Honoring the Badge

The piece that follows is an exceptionally cogent and heart-felt presentation of some of the multi-tiered tragedy of abuse in our community. The incidence of abuse is tragic; the efforts to silence victims is tragic.

I was not able to ascertain the background or veracity of the specific charges in the piece, which first appeared in the Jewish Star. It doesn’t really matter. In the absolute worst case, think of it like racial discrimination in Emmanuel: it may have been the wrong example, it turns out, but the behavior is rife in other locations.

The most important reaction is for people to acquaint themselves with the names of those poskim who have said, and continue to say, that when an abuser may strike again, he must be stopped, and the proper halachic reaction it to go to the police. Period. Abuse kills. Nothing less than that.

Honoring the Badge

By Daniel Sosnowik

“Officer, what’s your badge number?”
I’ve been asked that question countless times over the last 26 years. Almost always, it followed an unpopular decision. Always, it was accompanied by an unspoken message: “I’m letting you know I will hold you accountable for this decision.”

And always, I answer that question in a direct, simple way: I give my badge number.

In fact, I’ve shared the right answer to this question with hundreds, if not thousands, of After all, correct decisions may be unpopular, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. So, I’ve found that my deft response to that question – mandated by NYPD policy – also helps me convey the unspoken message that I welcome scrutiny of my actions. The specter of being held accountable, by anyone, not only doesn’t threaten my self-image but it has always been part and parcel of my day-to-day values – an embedded value.

Accountability for one’s actions came to mind as I read a flyer full of bluster and threats that was recently circulated in Lakewood, NJ against a hitherto respected rabbi. His crime? He chose to report the sexual abuse of his son to the police.

Let me not digress. It is lamentable that our community still pounces on parents who seek to protect their children and our community from dangerous predators, but not the focus of this discussion.
Rather, I am particularly irked by the letter writer’s request that his reading public, “excuse [him] for not signing this letter.” After all, he writes, the victim of his polemics may seek to have him prosecuted. Aveira goreres aveira (sin begets more sin), we are told. So, readers are asked to understand how necessary and proper his cloak of invisibility is – a selfless act of self-preservation.

Not to me it isn’t.

Perusing the flyer, clearly written for Charedi readers, one finds numerous comments pertaining to the honor of our Torah, the respect due today’s rabbis, the specific legal areas of our Shulchan Aruch allegedly violated, and the awesome desecration of G-d’s name caused by the abuse victim’s family. It decries their prosecution of the crime, and threatens additional censure and embarrassment of the family should the prosecution proceed.
Yet, with all the religious “weight” behind him, the letter writer prefers anonymity. Why?

Officer, what’s your badge number?

That question, or a permutation of it, should be asked by every single individual who held this flyer in their hands. If the muscle of Torah backs this smear campaign, why the incredible lack of accountability? Surely, brilliant Torah minds can devise a mcha’a – a formal objection – that makes the point without fear of prosecution.
Wouldn’t we all respect a well-constructed argument, coming from some of the stellar minds of the Lakewood yeshiva community? Isn’t that what leadership is all about?

Or is it instead about thuggery, threats, and intimidation? Do we dare allow a mob mentality to reign, even when dressed up as a defense of Torah? Let us all recoil in horror when witnessing tactics more appropriately used by underworld figures, instead of Torah scholars.

In a recent e-mail exchange with a shul rabbi I know and respect, I was told that rabbis in leadership positions today “do not usually put their opinions out there, for fear of being overwhelmed with emotional backtalk.” I wondered how such individuals could be considered “leaders” at all. Isn’t leadership about ownership, about taking responsibility and accepting accountability?

Or is it about this Lakewood gangster, who can only print his diatribes from the shadows? Is this how we want to see Torah defended in an increasingly unsettled world?

If Torah is the ultimate truth – and Orthodox Jews believe it is – I hope that I am not the only one who has difficulty understanding the lack of accountability that seems to permeate the Charedi world today. Lakewood is known as the premier Makom Torah in the nation. Why is this odious anonymous circular needed? Aren’t there sufficient rabbinical leaders in that city who are certain of their actions and willing to stand up and be accountable for them?
If this father is to be religiously censured for choosing a course of action he felt would best protect his child and community – and to be clear, I believe he is a hero and guiding light to us all – let Lakewood’s great rabbinic minds come out and say so openly. That may be an unpopular position outside the Lakewood community, but if Lakewood’s rabbis believe it’s the right one, then so be it. Let’s start seeing leadership and accountability, rather than some cowardly rabble-rouser preaching about chilul Hashem while lacking the courage to be accountable for his words.

I have a badge number, and I’m required to proffer it whenever asked. In 26 years, I’ve always honored that responsibility, and I cherish the accountability it instills in me.

Rabbinical leaders wear a bigger badge than mine – the badge of Torah. That badge may not have a number, but responsibility and accountability reside within it all the same.

It’s time for those who would be leaders to honor that responsibility. And for us in the community to start exercising our right to ask the questions that make the point clearly: Rabbis, your badge makes you accountable, and we’ll demand that accountability, each and every day.

Daniel Sosnowik, an Orthodox Jew, is an NYPD captain who has served the Department since 1984. He is also a member of the board of directors of Survivors for Justice, an organization that advocates on behalf of victims of abuse.

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7 comments to Honoring the Badge

  • dovid landesman

    Perhaps the criticism should be extended to the anonymous rabbinical committees that have sprouted across the landscape like mushrooms [which are parasites, incidentally]. I could never understand the habit that many seem to share of commenting anonymously; if you are afraid of the repurcussions of your thoughts, then in the immortal words of Tom Lehrer; “at least have the courtesy to shut up.” There is a reign of terror in the community sponsored by the members of “frum think” and when I see them in action – which is probably more common in EY – well, I often mistakenly confuse Judaism with the Jews. Or as Reb Yaakov zt”l was wont to say: “I have been learning for over eighty years and I still have not found where the SA demands that we be “frum” – “ehrlich, yes, but frum???”

  • Chaim Fisher

    It’s sad that the issue of accountability has been allowed to muddy so very clear and winning an argument.

    Child abuse is terrible and must be stopped.

    What does that have to do with the fact that some people are publishing anonymous screed? There’s tons of anonymous complaining going on in the universe. It’s a different problem and much less of a problem than child abuse.

    Stop protecting child abusers now.

  • Bob Miller

    The assumption in this article is that the scurrilous flyer will get traction in that community, as opposed to being dismissed and ridiculed as libel. We should have a bit more respect for the good judgment of our fellow Jews.

  • Ken Applebaum

    Thank you Rabbi Adlerstein and Cross-Currents for posting this excellent article by Captain Sosnowick.

  • Daniel Shain

    Perhaps in addition to sharing this important issue with the Baalei Batim who read this web site, the prominent Rabbis of Cross-Currents should share these concerns with the Gedolim themselves. Perhaps then we could see more progress on these issues, and see our leaders start to take charge of their flock.

    [YA – I can only speak for the unprominent one.

    The point of pieces like this is that historically there are two directions of communication in Klal Yisrael. We are most familiar with top-down, in which Gedolim make their views and wishes known, and we hopefully respond appropriately. But the reverse also happens. The perception that Gedolim have of the state of affairs of their flock depends on the messages they get from them – their volume and their frequency. There is a bottom-up flow. It is successful when lots of people keep pushing until they are heard, and it requires many more than a bunch of Rabbis, prominent or otherwise.]

  • Daniel Shain

    Thank you for your response, but how can we make our voices heard? The Gedolim are probably not reading this website, and they don’t turn to me to ask how the flock is doing. That’s why I wonder whether Rabbis Adlerstein, Shafran, Rosenblum et.al. have the ability to more directly make these voices heard to the Gedolim? Yasher Koach to Rabbi Bess who during the Worm-Fish scandal went “straight to the top” to at least try to bring some clarity to the confusing reports we were hearing, and then he published (on the internet!) the results of his discussion. I’m not sure if Rabbi Bess’ efforts really put an end to the confusion, but it seems to me that he has the right idea to improve the communication and interaction that we regular people have with our Rabbis, leaders, and Gedolim.

    [YA – I can’t give you a time line, but when enough people keep talking about an issue, their thoughts will get to the Gedolim. People speak to their rabbonim and rabbeiim; they in turn speak to others, in time reaching those only one degree of separation from the top. I do believe that the time line has shrunk in recent years, because the internet encourages more people to speak their minds, rather than think that they are part of a lunatic fringe.

    Rabbi Bess, in whose shul I daven, does have an advantage or two that the rest of us don’t. He is a great talmid chacham, and he learned in Ponovezh and developed a relationship with some of the key Torah luminaries decades ago.]

  • LazerA

    I’m afraid I can’t quite follow Mr. Sosnowik’s point. He appears to be asking why Lakewood’s rabbinic leaders would resort to an anonymous screed. Why does he assume that this anonymous letter was written by a Lakewood rabbi? After all, it was written anonymously. It could have been written by anyone!