I know there is a subject many have shied away from but maybe you could still do something with what I think about Reb Shlomo Carlebach and the after-death accusations against him.
There are those who take the accusations so seriously that they are in turmoil–not me. There are those who aggressively reject the accusations–not me. There are those who ignore the accusations–not me. Silence is complicity. So please, consider the following.
This is not to open up a conversation. I mean with this piece to bring healing. Like all Reb Shlomo ever taught was to bring healing.
After his death, a few sparse accusations against Reb Shlomo have surfaced that he had not always been proper with all women.
This was different from the public hugging of women for which he had good reasons. And which he didn’t teach his students should do too. The hugs and the music were meant to reach people, to reach and touch their hearts so they could hear his Torahs.
Jealousy and small-mindedness and much of the establishment had attacked Reb Shlomo for decades about that. Only for Rav Lau to ask for forgiveness at the funeral. The public condemnations were only politics. Behind closed doors, all rabbis loved to talk with him and honored him and their friendships.
But there surfaced accusations about hugs that were done in private, that lasted too long, that seemed to gratify the man but were not with her consent. There were only a few of those. There were no accusations of rape or the like. But with the rise of the #MeToo movement about sexual harassment by prominent men, these accusations flared up again. And these are the ways people close to Reb Shlomo have dealt with it.
How Could He?
Some have been mentally half destroyed by them. This must be true and how could he?
But the essence of the injunction on evil speech is believing it totally. Where is the distance? Even if all the accusations are completely true and not exaggerated (which is unlikely), do we need to question and re-examine all of Reb Shlomo’s character and life? He didn’t kill anyone. He didn’t rape anyone. He didn’t build a saintly front just to molest women. He wasn’t this macho self-prominent entitled male at all.
He may have made a number of mistakes. That’s not for us to judge. And when did he judge anyone? And he’s given no chance to defend himself.
You thought he was so far above being human that such a suspicion now tears down all he stood for?
Did you think he was beyond being human? The greatness of our saints and hero lies exactly in that they were mere humans like everyone else and still had the courage and persistence to stand up and do their part.
He cared enough to step into the battlefield and rescue as many people as he could. If he made mistakes, he would be the last one to defend them.
But he showed more courage and caring than most Jewish leaders who safely stayed away from trouble and looked away while the whole of post-Holocaust Ashkenazi Jewry was disappearing into a deep depression.
The so-called ultra-Orthodox danced and prayed with his melodies while they disapproved of him hugging women. If they’d suspected him of as much as not drinking something between fish and meat, they would have excommunicated him. But they saw that he was all about holiness.
And his stories and Torah interpretations are of rare holiness that leaves no doubt about who he was.
A man goes to the Rebbe with his citron. Is it kosher for the Feast of Tabernacles? The Rebbe glances at the fruit from all sides and declares: Kosher! The man is shocked. But Rebbe, don’t you need to take it into the sunlight, carefully examine it under a magnifying glass, every spot? Says the Rebbe: Do you want G^d to look at you like that?
How Dare She?
Some (a few) have aggressively defended Reb Shlomo against all accusations. I find that unbecoming. You can listen to these stories and feel for these women without accepting their recounts as objective, totally accurate. What happened to your empathy? What happened to your solidarity with women? What happened to your resolve against sexual harassment? When certain (good) men are accused, the accusers must be destroyed? Feel for these women! Don’t judge them–or Reb Shlomo. Who are you to judge? But who are you to not have empathy?!
We doesn’t even need to be angry to stand with victims. While we’re angry at (accused) men, we don’t listen to the women who ask our attention.
A milder version is: I never saw anything like that from him so I reject this as just malice. He always had enemies. The man can’t defend himself and this is for me just malicious slander.
That seems accurate but we must bring healing. Not judging is not enough. Preach love and include these women. But don’t throw out this saint with the bathing water because possibly he was not completely perfect. Don’t justify and don’t nullify. Stand up against evil and harassment, preach love and healing, and don’t judge or condemn when you don’t need to.
Leave Me Alone
And some have felt uncomfortable or confused and looked away.
It’s true that there is no preventative value in spreading these stories. They don’t seek to force someone to repent or to stop a predator, Heaven forbid for even saying the wor
Still, here are a couple of women who say they suffer and denial makes their suffering worse. And their stories seem part of the bigger picture of women not being safe in society or even at home.
To stand with all victims of sexual assault is important. Just, don’t destroy all leading men in the process. The issue is not even to diminish men. The issue is to make women’s lives safe. To teach men to be allies to women. Not just in their hearts of hearts but in action. Just like Reb Shlomo was.
Just like you don’t want to trash all men for us causing most wars and rapes. The issue is to stand with the weak, not to destroy all the strong.
The issue is to stop denying evil, not to make all men evil until proven innocent. Men are not the issue even. It’s about what women need. Never fail to speak up against evil. Silence is complicity.
Meanwhile, we all should only have as much merit as Reb Shlomo had. We should only be half as connected to goodness as he was. We should only understand 1% of what he understood.
Let us do what we want G^d to do for all of us, move from a place of judgment to a place of mercy and healing. Let’s be Shlomoniks.