Reflections on the ‘RCA Presidents Letter’ to Rav Druckman

In 2005-2006, Takana, a rabbinical forum set up to prevent sexual abuse in the national religious community, investigated complaints of sexual misconduct against Rav Mordechai Elon. Before the allegations against him surfaced, Rav Elon was one of the most prominent Zionist Orthodox leaders of his generation in Israel and at one time was a Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Hakotel. In the wake of the allegations against him, Takana asked Rav Elon to leave his post as head of Yeshivat Hakotel and to stay away from intimate, personal and private meetings with people seeking his advice or religious counsel.

Ultimately, Takana was concerned that Rav Elon was not agreeing to their demands so they went public with their allegations.  Rav Elon was convicted in 2013 of molesting a minor on two occasions.  He was sentenced to six months of community service, as well as a 15-month suspended jail term.  He was also ordered to pay the victim a sum of money in compensation and he moved to Migdal.  However, Rav Chaim Druckman, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivot Bnei Akiva, allowed Rav Elon to teach in Rav Druckman’s yeshiva and he even supported Rav Elon in Migdal while Rav Elon continued to teach there and engage in private consultations with students.

In December 2018, it was reported that the Takana forum had received new complaints against Rabbi Elon about sexually inappropriate behavior. Rav Elon admitted to his actions and agreed to stop all public activity to seek treatment.

This past week, nine current and former presidents of the Rabbinical Council of America published a letter in the Jerusalem Post calling upon Rav Druckman to, among others things, publicly admit his error in supporting Rav Elon after he was convicted as a sex offender in 2013 and to publicly apologize to Rav Elon’s victims since the time that Rav Druckman ignored the recommendations of the Takana Forum in 2010.  Two authors of the letter personally met with Rav Druckman and gave him two weeks to do so before publishing their letter and after receiving no response they published their letter.

I’ve heard some people ask why are American Rabbis interfering in an internal Israeli matter?  Others have argued that Rav Druckman did issue an apology.  Still, others assert that publicly criticizing Rav Druckman amounts to a Chillul Hashem.

I can understand the basis for these reactions.  Unfortunately, there has been so much polarization in today’s discourse that it seems we don’t merely disagree with one another, but we attack and deride those with whom we disagree. Additionally, there is a “gotcha” phenomenon in today’s culture where we love to tear others down and rejoice over their fall.  Moreover, and unfortunately, at times the fighting between different Rabbis and Rabbinic groups is more about politics and ego than policy.  As such, our initial inclination may be to simply dismiss quarrels between different Rabbis as simply competing for power. But it seems that was the not the case here.

In fact, this public disagreement between the RCA Rabbis and Rav Druckman is an issue that directly affects our American modern orthodox community.  Rav Druckman is the head of Yeshivot Bnei Akiva and many of our American children and many children of American olim attend these institutions.  Rav Druckman did not offer a definitive apology to the victims and never explicitly stated that he made a mistake.    He only wrote, “Unfortunately, I acknowledge that part of my activities in this realm gave a different and wrong impression because the steps I took were not properly understood.  I am very saddened by this and especially if there are people who were offended by this.”  In a Facebook post, Rabbi David Brofsky contrasts this “apology” to other apologies that other Torah leaders of our community issued in similar circumstances.   The lack of a complete apology is indicative of a lack of understanding of what he did in allowing Rav Elon to continue teaching and coming in close contact with boys.  In order to move forward and make real change in the area of sexual misconduct, we need to own up to our mistakes completely.

But does publicizing this issue amount to a Chillul Hashem?  As was pointed out in the letter by the RCA current and past presidents, they initially gave Rav Druckman ample opportunity to fully apologize and only upon realization that he would not do so, they published their letter.  And in fact, once Rav Druckman demonstrated that he was unwilling to own up to his behavior, it would have been a Chillul Hashem to not say anything.  Indeed, in the context of a discussion of what constitutes Chillul Hashem, the Gemara in Yoma states, that “one who reads [the Torah], studies and serves Torah scholars, and does not deal honestly or speak pleasantly with people, what do people say about him?  ‘Woe unto so-and-so who studied Torah; woe unto his father who taught him Torah; woe unto his rabbi who taught him Torah!  So-and-so, who studied Torah – see how corrupt is his conduct and how reprehensible are his manners!’” Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, zt”l, explained that the point of this Gemara is that Torah leaders have a special responsibility when it comes to the halacha of Chillul Hashem.  We demand more from our Torah leaders and they are potentially more prone to the sin of Chillul Hashem, because if they engage in morally questionable behavior, then it stains not only the individuals, but it stains the Torah with which these individuals identify. Unfortunately, Rav Druckman’s behavior in this tragic episode created a Chillul Hashem and it was critical for our American Rabbinic leadership to take a stand and express that his behavior does not reflect our perspective on this issue.

So, yes, we live in a world of polarization, of “gotcha,” of politics and ego.  But these were not factors in the letter posted by nine current and past presidents of the Rabbinical Council of America last week. Their motivation was support of the victims, charting a new path forward in this very tragic saga and preservation of our Torah and for that, I say thank you.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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