One of the reasons that the sex abuse issue is so difficult to overcome is that abusers are often great people in every other way. I know that is a contradiction in terms. You can’t be a sex abuser and a great person. But bear with me.
The case of Rabbi Motti Elon is one such case, currently on trial for sexually harassing two 17 year old students when he was the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat HaKotel in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Elon is a Religious Zionist Rabbi who was respected even beyond his own religious Zionist community. I recall the reaction of one young Charedi Rav in Israel who practically worshiped the ground he walked on. When he first heard about the accusations, he was incredulous. This was a man who mentored him. A man he confided in. A wise and gentle man who truly cared about his students. A man you could turn to in times of crisis. The idea that such a man could be accused of such a heinous crime was simply unthinkable… impossible!
This was not only the view of this Charedi individual; it was the view of just about everyone who came in contact with him. With the exception of course of the two people who have accused him of sexual molestation.
Although Rabbi Elon still maintained his innocence (which he still does), the young Charedi Rav believed it, and felt betrayed.It has been 2 years since this story broke. The evidence of sexual harassment was so strong that he was removed from his position at the Yeshiva and from having any contact with young people. Takana, the organization that investigated this case, determined the veracity of the accusations, and made the decision to remove him from his position consisted of some of the biggest rabbinic names in Israel – including Rav Aharon Lichtenstein.
Here is what Rav Lichtenstein said at the time:
In an emotional lecture to his students, often breaking into tears, R’ Aharon Lichtenstein announced that he has received death threats by a student of R’ Motti Elon in retaliation for his participating in the Takana forum which labeled R’ Motti as a “dangerous person.” For his courage in making this condemnation, Rav Lichtenstein was threatened with violence!
Which brings me to the current article in the Times of Israel. It appears that one of the two students who were sexually harassed is not going to testify. According to the subheadline of this article, he was pressured not to do it. Which means that prosecutors will have to drop half their charges.
I suspect that’s probably what happened. If Rav Lichtenstein can be threatened with violence, it should be no surprise that a victim can be threatened into not testifying in the same way.
I suspect that the reason Rabbi Elon gets this kind of support from his ‘fans’ is the same reason that someone like Weberman gets support from his fans; and Charedi magazines like Ami. They know these people by their reputations. Reputations they earned by actaully doing good deeds and being good people in every other way. They work hard at building their name. They do a lot kindnesses for many people. I’m sure that’s true for both Weberman and Elon.
But their abnormal desires are kept hidden from their public. They may even try and fight those desires. But as Woody Alan once said about his adopted daughter that he later married, “The heart wants what it wants.”
When your sex drive is normal the heart can be satisfied in socially acceptable ways. But when those desires are abnormal one must do so clandestinely. The libido is a very strong force that is very hard to overcome. Certainly on a constant basis. Eventually such an individual will find a way to satisfy those abnormal urges.
They might actually believe that they are doing nothing more than expressing love to their victims – so self deluded are they. They will merely say that society does not really understand. This is what they tell their victims while they sexually abuse them. They tell their victims not to tell anyone of the great “love” they are showing to them because people will not understand. Sometimes I think that these people actually believe that. At least at first.
Abusers are often charismatic people who come off as sincere to their victims. And once they have built their reputations they are beyond reproach in their community. All who have come in contact with them will swear by their innocence. Except of course the victims. Who are seen as liars with agendas.
I think this explains why there has been such reluctance by rabbinic groups such as Agudah to be more forceful in their approach to abusers. They find it hard to believe. And if you combine that with the presumption of innocence about the accused, they are not about to let an accusation go forward without their examining it first. They suspect that an innocent and good man was wrongly accused and they want to protect him. It is a no-brainer for them. And no doubt that bias influences their decisions about whether to go forward with the police. It is simple human nature to see people with good reputations as being wrongly accused.
And that’s why this problem is so difficult to solve.
Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.Harry Maryles
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 email@example.com.The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.
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