What does it take to garner attention from the police? Now, what does it take for a Rabbi who is regarded as a respected member of a community to have the police and other authorities show up unannounced at his school, his charitable foundation or his summer camp and remove all the official documents, computers, ledgers and telephone records? We can all answer together – “Suspicion of a crime.” Most often it is the alleged misappropriation of several million dollars that should have been used for a child care or homebound services program but was instead used to invest and amass personal fortunes. I know what a minority of you are thinking – “The police are anti-Semites.” Some cynics are thinking “Most people don’t get caught. Too bad that he was.” Others of you are thinking “No big deal. He will get a good attorney and work out a plea deal.” And still others are thinking, correctly –“This is happening with a frequency that is disturbing. We are totally embarrassed.” Some will add the addendum “Did he have to have a beard and wear the clothing that marks him as one of us?”
Now I will tell you what I am thinking: This is a much bigger issue than simple embarrassment, shock and anger. We have given ourselves over to spirituality, based on practice not thought or insight. We have allowed ourselves to be lulled into believing that the more stringent the leader, the more strident their publicly declared behaviors to serve their unique form of spirituality the more likely they are to be holy or closer to G-d. We have created a form of shared delusional thinking based on the belief that we are not sufficiently educated but those who scream the loudest are and they alone can guide us on this roller coaster ride we call living.
There was a time when more of our leaders were broadly educated with extensive secular knowledge. There was a time when religious Judaism was based on the rabbinical principals found in the Talmud, even in the Shulchan Aruch, where other, even contrarian positions, are respected and discussed and openly aired. We did not necessarily agree with the other side but we listened and respected. We have given that away to individuals who have falsely told us that predatory sexual molestation does not occur in our schools, where it is alright to throw someone out of a seat on a bus or airplane, where it is acceptable to hurl obscenities along with rocks at young girls not because they are dressed immodestly but simply that they are not dressed according to a standard that is followed by a minority. We will also be asked to contribute to a fund to help our arrested rabbis pay for their legal team and very expensive defense funds.
I know that this is sounding like a rant and in some ways it is. A good part of my intensity comes from the fact that I occasionally treat individuals who have been misled by this system. Had they gotten the proper help initially their disorders would never have become so severe. This orthopraxic system should be failing in so many ways but is hanging on with the intensity of a cognitive dissonance so passionate that people do not even hear the confusion in their own heads.
Let me give you some examples: After spending eight years in a religious girl’s school more than half the class cannot write a coherent paragraph nor do mathematical percentages. Parents rationalize this by saying that these skills are not critical in their world. In another example a young girl was diagnosed with a significant learning disability. The professional evaluator, neurologist and a consulting psychologist all recommended a special educational environment in a different school setting. A rabbi told the parents that he will take care of the child’s academic needs in his school which has no real remediation programs for a child like this. Three years later at an evaluation follow up the report suggested that the child had fallen even farther behind in her basic skills and is performing at a level lower than first reported. The parents still refuse to move the child to the right educational setting. And, then there is still the rabbi who tells children at his summer camp not to tell their parents that they were abused by a delivery man. Or the rabbi who told me that the young boy I evaluated was not abused despite the fact that the boy clearly described what happened to him just a week earlier.
Some will argue that these examples and unfortunately many others is what helped them decide that religion is bankrupt and does not work for them. But that is akin to throwing out the baby with the bathwater. That too is not a healthy approach. We can find a way to reduce orthopraxic rigidity. That simply means that we apply reason to religious issues and choose rabbis who think broadly too. It is also important to accept that people are just that, people, with all the foibles that individuals have. There will always be bad apples. We have to develop the ability to rationally accept that fact and not allow those bad apples to rise to a level of power that causes us to be dependent and thereby too forgiving. Unless we do that we should not be shocked the next time the police raid a rabbi’s organization.