Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 27 January 2013

What The Torah Lifestyle Didn't Give Them

One of the problems I have with mass kiruv organizations like Aish and Chabad is their pushing of the frum lifestyle as a panacaea to all one's problems.  Religious people have better marriages because the time-out of the niddah period acts as a refreshing break.  Religious people are more honest because the Torah forbids lying and cheating.  I well recall a chozer b'teshuvah friend of mine years ago recounting how she had found an item of considerable value in the hallway of her apartment building and put up a sign in the lobby asking the owner to contact her.  A few days later an elderly woman knocked on her door and claimed to be the owner.  Despite having no proof my friend handed over the item because, "well she was frum so I knew she must be telling the truth".
Uh huh.
I suppose one reason ultraOrthodox leaders have such a hatred of the popular press and blogs is because spending the day reading what's out there quickly shatters that illusion.  Decades ago David ben Gurion, a"h, predicted that once Israel became a state like all others it would have the same problems as all other states, like criminals, prostitutes, drugs, etc.  This was hardly an inspiring vision.  Unfortunately the Orthodox community has quietly done the same thing.  We are a community like all others.  We have saints and we have sinners.  We have inspiring leaders and twisted menuvalim.  We have people who are exemplars of the values the Torah espouses and we have others who have twisted God's word into a bacon-flavoured cheese pretzel.  Italians have the same thing, as do Poles, Germans, Chinese, and others.  No better and no worse.  We are just another ethnic group with a language, rituals and holiday costumes.
All this has recently been put on parade at the Nechemia Weberman trial.  For those of you still living in a cave, Weberman is a chasid whose views are somewhere to the right of Satmar.  He belongs to a spinoff group from Chabad that is now closely aligned with Satmar and the Neturei Karta because of their shared hatred of Israel.  His group is so frum that calling themselves Chasidim, "pious ones" isn't enough to describe how holy they feel they are.  Based on what they called their founding Rebbe they call themselves Malachim, angels!
You would think that men who call himself angels and pious ones would conduct themselves on the highest levels of sanctity and holiness.  Stuff like fasting on a regular basis, being extremely careful about speaking loshon horo, eschewing violence, even the threat of it. 
Not these guys.  As the JTA reports upon Weberman's sentencing:
Chasidic counselor Nechemya Weberman was sentenced to 103 years in prison for sexual abuse of a teenage female patient over several years.
Weberman, 54, a member of the Satmar Chasidic community in Brooklyn, did not speak during the Jan. 22 sentencing in New York State Supreme Court. He had been sent to Rikers Island prison without bail immediately after his conviction in December.
He was found guilty on 59 counts of sexual abuse. The encounters started in 2007, when his victim was 12, and lasted until she was 15. She is now 18.
Weberman had faced up to 117 years in prison.
The girl's parents sent her for sessions to Weberman, an unlicensed therapist, at the recommendation of the child's school. The girl was referred for not meeting her sect's strict modesty guidelines regarding women's dress and asking questions about the existence of God.
The victim reportedly gave a tearful statement in court.
"I clearly remember how I would look in the mirror. I saw a girl who didn't want to live in her own skin, a girl whose innocence was shattered, a girl who couldn't sleep at night because of the gruesome invasion that had been done to her body," she is reported as saying.
The New York Daily News reported Jan. 19 that a new investigation conducted by the paper showed that Weberman had violated at least 10 other female patients.
At Weberman's trial, prosecutors said they were aware of six additional victims -- four married women and two underage girls. The newspaper reported that it identified four additional women, who do not want to come forward out of fear of being ostracized by the community.
Weberman victims, according to the new investigation, include four married women, three of whom he counseled, and six unmarried women, all of whom were Weberman clients.
According to the paper, sources close to the women abused by Weberman said he used patterns of grooming and nurturing to lure them. He showered outcast teenagers with attention, taking them on road trips and buying them lingerie, they said. The unlicensed counselor also cited kabbalah when forcing his victims to have sex with him to convince them his acts were allowed, once telling a victim, “I learned kabbalah and we were a couple in another incarnation.”
“The intimate acts he was performing were intended as a form of repentance for sins committed in their previous lifetimes,” Rabbi Yakov Horowitz from Monsey, N.Y., in whom other victims had confided, told the Daily News.
Five others told the New York daily that they were aware of Weberman’s misconduct with clients years before he was accused of sexual abuse, and sources said the anonymous victim who put him on trial came forward after friends told her Weberman “was a known pervert.”
What is not told in the article but was details in various news reports and on blogs over the last several months is the campaign of threats, intimidation and outright slander that these "angels" engaged in so as to protect one of their own.  It's one thing to proclaim one's innocence and announce the intention to vigorously fight accusations but these thugs went far beyond that, defaming the victim and anyone who tried to help her and presenting the face of a cult that seems to worship hatred in place of God.  The Chareidi community has a well-known "circle the wagons" mentality but this went far beyond with the perpetrator and his friends seeking to re-victimize the young woman that had already been damaged.
(To their credit the main Chareidi news blogs haven't starting Rubashkin-style ads calling for a pidyon shevuyim campaign for Weberman.  Matzav and TheYeshivaWorld seem to have totally ignored the trial while VisIzNeias is simply reporting the events without attempting to run the "He can't be guilty, he's one of us!" angle)
And what's amazing is that if I ran into Weberman tomorrow with my coloured shirt and knitted kippah he'd look down at me and think "Ach, a goy".
Living in a small community as I do I don't really run into folks like Weberman.  The only shtreiml-wearing guy in the neighbourhood is an Aish grad here to do kiruv and who has a good heart and happy attitude.  Even during my trips to Israel I generally don't find myself in those kinds of neighbourhoods.  In short, I can sit back and pretend that frum Jews are normal folks because those that around me generally are.  I hate being reminded that there are huge numbers of dysfunctional freaks running around out there who just don't get the bigger picture but think that Judaism is entirely defined by rituals and 18th century costumes.
After all, one can say that Weberman was a bastard.  We can't guarantee there are no evil people masquerading as frum Jews out there.  But the way his henchmen and the Satmar community mobilized and saw destroying the victim as a religious duty, that shows to me that this kind of Judaism has gone completely off the rails.
After all the swaying, shouting and praying, after all the lulav waving it's all about the clothes you wear and the rebbe you swear allegiance to.  At least for these guys.


AztecQueen2000 said...

I live in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, this sort of behavior is impossible to ignore, making me extremely cynical about the frum community. It amounts to a massive chillul Hashem, and can have the effect of pushing people like me (who became religious as adults) further away.

ZP said...

you beat me to it. i have a post titled "when being frum used to mean something", referring to the recent weberman (among others) scandal(s).

My mom loves saying the story how her grandfather bought his house with his word. That's how powerful and seriously someone's word was taken. We are very far from that.

Adam Zur said...

I would like to suggest that the problem in the frum [Jewish Orthodox] world is that there is little intersection between the laws of ethics as dictated by human reason and the morality that is proposed as a substitute for human morality. And this substitute morality it is claimed is Divine. I tend to think that this already created a host of problems in itself besides the fact that this substitute morality that is presented as superior to human morality is highly flawed and in fact highly contrary to the Torah and The Talmud. It could in fact be suggested that it is not Jewish except in name. I can say that from my experience the level of human decency in the frum world is on several levels lower than standard goysih morality in the USA and other places I have visited. There is nothing to suggest that it is Divine. In fact, it could be suggested perhaps it is just the opposite.

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Anonymous said...

"He belongs to a spinoff group from chabad" Huh??????

Shlomo1 said...

I think one of the causes for this behavior happening in the ultra orthodox community is a result of the method that the leaders to ensure that the community remains isolated and they make it very difficult for it's members to leave (they marry early have children at a young age get little education with poor English skills etc) that it is no longer the case that only pious people are part of the community but everyone it's forced to remain even ones that don't belong or have personality disorders. Compounding this it's the circling of the wagons attitude and lashing Horoh laws so everything bad is hushed up and so little disincentive for this kind of behavior unless they are seen to publicly transgress one of their taboos such as chalav stum or good with the wrong

tesyaa said...

AQ, if you believe in the divinity of the Torah, why would you leave because of some sleazebags? OTOH, if you're not sure what you believe, sleazy behavior may prompt you to investigate. You have to decide which situation you're in.

JT said...

Tesyaa and AztecQueen - Tesyaa's comment begs the question of why one believes in the Torah. If you believe because people you trust (your parents) or people you believe are holy (Rabbanim or Gedolim) say so, how do you deal with learning that these people are not in fact trustworthy or holy? Does their failure in some areas call into question everything else they've championed? Further, the exemplary life lived by the "frum" world is often used as a kind of proof that the Torah mandated lifestyle, as interpreted by observant society, is "true". What is one to do when faced with evidence that this life is, in fact, not exemplary?

Anonymous - Yes, the Malachim are a n offshoot of Chabad. They split off long before R' Menachem Mendel took the reins from his father-in-law. Over the years they wound up allying themselves with the ultra-conservative element exemplified by Satmar.

tesyaa said...

JT - I can understand that one would believe in the Torah due to, for example, the Kuzari proof. If one finds it convincing, one should believe.

If one has emunah because one "just knows it's true", that is another reason to believe - while it's not rational, it's a deep, personal conviction.

But believe because others believe? That makes less sense. Find out WHY great leaders believe, and if the reasons are convincing, go ahead and believe. AQ is clearly not the kind of person who follows the crowd. I'm assuming she has deep personal reasons for belief. If so, why would the bad actions of some prominent OJs change her mind?

Anonymous said...

We all go over this again and again – the Kuzari Proof.

The KP even says it is not a proof. I could find the citation from the book, but don’t have it in front of me.

Rav Gottlieb, smart fellow, likes to say national revelation cannot happen. But that’s only in theory. In practice, given the needs of a community (in Judaism, a collection of tribes who are very tribal and consider themselves a people), and given enough time (hundreds of years, a hundred years?) a story like national revelation could be important enough to develop and stick. It depends on what the community needs.

Also, R. Gottlieb fails to account for someone like say King David (who united the tribes) maybe proclaiming national revelation an important truth. Who’s to argue with a king with ruach hakodesh? Doesn’t he know better? What do we know from the distant past!?

And there you have it: national revelation happened, so sayeth the king with the pipeline to G-d.

Tribes do things together! American Indians, the Aztecs: a people, tribes – they do things collectively! Christians? Muslims? There needs are totally different: they are not tribes. It wouldn’t add up for them.

If you look at a tribe, don't be surprised if somehow they experienced spiritual moments together.


Anonymous said...

The Malachim have had nothing to do with chabad for years and years. There is zero connection between the two groups. Tying them together is just like connecting chabad and satmar or any other chassidus because they are all students of the Baal Shem tov.