Coping with the Sassoon Tragedy

Sassoon 7 children before burialSeven Sassoon children died in a fire which started on a hotplate left unattended on a Friday night. The community was at its best when it came out en masse, here and in Israel, for the funeral and burial. In truth, the words were needless; the tragedy spoke for itself, as did the outpouring of sympathy and sorrow.

Some rabbis just had to start blaming the tragedy on this or that sin. But this was a very observant family from a very observant community. It certainly is a community whose standards of observance are strict and continually getting stricter. But the blamers are like kids with new hammers who keep striking nails well after they are fully set because that is the skill they have mastered. Into that camp I would lump Rabbis Yosef Mizrachi, Zecharia Wallerstein and Lazer Brody. These are rabbis who do kiruv outreach by scaring people and picking at their scars, guilt and superstition. Brody said:

During the time of the Holy Temple, on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh, 7 lambs are sacrificed as atonement for the Jewish People. Since we don’t have the Holy Temple, Hashem took the 7 unblemished “lambs” of the Sassoon family instead… People ask what they can do for the Sassoon children – the answer is simple: teshuva.

I have to wonder why no one reflected on the obvious sin connected to innocent children, sexual molestation. It is a sin that causes grievous emotional and spiritual harm to innocent children. It despoils their innocence. It is a sin at the center of the book of Leviticus we just started reading. The various sexual prohibitions are read out loud on Yom Kippur because the aspiration to holiness cannot withstand such sins. It is a sin that harms about a fifth of all children.

The fire happened in the Midwood/Flatbush area where Rabbi Gershon Kranczer and his sons assaulted and raped the family’s daughters. No one deals with it and everyone seems to be OK with his flight to Israel including his alma mater, Yeshiva Chaim Berlin which is alleged to be shielding him in Israel. It is the home of Yeshiva Torah Temimah which knowingly employed Rabbi Yehudah Kolko who molested children every year for decades until he was finally arrested. Yet the Yeshiva is still a popular local school, even though the guilty administration remains unbowed and unapologetic. It is the home of Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, Rosh Yeshiva at Torah Vodaath, protector of molesters, Yehuda and Yosef Kolko and defender of Rabbi Dovid Weinberger who sexually exploited women. The list is much longer.

I am not presuming to say the Sassoon children died because of the community’s high tolerance for child sexual abuse. But if I were to be in the business of offering explanations based on sins that is where I would look. But attacking sex abuse in the orthodox world is not good for the kiruv business, so these rabbis ignored it. Nor is admitting the sins of insiders good for the self image of the community which prides itself on religiosity by making a fetish of ever higher levels of obsessions about the tafel (subsidiary) while neglecting the ikkar (essential).

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9 thoughts on “Coping with the Sassoon Tragedy

  1. I have been somehow connected to almost every person listed above, before they were exposed as abusers or protectors of abuse. I felt guilt for being a part of this community. I just realized that I never really was part of this community, I only physically lived here, that’s it. Being a fish out of water my whole life, as isolating as it was, has served me well.

  2. Excellent Post Yerachmiel, I wish this could find its way to the masses. But..whats the point, they dont believe it. Look at the DT comments regarding Sima Yarmush’s video….its heartbreaking to see the cruelty of the commenters.

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