A Halachic Question

Author’s note: this story was first published in the late Unpious Magazine on September 2, 2013. The events described here took place between September and November 2012. To date no one involved has apologized or taken responsibility for the hurt they caused.

I am strapped to a gurney, fighting nausea and hyperventilation, my legs covered in blood. I’m being rushed to the hospital after a dog bite, and the medic who’s tending to me asks: “How’s your leg feeling?”

What comes out of my mouth is: “I’ve had worse. I’ve been bitten by rabid rabbis.”

The medic nods, but of course he has no idea what I’m talking about, and doesn’t bother asking. I think to myself: Why am I talking about rabbis now? Why can’t I get over them?

“That fucking dog,” I tell my wife two days later. “I’m gonna fucking kill it.”

But I don’t really want to kill the dog. It’s just an instinctive thing I say when I remember how that stupid dog ran up to me, took a nip, then ran off before I even realized what happened. Then I saw the blood spurting, covering both my legs, and the three bite marks.

The rabbis were more underhanded. They kept calling my wife on her cell phone and warned her not to tell me.

She had called them with a dilemma, a halachic question: Her husband, she told them, doesn’t believe in Hashem anymore, could she allow him to make kiddush? Could an atheist recite it for a believer?

Instead of addressing her concerns, they created new ones. “This is no way to raise your children,” they said. “Get him out of the house, and file for divorce.” Then they called back to make sure she followed through.

I don’t really want to hurt that dog, but I do want to hurt those rabbis. I want them to suffer, I want to believe in the hell they believe in, so I could comfort myself with the thought of their skin peeling like layers of gurgling lava. I fantasize about them losing their jobs, along with their dignity, having to move to a new city and starting over, licking their wounds and learning a few lessons.

My wife is convinced I carry grudges forever. “Why can’t you just forget about the rabbis?” she’s asked me dozens of times over the past six months.

They didn’t even have the decency of the dog. They didn’t do their deed quickly, in broad daylight, then run off. Instead, they came back repeatedly over a two-month period, biting over and over again. They didn’t act alone, on a whim, but worked in concert with one another, sharing information, hiring therapists and lawyers, even keeping her away from her usual therapist, who was sane and whom she trusted, and therefore they didn’t.

“You want me to tell a judge I’m afraid of my husband? I’m not afraid of my husband!”

My wife was incredulous, but the rabbi insisted it was the only way. He’d hired a downtown law firm to represent her, the most expensive in town. “It’s a normal procedure. My daughter didn’t enjoy it either, but it’s the only way to get that restraining order.” His daughter was now happy she’d done it, because she was able to move 500 miles away, and now the ex-husband has to shlep out there to see the kids, which is difficult for him, and so he doesn’t come so often.

“How do I know this is what Hashem wants?” my wife asked one rabbi.

“This is definitely what Hashem wants,” said the rabbi, who had never met me and knew nothing about me. “If you don’t act, your husband will drag you with him.”

Another, more sympathetic rabbi told her that he would’ve liked to help, but it was all very complicated. “I’d love to talk to him and straighten him out,” he said. “I’ve spoken to hundreds of people like him. But it’s a problem, see. Once a person is on the Internet they aren’t looking for the truth anymore.”

The dog had belonged to friends. The previous time we visited them, they’d put the dog in a kennel, knowing that some of us didn’t like dogs. We’d grown up in Chasidic Monsey. We weren’t dog people. But this time we’d surprised them, and their dog inexplicably jumped at me and bit me. The owners immediately said they’d get rid of it, no second chances.

When the dog was scolded by its owner, it had its tail between its legs. It whimpered, apologizing, I suppose.

The rabbis didn’t whimper or apologize. When my wife finally decided to defy them, and the news of what they had done got out, they lied. They weren’t involved, they told everyone. It was a misunderstanding. Then they called my wife and asked her to lie for them too.

Do I hold a grudge forever? A week after the dog bite, the scars are still there, but they’ll soon be gone, and I can’t work up enough emotion to care about whether the owners follow through on getting rid of the dog. It was just a stupid dog. Sometimes I try to think the same about the rabbis, but it’s harder. The scars will take longer to heal.

Not all dogs are like that, my friends said. I know. I may not be a dog person, but I’ve been around plenty of dogs in my time. Just that morning I was swimming in a pool with a dog.

Not all rabbis are like that, some people said. I know. I’ve been around plenty of rabbis, I’ve never had a fear of them before. I do now. When the locks on my house were changed on me, by order of the rabbi, I bought a tent, and slept at a nearby campground. That tent is still in my car. Sometimes, on my way home from work, I panic, imagining I’ll find some rabbi, or some vaad member sitting in my driveway, or one of my neighbors will report my presence to the shadow legal system that runs our hood tighter than the Bloods.

At times like these, I’m glad I still have the tent in my car.

About the Author
Eli Mandel is a graduate of Pupa cheder in Monsey, N.Y., the Telz yeshiva and Fairleigh Dickinson University. He is now recovering from ultra-Orthodoxy with his wife and four daughters in Philadelphia, PA. When he's not riding his motorcycle, he works to improve financial well-being through proper budgeting as a form of tikkun olam.
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