muslim who wants to kill all the Jews. Everything is hefker in the state prisons.” It is likely “taka … mesirah”.

    Gaffe aside, the practical conclusion of his position is that RHS agrees with the Agudah postion on reporting of sexual abuse since those cases are usually in State jurisdiction, not federal – and, therefore, fall into Rav Schachter’s exception clause.

    Now, one could say (as Gil Student has) the difference between RHS and Agudah is that RHS “requires approval of COMPETENT AND TRAINED rabbis when the issue isn’t clear. Big difference.” But, as a practical matter, that means there is no difference, since: a) there is no such institutional infrastructure; and, b) the specific issue is rarely “clear”.

    So, the real halachic news here is that RHS is effectively siding with the Agudah on this issue, as opposed to say R. (and Dayan) Broyde who has written:

    Halacha does not prohibit – at all and in any form – the use of secular authorities or courts to investigate, arrest and punish people who engage in such abuse. Maybe in an unjust government and a different time and place these issues might apply, but not in the United States.

    There is no need to seek rabbinic license before making such a report to the police. Such reports to the police should be made as soon as possible and expert therapists, social workers and other professionals should be welcomed into our community to help address the consequences of child abuse.


  • IH

    A different aspect of the story in The Forward that is troubling, though, is:

    Schachter, whose taped remarks were posted on the Failed Messiah website, said a student at Yeshiva University’s high school in Manhattan confided in him years ago that he had been abused.

    Schachter said that he asked the student to tell his story to a rabbi who served as the school psychologist, but the child refused because of the humiliation it could bring on his family.

    He said he did not report the abuse to the authorities because he could not be sure the allegations were true.

    “So now, 40 years later, the guy’s spilling everything out to the newspaper,” Schachter said in the recording.

    Schachter then suggested it was the former student’s fault if more children were harmed because he refused to speak to the psychologist.

    He appeared to be referring to Simeon Weber, a former Y.U. high school student who, in previous interviews, told the Forward that he informed Schachter he had been abused by a Y.U. administrator, Rabbi George Finkelstein.

    However, there were discrepancies between Schachter’s and Weber’s recollections. Weber said he told Schachter about Finkelstein after he left Y.U.’s high school, when he was a Yeshiva College student, during the early 1980s. He also had no memory of being asked to see a school psychologist.

    When asked to comment on Schachter’s remarks, Weber stuck to a carefully worded statement.

    “I had the privilege of learning torah with Harav Hershel Schachter for four years,” Weber said. “Though I was far from his best student, I treated him with reverence [and] with the respect due to a true Gadol B’Yisroel [giant of torah].”

    Weber added: “Though I am deeply hurt by my rebbe’s comments, my underlying feelings of respect and fond memories of our deep relationship require me to say no more than that the issue itself has to be addressed by those greater than me.”

    Rav Schachter’s raising this issue in public now, while Sullivan & Cromwell’s investigation for YU is underway, seems imprudent at best. When do the gaffe excuses run out?

  • vladimir

    Rabbi, in addition to your passionate words – “Abuse victims contemplate suicide. They don’t trust anyone. They hate Jews. They hate God. They cannot be intimate. They are scared to commit to relationships or jobs. They seek escape via substance abuse. They cry every day. They become numb and cannot feel anything. They isolate themselves. They never grow up. They need to spend thousands of dollars on therapy and are never really cured. As much as the abuse hurts, the apathy from the frum community hurts even more ” – I must mention, that abused often are blaming themselves, and live with that ‘guilt’, giving abusers a fictitious justification of their dirty deeds. Our apathy to victims borders with crime.

  • plebian

    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!

    • I condemn this comment. Buy I leave this comment up simply for others to see the racism in some orthodox communities.

      • Grunk

        I repeat. Can you tell me that they don’t deserve the specifically Jewish reaction?

        מאויבי תחכמני – but I guess people who move to LA – LA land choose not to face the fire.

        • If there exists and issue then it exists between individuals or small local groups. To turn it into a matter of skin color is absolutely racist. Period.

          • Grunk

            Let’s try this again. The “GROUP” of African-Americans, who show time in and again hate for the Jewish nation (who, being Jewish, take an utmost precedence – why I need to explain this to a “rabbi” I’ll never know) through leadership and through group agreement, is merely a fact with history to prove it. Would you deny this – probably, since you are on the beach, with other people who have never seen a race riot and have never experienced antisemitism.
            Have the common sense to be cautious of those who hate you.

            • Let’s try this again. If there are problems in a specific neighborhood or between specific people it BETWEEN THOSE PEOPLE. To expand it to all people who share a color of skin is blatant racism.

              • Grunk

                And yet – it remains. To express anything but the truth of what happen would take journalistic acrobatics to the point of twisting the truth. And, hey – isn;t that your job, being a lawyer? Oh yeah, and isn’t that what you do, being of those bleeding heart “creed, not color” to the point of a complex?
                I think it’s a disrespect – on the terrible things that happened and that which people choose to overlook. This I am willing to sacrifice my ‘enlightenment’ for – and maybe others need to stat asking when the New York Times dictation may not be in line with the Jewish (genuinely Jewish) instinct?
                Don;t do a disservice to people.

                • Shragi

                  What in God’s holy name are you blathering about?

                  • Grunk

                    If I may – quote from the one and only Rabbi Fink.

                    “Does your mommy cut up your food for you so you can eat it without doing any work for yourself?

                    It’s amazing how difficult reading is for some people.”

                    דברי חכמה

                    • Shragi

                      Certainly you may quote the one and only rabbi, but don’t be so brazen as to think that the words apply to your drivel.

                    • Grunk

                      Your writing reeks. Go back to your cage.

                    • Shragi

                      I’m gratified that my writing is understood. Even by imbeciles.

                    • Since you clearly have missed the Big Lebowski reference, please allow me to clue you in.

                      Your argument is made out of ignorance. Care to support it with facts, figures, perhaps something other than anecdotal evidence?

                      Side point. The Jewish Museum in NY had an exhibit on Jewish involvement with the Civil Rights movement. I don’t know if it’s still there> But might I recommend a nice simple Google search? Especially pay attention to AJ Heschel, who marched with MLK.

                      Also, food for thought. The Jews have not been good to the Africans and African Diaspora either. While you’re doing your research, also see the Jewish involvement in the slave trade. They do not teach this in Jewish history–at least not in my yeshiva. But it happened. And most Jews aren’t aware of it, but some groups still hold it against the Jews many years later. I have been asked about it. Same way (lehavdil) many Jews out there would react if they met a German nowadays. That even if this generation of Germans had nothing to do with the Holocaust, many Jews still hold it against them. Same way some in the African diaspora still have a grudge against Jews, yet many Jews are unaware why.

                    • Grunk

                      Wait now – you want to advocate a grudge license for blacks, but not for Jews against blacks, and not for Jews against GERMANS?
                      Or maybe The Big Lebowski is your moral leader.

                    • Michael Fishman

                      No. No. No. And no again.

                      The only thing I advocate is tolerance and understanding. Sometimes, it helps to understand what the other side has against you first. Ignorance is the food of intolerance. That is all.


                    • Grunk

                      For us looking for aphorisms as a self definition (a symptom of the soundboard racket that the 21st century deems modern day ethics), here is one: the road to hell is paved with good intentions .

                    • Michael Fishman

                      I will see you there

                    • Grunk

                      real classy

                    • Shragi

                      Why do you have such a *thing* for class?

                    • Grunk

                      You cannot deny the awful riots targeted against Jews.

                      Do you guys have any idea how many Jews lived in the Bronx? South side of Chicago? Druid hill in Baltimore? Harlem, E. NY,? Jersy City? Newark? South Philadelphia? West Washington DC? Detroit? Roxbury and Dorchester in Boston? Now-slums of LA, Seattle, Miami? And so many more places throughout the US that police won’t even go now?

                      Don’t shame your people with that kind of idiocy. Did King try to stop it? Did Heshel?

                    • You don’t get it. It doesn’t make a difference how many anti-Semitic riot there were. You may not extrapolate the actions of a few and attribute those actions to all people who share a skin tone. It makes zero sense and is extremely prejudiced.

                    • Grunk

                      So, clearly, after such a pattern, the pattern should be identified. After all, isn’t that the essential theory? Give them the chance not to be prejudiced based on skin color. And then what?
                      Whichever way you can twist it, you can never depart from the fact that it was blacks committing an act of antisemitism.
                      I don’t advocate regular white on black prejudice. However, Jews suffered at the hands of THE blacks.

                    • Jeffrey R. Woolf

                      You are absolutely wrong on Jewish involvement in the Slave Trade. Check out the researches of Bernard Lewis, the universally recognized authority on the subject, and you will find that the predominant purveyors of slaves were Arab and Black African slavers. Jewish involvement in the slave trade bordered on the negligible to non-existent.
                      The canard that Jews ran the slave trade was invented by anti-semitic bigots, and self-appointed Afro-American spokesmen, like Leonard Jeffries.

                    • Michael Fishman

                      Will do.

                      Yes, as an alum of City College, I am familiar with Jeffries; I take anything he says with a grain of salt. Most of what I know about him is heresay (I have several friends who were huge fans of his; they’ve told me all about him).

                    • Grunk

                      thank you Mr. Woolf

                      we all need to get off the high horse of the been-orthodox humanist poise, and face the fire

      • Grunk

        sorry – signed in this time

  • ksil

    This seems very simple to me. There is no nuance here, like E Fink and others try to spin! RHS has no problem with the word shvartzeh in its negative connotation. None whatsoever, ….now see if you can follow this… THAT IS WHY HE USED THE WORD.

    and #2, he would prefer we NOT go directly to the police any and every time there is a claim of sexual abuse. Often, he would prefer to consult a shrink or rabbi first…THAT IS WHY HE SAID AS MUCH. see?

    That is why your claim that “I don’t think the Forward was justified in their attack on R’ Schachter ” is malarkey to many that disagree with RHS and his views

    now go write 3 posts and hundreds of words about the nuance of disagreeing with him, but respecting him and hes not really a racist and he loves blacks and he thinks the police thing with abuse was just in some cases and we need to understand and explain what he was saying. LOL