Friday, February 19, 2010

Learning from a scandal?

The Modern Orthodox world in Israel has been somewhat rocked by a scandal. One of its most prominent leaders has been accused of having sexual relations with some of his male students.

I’ve been hearing various reports about this, and the details aren’t clear. Obviously, unless the allegations are untrue (and, at this point, it seems unlikely that they aren’t true), the actions of this Rabbi are despicable, and we don’t need to add any caveats to that.

Also incredibly disturbing are reports (rumors?) that some of the higher-ups in his organization may have, initially, tried to handle the offences by simply removing him from his school position, and shuffling him around the movement, trying to keep him away from trouble, and from publicity. In other words, these Jewish leaders may have done exactly what the Catholic Church has been so rightly condemned for doing with its own pedophiles. If true, that would be, in every sense of the term, a hillul haShem – a desecration of God’s name.

One interesting comment, though, came from a writer by the name of Ben Hartman who wonders if there isn’t a much-needed lesson contained in this awful violation:

The downfall of such a respected rabbi could also lead to a healthier view of moral and religious leaders in the community. If found guilty of the accusations, Elon could illustrate to countless yeshiva students that every great man is still, in the end, a man, that every gadol hador [ed: a great teacher of his generation] is human and has weaknesses. This could lead many in the community to question the edicts and judgments of charismatic religious leaders, and turn instead to the Torah – and themselves – as the ultimate moral beacons.

I’m not sure that idolizing a person has ever been a good idea. People, even the best of them, are flawed, and often deeply so. To put our total faith in a person is probably always misguided. In my ongoing diatribe again fundamentalism, this is probably an important thought – if your belief or actions are based on the belief that a teacher, or any person, is perfect and infallible, then take a big step back, take a deep breath, and remind yourself that no person is perfect, and no one is infallible. Respectful skepticism, at a minimum, will lead to much greater truth than an uncritical acceptance of another person’s truth.

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