Tuesday, November 24, 2009
There should be two primary areas of focus:
1) Apprehending and prosecuting the person who committed the act - so that the abuse stops
2) Providing comfort and therapy for the victims - so that the kids have a way to deal with the trauma
This isn't about proving that orthodox rabbis (or other people in positions of authority, for that matter) have a proclivity to engage in sexual abuse. It's about rooting out pedophiles, wherever they are and whoever they may be. And it means something for both Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews: Orthodox Jews must have the courage to report any abusers in their community to the police; non-Orthodox Jews must do the same and not feel vindicated that this has occurred in more religious circles. Bad apples exist in all religious groups and they must be dealt with accordingly.
Of course, we have to make sure that the allegations are true to the best of our knowledge. But if there is mounting evidence, it must be looked at seriously. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: "The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict." Do not stand idly by if you sense that this may be transpiring in your own community. Do you think God cares more about preventing the arrest of an "orthodox rabbi" or protecting children against an evil perpetrator? It's a rhetorical question.
We have to use common sense. We have to protect children. We have to fight evil.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
To take this idea one step further, I believe that one of the greatest gifts God gave us was a sense of humor:
Aside from the anthropomorphizing of God (as I like to say: anyone who eats, sleeps and goes to the bathroom is not God), the moral of this comic is well-taken. If you're religious, it's very easy to get caught up in all the difficulties of leading an observant life and become overwhelmed. And for almost everyone, it's quite likely to be going through some serious financial or interpersonal problems right now. Yet there is a way to turn that difficult situation into one of character-building. Look for the absurdity in the situation. Find the levity. And laugh. While it may not solve the problem, it will make it a whole lot easier to get through it.
Monday, November 9, 2009
There is a great lesson to be drawn from this that is applicable today. No matter how educated and professionally successful certain Jews are, or how ritually observant and spiritual other Jews may be, as long as unity and cooperation are the exception rather than the rule, we are vulnerable. This is the case from both a practical and spiritual standpoint. On the practical level, a people cannot expect to thrive for very long without general cooperation and goodwill in national pursuits. On the spiritual level, God cannot bring the Final Redemption and subsequent peace on earth until the underlying flaw that brought exile in the first place, sinat chinam, is rectified. Whichever way you look at it, the lack of interpersonal decency is a national problem that must be corrected.
In order for unity to emerge, there is a very important prerequisite: tolerating other people's imperfections. Included in the understanding of the commandment "Love your neighbor as yourself" is that just as we all wish for people to overlook our shortcomings, so too should we be able to cut others a little bit of slack for not being perfect. While this obviously does not include overlooking objective evils (e.g. if someone is a murderer or rapist, there must be accountability and punishment), it does apply to all those petty, annoying things we encounter from people in our everyday lives. If we do our best to incorporate this principle into our overall character, it could reap very beneficial results. You, God, and everyone around you will see the difference.
Whether in ancient times or today, never underestimate the power of unity.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
The word "chein" is yet another term that is difficult to accurately translate, but it is generally defined as grace, beauty or charm. In other words, it is referring to the particular quality that makes each one of us unique. Every person, no matter how religious or irreligious, has a unique divine spark, talent or ability. It is our job to make sure we use that gift for good. At the same time, we must allow others to pursue a path of goodness while using their own chein. Herein lies the reason for why sinat chinam is such a serious vice. When one hates a fellow Jew (instead of respectfully disagreeing with them), it's ultimately a lack of recognition of God and the particular grace He has bestowed upon that individual.
In our day and age we seem to be more polarized than ever before. When someone holds a certain view on ritual observance or religious thought, all too often those who hold opposing views begin personal attacks instead of simple disagreement. This is so obviously counterproductive that it should go without saying, but unfortunately it has to be articulated. So here it goes: no matter how strongly any of us disagree with a fellow Jew, the moment we begin unwarranted personal attacks, we have lost the argument and engaged in sinat chinam. The reason for this is because instead of focusing on the substance of the issue (and possibly learning something from the other person's approach), we have attacked their character and unique understanding of life. Both civility and the possibility of bringing them to our way of thinking is lost.
We each have to figure out a way to tolerate those who differ from us in terms of dress, ritual observance, ideology, political affiliation, and other major areas of life. However, there is an equally important point to make: sinat chinam does not include hating someone who violates basic ethical principles (i.e. those which hurt other people). For example, it does not mean tolerating a businessman who engages in a multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme or a rabbi who assaults women and children. In such cases, we are not hating the person for who they are - a certain type of businessman or rabbi of a particular denomination - but rather for the pain they have inflicted upon innocent people. In fact, it would be a chilul Hashem, a desecration of God's name, to overlook such evils. While tolerance is generally a virtue, it cannot be taken to the point where we drop ethics.
We have been in exile for bordering on 2,000 years as a result of sinat chinam between Jews. This vile and ubiquitous form of hatred has literally destroyed us from within and has spiritually allowed our enemies to attack us from without. There is no greater way to defeat our enemies, and evil for that matter, than to focus on removing sinat chinam and uniting as one people despite all our differences. And it isn't even that difficult. Every individual Jew can go on with their life as usual. We simply have to make sure that when disagreements inevitably arise that we focus on substance, allow the other person their unique approach to the issue, and courteously offer our own perspective. If sinat chinam - hating another person's chein - had the power to destroy God's home on earth, then ahavat chinam - loving (i.e. tolerating) another person's chein - has the power to rebuild it.