I have always been impressed with the students of Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim. I do not recall ever meeting anyone from that Yeshiva that I wasn’t thoroughly impressed with. My son actually attended WITS which is a branch of that Yeshiva in Milwaukee – for his freshman year in high school. I have nothing but the highest regard for – and gratitude to – the two Roshei Yeshiva at the time, Rabbis Cheplowitz and Harris… as well as all of the Rebbeim there.
Chofetz Chaim is a Charedi Yeshiva. Their standards of Torah study are very high. Getting Semicha (rabbinic ordination) from Chofetz Chaim is a 9 year program, if I recall correctly. That tends to weed out the the truly incompetent. One can be sure that a rabbi from Chofetz Chaim has earned his title; that his religious education is broad; and that he has very likely had a good secular education. (I should also mention that Ma’arava is a Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva high school in Israel that is Charedi and has an excellent secular studies department.)
If there was ever a school that was definitive of moderate Charedism – Chofetz Chaim is it. I only wish that its ethos were the standard for every Charedi Yeshiva. Unfortunately that is not the case. In the ‘move to the right’ world we live in, Lakewood’s ethos is the model.
Last Friday VIN re-published an op-ed (originally in The Jewish Home and re-published again today in The Jewish Press) by a Musmach of Chofetz Chaim. Rabbi Avrohom Stulberger is the principal of Valley Torah High School a Chofetz Chaim school in North Hollywood, California. Therein he presents an honest analysis about what attitudes towards sex abuse in the Orthodox world should be – and what they actually are instead.
Of course he doesn’t say so directly. But I believe his words are an indictment of Lakewood. Because it is precisely Lakewood’s attitude with respect to an admitted and convicted sex abuser that he questions.
Let me emphasize that it is not me indicting Lakewood. It is a Charedi Musmach. My views have – and will continue to be – discounted by many Charedim as illegitimate since I am an outsider. Time and again there are people who will say that my motives are to purely bash Charedim… and therefore no one should pay attention to what I say – and I will be bashed in the process.
Well, here is my message to those who doubt me: If you don’t want to pay attention to me, pay attention to Rabbi Stulberger. Here are his concluding words in that op-ed:
So let’s stop focusing on the sterling reputations of perpetrators and their family members, who inevitably rally to the molester’s side. Let’s stop nonsensically pretending that we are turning innocent people over to the KGB or the Gestapo. Let’s stop listening to the empty promises that it won’t happen again. Instead, let’s start looking into these children’s hearts and let us cry at the agony that we see.
Let’s look honestly at the fact that today as an Orthodox community we cannot manage our own house, and cannot promise that there will be no more victims. We don’t have the power. We don’t have the authority. And sadly, I fear that we don’t have the empathy.
Compare this with the Lakewood mindset. Lakewood is the standard bearer for most of the rest of the Charedi Yeshiva world in America. Their ethos can best be summed up in a statement about the vary same victim that generated Rabbi Stulberger’s op-ed. It was written by Torah VoDa’ath Rosh HaYeshiva and Chief OU Kashrus Posek, Rav Yisroel Belsky – a letter that to the best of my knowledge has never been repudiated:
My ears should have been spared hearing the horrific news that one of your fellow residents in town informed upon a fellow Jew to the hands of the secular authorities,may God spare us,for which the [Jewish]law is undisputed that one who commits such an act has no share in the world to come. (see: Choshen Mishpat 388:4)
After conducting a thorough investigation I am absolutely certain that R’ Y.K.[Yosef Kolko], may his light shine, is perfectly innocent of any wrongdoing of any nature whatsoever. And not only is he innocent but it is also as clear to me that all these allegations are fabrications made by [REDACTED].
Further, all the reports made to the secular authorities were only for the express purpose of casting blame for their[the victim’s family] own shameful and cursed existence on others. And the truth is that the allegations they make against others are crimes they themselves are in fact guilty of and they seek to cleanse their reputation by blaming an innocent man for their own deeds.
I have to ask, which one of these two Charedi attitudes are the correct ones? Is there any way this can even be an Elu V’Elu? Which one reflects the attitude of the Torah? Which one reflects the Godly attribute of Rachamim – having great empathy and sense of mercy for a tortured soul? Is it Lakewood who’s empathy extends only to the victimizer and his family? Or is it Rabbi Stulberger, who’s empathy is directed to the victim? Is it Lakewood who vilifies the victim’s father? Or is it Rabbi Stulberger, who understands that such a view is at best completely misguided?
I think the answer is obvious. And it should be obvious not only to me but to any Charedi with a Jewish heart who reads this. And yet there will no doubt be those who will defend Lakewood and perhaps even condemn Rabbi Stulberger. Why they will do so remains a complete mystery to me.
About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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