This fable imagines Rabbi Menachem Besdin delivering a drashah (sermon) to attack those who cover up pedophilia. He is a composite of some our best Jews. As I wrote this drashah I asked myself what would these erliche yidn (decnt pious Jews) say. The drashah kept on growing, because I kept on imagining someone saying “yes, but . .” I finally stopped expanding the drashah because I realized that in the end a drashah can only do so much., After that, those who are moved have to go out and act.
A Shmah Koleinu special to inaugurate Jewish New York’s Newest Information Source by Nosson Emes October 19, 2009 Cheshvan 1, 5770
Rabbi Besdin: “Protect Our Children”
The well known R. Menachem Besdin, shlitah, a descendent of the Mishpat Tzedek, Rebbe to the Hassidim Shlemim, called an emergency meeting on Thursday night at his beis midrash.
At the appointed time he gestured for the doors to be locked and walked to the bimah and started with a heart-rending recitation of min hametzar (Psalm 118, From the depths I cried out). He stood there crying for several minutes and walked to the lectern. V’aylu Devarim, and these are the things that he said:.
Min Hametzar. The Tzaddik Rav Michoel Ber (Dov) Weissmandl gave tochechah (admonition) to the world with these words. During the churban europa (holocaust) he saved thousands and tried to save millions. With great mesiras nefesh he sent a complete report about what was happening at Auschwitz with diagrams of the rail lines and begged us to get them bombed. If this had been done, the gas chambers of Auschwitz could not have been filled with 10,000 Jews a day.
After the war, Rav Michoel Ber was a broken man. Over and over he asked. “How could you not answer when we cried out?” Once he was in a hospital and a famous politician came to see him. Michoel Ber began screaming, “rotzeach (murderer), you did nothing.” When the politician kept making excuses, he left his bed, picked up a slipper and began beating him. After the churban (holocaust) I was in the Nitra Yeshiva in Mount Kisco for a pesach seder. From another room we heard the most terrible crying. His neshomah (soul) was so large that he was able to cry for every Jew who died in the churban.
Last night I dreamt that I came to the olom shel emes (the true world, heaven) and Reb Michoel Dov was screaming at me, “rotzeach, why aren’t you listening to the neshamos crying for help.” Then he cried. It was worse than his screams at the seder. I understood and begged to live long enough to do a tikun.
Rabbossai, there are certain things we avoid because of modesty. Usually that is good but not always. You don’t want a surgeon who is afraid to look. You don’t want a policeman who is too shy to shout. You cannot keep your clothing on when you go to a mikvah. In our matzav now we need to tell some people to stop, we need a surgeon to remove a cancer, and we need to purify our kehilla. So we must talk about unpleasant things.
In Ellul a grandmother came to me about doing tshuvah because of things done to her as a girl. She told her parents and they talked to their rabbi who promised to make sure it didn’t happen again. They were instructed to not report this to the Police. The girl was told that she needed to do tshuvah (pennance) for her part. I told her that even a married woman who is attacked and completely subjected is innocent when she cried out for help and no one listened. I said, “You are not allowed to do tshuvah. If people in your situation do tshuvah it becomes harder to end this plague.”
This rebbe did violate many other girls. If you add up all the victims it was like a pogrom but the Russian troops never showed and the kehillah never came out to help the victims. The rav and the rebbe were niftar (deceased) without ever begging mechilah (forgiveness). If I could be mechayeh meisim (resurrect the dead) I would bring them back so they could beg and say “we are rashaim (evil) and your neshamah (soul) is pure.”
Rabbossai, chatassi (Gentlemen, I sinned), I heard such things and I didn’t do enough. I should have listened to the cries. They didn’t come in coded letters from Europe. They were from children inside our eruv (boundary). I sinned by saying, I did not know with certainty, when I had serious concerns.
Could Reb Michoel Ber have given perfect proof of the crimes which the Nazis concealed? Our molesters conceal their crimes in closed rooms. They prey on orphans and children whose families are in difficult situations. They bribe and threaten. They lie and say the children are liars. When those molesters are caught we believe their promises and gave them a second chance. Now these criminals know that when a kehilla does not want to act, you do not have to be beyond suspicion. You just have give people enough of a sofek (doubt) so they can justify not acting.
Gevaltige chidushim (incredible new arguments) hare invoked to protect these rotzchim (murderers). It was done through clothing. It wasn’t mamish mishkov zochor (actual intercourse). The girl was too young to be a nidah (violate the ban on sex during menstruation) . We are showing rachmonis (mercy) by protecting the family of the molester. It would be a chillul hashem (scandal) if others found out.
Rabbossai, aveirah gorerus aveirah (one sin leads to another). Now we are told to keep quiet about these things to protect our mosdos (institutions), maintain bitochen (confidence) in rabbonim (rabbis), and uphold daas torah (doctrine of leadership by leading rabbis). Now the approach is to fire the rebbe (religious school teacher) after he is indicted so we can tell the newspapers we acted. What a chiddush (novel idea) that the ribonno shel olom (master of the universe) reads the newspapers to learn about these things. Jews who want to know the truth have to read the New York Times, the Forward, the Jewish Week, and the Internet. On the web, people expose the names of our molesters and their protectors. I have been told they use nivul peh (foul language) as if that is our biggest problem.
How can we accept a chidush of nisht geferlich (not terrible) when these acts are far worse violations of tznius (modesty) then the clothing we discourage in our neighborhood. How can anyone believe a victim should suffer shame so we can have mercy on a criminal?
I should have cried out against these perversions of torah. I sinned with my silence and this led others to sin.
I am an old man. Every day I get more and more afraid of facing the dayan emes (true judge). It is time for me to leave my four cubits of shalom. All who know me can give witness: not once in my 43 years as Rebbe, not once, have I been involved in a dispute. But now I will speak out because this is a machlokes l’shem shamayim (dispute for the sake of heaven). Now it is a time to be like Pinchas, not Aaron Hacohen.
It pains me to criticize Agudas Yisroel, a group to which I have belonged all my life. My holy grandfather was at the first knessiah (conference) in Poland. They have made a terrible mistake in discouraging victims from reporting abuse to the police.
One who violates the rules against mesirah (snitching) is chayev misah, But equally bad is a dayan (religious judge) who misuses din mesirah (rule against snitching) to ignore pikuach nefesh (mortal danger).
When I still used to sit in beit din with most of the other rabbonim in Brooklyn I saw several cases where there were accusations of abuse. Sometimes the parents raised the charge. Sometimes the molester started the din torah (religious court proceeding) to keep his job. Not once did I see a molester falsely accused. Not once did I see a case reach a beis din where the accused had not already been warned.
Not once did I ever see true tshuvah by the accused. Sometimes they would cry and admit they did something wrong but not what they were accused of. Then they would promise be careful not to even cause “misunderstandings.” Then they would speak of rachmonis, not for their victims but for themselves and their own families. I should have chastised them for mocking the rules of tshuvah.
Once they were away from us, they would behave like we gave them a hechsher (endorsement of innocence), like l’havdil, OJ Simpson after his acquittal. Some of those who cried had the chutzpah to later proclaim their complete innocence.
After someone molests how can you give him a hechsher (certification of fitness) to work with children? When a butcher sells treyf chickens, we don’t let him cry to a beis din and automatically get another hechsher. Not even a mashgiach temimi (full-time supervisor) is good enough. Yet, it is easier to put one on a butcher shop than on a molester. I don’t know of any Jew who has a tayvah (desire) to sell trayf but it happens. We were given din yichud and negiah because we are not angels and we all have certain tayveh’s. Even Yosef hatzadik was only saved at the last moment because he saw the tzurah of Yaakov Avinu. Yosef did not have a perverted tayvah like our molesters.
Some say these people can do tshuvah. With help from rabbonim and therapists they can stop these things. Let me tell you a story.
After the churban (holocaust) I gave all my strength to help the shearis hapletah (survivors). One Thursday I was ill but worked all day. I had to get up at four the next morning when I only got to sleep at midnight.
Suddenly, someone banged rudely on the door. I was angry but I looked outside and it was nebbach, another one from the camps. I invited him in and offered him some food and he rudely said “no!” I said, “at least let me give you some tea.” Again, rudely, “no!” He refused a place to sleep or bathe, clothing, money, help finding a job, a place to live, or a place to learn and pray.
“Why did you wake me up in middle of the night?” I asked. He says, “I woke you up because I need to tell you a story.” I said “good” but explained I was getting up early, so if possible he should tell me the short version, stay with us through shabbos and then we could talk at length. He said, “No, it is a long story and I need you to listen right now!”
I started begging him to let me sleep. He got angry and said “I am going to stand by your doorway tomorrow, show my concentration camp tattoo and tell people that you and your father won’t help a Jew.” He blackmailed me. This is his story.
When I was twelve I felt a tayvah to do evil things with young children. Every day I would think of methods and I would befriend children. The week after my bar mitzvah I ran away from the town hoping to control my tayvah by learning. I tried every derech in my part of Poland: chassidish and litvish, and even the methods of the maskilim. The more I was able to learn, the more people trusted me and that made me more dangerous.
I decided to stop learning and instead distracted myself with backbreaking work. I found a job in a quarry where I pried and schlepped heavy blocks with Polish goyim. I got myself a room and spent my time working, eating, and going to a nearby shtiebel which I chose because it had no young people. I also started learning mussar with an old man, Reb Yisroel.
After maariv on rosh chodesh Ellul he asked me to come home with him. He sat me down and said,”R. Nachman of Bratzlav took no one as a chossid until he did a complete vidui with him. That vidui had to include a complete confession of all sexual misbehavior including thoughts . Everybody is different. But I can see you will never be kovesh es yitzro (master evil inclination) unless you do such a vidui in front of someone else.” With tears and shame, I completely confessed every detail of my desires and plans.
Reb Yisroel told me:
You were wise to leave your town. I know from others that the rav of your old kehillah is a rashah. I can give you advice, seforim, disciplines, fasts, and punishments but they won’t save you. I have a mesorah from my mussar teacher, going back many generations, that a person like you must take a certain neder (vow) before a beis din.
I agreed and before three rabbonim took a neder to never work with children. to never be alone with children, to not do a shidduch until I told the woman about my tayvah and neder and to get her agreement to not have me be alone with my own children. Finally I agreed to not live in any new place without again taking this neder in front of a beis din.
I continued to study mussar and I was constantly vigilant. But at last I was no longer in constant terror of falling down to the lowest level. I had several happy years of working and learning.
Then the Nazis came and took everyone in our town to a small concentration camp. While we were being transported to the camp Reb Yisroel said his vidui. He told me not to say vidui yet because I would live, I would keep my nedorim, and would eventually have children. When we reached the camp, the sick, the children and the old, including Reb Yisroel, were taken away and killed. In the camp my tayvah was overtaken by hunger and fatigue. Now my dreams were about food.
After liberation I was taken to a DP camp where I repeated my neder. I got into New York this morning and after asking around I got your name as someone who might help me.
I understood and called up two other rabbonim in the middle of the night and they came to my house and he took this neder. Then he finally ate and went to sleep.
Baruch hashem, he recovered his health and found parnassah. I introduced him to a woman for a shidduch. As he promised, he said, “before you say “yes,” you need to know something.” With great embarrassment he shared his story. She was impressed and comforted by his honesty. They married, and had children and grandchildren, good, very fine yiden.
Many years later, when this man was close to death he asked all his children to gather around him while he said his vidui. Before he started he told them “I am sorry to embarrass you but better I should lose kovvod here than mislead you. I don’t want anyone to lie and credit me with qualities I don’t have. I am ordering you not to allow any hespedim (eulogies).” He did his vidui specifically admitting the desires he fought.
I was in Eretz Yisroel until after the shiva. When I got back the oldest son told me:
During the shiva many came and said what a great baal midos my father was, and how they could see that his children and grandchildren were baal midos. Until now I was always surprised and looked down on people whose personal qualities were not so fine. For me and my brothers and sisters it was easy. Now I understand how the hard work of my father made it easy for us to acquire middos. He did deserve a hesped.
Tonight, biderech hesped, I declare this man, zichrono livrochoh, was a tzaddik and a gibbor b’yisroel. Ayzehu gibbor, hakovesh es yitzro; who is the strong man, one who conquers his inclinations. He certainly conquered a very strong inclination. In his life he was gentle except when that was not enough to stop people who were harming children. The only time he was rough with me was the evening I met him. That was chutzpah l’shem shmayim. It was my great zchus to know him. May our people be blessed with many other great ones like this tzadik and gibbor, zichrono l’vrochoh.
I tell this story to make it clear I do believe in tshuvah. I have heard a story of a yeshiva teacher in another country who molested several children and then did complete tshuvah. If these stories are true, that man is an even a greater Tzaddik. But are we to start believing that many of those who molest our children will someday be worthy of an ArtScroll biography and a gadol card?
I do not personally know of any cases where someone molested once and stopped. We must treat all these people as rodfim. All our rabbonim know that l’halocaha, we treat one who molests like one who kills. Nowhere in the Shulchan Oruch does it say that when a rodef is chasing you you have to ask a beis din before you can kill him or call 911. Any rov who tells you otherwise is not a shofet (judge) but a shoter, a fool not fit to clean the toilet in a courthouse in Sodom. As R.Yossef Blau has said, going to bes din only makes it worse. I was hoping others would listen to R Blau. Until now I did not speak out because I hoped individual kehilos would come to the derech hayashur. Chatassi, I avoided speaking out myself even though I knew that our community was not going to listen to a mashgiach ruchani in Yitzchok Elchonon.
Finally, I know I must act. Agudas Yisroel claiming to act for our torah has the chutzpah to misrepresent halacha. I must speak out. Everyone who has solid reason to believe there was molesting is mechuyav to go the police immediately.
Any rav who tells you to delay reporting violates the d’oraisa of lo taamoid al dam reyechah (“do not stand by on the blood of another”). One who gives such advice is choteh u’machti (One who sins and causes others to sin).
Do not be misled by Mr Zweibel’s statement that the Agudah is promoting a besdin to assure that if children are placed in foster homes they will go to frum homes. As Mr Zweibel knows, NY protective services always works with us on finding frum foster homes for the children. However, as Mr Zweibel knows, Rav Eliyashev has ruled that when a child is in danger of being molested, we report to the authorities even when we know the child will be placed with non-Jews.
As a final chutzpah Mr Zweibel says in the name of all of us that Mr Hynes, the District Attorney for Brooklyn, is making “a grab at the power of our community.” Do we say, dinah malchusah dinah, unless Agudah grabs part of it? Mr. Hynes is the District Attorney! He is assigned the job of dealing with violations of the law of New York State. As bnei noach, NY State, and Mr Hynes as its shliach, must have and enforce laws against geneivah, shfichat dam and arayos. A medinah can have other laws. A medinah is mechuyav to have courts to enforce these laws. As yiden, we are not allowed to corrupt those courts with bribes or threats.
I give thanks for this government that is a medinah shel chesed. A power grab? In golus this is not the power of a kehillah unless the medinah grants it to us. Mr Zweibel, are you telling us they gave Agudah the power? Did I miss that article in Hamodia? Do you have a piece of paper to show me that I never noticed? Do you think that a picture with a politician means that the power belongs to Agudah instead of the government? Mr Zweibel, I see where the halacha recognizes the power of the government. Please show me where it gives this power in golus to the Agudah?
Mr Zweibel since Agudah’s statement is in all the newspapers, I urge you to publicly retract it in a convincing way. I beg you to retract the statement and graciously retreat from this chutzpah. We cannot allow the great chillul hashem of abandoning our children or having others think we are abandoning our children. Please do not create a chillul hashem by forcing us to publicly disagree with you.
My ancestor, the Mishpat Tzedek, called on us to be chasidim shlemim (Whole, with integrity). Until now we took that to mean no mitzva could be ignored. I have never sought Hasidim who were not committed to shlemus, to the fulfillment of every mitzva, bein adam l’chaveiro (in relation to others), as much as every mitzva bein adam l’makom (religious obligations to G-d). As a Rebbe I am blessed by the Chassidim who cleave to me. I may have failed you in your pursuit of shlemos by not teaching enough about our achrayis for all children, not just the children in our Kehillah Kedoshah. But kol Yisroel areivim, we are responsible for the failures of other Jews, we are all responsible for our children. I accept on myself the responsibility for going forward to help save all the children. I say this even if it means machlokes.
In the days to come we will be summoned to difficult but important actions. We will try to get others to change by appealing to their Yiddeshe Neshomos. I believe that most of those who sinned by inaction were misled. If we find out that some will not be moved by this opportunity for tshuvah, we have to remember the words of the rambam about one whose ancestry is uncertain. If they are from Amalek we excpect achzorios (we excpect the descendents of Amalek to be cruel). But descendents of Avrohom are rachmonim and bnei rachmonim (merciful and the descendents of merciful ones). Those who chas v’cholileh don’t change their ways have to be suspected of being part Amalek, yemach shemo v’zichro.
Al Tiru, do not be afraid. It says in the torah that Amalek attacked achrechah (which some read as from behind) but chassidim also read it as those we left behind. That is, we rushed and didn’t pay attention to those who were weaker and slower. Only because of that was Amalek able to attack them. But if we always make sure we are with those who are weak, if we leave no one behind, amalek will not succeed in attacking any of us.
Bzchus a great thsuvah, Bzchus that we can say Shamati, Hineni, I listen to the cries of the children, and here I am ready to act we will be zocheh bemvias goel tzedek moshiach tzidkeinu, bimheira biyomenu, Amen