It seems that we are always looking for an easy way out. We all want easy, simple, straight forward answers to all of our questions, answers that provide us with an effortless way to deal with the problems we encounter in our daily lives. We expect to go to an authority and present our conundrum and within seconds get the magic bullet response that will immediately resolve the matter. This is precisely the reason why doctors give antibiotics to patients even when they know that the patients symptoms are caused by a virus and the antibiotic is not likely to help. But, as a potent type of placebo, and only because we want to believe it, the antibiotic does help to ease the patient who seeks the easy answer.
Doctors have been faulted for allowing this to continue but they are often pressured into compliance by the realities of the patients they treat. It is the silver bullet and that is what people want. Students want to know exactly what will be on the test so that all they have to study is that limited topic to succeed. There is only limited interest in learning and understanding for its own sake. So teachers have been put into the position of teaching only for the test and as a result scores in overall knowledge and achievement have been declining. No matter, this is what is demanded of both students and teachers so both groups are compelled to comply. Similarly, we seek answers for deep metaphysical and religious issues from our halachic leaders with the same expectation of a simple answer. But, even worse, we also seek answers to issues they are not prepared to deal with. Unfortunately, they too are often eager to comply with an easy response.
This is not a question of who is at fault, we all are. It is more an issue of buying into a simple mindset which says that “all we want is to be told what to do.” But there are severe consequences with this approach. In medicine the consequence is that we are seeing the emergence of the super bug, the germ that will no longer be curbed by any antibiotics now available to us. In education, according to many, we are seeing the demise of creative thinking and the expansion of a society of students eager to learn little and play a lot on the newest technology. In religion we are seeing the rise of the rigid thinker who cannot entertain two ideas simultaneously out of a misdirected fear that their spirituality will be compromised rather then seeing the possibility of it being enhanced.
The results of a recently released unpublished study which reportedly indicates that 50% of students from Daati Leumi, or modern orthodox, families drop out of religious observance (or is it complete belief that they drop out of – hard to know because the study is not available for review) is being touted as proof by several rabbis that the modern orthodox lifestyle is a failure. They are using this as proof that haredism is the only way toward orthodox spirituality. This is yet another simplistic reaction to an issue that is complex and may have more to do with how students perceive the rigid training they from these very same rabbis. Furthermore, it may not even be true – you cannot evaluate the accuracy or validity of a study that is not published. Meanwhile, the same rabbis overlook published studies with results that can be verified, if not necessarily replicated, that anxiety disorders, are higher in haredi communities, substance abuse rates are similar in haredi and daati leumi communities and the dirty little secret that is never discussed is that drop out rates for religious observance may be highest in the most restrictive religious communities according to at least one study. Some of the studies suggest that many may maintain the external dress and appearances of the haredi world but personally do not keep the religious obligations of their belief system.
In a similar vein by indicating to their followers that they must first get approval from their leaders before filing a complaint with the appropriate authorities they still seek easy answers to dealing with such horrific problems as childhood sexual abuse. In this case, the easy answer is to deny and sweep it under the rug. It is absolutely true that there is a new social approach which states that abusers should be reported but it comes with the caveat that an expert rabbi should still be first consulted. The law states otherwise. The law requires the reporting of any reasonable suspicion. This is a requirement of the law for good reason. Only trained forensic specialists, usually only those in police or investigative forensics work, have the knowledge and experience to properly determine the veracity of a report of abuse, not a rabbi. There is a good deal of replicated research to support this but the knowledge base is not reviewed, again we allow ourselves to take the easy way out. By telling the rabbi we assume we are protected. But, this way is the easy way again and we are not only not protected we may be culpable in causing more abuse. Easy answers, only create more conflicts and pain.