Thursday, May 25, 2006

Better Shocked than Farmisht

I want to talk about issues of philosophy, politics, gossip, and public policy that effect Jewish life, with an emphasis on the traditional range of the spectrum. I don't know exactly what I'm going to say, so I guess I'll find out as I say it. If I get really bored, I might talk about the stock market or my arthritis.

Right now the Jewish blogosphere is an exciting place. There's a certain intellectual ferment in the air, a sort of new found freedom because of the internet to discuss issues that have long been repressed. I would like to add my voice to this conversation. I, also, have a kibbitzing side to my personality and I would find it impossible to maintain a totally serious tone for more than a week or two. I will try to alternate high-minded rants with ironic observations, or so I hope.

I'll begin with the topic that is on everyone's minds, at least in Brooklyn Orthodox circles, the Kolko affair. From what I gather, every since the article appeared in New York magazine, the internet blogging noise has been non-stop. The Kolko case involves twenty children who have allegedly been molested by this elementary school rebbe (teacher) over a long period and nothing was done. As I understand the case no child has come forwarded saying Kolko did anything bad in the last 25 years. All this happened over 25 years ago.

Some events are shocking, some are disorienting. If you run after money your whole life and end up broke, you might be shocked or depressed or disillusioned. When you discover that having money is not what you really want you become disoriented, confused. I want to say the Kolko affair is depressing and shocking but not really disorienting . No basic value is being challenged.

Analytically, the affair has a few unrealted threads. The first is how to bring the perpetrators to justice, and prevent such horrors in the future? I have no doubt changes will be made so as to minimize this sort of tragedy. After all, there is NO disagreement that child molesting is horrible & MUST be stopped.

The second is the attempt at covering all this up by the school administration and in particular R. Margulis.This guy is either a really bad charachter or totally out of touch with the way every one views child abuse. In either case he should be forced to resign. The problem is the yeshivah is owned by an individual and his name is Margulis. Again, depressing but not the end of Jewish life as we know it. If the current parents are upset they can send their kids to a different yeshiva. If, not, not.

The third thread revolves around Rabbi Sheinberg's remarks. Rabbi Sheinberg is this revered American-born Rosh Yeshiva who emigrated to Isreal and developed a big following. He is reported to wear, I know it sounds odd, 80 pairs of tzizit a day, so as to fulfill all possible views on how to tie the knots, etc. He was reported to have allegedly told parents of the children their case is not actionable in Jewish law because there was no penetration, only fondling. When I heard this story, I was even more shocked than when I heard about Kolko.Here, too, I don't believe there is any deep issue that is being raised. Assuming for the moment that the good rabbi is not out and out corrupt, and assuming that he actually said what he said, then what you have here is somebody who is very learned & very saintly & a fool. In general, we assume that a learned saint would be wise. We now see otherwise.

No balanced person would go on to say that this shows anything about the ultra orthodox rabbinate in general. We must remember that the ‘daath Torah’ ideology, the view that the ultra-orthodox rabbinate's views are somehow sovereign and ought to prevail, is not the same as rabbinic infallibity. It is a view about the collective opinion of the rabbinic leadership over time. The intuitive idea is that the rabbis are best equipped to judge what is good for the communities' welfare and growth. The Scheinberg incident is a story about an individual and not the collective leadership.

At the lowest level of gossip, the scandal has raised a really intriguing question, as in inquiring minds want to know. Is it possible that Kolko wasn't exposed because he had some damaging material on others, either sexual or financial? Even if people didn't want to make a big stink about it intially, the rational thing would have been to ease the guy out over time. There must be a background story or blackmail. How can anyone be so stupid to let this guy go on for so many years destroying children's lives?We may never know. I want to turn to the deeper and harder questions concerning this affair, which I hope to begin next time.


At 1:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I doubt what you're saying. Shame alone is sufficient to drive the whole affair. If this had come out, the whole Yeshiva would have been affected. If it isn't shame, why are so many kids still enrolled in the Yeshiva? Nobody's blackmailing the parents.


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