Shafran Spews Nonsense and Bob Kolker Calls Him to Account

Avi Shafran is an active Agudah propagandist. His latest effort to protect molesters shows up in Cross-Currents.com. He argues that journalists like Hella Winston of The Jewish Week and Robert Kolker of New York Magazine unfairly claim that the ultra orthodox world probably has more abuse than other communities. Instead he insists that fear of G-d keeps people in line. In theory this could be true. But fear of civil authorities can also keep people in line. He blithely quotes Yochanan Ben Zakai’s dying blessing to his students, “[That] the fear of Heaven be to you like the fear of flesh and blood.”

He manages to either misrepresent or miss the main point; fear of heaven is not that common, but fear of flesh and blood is predictable and effective in deterring sinners. Instead he glorifies the ultra orthodox world as saturated with the fear of heaven. If this were true most of the cover-ups of abuse would be impossible. A righteous Jew threatened by his neighbors if he reported abuse would shrug them off, do the right thing, and not surrender to pressure and threats. These are all things that Avi Shafran knows.

Bob Kolker has come back with a powerful rejoinder. He writes,

Rabbi Shafran continues to completely (and, one can only assume by now, deliberately) ignore the cultural forces of shame and denial in his community that have kept alleged victims from going public for decades. Many people been waiting for years for him to take on the so-called shonda factor, lashon hara, shalom bayit, mesira, and chillul Hashem, all of which are invoked to keep victims from bringing their community unwelcome attention by the authorities.

This is the repression that silences victims. This is the repression that enables abusers. But those issues apparently don’t warrant his attention. Instead of encouraging abuse victims to go to the police, and instead of opening his community’s school’s to the same mandatory reporting policies as the public schools, he would rather go after New York magazine again. As I said in 2006, the last time he made this argument in a public forum, Rabbi Shafran is obviously more concerned with defending Judaism from paper tigers – illusory enemies – than he is with actually dealing with the problems of his community.

I hope that someday Rabbi Shafran will understand that every time he stands up to make the case that the fervently Orthodox aren’t vulnerable to abusers, he is contributing to a tragic chilling effect. How many people in his community are afraid to speak up, knowing that those in power won’t even acknowledge that their community is the slightest bit vulnerable?

And finally, I hope that someday he realizes that if he spent half the effort giving comfort to the abused than he does defending the powerful, his community would have a real reason to be proud of him.

I am puzzled by Shafran’s timing. I shared my thoughts about it with Bob Kolker.

I can only speculate that he is anticipating guilty verdicts in 3 cases. I think Weberman is the least of his concerns because Satmar is unequivocally anti-Agudah. However, in the next few days there will probably be a serious jury verdict for Emanuael Yegutkin, a yeshiva principal. But Yegutkin is also small potatoes.

More consequentially, Yosef Kolko will probably go on trial soon in Lakewood and his trial will expose proof of cover-ups by the establishment of BMG whose nominal head, Malkiel Kotler, is a member of the rabbinical inner circle of the Agudah. Folks familiar with the Kolko case expect a sentence of several decades. Your connection to Uncle Yiddi may be the reason Shafran attacked you.

It is bizarre to have Kolko and Jimmy Savile connected, but in fact both Kolkos and Jimmy all had powerful institutional protectors.

Update- see also rejoinders by Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn in  DaasTorah and Rabbi Natan Slifkin

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