Yaakov Horowitz’s Campaign – And Why We Ought To Support It

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Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz announced a new weapon in the struggle against abuse. For most people, the obvious reason to support him will be sufficient. It might be worthwhile to consider some of the other reasons as well.

Rabbi Horowitz is a trusted name in the world of chinuch. He has earned a justified reputation for speaking his mind, particularly about topics that generate lockjaw (in the closed position) for others. He has demonstrated enormous concern and sensitivity for the victims of abuse, and holds it responsible for producing a great part of the off-the-derech population. In a high-profile case now in progress, he anticipates a large showing in court from members of a closed community – on behalf of the accused. Understanding the impact that this will have on the victims (and victims in unrelated cases!), he urges at least a parallel show of support and concern for them. Whatever one believes regarding offering assistance to accused (but untried and unconvicted) felons, such assistance should not give the impression that accused criminals are more important to us than real victims. (At a conference for rabbanim in LA last week, Dr. David Pelcowitz shared a chilling finding. He related that child welfare personnel in community after community all ask him the same question: “Why is your community more concerned with protecting its image than protecting children?)

His request is reasonable, and could be a small step in countering the entrenched retrograde views of some holdout communities that still believe that they can control abuse without the help of governmental clout and authority, and only show up in court to try to keep people from serving time. This should be enough reason for people to email support to the victims, as he requests.

There are other reasons to support Rabbi Horowitz. One concerns Rabbi Horowitz himself. He operates very differently from other iconoclasts – and is therefore a more valuable community resource than many others. Notoriety is cheap in the Jewish (and even frum) blogosphere; effectiveness is another matter. Say what enough people want to hear, and you can attract a cult following, but that does not a community leader make. To be truly effective, you have to keep the trust of the mainstream – whose support is necessary for community-wide change – even when that means operating within limits and boundaries at which others chafe. It takes courage and insight to cool the expression of your passion in order to accomplish a greater public good. Rabbi Horowitz has pretty much written the playbook on how to remain a trusted figure within the mainstream while maximally pushing the envelope on important issues. In this case, supporting the messenger is important, beyond supporting the message.

One other reasons grows out of a fascinating thought of the Netziv (Harchev Davar to Shemos 40:20) on last Shabbos’ parshah. The short version (the longer one will have to wait for my projected weekly online shiur on Netziv, beginning parshas Bereishis, BE”H, following in the tradition of previous series on Nesivos Shalom and Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch) goes as follows:

In parshas Terumah, the Torah speaks not once, but twice about placing the kapores (the golden cover of the Ark, including the two cherubs atop it) on the Aron. Between parshas Terumah and parshas Pikudei, we find references to placing the kapores on an Aron already at rest in the Holy of Holy, as well as to a description of placing it on top before bringing it into the Kodesh Kodashim. This is all unsatisfying, as well as the instruction to place the kapores on top of the Aron altogether. Wasn’t it more than obvious that the kapores was to be fitted on top of the Aron?

Netziv argues that the kapores was carried into the Kodesh Kodashim resting askew and precariously perched. It was only fitted into place once inside. Moreover, this was the position that it assumed once more when King Yoshiyahu ordered it sequestered away to keep it out of the hands of the anticipated enemy attack on Yerushalayim. Positioned in this manner, the Aron is not so easy to carry. Special care must be taken so that the kapores does not fall off. The point of this is to indicate to us that sometimes Torah requires special care and support from Am Yisrael. It is in this state that it still functions, even hidden away, giving mute testimony in solitude that what Divine Providence (which is what the cheruvim symbolize) demands of us is dedicated care for the Torah.

Aside from the enormity of this chiddush, Netziv’s conclusion seems to contradict the gemara’s version of Uzzah’s sin (Haftorah of Shemini) when the Aron was travelling on the way to Ir David. Seeing the Aron apparently tottering, he reached out to right it. He was struck dead by HKBH. His sin? He should have realized, says the gemara, the Aron does not require human assistance! On the way into Israel, the Aron flew over the Jordan River, together with the Leviim who carried it. “The Aron carries those who bear it; those who bear it do not really carry the Aron.” Thanks, but no thanks, says the Aron. I can do fine without you.

The passage is mystifying to begin with. That the Netziv seems to ignore its bottom line makes it even more perplexing.

Rav Kook helps us out. He famously commented that when you think you see the Torah in danger of falling, you must understand that you are making a mistake. What endangered the Torah was the wagon – not the Torah itself! When Torah seems to be in an awkward position, it is no fault of the Torah, but of the way it is being carried!

I wonder whether there ever was a generation in which so much negativity has been associated with a Torah life style. Did the Haskalah in its heyday convince as many loyal Jews that “the system is broken?” I suspect that most readers of Cross-Currents nod in agreement with that description, myself included. Many of us feel that the road to repair of the system – whether in regard to chinuch, shidduchim, or parnassah – will have to start with acknowledgment of the problems, and open discussion about solutions. It is crucial to our ruchniyus and that of our children that we understand the difference between “the system” and Torah itself. The values, advice, solutions of the Torah are valid beyond cavil. Problems with the wagons should not confuse us about the Ark.

With this in place, there is room for the Netziv. The Torah will not fall. It will never be supplanted by a runner-up that comes close. It will require, at times, that we exercise more care in its transport.

The Netziv spoke of two kinds of assistance that are implied by the off-kilter kapores. The first he calls “pilpulo shel Torah.” While the content of Torah may have been open, manifest and accessible to the people during the time of the First Beis HaMikdosh, the flowering of Torah she-b’al peh in the Second would require a cadre of talmidei chachamim applying creative energy to extract the truths of Torah and apply them to new conditions. The second is the participation of the Nation as a whole, offering material and other support to the entire enterprise of deeply comprehending the Torah’s content.

I would suggest a third method of assistance, necessitated by the exigencies of our own times. When many pairs of prying eyes are directed at those who claim to live according to its expectations, we owe the Torah a new kind of help. We must be there to fix the wagons, lest the world fault the Torah itself. Even standing on the side of the road with tools in hand will often be enough to underscore the difference between the vehicle and its holy cargo.

Thus, yet another reason to support Rabbi Horowitz. Few areas bring as much disrepute to Torah as the handling and mishandling of the abuse issue. If we were G-d forgive completely deaf to the entreaties of the young victims of abuse, we should still be there supporting Rabbi Horowitz, who in these matters serves as the master mechanic of the Torah’s vehicle.

Supporting him, and those like him in other problem areas, is nothing less than an exercise in concern and zealousness for the Honor of Heaven.

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15 Responses

  1. One Christian's perspective says:

    “(At a conference for rabbanim in LA last week, Dr. David Pelcowitz shared a chilling finding. He related that child welfare personnel in community after community all ask him the same question: “Why is your community more concerned with protecting its image than protecting children?)” – Yitzchok Adlerstein

    Rabbi Adlerstein, is your community any different than the first community after they disobeyed God ? To live in denial and to blame others seems to be a familiar trait of mankind.

    As a child I was abused by a parent. As a young woman in her twenties, I happened to read an article in the Sunday paper about emotional child abuse and my jaw dropped. It was a light bulb moment. The pain became so very evident, my emotions were raw…. until I pushed the memories away….again. I so did not want to connect them to the person who hurt me because then I would have to face other more painful things… like, “why was I rejected…..what did I do that was so bad I couldn’t be loved by a parent”…..”why!”. Sometimes some event would trigger a particular memory that I though I had “forgotten” and the pain would be raw again.
    It never really went away. And there was power in those memories and that power was to inflict hurt all over again. This went on for decades. Then, I was put in a
    position to come face to face with a ministry at my church during an unexpected event whereby all ministries were required to set-up a display to let the congregation become familiar with what was being offered. When I finished setting up my display, I walked around the room and read the literature and what else was presented on each display. I came to a table with information about a ministry called “Celebrate Recovery”. I read the information and had another light bulb moment. What I read didn’t illuminate someone else’s sin, it illuminated mine and I knew this was the program God wanted me to join.

    The program took me over two years to complete. It was a lot of hard work but it was worth the effort. I learned a lot about myself. The first thing was that I was in denial; I kept pushing my pain inward. The most surprising thing I learned was that as a result of my being abused, I was very angry and in my anger I sinned. The most freeing thing I learned was it was OK to express anger at what happened. The most blessed thing I learned was, with God’s help I could actually see that my abuser was also a victim and in need of His healing just like me. That made it very easy to want to forgive. Forgiveness is a miracle where we willingly want to forgive the abuser and that God allows it and blesses us with the removal of the pain. I can still see the memories (some call them pictures) but they no longer have the power to hurt me. I am a stronger person who has experienced healing, renewal and peace. Were it not so, I would not be able to write about it. And that brings me to my reason for writing.

    My heart breaks for the children who have been abused, for their family who bears the shame of their abuse and also for the person who abused their children. Christians say “we live in a broken world” or put another way, when mankind sinned in the Garden and were “kicked out”, sin entered the world. Because of man’s inability to not ever sin, he does and when doing so he hurts himself and others near him. And “hurt” people hurt other people. When I saw, in my minds eye, the image of the person who hurt me, I saw a child, looking frightened and scared. I don’t know what that means but I do believe my abuser was also hurt and broken. Until you come to a place in your life where you can recognize your sin as a result of someone else’s hurt, you will not come out of denial/cover-ups. Recognizing your own is powerful because you can give it to God who always knew it was there. Forgiving the person who hurt you is a blessing for the forgiver but it does not get the abuser off of the hook. BTW – you don’t actually have to tell the abuser face-to-face that you forgive them, mine were dead. Telling the abuser you forgive them may or may not have the consequences you hoped for, especially if they are still in denial. They will still have to face the Supreme Judge to answer for their sins – not confessed and not repented of.

    By publishing this article as well as others, you have already begun the work of healing in your community. Praise God for these efforts ! May He grant all of you the wisdom, discernment and skills needed to continue on the path you have so boldly and courageously begun. Please remember everyone needs healing, renewal and peace – the abused, the families, the abuser and the community.

    PS – My favorite psalm is Psalm 27 and my favorite story of forgiveness is the story of Joseph. May God bless you all as you continue this hard journey. Don’t give up. It will be worth it.

  2. Tal Benschar says:

    “Sadly, Zadok seems to be ignorant of the general workings of America’s criminal justice system. Ignorant of the fact that arrests can’t be made without probable cause to believe a crime was committed. And ignorant of the fact that trained investigators know how to interview children, and obtain corroborating evidence.

    The Jewish community has no such experience. All we have is a twisted notion of protecting people’s reputations, even when evidence is clear and convincing.”

    As a lawyer who has at times practiced criminal law, I think I do have some knowledge of the “general workings of America’s criminal justice system.” And it leaves a great deal to be desired, especially in this area (child abuse/molestation).

    I understand that the hetter of submitting suspicions of child abuse or molestation are bottomed on the concept of rodef — in essence preventing future abuse of the victim or other children. That, at least, is the psak of many gedolim, incl. R. Elyashiv, shlita, and I respect it. But let’s not fool ourselves — it is definitely a choice between the lesser of two evils, not the ideal. Among other problems in submitting a Jew to secular authorities:

    1. The secular system does not require testimony for conviction. One can be convicted on purely circumstantial evidence.

    2. The secular system accepts testimony from children and persons with limited abilities. I personally once worked on a child abuse case (an appeal). The defendant was convicted on the testimony of two retarded boys whose combined IQ was less than 100! (There were also serious issues of suggestion by the boys’ relatives.)

    3. When it comes to child molestation in particular, there often arises a hysteria to convict not seen in other cases (e.g. your ordinary robbery or fraud). There have been many prominent criminal molestation cases which, years later, turned out to be baseless. The Malden case in Massachusetts is the most famous, but there have been others.

    4. The punishment for the crime — long term incarceration — is not one prescribed by the Torah. Worse than that, child abusers and molesters are generally sent to State prison (it is rarely a federal issue), which can be extremely dangerous, and where child abusers in particular are singled out for abuse. A child abuser sent to a State prison is likely to be beaten and sodomized repeatedly during his stay there. (There have been some reforms in this area lately — NJ has a special facility for sexual abusers where they are kept separately and where they are provided treament, to the extent that helps.)

    Now I can already hear some saying, tough luck, the absuer gets what he deserves. There are two answer to that: (1) unless you know for a fact that the person is guilty, you still are obligated to judge him favorable and (2) even if he is guilty, he is still subject to human dignity.*

    I agree that Jewish institutions are ill-equipped to deal with these kind of cases, and even if they were, we lack the power in golus to do anything about them. As I said, the accepted psak is that preventing future abuse is paramount. But no one should think that the system into which one is moser another Jew on a charge of abuse or molestation is an ideal system.

    _________________________
    * I recall a certain gadol wanted to bring a proof of the Divine origin of the Torah from the law of 4 and 5 (daled ve heh). The Torah prescribes a special fine for stealing and then selling or slaughtering another’s cow or sheep. The fine for a cow is 5 times the value; for a sheep only 4. (Shemos 22:1) Why the difference? Chazal tell us that Hashem had rachmonus on the thief who stole the sheep, who had to carry the sheep on his shoulders, while the cow-thief merely led the cow away. So the sheep-stealer pays only 4.

    Said the gadol, this is proof of the Divine origin of the Torah. The natural reaction of any human being is to say, “Too bad, who told you to be a thief. You get what you deserve. No mercy for you!” But HKBH had pity EVEN on a sheep-thief, and reduced his fine accordingly.

    [YA – This issue is too important to treat casually. I turned to two of the most important professionals in the country for reaction to this comment. (They happen to be married to each other, and also among my closest friends.) Debbie Fox LCSW is the Director of Aleinu Familiy Resource Center, Jewish Family Services LA. She also designed, implemented and shepherded a community response to abuse that includes a special beis din, and a Safe Kids program with suitable programatic material for frum kids of different ages. It has become the gold standard of responsible community response within a halachic framework. Rabbi Dr. David Fox teaches at California School of Professional Psychology and maintains a private practice. He is a consultant on psychological issues for the Badatz in Yerushalayim, and has semicha for dayanus. He wrote a biography of Rav Simcha Wasserman zt”l who was his rebbi. He recently made his second siyum haShas – Yerushalmi, that is. (Bavli he’s done a few more times.) Here is their response:

    Some of your points are sensitive ones. Others seem archaic or based on imprecise assumptions. As the reality has dawned on clinicians and the authorities that child abuse is more common and more damaging than society has been aware – now that objective studies show a sameness of consistent findings which meet scientific standards of validation – the initial wave of “hysteria” has long given way to a much more comprehensive series of investigative and diagnostic examinations which are employed before seeking to convict the accused person or to direct specific intervention to the children in question.

    The gathering of evidence and the testimony of children has been streamlined because we now have such a large population of subjects to study in devising accurate tools for assessment.The courts and law enforcement work cautiously with suitably trained clinical experts and it is rare that a judge will “shoot first, ask for data later” in these matters. It is to the credit of many in the Orthodox mental health world that the meaningful and collaborative approaches increasingly used with perpetrators and victims work towards rehabilitation and recovery, rather than fixating on punishment and stigma, respectively.]

  3. Daniel says:

    Sadly, Zadok seems to be ignorant of the general workings of America’s criminal justice system. Ignorant of the fact that arrests can’t be made without probable cause to believe a crime was committed. And ignorant of the fact that trained investigators know how to interview children, and obtain corroborating evidence.

    The Jewish community has no such experience. All we have is a twisted notion of protecting people’s reputations, even when evidence is clear and convincing.

  4. Steve Brizel says:

    Great essay. It would be interesting to compare R Horowitz’s essays and approaches with the members of the Yated’s Chinuch Roundtable.

  5. Bob Miller says:

    Zadok asked, “And most personal:Assuming you would read in the newspaper that say some Rov was arrested on charges of molestation.There is no evidence that you are aware of other then the accusation itself.What would be your thoughts be about the case?”

    I have seen blogged accusations against people I respect, and do not take such accusations seriously if they are not well-supported. While I can’t conclude that an accused is guilty before a verdict is handed down, I can take steps before then to protect family members and others against potential harm.

    If serious charges can’t be dealt with fairly in court, why do Jews and non-Jews have courts at all?

  6. Zadok says:

    Zadok (March 8, 2011 at 12:17 pm),
    Do you accept the still-common point of view that bringing evidence of molestation to secular legal authorities is wrong?

    It would depend on the situation. More specifically what is the evidence and who is bringing it.I would be very hard pressed to report someone to secular authorties without any first hand knowledge.

    If so, in such cases, do you see any proper Beis Din system in place today that does its job without the willing participation of the accused?

    The question is vague because it doesn’t define what you feel BD’s job is.As above I don’t think authorities should NEVER be contacted if there is no other option.The answer is meant to be vague due to the complexity and severity of the issue.

    Have you noticed the intense communal pressures on victims and their families to shut up?

    I’m sorry to say so but at least for the recent past I would have to say no.On the other hand I know people who were accused.Their lives were completely destroyed by people who had no evidence of their guilt.An acquaintance of mine left Orthodox Judaism.(In public he claims to still be frum)He is a lawyer (NOT well known)involved in these type of cases.He told me point blank that he tries to get media or blog attention to his case knowing he can trust the blog and media world to destroy the person until he loses the resolve to defend himself.

    Do you believe a person falsely accused could get a fair trial in which the onus of proof would be solely on the plaintiff?Could he ever recover his personal reputation even if were ultimately acquitted?And most personal:Assuming you would read in the newspaper that say some Rov was arrested on charges of molestation.There is no evidence that you are aware of other then the accusation itself.What would be your thoughts be about the case?

    I will not post further on this thread.

  7. Bob Miller says:

    Zadok (March 8, 2011 at 12:17 pm),
    Do you accept the still-common point of view that bringing evidence of molestation to secular legal authorities is wrong? If so, in such cases, do you see any proper Beis Din system in place today that does its job without the willing participation of the accused? Have you noticed the intense communal pressures on victims and their families to shut up? Under the circumstances, it’s remarkable that victims ever testify and the facts ever become known.

    Those who have dared to come forward deserve our support for that action alone.

  8. Zadok says:

    Showing a parallel level of support and concern for the victims is a very difficult thing for me to do if that support is contingent on accepting as fact or even probable fact that the accused is indeed guilty.If a victim wants support to move on in his life I’m willing to do what I can but I would never be willing to (e.g.) stand in court to show support to any side when I don’t KNOW what happened.

    As far as the system being broken:If I was FALSELY accused of child molestation I would run off ASAP to EY or some where else that has no extradition treaty rather then face the (court) system that everyone seems to tout.A major component of why is knowing the besmirching I would get on blogs and in the media I don’t think a fair trial would be possible.Plus the blog world will have destroyed my life either way.(For most other false accusations I would be willing to stand trial.)A similar point would is that showing support for the victim that can only be accomplished with the assumption the accused is guilty is proactively harming one person based on another persons word.Doing nothing is not.IOW it’s not sympathy for the accused it is caution about how to proceed without knowing the facts.

  9. Shades of Gray says:

    “I wonder whether there ever was a generation in which so much negativity has been associated with a Torah life style. Did the Haskalah in its heyday convince as many loyal Jews that “the system is broken?”

    R Tzvi Hersh Weinreb recently wrote in the Jewish Press:(“What’s Needed In Orthodox Leadership”, 1/5/11):

    “The Jewish people have survived because of their ability to remain full of hope under the direst of circumstances. We are the only nation whose anthem not only carries the theme of hope but is entitled “Hope” – Hatikvah. Yet it is my observation that in Jewish history, our generation is unique in the lack of leaders who preach the message of hope, who point out the very many positives in our current conditions. Rather, we suffer from a pervasive despair, a contagious depression.”

    Actually, even when discussing the need for hope and its relative lack, it also pays to be hopeful! This is obvious after reading R. Weinreb’s article in its entirety; also, I recall rabbonim at recent Agudah conventions making mention of the positive aspects of today’s times(e.g., growth of Torah community since the Holocaust).

  10. Bob Miller says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein wrote, “It is crucial to our ruchniyus and that of our children that we understand the difference between ‘the system’ and Torah itself. The values, advice, solutions of the Torah are valid beyond cavil. Problems with the wagons should not confuse us about the Ark.”

    Is it still possible in our exile to have a viable working model of a proper Torah-based system locally or regionally? If such models exist now, they need to become better known. If they don’t exist, they need to be created for their own sake and as an antidote to defeatism.

  11. Ahron says:

    “The Torah will not fall. It will never be supplanted by a runner-up that comes close. It will require, at times, that we exercise more care in its transport.”

    The Torah will not fall or be supplanted. But do we have the same guarantee about those who would carry it at any given time?…

  12. Bob Miller says:

    Rabbinic leaders who can’t or won’t discipline their own followers in matters like this, or who actively shield perpetrators, represent the primary image problem. If they are concerned about image, let them work on that!

  13. joel rich says:

    we need to pattern ourselves after David Hamelech and be able to say (shmuel 2 12:13)And David said unto Nathan: ‘I have sinned against the LORD.’FULL STOP
    KT

  14. Chareidi Leumi says:

    >What endangered the Torah was the wagon – not the Torah itself! When Torah seems to be in an awkward position, it is no fault of the Torah, but of the way it is being carried!

    In Rav Kook’s approach, the “fallen”, those who have abandoned Torah observance in favor of a particular political ideology, are critical to the process of “fixing the wagon”. The idea that critics of the Torah lifestyle have latched onto some genuine spark of the divine which is lacking in the way the Torah is being carried by the observant community was and continues to be controversial. It requires seeing unaffiliated “secular” Jews as having a level of legitimacy that many do not want to confer upon them – preferring to see them merely as either targets of kiruv whose value as Jews lies exclusively as “not yet frum” Jews. Many are not willing to give such Jews such legitimacy and feel doing so threatens Torah. I think that this comes out of the fact that many have not internalized that the bind between the Jew and Torah is essential and not a matter of convention. As long as people believe that there is a dogma to believe in the complete superiority of frum society over other groups, they will continue to feel uncomfortable with the very idea of going outside of the community for help – they see it as a slippery slope at the end of which is the denial of Torah in favor of secularism. To break this pattern requires a level of maturity which goes beyond black and white.

  15. Andy says:

    Beautiful essay. Where can one find the ‘weekly online shiurim’ mentioned above?

    [YA – Thanks. Go to http://torah.org/learning/torahportion.php3 and scroll down to the Advanced section]