Agudah Follows the Romans For the Same Dirty Reasons

Zweibel and Cardinal

David Zweibel of Agudah and Cardinal Dolan

Only two important groups stand in the way of strengthening legislation against child sex abusers in New York State: the Roman Catholic Church and its pipsqueak partner, Agudath Israel of America (aka Agudah).

Both groups decry sexual immorality, preach protection of the weak, and rhapsodize about their children. Yet they both have long, ugly histories of helping their molesters escape prosecution and financial reparations.

In 2010, Governor Andrew Cuomo badly wanted to legalize gay marriage in NYS. As always, the obstacle was the lobbying of the RCC and Agudah. So he cut a deal with them. They would denounce the act but not pressure legislators. In return they got his off-the-record promise not to extend the statute of limitations for child sex abuse. Instead, NYS would continue to have one of the shortest SOL’s in the US, requiring survivors to file criminal and civil complaints before their 23rd birthday.

Most survivors need more time before they are ready to confront their own demons and take on their abusers. He also protected them from what they feared, a window allowing survivors to sue for abuse that happened before the SOL’s were changed. Such windows expose abusers and force culpable individuals and institutions to compensate victims. They are embarrassing and costly for institutions that long covered up abuse, such as yeshivas, camps (e.g., Camp Agudah), and the RCC.

That deal has stuck. Every year since then, SOL reform legislation gets passed in the NYS Assembly and dies in the NYS Senate. Last year Cuomo promised to get such legislation passed. But it again died in the legislature. When Cuomo really wants something, it gets passed.

It seems to be happening again this year. A bill passed by an overwhelming margin in the Assembly and various SOL extensions are proposed by senators, but none seems likely to succeed. All sorts of spurious arguments are offered. The RCC and Agudah insist it would cost too much to comply and would bankrupt their institutions. As Marci Hamilton points out, the only bankruptcies were engineered by Catholic dioceses to shield assets. I have no doubt, that if a window is opened for suing for abuse in the past, some yeshivas and camps will also try to go down that route. Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz in fact floats the idea of exempting institutions with new management. He conveniently ignores how easy it is to change the formal management while leaving the same players and beneficiaries behind the scenes.

If you are upset about all this, contact Governor Cuomo and your NYS senators and let the know this is your big issue. Unless they are committed to get an SOL reform passed, let them know you will vote against them in the primaries and elections if they fail this test. Act now because there is only about a week before the legislature goes into recess on June 23.

Governor Andrew Cuomo:
Fax:(518)474-3767
Tel:(518)474-8390
email: gov.cuomo@chamber.state.ny.us
web: http://www.state.ny.us/governor

HOW TO CONTACT YOUR NYS SENATOR: If you don’t know who your senator is, go here to find out. But don’t waste your time on a written message if you can spare 5-10 minutes to call. That has much more impact. So now go to this site to find your senator by name. Click on their name, then on their contact tab. They will list their offices and their phone numbers. For good measure, call all their offices. Then get ten of your friends and family to do the same. There is only one thing certain about 99% of politicians. They want to get reelected. Let’s make them earn it.

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