They were inspiring individuals. Icons, in fact. People of great achievement. When they spoke, people listened. And now their reputations are in the trash where they belong. They are kindred spirits. One is named Bill and the other is named Ezra.
It’s hard to imagine good – even great – people that breaking so bad. Men that have been honored by the society in which they live for their contributions to it. And yet secretly they have been the scum of the earth. This is who Bill Cosby and Ezra Sheinberg are. They are both guilty of rape. And they both used their positions of honor and prestige to do it. Many times. To many women.
We all know who Bill Cosby is. He was ‘America’s dad’. His TV program changed the way most Americans looked at black people. The Cosby Show showed the world that mainstream black families are no different than mainstream white families. Same values; Same lifestyles and goals; same hopes and aspirations for their children; same problems; and same achievements.
The patriarch of this black upper-middle class family was played by Cosby. He was a successful doctor and role model father. The family matriarch was played by Felicia Rashad. She was a successful lawyer and model mother. The children all had the same problems that white children had and the youngest child was as cute and adorable as could be, stealing many a scene from the show’s star, Bill Cosby. That show had one of the most successful runs in TV history.
That is quite a contribution. And it was mostly all Cosby’s doing. That is why he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002 by President George W. Bush. That all goes away now. He might retain the award. But the honor that it would normally bestow is gone. It is now a meaningless artifact in his hands.
The same story can be written about Ezra Sheinberg. He was a brilliant Talmid Chacham, Kabbalist, and author of many Seforim (religious books). He founded a Yeshiva in Tzfat and together with Tzfat Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu. He also established a Kashrus organization of the highest standards modeling it on the standards of the Eida HaCharedis, the most trusted Kashrus certification agency in the Chreadi world in Israel.
People went to him for counseling and advice. And he gave it freely. But that isn’t all he gave. Just as did Bill Cosby he raped some the women who came to him and trusted him. Here from Ha’aretz, is a description from one of his victims (…of ten so far that have come forward).
S. was allegedly assaulted when she was 25 years old and she met the rabbi to ask for a blessing.
She says that a few hours after the meeting he contacted her and said that “the gates of heaven have opened” and that he had to meet with her immediately. “I was stupid. There were a lot of warning signals,” she said. She says she met with the rabbi in the Biriya Forest in the Upper Galilee and he gave her “holy water” to drink.
She said the rabbi asked her to spread holy water all over her body. “Suddenly I found myself naked. I was scared. I was in the forest alone. I felt that he had bewitched me.” S. said that when she awoke, after she made him stop, he started to threaten her.
This description of a rape is uncannily similar to the description given by Cosby’s rape victims. Two men of distinction taking advantage of their position for purposes of illicit sex. Except that in the rabbi’s case he also violated one of the cardinal sins of Judaism in that his victims were married women. (Both men denied it – although Cosby is now known to have admitted it in newly published court a deposition from a settled 2005 case.)
When I think about the accomplishment these two men had achieved, accomplishment that must have taken a great deal of time and determination. Lifetime accomplishments that seemed to be entirely altruistic. People who spent the vast majority of their time doing good. And yet were as evil as could be. Moments of weakness overcame them as opportunities to satisfy their base desires knocked.
These two people are no longer icons. They are now two of the most detested people on earth. Rightfully so. And yet the good they did should not be wasted. In Cosby’s case the things he did to change the worlds attitude about black people are real and those changes should not be lost. Just because the messenger happened to be evil doesn’t mean we abandon his message. However the medium that carried his message should be thrown in to the proverbial trashcan. The Cosby Show will forever have a rapist as its protagonist. That is something we cannot escape.
Unfortunately the same thing is true with the Yeshiva and Kashrus organization founded by Sheinberg. No matter how great those two institutions are, they need to close. They will always have the name of a rapist associated with it. Here is what Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, Dean of the Zomet Institute said:
There is talk of “rehabilitating the yeshiva” in order to continue the activities of the institution in terms of Torah learning and acts of charity under the leadership of another Torah figure, who will replace the former head. From my nonprofessional point of view, this is not a viable option. There is no way to rebuild this community in Tzefat and its institutions, which were all founded and controlled with an iron fist by this evil man. The only way open for the yeshiva, the kollel for married men, and the other institutions is to disband them all…
(Sheinberg’s) “fingerprints” can be found in every corner, and it is not enough for somebody to declare, “We have destroyed the blemish!… We have removed the abscess!” When the foundation falls the building collapses, and the only way to make impure pottery vessels pure again is to shatter them.
I do not know how to disband a community, but I can suggest to the students – single and married – to search for a place of true Torah, to quench their thirst and to heal their wounds by drinking the waters of other sweet and pure springs.
I could not agree more.