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October 21, 2014 / 27 Tishri, 5775
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Iconic Sinners

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Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

http://haemtza.blogspot.co.il/2012/08/iconic-sinners.html

A memoir by Philip Fishman about growing up in Williamsburg has just been published. Williamsburg was not always the Chasidic enclave of Satmar that it is now. It was once the primary location for all types of Orthodoxy. It was home to both the Young Israel and the Agudah. And it was home to Yeshiva Torah Voda’ath for many years.

What is noteworthy is a portion of the book (excerpted on at least 2 blogs) that accuses one of the early icons of Agudah of sex abuse – going into quite a bit of detail about the nature of the abuse. He does not identify the abuser by name to spare the family embarrassment.

Some have said that think they know who he was referring to. I am not going to speculate. There is no purpose to that other than casting aspersions on someone posthumously who may have been innocent.

That said I have no reason to doubt Mr. Fishman. Someone was very likely guilty of molesting him as an 11 year old child. Why would someone lie about something like that in a book? On the other hand people do not usually become icons among the Jewish people unless they have earned it. That means that he had actually done a lot for Klal Yisroel. And yet he sexually molested at least one person. Twice! It is therefore a disturbing story.

Mr. Fishman says that because the perpetrator was not in Chinuch he was able to avoid him after those two encounters – and that the abuse has not affected his life.

The question remains. How does one reconcile greatness with evil? Is it possible that one can be a great contributor to society and have a dark side? And how are we to look at such a person? Does abusing someone sexually – even only one or two times to one person – negate all the good he has done?

I believe most victims would say “yes, it does.” On the other hand I know that some victims would not agree with that statement. I have read accounts of an even bigger icon perpetrating a similar form of molestation. This time on women. I also recall at least one victim valuing the contributions of the person who molested her – almost in a forgiving way. The icon in question is Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

If one is a Carlebach fan one may be tempted to say that they simply do not believe the victim. But there has been more than one victim and they all describe the abuse in similar ways.

Rabbi Carlebach is a musical genius. In my view, his contributions to Jewish music were on the same level as Beethoven’s contributions were to classical music. Or the Beatles to Rock and Roll. He is in class all by himself. In terms of musical achievement – no one can touch him. His musical compositions are so pervasive that many people don’t even realize that popular tunes used in various Teffilos on Shabbos and Yom Tov are actually Carelbach tunes. This includes all segments of Jewry. From the most right wing Charedi to the most left wing modern Orthodox. Conservative and Reform Jews also use his tunes in their synagogues and temples. Carlebach’s music is even well known outside the world of Jewry.

Some people are so enamoured of him that they have dedicated entire religious prayer services to him. They are called Carlebach Minyanim. On Friday nights Kabbolas Shabbos is sung exclusively to his melodies. There are some people who actually worship him as though he was a Gadol!

There is no doubt that he was charismatic. But in achieving his charisma he violated his Charedi tradition. He was a hugger. He used to hug his fans tighly. Including women.

There are leniencies that have been used to justify that behavior.  There is a debate about the Halacha forbidding a man from touching any woman other than his wife, mother, or daughter (and according to some opinions – a sister). Chasidim forbid ever touching a woman other than those mentioned under any and all circumstances.

There is however a lenient opinion that allows touching any woman it if it is done in a completely platonic way – SheLo B’Derech Chiba. Modern Orthodox Jews and (as I have been told by a reliable source) the German Jewish community (Yekkes) rely on this lenient view. The Yeshiva world does not generally rely on it except when it may result in a Chilul Hashem.

Shlomo Carlebach’s background is Chasidic. But his tight hugs do not really fall into any of those categories. When he was once asked about this, he said that he was hugging Neshamos – souls not bodies. This behavior did not go unnoticed by Rav Moshe Feinstein. He was asked whether one may utilize the music composed by one such as this. Rav Moshe allowed it although he clearly condemned the kind of behavior displayed by Shlomo Carlebach.

Shlomo Carlebach’s claims about looking beyond the body and only hugging souls was apparently not entirely true. At least not in the case of a few women who allege he molested them during those hugs. Having married relatively late in life – most of those hugs took place while he was a bachelor. Carelbach was a very passionate man. He was passionate about music; he was passionate about Judaism; and he was passionate about his fellow man – both Jew and gentile. Carlebach was not without a sex drive. He must have been passionate about that too. Enough said.

It is a shame that a man of such genius and high achievement; a man with no peers; whose contributions have few parallels in other fields was probably guilty of molesting a few of the women he hugged.

It appears that Carlebach was not alone in this respect. There are other icons who commanded a great amount of respect and admiration for their contributions. Which were many! And yet they were guilty of the same type of behavior on occasion.

What do we do with all of this? Do we reject them and all they did? Do we ban Carlebach’s music? Is that even possible? I don’t think the answer is all that simple.

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 hmaryles@yahoo.com.


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6 Responses to “Iconic Sinners”

  1. what this shows is the need for forgiveness that all humans have. No person is without sin. This is the whole reason God sent a savior, as an atonement for sin. That was Yeshua, his name means Salvation. (Jesus). We are justified in God's eyes by HIS sacrifice, not by our own works. Jeremiah 31:31 says that God says he will make a NEW COVENANT with the Jews, not like the Mosaic covenant which THEY BROKE, and he will forgive their sin. The scripture came to me in a dream when I asked God if it is true that Jesus IS the messiah. Also, read Isaiah 53: which is NOT in the liturgy of torah/haftorah read in the yearly cycle, since is so obviously describes Jesus; the rabbis have been lying by ommisson for 2000 years by NOT including this! It says "for transgression of my people he was stricken…my righteous servant shall justify many, for HE SHALL BEAR THEIR SIN." The story about these icons is that it shows that no human is without sin. Therefore all need forgiveness, all need a savior. The only sinless one was jesus. The temple was destroyed in 70 AD because it was no longer necessary to sacrifice animals; that covenant was replaced by the sacrifice of JESUS once and for all for all humanity. The killing of animals was a foreshadowing of that; to show us the NEED for an atonement, a blood sacrifice, so Jeswus would make sense to us. Jesus said unless we forgive others their sins against us, God won't forgive us ours. So we can go to hell if we don't forgive. I have been there. I was in solitary confinement in a prison. Everyone near me had serious forgiveness issues with someone that had horribly abused them. They were all in danger of going to hell if they didn't forgive. I was raped by a cop; I preached to him, he stopped & repented. I forgave him. If I had not, I would have been a mark to be killed; I met him later & he told me he told his superiors what he had done & they asked "should we kill her for you?" they didn't want me to embarass the police force by telling the newspapers. He said he told them "no I love her, leave her alone" So forgiving him saved my life; I also prayed for God to heal me, & he did, of any emotional trauma. When we forgive people it releases them to change. If we hold them in condemnation; it actually curses them to repeat the sin. Being found 'guilty" puts a curse on someone; this is why recidivism rates are high in prisons. If there were no criminal records, people would be set free spiritually & would be able to be different. Jesus said "i come to set captives free". Free from sin, and condemnation. See my free articles, books, minibooks.
    "how to be healed, saved & born again"; WHAT KIND OF MUSICIAN ARE YOU GOING TO BE? GOD'S CALL TO MUSICIANS. Musicians are called to be prophets, intercessors & healers. On lyrics, drugs, mental illness & worship.
    http://www.1prophetspeaks.com

  2. What this shows is the need for forgiveness that all humans have. No person is without sin. This is the whole reason God sent a savior, as an atonement for sin. That was Yeshua, his name means Salvation. (Jesus). We are justified in God's eyes by HIS sacrifice, not by our own works.
    Jeremiah 31:31 says that God says he will make a NEW COVENANT with the Jews, not like the Mosaic covenant which THEY BROKE, and he will forgive their sin. The scripture came to me in a dream when I asked God if it is true that Jesus IS the messiah.
    Also, read Isaiah 53: which is NOT in the liturgy of torah/haftorah read in the yearly cycle, since is so obviously describes Jesus; the rabbis have been lying by omisson for 2000 years by NOT including this! It says "for transgression of my people he was stricken…my righteous servant shall justify many, for HE SHALL BEAR THEIR SIN."
    The story about these icons is that it shows that no human is without sin. Therefore all need forgiveness, all need a savior. The only sinless one was jesus. The temple was destroyed in 70 AD because it was no longer necessary to sacrifice animals; that covenant was replaced by the sacrifice of JESUS once and for all for all humanity. The killing of animals was a foreshadowing of that; to show us the NEED for an atonement, a blood sacrifice, so Jesus would make sense to us. Jesus said unless we forgive others their sins against us, God won't forgive us ours.
    So we can go to hell if we don't forgive. I have been there. I was in solitary confinement in a prison. Everyone near me had serious forgiveness issues with someone that had horribly abused them. They were all in danger of going to hell if they didn't forgive.
    I was raped by a cop; I preached to him, he stopped & repented. I forgave him. If I had not, I would have been a mark to be killed; I met him later & he told me he told his superiors what he had done & they asked "should we kill her for you?" they didn't want me to embarass the police force by telling the newspapers. He said he told them "no I love her, leave her alone" So forgiving him saved my life; I also prayed for God to heal me, & he did, of any emotional trauma.
    When we forgive people it releases them to change. If we hold them in condemnation; it actually curses them to repeat the sin. Being found 'guilty" puts a curse on someone; this is why recidivism rates are high in prisons. If there were no criminal records, people would be set free spiritually & would be able to be different. Jesus said "i come to set captives free". Free from sin, and condemnation. See my free articles, books, minibooks.
    "how to be healed, saved & born again";.
    WHAT KIND OF MUSICIAN ARE YOU GOING TO BE? GOD'S CALL TO MUSICIANS. Musicians are called to be prophets, intercessors & healers. On lyrics, drugs, mental illness & worship.

  3. Also, read Isaiah 53: which is NOT in the liturgy of torah/haftorah read in the yearly cycle, since is so obviously describes Jesus; the rabbis have been lying by omisson for 2000 years by NOT including this! It says "for transgression of my people he was stricken…my righteous servant shall justify many, for HE SHALL BEAR THEIR SIN."
    The story about these icons is that it shows that no human is without sin. Therefore all need forgiveness, all need a savior. The only sinless one was jesus. The temple was destroyed in 70 AD because it was no longer necessary to sacrifice animals; that covenant was replaced by the sacrifice of JESUS once and for all for all humanity. The killing of animals was a foreshadowing of that; to show us the NEED for an atonement, a blood sacrifice, so Jesus would make sense to us. Jesus said unless we forgive others their sins against us, God won't forgive us ours.

  4. So we can go to hell if we don't forgive. I have been there. I was in solitary confinement in a prison. Everyone near me had serious forgiveness issues with someone that had horribly abused them. They were all in danger of going to hell if they didn't forgive.
    I was raped by a cop; I preached to him, he stopped & repented. I forgave him. If I had not, I would have been a mark to be killed; I met him later & he told me he told his superiors what he had done & they asked "should we kill her for you?" they didn't want me to embarass the police force by telling the newspapers. He said he told them "no I love her, leave her alone" So forgiving him saved my life; I also prayed for God to heal me, & he did, of any emotional trauma.
    When we forgive people it releases them to change. If we hold them in condemnation; it actually curses them to repeat the sin. Being found 'guilty" puts a curse on someone; this is why recidivism rates are high in prisons. If there were no criminal records, people would be set free spiritually & would be able to be different. Jesus said "i come to set captives free". Free from sin, and condemnation. See my free articles, books, minibooks.
    "how to be healed, saved & born again";.
    WHAT KIND OF MUSICIAN ARE YOU GOING TO BE? GOD'S CALL TO MUSICIANS. Musicians are called to be prophets, intercessors & healers. On lyrics, drugs, mental illness & worship.

  5. Mark L. Shane says:

    sure, go ahead and knock yourselves out….any ego centric thought, any, will keep you out of his sight.

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Binyamin and Chaya Maryles, uncle and aunt of Emes Ve-Emunah author Harry Maryles.
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