I read a recent TOI blog post describing how many creepy and abusive teachers there used to be at Flatbush. These rabbis were supposed to model the highest ethical behavior in the world. But the students talked and joked about their failures and much hidden abuse went around?
How different, all the schools I went to. They were secular non-Jewish schools in the Netherlands. The only abuse I was ever aware of was by an anti-Semitic teacher (against me) and one male gym teacher who was swiftly removed after he was improper with girls he taught. That was it. We had several lesbian teachers we whispered about. But abuse? No way.
There was one teacher in high school whom no one liked so much. The man was an ex-priest and unmarried, brilliant and seemingly knowing everything. But he was cold and critical, and superior and perfect, which didn’t help likability. Suddenly, rumor had that he was dating the brightest girl of the school. She was around 18, half a year before final exams. We giggled. So, he was human after all. Since then, he was much better liked — and warmer. For a moment (because it was unheard of) we considered if it was inappropriate, a teacher and a student. But we all realized that here were two mature people, lonely because they were so much smarter than anyone around them who had found each other and looked very happy. It was a public “secret,” nor a real secret, and she could easily have said no at every stage. No one thought it was wrong.
At first glance, you would think: how paradoxical. The liberal Dutch who were shocked at almost nothing were almost all very decent. Compare that to these US supposed top role models of strict Jewish morality in prude Christian society, who, one after the other, were inappropriate.
It reminds me of another seeming absurdity I witnessed between the two countries. In the late 1970s, the US general public was very anti-Gay. The heydays of Anita Bryant. Meanwhile, the Netherlands just started to discover sexual diversity and slowly was getting used to people being diverse. Discriminatory laws were long gone and in the end, Gay marriage would start exactly there, in the Low Countries.
However, one never saw any Gay porno being sold openly. There were some naughty magazines for Straight men for sale in kiosks but that was it. But when I visited the US, I was shocked to see Gay (and Straight) porn being sold openly at every street corner. Was that their idea of freedom of the press? Was that capitalism, that Gay sex is not OK unless you can make money from it? Was that their concept of sex: pornography?
But on further thought, neither case (more sexual and other abuse at school and homophobia in society in the US) was illogical at all.
When a culture holds that sex is lewd and should be repressed, many people need to hide and stifle their true sexual wishes. But suppression only works for so long. And also, when sex is indecent, no one is suspected of abuse unless it’s way too late.
American society was also much more violent than where I grew up. I was shocked to hear that boys, even in a frum school, would beat each other up regularly, daily. Wasn’t that completely against the Torah? I never witnessed one fight between schoolboys in all my student years.
When all is in the open and everyone is allowed to be human, one may talk (and cry) about any challenge to stay upright. No need to explode from sexual frustration and take it out on the unsuspecting innocent vulnerable. And when abuse is a possibility, prevention becomes doable.
In all-but-one Jewish communities, sex is seen as holy and not dirty. But when we copy classical Christian ethics, which views all pleasure as base, excesses are to be expected. We need to loosen up and try to be human instead of so saintly. Then, being pious becomes viable. Sanctimonious pretense backfires. So, prudery seems to lead to sexual abuse and sexual libertarianism breeds sexual respect. That should teach us something.
Till this day, nothing seemed changed. Another American frum school just kicked out GLBTQ advocates. Compare that to the Amsterdam frum community. Recently, a visiting American rabbi wrote something slightly anti-Gay. The head of the Amsterdam Jewish community furiously stated that Gay people are an integral and respected part of our community and no one gets to discriminate or humiliate any of the members and he was put on leave. I’d summarize: if you’re not decent, you can’t be holy.
When you overdo striving for properness, you create a lack of holiness. When you prioritize being human and decent, you may get to sanctity.