How Abraham Could Have Saved Sodom

Elimelech Meisels Purim Punk Pninim Rabbi watermarked finFor five days I have anguished about a perverse rabbinical court ruling. It twists facts and tangles logic; it betrays honest witnesses and rewards those who lied. It does all this to protect institutions and jobs.

If Abraham had been pleading to this rabbinical court, he would have dispensed with appeals to a just G-d. He wouldn’t have concerned himself with the number of righteous people. He wouldn’t have settled with just bringing out his nephew Lot and Lot’s family. Instead he would have declared: “Surely a just rabbinical court would not let 150 people lose their jobs, not when they are supporting men who learn Torah in kollel, not when they come from prominent families.”

'Sire, Sodom and Gomorrah are requesting Federal disaster relief aid.'Abraham would not have even settled for demoting just those who allowed Sodomy to happen on their watch. Abraham would have pleaded, “But surely a just rabbinical court realizes that if we admit this much, everyone else will be tainted. No! You must declare that you believe all who claimed ‘my hands did not shed this blood or even knew about it.’”

Abraham would not even have asked the court to at least chastise the sodomizer himself for his many deeds. He would have pleaded, “But no one will believe that others didn’t know. Instead we must use the language of mysteries so the naïve can believe it was just a few hugs unknown to everyone else.”

Before such a court Abraham would have prevailed and saved the Yeshiva of Sodom and the Yeshiva of Shame and Ayver. After such a court, people wouldn’t be ashamed to say they came from Sodom, studied in the Yeshiva of Sodom, or committed Sodomy.

Postscript: I will post an accurate translation of the ruling on these seminaries tomorrow morning. If you are sensitive, don’t read it or skip breakfast. In the days that follow, I will critique its many convoluted deceptions.

However, do not despair. This judgement will have to answer to a higher authority and I am not presuming to speak for the heavenly court. The US Department of Education will have access to the testimony given to this court. Touro College will not be able to restore accreditation to these seminaries because the US Department of Education can cut off funding to institutions that do not punish sexual violence, or do not punish those who allow it. Stay tuned for more about Title IX and its legal implications for the Meisels seminaries.

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27 thoughts on “How Abraham Could Have Saved Sodom

  1. I will await the full translation before commenting directly on the recent ruling. In the meantime, it’s important to realize that what has happened — what is still happening — is, sadly, a predictable consequence of institutional dynamics. We should never expect a beth din — any beth din — to dispense any kind of justice in a sex abuse case unless it feels strong public pressure to do the right thing. Once the pressure dissipates, say goodbye to justice. And that’s not because of any particular rabbinic bad apples; it’s because there are always powerful pressures on a beth din to cover up or minimize the offense, to protect the guilty (or at least the enablers) and to stigmatize the innocent so that other victims think several times before coming forward.

    For the same reason, we need to learn that nothing will change if we go on playing by the rules, because this is a game in which the rules are made by the powerful and in which victims always lose. Appealing to rabbinic good will or trusting to beth din justice will not work.

    And don’t expect Orthodox public discourse about the case to be any more honest than the joint beth din. If we want genuine reporting about abuse and its cover-ups, we will have to make that happen. (Right here, for a start.) No one will simply give us the truth, any more than the rabbinic leadership will simply stand aside and let justice take its course. Power yields nothing without demand, as Frederick Douglass said. It never has — it never will.

  2. It is truly sickening. If this is what Torah produces, if a Beis Din comprised of some of the biggest Rabbanim in the USA cannot even measure up to the pinky toe of the shadow of justice dispensed by Penn State – a secular college – then what in the world are the Rabbanim good for, and what good is their Torah, their yeshivos, their learning, their halachos, or their battei dinim? These are the interpreters of Torah? These are the decisors of halachah and of Hashem’s will? These men, these rabbanim who claim to represent Torah are nothing but pawns and puppets, putty in the hands of those with the most prestige, the most money or the most familial pressure to bend their will. If these are the same men we trust with our halachic shailos, with “Daas Torah,” with advice and family guidance, we would be better off following our G-d given conscience and G-d given minds than consulting “Daas Torah.” Because any moron with eyes in his head knows blatant injustice when he sees it. If Torah and batei din cannot dispense even a fraction of the justice, honesty or humility that Penn State was able to muster up, if Torah and batei din cannot stand up for and are unwilling to protect the weakest and most vulnerable of our society, especially when victims build up the courage to come forward and blow the whistle on the big and powerful and “choshuv,” then tell me why we consider it “great” and “important” to have all this Torah learning going on? If this is the product, if these are the halachic interpreters of Torah, if this is the justice of the highest Torah court, if these are the most important representatives of Torah, then what in the world is the point? And where are the other “Gedolim”? Surely they have been informed of such an important issue and have been asked by those under them to weigh in with their guidance. They are silent. The “Gedolim” are silent. Shtika K’hodaya.

    • Exactly, Seriously? I believe now that my parents made a huge mistake in becoming BTs, the righteousness in Judaism I once believed in is nothing more than a farce, keeping shabbos and kosher simply do not make you a better person in any way. The whole kiruv movement exists to create naive BTs and then to have somebody to control and to sneer at, possibly even to abuse. I would like to see this whole saga posted on Aish.com, let every potential BT see what they might be inflicting on themselves and on future generations. Oh, but you say Judaism is perfect, don’t judge Judaism by the Jews? We can see here that the most learned of Jewish men simply don’t have the backbone to do the right thing. Why did they even enter into leadership positions in the first place?

      • Sheri, to quibble: if you believe the Torah was given by God, then your parents did the right thing by becoming BTs, didn’t they? I am no longer a believer, but that’s not due to the shortcomings of the community, rather to the shortcomings of the evidence for faith.

        • Agreed. Vihameyvin yavin. Questions started because of disillusionment with the community, ended recently in a similar place to the one you’re in, based your comments here and on other blogs. (If you are, in fact, the same tesyaa everywhere. BTW, love your comments, and no, I’m not a stalker, way too busy trying to survive for that.)

          • Sheri, I think I’m the only tesyaa commenting; thanks for the compliment. It’s also nice to know I’m not alone…it’s good to be reminded.

            • You are far from alone. Ditto Sheri’s sentiments. I’ve read and enjoyed your comments on a number of blogs over the years. Were you born into a believing family?

            • Well, I’m quite a newby to all of this stuff, and I’m so alone, but I’m not alone, thanks to you guys….

            • I’m technically a BT, but I was raised in a very traditional, shul-going family with a lot of Jewish identity and observance.

      • I sympathize with the comments made by Sheri and by tesyaa, but personally (and as a B.T. myself, I guess) I would put the issue a little differently. In brief: the idea of the divinity of Torah (and it is, after all, just that — an idea) means that those who embrace it need to devote everything we have, every strength and every virtue, to making it worthy of that description. Wherever it or its representatives fall short, it’s our job to step forward, point out the fault, and correct it as best we can. Otherwise we have no Torah; we only have a party line. And God? Well, would God want his name associated with deceit, superstition and criminal enabling?

        I know I’m being very terse and doubtless provocative, but the nub of the matter is that, to me, THAT is Judaism. What rabbinic leadership does may or may not contribute to it, but the proof of the pudding is the moral outcome.

        A Chinese proverb has it: “When the world is rotten, the wise man [or woman] rolls up and keeps it inside.” There’s always something worth keeping inside. But when our world is rotten, it’s time to roll up… and for heaven’s sake, stop following.

        • Hate to argue with you, Mr. Lesher, as you are far smarter and more knowledgeable than I am. What we are seeing here IS the moral outcome, don’t you see? My whole life I’ve lived among these people, believing in their goodness, after all, my BT Dad said all frum Jews are good. I truly thought they were better than me, those oh so pious daughters of yichus, living such devoutly religious lives. They believed in their God given superiority. These people couldn’t care less about sex abuse, they look at me like I’ve lost my mind when I bring up the subject. Then come the apologetics, without the slightest effort to discern the truth. This is the moral outcome of claiming superiority over all others, this wonderful bogus Beis Din verdict. I was raised with a party line, they called it “Torah”, and they used it to prove that the worst behavior was not only allowed by the Torah, but encouraged by it. (BTW, the God of the Bible seems to look aside at, if not outright encourage, deceit, only for the best of purposes, of course. Don’t you think the original CBD members, not to mention then IBD members, have rationalized that what they’ve done is all to protect the good name of their “Torah” and those that learn it? They probably don’t look at themselves in the mirror and see the denizens of S’dom that they are, do they?)

          • I’m not arguing with you, Sheri. In fact, I agree with you. If you were to say that Orthodox Judaism is more a form of organized crime than a religion, though I might suggest the colorful phrasing isn’t particularly helpful in serious argument, I couldn’t really dispute the conclusion.

            All I’m saying — and this is a personal view I don’t mean to impose on anyone else — is that I’m not prepared to hand over sole ownership of a religious tradition, in many ways an illustrious one, to a rabble of charlatans, know-nothings, liars, bigots and faith healers. Moving out might simplify some issues for me, but the sacrifice involved in surrendering the castle keys to the mob — again, I’m speaking for myself — seems just too great.

            I’ve had a lot to say about sex abuse and Orthodoxy, and I’ve tried to put it all into my current book, which I hope you’ll want to read — not just for selfish reasons but because I honestly think it may help to support and clarify your own criticisms. And for a long time I’ve been critical, too, of the way Orthodox leadership and its publicists describe the so-called “kiruv movement.” This isn’t the place for details, but it should be obvious by now that a great many B.T.s were attracted to Orthodoxy for the wrong reasons and have been acculturated with appeals to their worst instincts. A culture, or sub-culture, that lionizes Avigdor Miller and Aish Hatorah is not to be trusted.

            But to say there are bad reasons for the attraction is to imply, at least, that there are (or can be) good reasons too. And I’m not speaking of timid traditionalists. The suspicion shown by much of Orthodoxy toward B.T.s — truly the dominant attitude, though sedulously concealed in its propaganda — reflects a certain instinctive shrewdness. People who really thrill to the moral fury of the prophets or the patient radicalism of Talmudic inquiry can be, in fact should be, a threat to established leadership. I think the rabbis sense that. (Which is one reason so little of the passion of the Hebrew prophets or of serious Talmudic scholarship ever surfaces in our yeshivas.) After all, if I’m right our job is not to accept what the bosses teach but to flay it mercilessly wherever it falls short of ideal. And this is by no means a problem for Orthodox Jews alone. In my book, as an epigraph to one chapter, I quote some fine words of Charlotte Bronte, a few of which I’ll repeat here: “Self-righteousness is not religion…. The world may not like to see these ideas dissevered, for it has been accustomed to blend them; finding it convenient to make external show pass for sterling worth…. It may hate him who dares to scrutinize and expose…but hate as it will, it is indebted to him.”

            Dear me, this is starting to sound preachy — always a good cue to stop. Besides, if I’m preaching, it’s largely at myself. (Or should I blame it on Bronte?) But again, I don’t disagree with anything you’ve written. In fact, you are confirming my own melancholy conviction that many of the B.T.s I’ve known, and even liked in some ways, would be a hell of a drag to live with. I don’t mean to let those people off the hook, either. But the real culprit, in the end, is the culture that seduced them — a fact that saddles people like me with a little more responsibility to try, at least, to start cleaning up the mess.

            Oh, and I’m Michael, if you don’t mind. If you feel I deserve respectful address I’m pleased at the compliment, but I don’t relish formality. (As for my own form of address, I have used your first name all along because it’s your user name; otherwise I would have reciprocated your style of salutation until told otherwise. My mother trained me to be rather careful in such matters, a teaching I still value.)

            • Wow, Michael, this is a beautiful and impressive statement. I knew the Leshers were special people, but this goes beyond special.

            • Okay, Michael, I can deal with your form of “preachiness” because unlike the rabbis and teachers that have preached to me, you actually have something meaningful to say. Although I’m personally ready to hand over ownership of the religion to the “rabble” you describe, I cannot leave my family. So your words have given me a bit of chizuk that maybe there’s still something here worth fighting for, seeing as how I’m stuck “here” anyway. I have ordered your book, though I have not received it yet. Oh, and just so you know, my BT parents were and are wonderful parents and grandparents, but I find it frustrating how hopelessly naive they still are (although marginally less so than when I was a kid). And they still think, on some level, that the “prominent” families in the neighborhood are above us. Even when all evidence shows that many of these people are no better than barbarians.

          • One thing I should clarify, or correct: what I wrote about B.T.s being a drag to live with wasn’t meant to imply that they’re bad people, or mean to their children, or hypocritical. Far from it. The ones I had in mind are good, committed, kind and still (amazingly) idealistic when it comes to Orthodoxy. THAT was what I meant by their being a drag to live with. How do you tolerate the true believer when you can see the foolishness in his idealizations? (Lord, how I sympathize with Orgon’s children and brother-in-law as they struggle to make him see Tartuffe for what he is — and with what guilty pleasure do I relish the analogs between that masterpiece and my own life…!)

            By the way, I appreciate tesyaa’s praise for my family as well as your own kind words about my writing. (I do hope the book rewards your interest.) For myself, I’m far too conscious of my own shortcomings to be tempted to much self-aggrandizement. For one thing, as I write in the book, I know I was once able to overlook wrongs that should have been obvious to me. Of course, I’m not unique in this, but it still amazes and shames me.

            • Give up the shame. Your ability to overlook the moral wrongs was fueled by the almost hypnotic trance of Orthodox religious belief. It is a cognitive mechanism which your brain engages in for psychological survival. There are two books I found which explain these mechanisms quite well, and are also entertaining reads. “You Are Not So Smart” and “You Are Now Less Dumb” both by David McRaney.

            • Aargh, how embarrassing. Had to look up your Moliere reference. Still discovering the joys of Google, since until the past year and a half, I led the good charedi life of no Internet access. Although I’ve always been a big reader, I’m beginning to feel the lack of an education. I felt pressure to choose a career (a job really) at a very young age, and my post high school studies focused on that. Then I got busy having babies and working, very little time to think…Guess that’s how the system works, stay busy, don’t think too much…I’m not saying I regret the babies, who are now teenagers and young adults (they give me a reason to go on in life). I just wish I could’ve somehow gotten a better education and also had them.

        • Well, would God want his name associated with deceit, superstition and criminal enabling?

          No!!! Why do you think the Temples were destroyed? And I can say more.

          God does not want his name associated with anything false, or at least anything that leads people in the wrong direction. (cf the 3rd commandment. Exodus/Shemos 20:7; Devorim/Deuteronomy 5:11)

          As long as those Rabbis are not truly respected, or more precisely, the deeds that they actually did (if you have assessed this correctly) are not considered to be the right thing to do, we and they are OK.

          By the way, you shouldn’t say ” would God want” but “does God want” or “do you think God wants”

  3. FOLLOW THE MONEY!!!

    As long as the seminaries keep spreading the wealth with jobs in EY and shochad in the high schools we working fools will keep being pressured into sending more korbanos for Malinowitz and Co. to feed to the next Meisels.

    Suckers, all of us. We spend 25K to send our kids to be brainwashed into believing that any psak din’ from any charaidi ‘bais din’ or kol koreh from a charaidi ‘gadol’ is worth the paper on which it is written.

    • Well, this gets back to what the Rambam (maionides) said about making the Torah a spade to dig with – and they have reasons to say that doesn’t apply now – but does it really not?

  4. I realized when I was 13 that when people who profess to be devout Jews act immorally, that reflects on them and not necessarily on Judaism.
    If a bunch of mathematicians or physicists act immorally, do we automatically say math or physics is false?
    If we do, we are fools.
    The same applies here, in my opinion.

    • But morality is not central to the claim they are authentic mathematicians. If a lot of faculty in a math department periodically cant or wont add up 2 + 2 as 4 it makes one doubt the value of that math department.

      It doesn’t prove that math is a false discipline, just that group of leaders. Haredi orthodoxy is based on the moral claims of their leaders and their right to be the ultimate community deciders. Enough moral failings and that is called into question. Torah can still be true, but its community leaders either are unworthy and thus should not be followed, or they are true representatives in which case the enterprise is called into question.

      • Torah as we practice it – Torah sheba’al peh – is decided upon by the leaders, the rabbanim. It is all based upon “Torah authorities.” If those “Torah authorities” are ethically and morally corrupt in their batei din – the place where Torah is adjudicated and determined – then it makes Torah corrupt as it is THEY who determine Torah.

        The rabbanim in this case DETERMINED what the halachah is. They gave a Psak Halachah. If they are ethically and morally corrupt, then their psak din is ethically and morally corrupt. And since they determine what the halachah is with their psak din, then halachah, which is Torah, becomes morally and ethically corrupt.

        If Torah was not determined by psak din, and halacha was not dependent upon rabbanim, then you could say that Torah is perfect. But “Lo bashamayim hi” – halacha it is not determined by Hashem, but by man, and not by any men, but by rabbanim. If those rabbanim corrupt it with bad morals and bad ethics, creating ethically and morally corrupt halacha by their psak din, then Torah itself is corrupt. And if nothing else, then the system lends itself to extreme corruption by ethically deficient leaders determining ethically corrupt halachic psak din and leaving no way for the individual to challenge those leaders or the Torah they determine.

        What is more, those rabbinic leaders are chosen for us, and we have no say in who is chosen. There is no openness or transparency in how they are chosen. It could be that they are simply extremely book smart, able to memorize a lot, or that their fathers or grandfathers owned the yeshiva. But this is the Torah system, and supposedly it’s perfect. The only problem is, it’s not perfect, and is rather clearly ethically and morally corrupt.

        To make matters worse, the only reason this is coming to light these past few years is because of the possibility for anonymous bloggers to open windows and let us see the horrors. As individuals in the community they and their families would have gotten crushed, ostracized and taken down by rabbinic leadership for speaking out or publicizing all the ethical and moral corruption. The only way they are able to do this is anonymously. What does that tell you about the theocracy we are living under? It is all about power, and not about theoretical Torah ideals, morals or ethics.

    • But morality is not central to the claim they are authentic mathematicians. If a lot of faculty in a math department periodically cant or wont add up 2 + 2 as 4 it makes one doubt the value of that math department.

  5. Lopin, I thought your goal with this whole expose all these months is to protect innocent girls… What do make of this dialogue, of which you have contributed to? Is this your goal, then? To try to destroy the chareidim? After the Jews saw their clearest revelation of G-d, at the Splitting of the Sea, when their faith was at an all-time high- it says Vayameenu baHashem ubiMoshe avdo.. They believed in G-d and in Moshe, HIs servant. In the same breath, in the same sentence. This illustrates, as many commentators note, that belief in G-d encompasses believing in His tzaddikim and rabonim as well. Are you trying to destroy our faith in G-d?
    The Oral Torah, just as crucial a part of Judaism as the Written Torah, is determined by the rabbonim. The Written Torah was sealed. The Oral Torah is still being expanded- by our Rabbonim. This is how G-d intended and intends it to be.
    Yiftach bdoro k’Shmuel bdoro. Even a leader who may appear to be mediocre compared to previous or greater leaders, has the same authority and authenticity that they had. If the generation does not merit a leader as great as other generations had, it is because of them, and they can only blame themselves- AND accept him as their genuine leader.
    Can you argue with this? Will you use the same arguments the Saducees used when they rejected the Rabbonim and the Oral Torah?
    Guess what?
    It is truth that endures. They have all but died out. Those that adhere to the Rabbonim and the Oral Torah still live and thrive on.
    Of course, it may just be that you are an atheist, and that is why you don’t believe in the Oral Torah- because you don’t believe in the Written Torah as well, or in any of the gifts and obligations that G-d gave HIs people. In that case, please come straight out and say so, instead of misleading and corrupting truthseekers by feeding them heresy.
    Thank you.

    • This debate is happening here because it is also happening in the frum world, just not visibly. It is all part of the collateral impact of communal failure to respond properly to sex abuse. I am neither promoting this reaction nor is it in my power to stop it.

      Rabbi Aron Feldman spoke in his email to Rabbi Malinowitz of exactly similar reactions by at least two of Meisels’ victims.

      Don’t shoot the messenger. In fact I am not even the messenger. I am just not censoring these truths.

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