Training to Confront Authority

Reflecting on his pilot training, Andrew B. McGee writes in today’s New York Times

In the 1960s and ’70s, several crashes were judged primarily a result of pilot error, some stemming from the hierarchical relationship between the captain and the co-pilot. Co-pilots were often afraid to challenge the captain’s decisions, and the results could be disastrous. In training, they played us a cockpit voice recording of a co-pilot timidly telling the captain they were running out of fuel; he didn’t mention it again before the engines flamed out……

My dad told me about a captain he flew with when he was a co-pilot. The guy was known to panic. A baggage truck backed into the plane while it was on the ground. It shook it only a little, but the captain yelled over the intercom, “Everyone evacuate!” Crew members blew the emergency slides, people fell off the wings trying to get out; there were injuries. It was a cautionary tale of how personality can inform a situation.

Oftentimes, there are early cues of misbehavior whether by pilots, sexual predators, or others abusing their authority. Training for safety has to include training to confront authority as necessary, whether it is the senior pilot, the boss, the teacher, the rabbi or the parent.

Authority is necessary for an orderly society but so too are limits on authority. In theory, if not in practice, soldiers and police officers are supposed to refuse to carry out unlawful orders. Mindful of WW II atrocities, Israel and the reconstituted German state made that an important part of the training of soldiers.

Perhaps it is time to consider the same sort of training for the orthodox world. I heard a story about the first Satmar Rebbe, Joel Teitelbaum. He asked a boy what he would do if the Rebbe ordered him to violate shabbos. The boy said, “If the rebbe orders, I would do it.” The Rebbe whacked the boy and said, “If I order you to violate shabbos, you should hit me.” I don’t approve of the educational method, but the message is sound.

One of the great failings of orthodox education is the inability to even admit that authority figures can be totally wrong, dangerously wrong, even, immorally wrong.

Shannon Orand had the misfortune of relying on Leib Tropper as her conversion mentor. He sexually exploited her. Eventually she completed her conversion with different rabbis. According to the Jerusalem Post

Shannon Orand Conversion Beit Din

Shannon Orand Conversion Beit Din

During the conversion process, [Rabbis Dov] Lior, [Shmuel] Eliyahu and the third rabbi asked Orand if she was not totally disenchanted by the prospect of conversion after her negative experiences. “I told them that I come from Christianity, an idolatrous religious that worships a man as God. Judaism, in contrast, worships God directly. And no man can take that away from me. I am not worshiping a man anymore,” said Orand.

She got it right. We Jews do not and should not worship flesh and blood.

P.S. For an example of someone who knew better from the get-go, see The Convert in the Deli


10 thoughts on “Training to Confront Authority

  1. I am writing to appeal for advice concerning a row I am having with my spouse, which at this time is tearing us apart.

    I have seen that a Rav in my community has been sexually abusing married women – and although acknowledged, he still remains an active Rav (albeit somewhat reduced).
    I have seen girls/young women from my community sent to Sems in Israel be sexually abused (clerical mentor abuse) by their Rosh Sem – and whilst the Rosh Sem has been removed, those who allowed and enabled the abuse to occur remain in their roles unscathed, and continue unhindered, whilst the victims are unsupported and unrecognized.
    I have seen a Royal Commission in Australia tear into the Jewish religious leadership for their significant enabling of abuse of many, many children, with a recognition that similar abuse must be taking place elsewhere in the world unchecked.

    I feel I have to protect my own children.

    I viewed the video by Sima Yarmush at, and in the face of the abuse problem in our community thought it a a must see.
    I believe that it will be an essential inoculation for my children (those from 13+) – although hurtful and somewhat inappropriate, it will nevertheless open their eyes and give them awareness that will protect them from future sexual abuse. Just like a measles inoculation protects against measles, watching the video, whilst hurtful, is necessary to protect them from possible future sexual abuse.

    But my spouse refuses to countenance our children watching. My spouse was grateful for my pointing out the video to them, as they believe it is useful for parents to watch, but my spouse holds it is inappropriate for children as i) it weakens their faith in Rabbis, and ii) it would lead to children being fearful to tell their parents about abuse, as it could lead the children to fear that terrible problems would develop if they told their parents, just as occurred when the speaker told her parents in the video (her parents were shunned and ostracized).

    I believe my spouse is incorrect, and that whilst both points are issues, they can be handled by discussion. I am determined to sit with my children (boys and girls separately) and watch the video with them, and then discuss it, as I hold it is an essential inoculation. But my spouse is determined to stop me.

    I am taking a deep breath, and asking for outside wisdom to help us decide on the right course of action.
    Any true wisdom would be greatly appreciated.

    • Contact Mageinu. They go into schools and discuss this issue with the kids in an age appropriate manner. I saw a presentation given by the woman who heads it, can’t remember her name. She seemed to have made a study of this, of how best to approach this topic with kids of different ages. I myself wanted to contact the principals of my kids schools to bring her in and talk to the kids, but my own children begged me not to. I probably would have been blown off anyway, as I neither have money nor influence of any kind.

    • Not knowing your children, I cannot give advice about whether the video is the right method of raising the issue with them. But age-appropriate education is essential when it comes to child safety. That includes their right to not be touched or talked to inappropriately, not to be influenced or threatened into keeping secrets, and knowing that if something happens, however bad or embarrassing, they should talk to you and you will help them.

      Most important is that the rules apply to anyone whether a teenager or adult, a lay person or a rabbi and even a principal or a rosh yeshiva. Nobody has the right to behave wrongly with them. included has to be the fact that sometimes respected people will do very bad things in private. Not usually, but if it happens they don’t get a pass. Most, most important is letting them know that you will fight for them no matter how respected the culprit.

      It doesn’t matter what methods you use to get those messages across. The best educational approach depends on the kid’s age and personality and your relationship. But if they learn that and believe that, you will have done a lot to protect your kids and if something happens you will thereby, reduce the damage dramatically.

      PS- It is important they not think that the bad guy is necessarily a stranger, but in fact will usually be someone they know and trust. Also, while most offenders are male, there are female offenders who do things with boys or girls (e.g., Malka Leifer principal of a Haredi girls school in Australia who is now indicted). So don’t limit examples to men or lay people. And definitely don’t limit them to strangers or gentiles.

      • Yerachmiel, My children have (I hope and pray – one can never be sure) appropriate education about touching, inappropriate speech, etc., etc.

        But what really scares me is grooming and then abuse by a charismatic Rav, as demonstrated by the YouTube video.
        I don’t see any defence that my children have from a charismatic Rav – Our charedi circles inherently inculcate in our children that Rabbonim are trustworthy – Rabbonim make and interpret psak (the law) after all, and are believed (certainly by my children) to have Ruach HaKodesh in making psak.

        How can a child (even a grown-up child) prevent such a determined evil ‘Rav’ develop a strong innocent relationship (a.k.a. grooming), and then later step up the relationship to include abuse, whilst telling them that what they are doing is mutar (allowed) ?
        The first two real life examples of multiple abuse in my message above involve such cases.

        I believe the YouTube video is an excellent inoculation against such danger. Yes, like any inoculation, it has an immediate negative downside, but this can be managed and discussed, and the downside is trivial I believe compared to the positive protection offered.

        I believe my children are at risk despite their anti-abuse education.
        Am I wrong in believing that the benefits of showing them the video would vastly outweigh the detriments ?

        p.s. – To Sheri – We live in Europe, so Mageinu is not available to us.

        • Teach them Elisha ben Abuya (aka Acher) a tana of the Mishnah who became a heretic. Teach them about Shabtai Tzvi who many Jews believed was the moshiach till he converted to Islam. Teach them about know contemporary rabbis who turned out to be sex abusers, were criminally charged, and denounced by important rabbis (such as Avrohom Mondrowitz). Teach them that some things cannot be true Torah and if a rabbi tells them otherwise, he is a faker and sinner, and so much for the worse for him because he definitely knows better and should behave better.

          • On second thought maybe don’t teach them about Acher, since he had integrity and was open about his heresy. Ever after his heresy Rabbi Meir still learned from him and Elisha respected Meir’s observance enough to remind him when he was close to violating the techum shabbos. A rabbinic molester lacks that same integrity.

            • OK, I guess from your comments that you agree with my spouse, and don’t think it appropriate to show my age 13+ children the video, followed by a careful discussion with them.

              Teaching them instead about Shabtai Tzvi, Baruch Lebovits, the Kolko’s, etc., etc. just doesn’t work, as they can’t see past the fact that those were imposters and not real charedi Jews.
              Whereas they believe that their Rabbonim are real charedi Jews (as most of them are) and therefore implicitly trustworthy and incapable of abuse.
              They may theoretically ‘know’ that this is not so, but when ‘push comes to shove’ they are unable to really accept that the person presenting as their charedi rabbi might actually start to abuse them, and so they remain at risk, as were the married women and girls from my community that I referred to who have actually been abused.

              I wanted to use the power of the video to get the necessary message across to them. Watching a real charedi Jew tell of her experiences of being abused by a rabbi they knew almost certainly would achieve this object.

              But I guess from the response that my spouse is right, and the dangers from watching the video are too great for them.

            • I didn’t say I agreed with your husband. I said that is a judgment call that has to be made by somone closer to the situation. It may also be appropriate for one of your children an not another. However, you are right, they need to understand that anyone can be the offender and if they are, the gloves come off no matter what their status. Of course, such education is tough because the entire haredi culture not only ignores that possibility but all but denies that it is possible. In spite of your skepticism, I think it worth exploring those lessons as well as the great Biblical stories of repentant sinners who were considered great men like Dovid, Yehudah, etc.

              PS, you may want to consider:

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