Culture, Sex & Gender

Beliefnet Rabbis Slam Bloggers For Outing Sex Offenders

Two of the three rabbis at Beliefnet’s Virtual Talmud have issued backhanded denouncements of the Jewish bloggers who have brought attention to sexual misconduct in the rabbinic community, while calling for the same “protocols and procedures for dealing expeditiously and confidentially with charges of sexual misconduct” said bloggers have been demanding for years — apart from that bit about confidentially, cuz, ya know, our rabbinic leadership has such a great track record of handling these cases behind closed doors.
Conservative rabbi Susan Grossman of Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia, Maryland, writes:

While I don’t agree with the use of the Internet to publicize unproven charges of sexual misconduct, I certainly understand why such postings happen: All too often victims find no support or redress in the organized Jewish world.
[…] Perhaps [protocols and procedures], once in place, would vitiate the need for blogs that ultimately do more for the spread of lashon hara than the effective protection of potential victims of sexual misconduct.

How’s this for lashon hara: F*ck you!
The rabbinic establishment is not interested in protecting potential victims, they’re interested in protecting offenders! To quote one of Gafni’s victims, as she wrote in a comment on Jewschool, “Maybe had you all listened [before, instead of giving Gafni a hechsher without ever consulting his victims] we may not be where we are today.” But our rabbinic leadership has proven itself incapable of justly handling such allegations, putting the accused’s parnassah before the pursuit of justice. They have consistently failed to conduct proper investigations, thus turning the claim of “unproven charges” into an escape hatch for the criminally ill.
Like Lanner before him, Kolko got shifted around for 30 years amidst countless allegations before he was brought to justice. Does anyone actually believe such procedures will do anything beyond adding an extra layer of bureaucracy to the process and, in turn, an extra layer of cover for the offender? To hell with that! I’d rather run to the press and run to the cops than leave matters in their hands.
Why is transparency such an anathema to these people? The same smug self-interest, perhaps?
After recounting an experience in which his attempts at transparency were stifled while writing on the Lanner case for the Commie, Orthodox rabbi Eliyahu Stern, scholar-in-residence at Park East Synagogue, continues the blogger smear writing:

It was only after the Lanner affair that those such as Steven I. Weiss started blogging on the politics and day to-day happenings of Orthodox Jewish life. Recently, others in Brooklyn and other Orthodox enclaves have followed his lead, creating a new power dynamic within the community.
To be sure, blogs are not a panacea, and sometimes, like all good societal medicines, they can have dangerous side-effects. Lies, rumors, and fiction are rampant on blogs, and real people’s lives can be destroyed because of the lack of standards endemic to the medium.

Yeah, okay. How ’bout providing a single example in which a Jewish blogger’s “lies” ruined the life of an innocent member of the Jewish community? Hell, show me a single libel suit! Indeed, if Stern’s post is anything, it is evidence that fiction does, in fact, run rampant on blogs: His in particular.
What leads me to read his otherwise supportive post so negatively? The overwhelming question: If you claim to believe in the value of blogs and the transparency they bring, why are you feeding a false assertion about blogs being filled with lies?
The elephant in the room is, of course, Jewish Whistleblower. We all know who these two are actually talking about. The question is why paint the entire blogosphere with a lashon harah brush for the misdeeds of one universally-condemned, overzealous, anonymous blog commentor?
Stern concludes with an attempted saving grace, stating:

While bloggers like Weiss make a mistake or two here and there and are often too quick to condemn or praise, they are essential for creating a culture of critique.

I mean, other than the fact that demanding accountability from those who cover for sex offenders has nothing to do with critique and everything to do with trying to protect innocent people, at least he realizes he can’t totally devalue the blogosphere, otherwise he might be out of a paying gig.
“I thought to myself, after Moses there came the Judges; and after the Judges there came the Prophets; and afterwards the Men of the Great Assembly; and after them the Tanayim, the Amorayim, and the Poskim. And afterwards were those who reproved for the sake of heaven; and then that degenerated and there were many reprovers for the sake of heaven. And then that degenerated for there were many reprovers who were not genuine. And afterwards came the Rebbes. And therefore I’m groaning for I see that that too will degenerate — and what will the Jewish people do?” — The Yid Hakodesh of Przysucha
Still waiting for the Recon rabbi, Joshua Waxman, to chime in. Hopefully one of these yutzes won’t earn my utter contempt.
Gee whiz. I guess I’ll never get into ever-pretentious Blog Heaven now. Yawn.

15 thoughts on “Beliefnet Rabbis Slam Bloggers For Outing Sex Offenders

  1. I’m very glad Jewschool is around. You are giving an institutional presence to some very sane ideas. Thanks for shifting the “official conversation.”

  2. What an overreaction on your part, Mobius. Why don’t you focus your anger on the people who deserve it – i.e., the real obfuscators and perpetrators. Notice that R’ Stern said “people’s lives CAN be destroyed because of the lack of standards endemic to the medium” – not that this has actually happened. Furthermore, I really hope that critique DOES have something to do with protecting innocent people. Finally, if you think Stern is blogging on beliefnet for the money, you’re off your rocker.

  3. On one hand, there is some concern with Vicki Polin and The Awareness Center re: unsubstantiated claims.
    On the other hand, as I see in a fight I’m in with some prominent Conservative leaders because I said they davened in an Orthodox shul at times and they got all pissy at me, sadly the American Jewish establishment (especially non-O, I think, but I may be wrong on that) is more concerned with their institutions and self-preservation and many of them are assholes.

  4. The rabbinical establishment, which has turned into a guild ever since Rabbis started running synagogues and not cities, should be revamped. The whole idea of rabbis invoking Lashon haRa at people only when they criticise rabbis (and not, say, Marwan Barghuti) is ludicrous and quite sad – how about we start phasing rabbis out?
    Also: The Orthodox establishment does nothing but preserve institutions (mechitzot, for example, and kashrut organizations. In Israel the biggest contributor to meoorot hadaf hayomi is a religious entrepreneur who owns a mega-mall open on shabbat, and sells treif food)

  5. From The Jewish Week
    Are Blogs Kosher?
    Rabbi Mark Dratch (05/25/2006)
    Free-wheeling blogs — unrestricted news, opinion, and discussion Web sites that break, make and spin the latest on any number of topics — have been proliferating for years. Now there are a number of Jewish sites that scrutinize everything from Israeli politics to shul gossip. They’re the new “Bubbie Hotline.”
    Several of them have recently brought to light a number of rabbinic abuse cases and have succeeded in generating community interest and outrage, forcing a few rabbis from their positions, and casting aspersions on the characters of others. To some, these sites are cesspools of unfettered, unaccountable tripe and vilifying slander that malign individuals and besmirch the community. To others, they are the Hyde Parks of protest and free speech, a place where victims can finally speak without fear of counter attack, and interested parties can press for justice by doing end-runs around denial and cover-up. So are these blogs kosher — are they the right place for discriminating Jews to “chew the fat?”
    There are serious issues to contemplate. Consider lashon hara, defined as reckless and harmful speech. The Torah prohibits it. Morally sensitive people are appalled by it. And the blogs seem to be full of it. Because there is no accountability, especially from those who leave anonymous comments on the threads of others’ sites, anybody can say anything about anyone. And sometimes they do. With the peck of a few letters on a keyboard, information is posted that anyone with a computer and Internet access can read, and lives and reputations can be destroyed. All of this with no due process or accountability and with no real chance of rebuttal. On some blogs you can find “dirt” that even some of the less reputable newspapers wouldn’t publish.
    And consider Chillul Hashem, the concern of scandal and communal disrepute. What will others say about the Jews and the Jewish community?
    These concerns are serious ones and cannot be easily dismissed or pushed aside. They deal with fundamental precepts of Jewish law and the very bases of moral decency. But denial and cover-up and dismissal of complaints and victimization of vulnerable children and adults are also serious and cannot be easily dismissed or pushed aside. Too many innocents have felt unheard, ignored, rejected, and sacrificed on the altar of public and private reputations. They have been silenced in order to protect the image of a community whose perfection exists only in their imaginations. Too many times Jewish law and Jewish values are misapplied, misinterpreted and misappropriated in order to achieve these reprehensible ends. There are reasons that victims, along with their supporters and advocates, have turned to the blogs, Web sites, newspapers and magazines. And that’s because too many times they first turned to rabbis and Jewish institutional leaders to complain about the abuse and violation they suffered — and they were abused again.
    Can these blogs be more responsible? Yes, and they need to exercise much greater care in upholding standards of decency, fairness and justice because they, too, can be responsible for harming innocents. And Web surfers should not necessarily believe what they read on them. In fact, they should take much of what they see on these sites with less than a grain of salt. But the blogs are here and, for now, supply a valuable service.
    In a community that was responsive and accountable the excesses on the blogs would be unnecessary. At the moment, there are those who feel that they have no other choice. Innocents — victims and potential victims of abuse and the values and reputation of a compassionate and valuable community — are being hurt by a community that could and should do better. All is not bad in our community, not by a long stretch.
    In the past decade scores of social service programs have been started that support and advocate for victims of abuse. The Rabbinical Council of America passed new guidelines for dealing with allegations against its members and has stood strong against harsh and unfair criticism. Some rabbinical schools are focusing a bit on issues of abuse and rabbinic boundaries. And JSafe was established to create a mechanism for accountability and responsibility and to provide education andsupport for victims, rabbis and institutions. But there is still too much denial and obfuscation.
    The rabbinic bon mot, “All Jews are responsible one for another,” is more than just a nice slogan; it is a religious obligation. Judaism holds all of its adherents — clergy and laity without distinction — accountable for the spiritual and physical well-being of others. This is most certainly true when it comes to our children. They depend on us to care for them, to protect them and to nurture them. Not only do we have an obligation to them as humans deserving safe and secure lives, but as Jews in whose hands lay the destiny of our people. Safety? Security? We owe our people and future no less. We owe each and every son and daughter no less—and much, much more.
    Rabbi Mark Dratch is the CEO of JSafe, an organization founded to deal with abuse in the community.

  6. many rabbis are unable or even unwilling to do adequate investigations and hold offenders accountable these rabbis ought to be called to account for the harm they cause and the pain they enable.
    there are also many rabbis who take sexual misconduct and all other manner of wrongdoing, even among their colleagues, very seriously. it is not fair to paint the “rabbinic establishment” with the same brush. the rabbinic cultures vary widely by movement, and you find much stronger controls in place, for instance, in the reform and reconstructionist movements, and those two have both committed to holding abusers accountable and have made good on that commitment. certainly there are rabbis who aren’t suffeciently tough on abusers in all movments, perhaps they see their friends in a friendly light, perhaps they are concerned for their own needs, and perhaps they just needed a shock.
    all this to say, let’s not overgeneralize about all rabbis on the basis of several rabbis who seem to have behaved in a deeply problematic way.

  7. Thanks zt – People should understand that rabbinical organizations (I’m part of the recon one) have got to do two things: Protect potential victims from rabbinic misconduct and protect rabbis from false and damaging accusations. We must work on a case by case, person by person basis, and we do it all off-line and in confidence. The web loves de-centralization, anti-authoritariansim and all that – but in the real world, the more organized and centralized the oversight of professionals is, the more effective it can be in stemming abuse. Institutions matter. And people should know that some rabbis have, themselves, been victims of sexual misconduct. They have been important voices in establishing our policy around abuse. Our work in this area is a far cry from ‘smug self-interest.’

  8. I personally think that while professional organizations do have an obligation to set up means of self-regulation, for their own moral, spritiual, and practical best interests, I would certainly not recommend that others outside a given profession rely on these bodies if they should feel victimized. The free press and the police/courts are better bets (if imperfect). Every citizen in our country can be accused, and procedures (highly imperfect) are in place for dealing with these accusations. Rabbis are citizens too!

  9. I just don’t get it. Make an accusaton, call the police, have them investigate it. Aren’t we talking about crimes? Why is this a pulpit debate? Then if tere’s fot dragging, call the police on it. What am I missing?

  10. Yaaziel – Sexual abuse often does not have physical evidence of the abuse – i.e. unwanted touching, etc. and even when there is physical evidence of sexual activity, unless there is a minor involved it is a ‘your word against their word’ situation – not exactly criminal charge potential.

  11. in addition to daniel’s point there is a seocnd probelm: what we consider abuse doesn’t always meet the legal definition.
    i feel strongly that using organizational or charismatic power and spiritual leadership to manipulate people into sexual realtions is wrong. if force isn’t invovled and refusals don’t happen in the moment many municipalities do not regard such manipulation as a sex crime nor the perpetrator as due punishment or rehabilitation.
    my standards for religious/spiritual leaders and all people for that matter are higher than the State’s.
    the pair of rabbinical associations i refered to earlier, i think, share that higher standard. where they choose to be, a rabbis peers are often the most adept, careful, and unrelenting investigators.
    i am not saying not to call the police, just that the more processes one has available the better and that there are good processes in at least two movements.
    police, i imagine, will not always understand the nuance of how a specific kind of community functions which makes it harder for them to evaluate manipulation which may go on there. on the other hand rabbis who are part of said community may, for a variety of reasons, be reluctant to use their greater insight to keep the community safe and to a high moral standard.

  12. you regaled the value of blogs by denouncing them as full of lies. indeed, you said the exact opposite of what you seem to have intended to say.

  13. Regarding rabbis, investigations, lashon hara, and so on- first, let me cop to it, I’m a member of the RA and a dear friend of mine was recently on the Va’ad Hakavod, or ethics committee which investigates allegations of misconduct. So whatever bias I have, there is is. Now let me say: nobody, but nobody, wants abusive rabbis out of the system faster and stronger than the volunteer and professional leaders of the mainstream rabbinic organizations. (I speak for RA, CCAR, and RRA here, among which I have many friends, but I assume Ohala, the Renewal organization, is probably in a similar place. I cannot speak for the RCA, don’t know enough.)
    The problem is: some of the most abusive rabbis have either already been kicked out of the organizations, or never belonged in the first place. Who, exactly, would Gafni have had to report to, if indeed there was a better investigation, and what would those sanctions actually have been, such that they were more powerful than his charisma and ability to talk his way into new situations? That’s not to say that a lot of people shouldn’t have known better, but in the mainstream denominations, one of the advantages of rabbinic placement rules (i.e., institutional structures) is that bad people can get shut out of the system by not getting placed in shuls. Congregations don’t always play by the placement rules; I know of at least two instances where small congregations decided to hire non-movement rabbis and got sex offenders who were on the run- one from another continent.
    Nobody is more pissed off at badly behaving rabbis than other rabbis, but it’s a free country, and we don’t have that much power to regulate the system except within the organizational structures which can sanction miscreants.
    I’m writing this on Thursday to avoid getting flamed over Shabbat. . . . .

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