Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Agudath Israel's Take On Sex Offenders

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Vicki Polin, The Awareness Center, Inc. / Rabbi Avi Shafran, Agudath Israel

Note From Vicki Polin, executive director - The Awareness Center, Inc. Daily Newsletter

A rabbi wrote to The Awareness Center recently answering some the question we put out regarding what does Jewish law say we should do with a sex offender.

We are currently working on an article with the answers, yet I thought it was important to mention that
the Talmud in Masechet Sanhedrin 73a discusses the law of "rodef" (the pursuer). It rules that a person is obligated to prevent a murder, or a rape of a betrothed (or married) woman, even if the only possibility of preventing the murder or the rape is by killing the would-be murderer or rapist.

The law regarding the would-be rapist only applies to a married woman because these women are forbidden by Torah law to the would-be rapist. We are still looking into what should be done with those who unmarried men and women. Also those who rape or molest our children (both related and non-related offenders). If you have information you would like to share on these topics please forward them to Vicki Polin

Contemporary scoffers, the Mashgiach pointed out, like to accuse the chareidi community of "sweeping things under the carpet." They are right, he explained, but not in the way they mean. "Do they know how many perpetrators" of sins against others "have been dealt with?" No, he explained, because when actions are taken against individuals who have proven themselves untrustworthy, we do not trumpet our actions. Even as we take what steps are necessary to help protect others, we also seek to protect human dignity. And when crimes are asserted but not proven, we are guided not by a mob mentality but by the Torah. That, the Mashgiach declared, is not cowardice but courage.

Thursday Night Plenary Session at Agudath Israel of America's 84th National Convention
by Yated Ne'eman Staff
Dei'ah Ve Dibur, Information and Insight
November 29, 2006

Thursday night's plenary session began with a moving audio- visual presentation dedicated to the devastating fire that Camp Agudah suffered this past summer, and the impressive efforts that, with Hashem's help, helped the camp recover in time to provide campers a truly memorable summer. Rabbi Meir Frischman, the camp director, provided a moving and inspiring chronicle of the events.

The session then turned to an issue both timely and timeless: the imperative to show honor and deference to Torah authority. Against a background of relentless assault on talmidei chachomim and even gedolim, in the street and in the media — and, as noted by the evening's chairman and convention co-chairman Rabbi Dovid Schnell, president of Agudath Israel of Illinois, through the new phenomenon of internet-based weblogs, or "blogs" — the evening symposia's three speakers presented much food for thought.

The session's title was "Torah Wisdom/Torah Authority: Are We Losing the Connection?" and its first speaker was Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman, rosh hayeshiva of Yeshiva Maor Yitzchok and rav of Congregation Ahavas Torah (Monsey).

Generations and Their Leaders

Rabbi Wachsman began by noting that attacks on daas Torah have been with us since the time of Moshe Rabbenu, and that present-day scoffers are but actors in the tradition of Korach, the Tziddukim and the Maskilim. He then offered a perceptive insight into the gemora's account of the experience of Choni Hame'agel, whom Chazal described as having slept for 70 years. Returning to a society that revered his memory and teachings but refused to believe he was who he was, he prayed for death, a request that was granted.

Could Choni, Rabbi Wachsman asked, not simply have proven himself with his Torah wisdom, or begun anew as a teacher of Torah? Here, Rabbi Wachsman contended, we have a most important lesson: Each generation needs to receive its mesorah from its own gedolim. Choni had much to teach to his own generation, and what he taught was passed on to future ones as well, to be sure. But it had to be passed on only through the leaders of each subsequent generation. Dor dor vedorshov.

Thus, Rabbi Wachsman explained, we cannot establish a mode of behavior based on the words of an early authority alone. We cannot look, for example, to the Rambam's words to guide us in how our society should ensure Torah-study, but at the words of Rav Aharon and other gedolim of recent generations and our own generation. That is how mesorah works, he said, and the gedolim of our time must be recognized as those most qualified to interpret, distill and apply Torah truths to the challenges we face today.

Whether the issue was the Bais Yaakov movement in the time of the Chofetz Chaim or Israel's drafting of women in the Chazon Ish's, "proofs" from the gemora and Rishonim proffered by lesser people were not germane; what mattered were the deep understandings, honed by tzidkus and years of intense Torah-study, of the true manhigei hador of each generation.

Those who seek to undermine the deference to Daas Torah demanded of us, said Rabbi Wachsman, are oblivious to the import of that ideal, and can only seek to attribute what they don't understand to "parallels" in larger society — inaccurately comparing, for example, the principle of daas Torah to the Catholic conception of papal infallibility (lehavdil), or chareidi rabbinic leaders to Islamic fundamentalists (lehavdil again).

These misguided individuals do not realize how unique the Jew's relationship to the manhigei hador truly is. To the scoffers, what is latest is by definition what is best; to a Godol, what is new must be scrutinized carefully.

Bringing It All Home

To be sure, Rabbi Wachsman continued, there are certainly issues and situations that need to be addressed by our gedolim. But to blame gedolim, who work so tirelessly and with such great personal sacrifice on behalf of Klal Yisroel and individual Jews, for even real and present communal problems, is something cruel and evil.

In the end, though, the Rosh Hayeshiva exhorted, what is important is not to speak about "them" but about "us." The world without, he explained, is a mirror of who we are. Do we ourselves listen to what the gedolim of our time say only when it is comfortable for us? Pointing to the example of the "simcha guidelines" issued by gedolei Yisroel four years ago, designed to tone down chasunos and related celebrations, the Rosh Hayeshiva asked: "Do we just talk about daas Torah, or live it?"

Rabbi Wachsman's message was clear: When our own deference to gedolim is real and strong, we will be spared the scoffing and worse of those who hate Torah and its exemplars.

Balderdash, Blogs and Bashing

The evening's second speaker was Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice-president for government and public affairs for Agudath Israel of America. He began by calling attention to the crassly negative tone of political advertisements evident during the period leading up to the recent elections, and presented it as a reflection of larger society's tolerance for what, to a Torah-hashkofoh-tuned mind, is nothing short of forbidden speech.

In American libel law, he explained, "truth is an absolute defense," whereas the prohibition against loshon hora concerns accurate information. And when it comes to public figures, even outright untruths are protected by American law, as long as "actual malice" cannot be proven. How "diametrically opposed," observed Rabbi Zwiebel, is the halachic attitude toward the slander of Torah leaders, which is considered an especially grievous sin. Indeed, he noted, halochoh requires that talmidei chachomim be judged favorably even in situations where other people may not be entitled to the benefit of the doubt.

The Agudath Israel leader went on to note how the societal acceptance of mockery and slander has infiltrated the Jewish world and how Torah scholars and leaders have become the targets of some whose anger and frustrations blind them from both seeing reality and recognizing what is acceptable and what is not.

Rabbi Zwiebel focused on two contemporary manifestations of the problem. One was an ostensibly Orthodox newspaper that demonstrates contempt for rabbonim and gedolim who dare to take a different approach to some political issues from the paper's own, and publishes letters to the editor that openly mock talmidei chachomim. The second was "blogs," and the Agudath Israel leader quoted from one comment left on one such virtual soapbox, which contended that "the best thing about blogging is the anonymity. You could be shaking a rosh yeshiva, rav or rebbe's hand by day and then bash him in the evening."

That, Rabbi Zwiebel contended, well captured the mindset and the evil to which the medium can be, and too often is, put to use.

Our Messages to Our Young

Like Rabbi Wachsman before him though, Rabbi Zwiebel exhorted his listeners to turn inward, and to think about how destructive a thoughtlessly denigrating comment to a child about his rebbe can be. "What message," he asked, "does that send to a child?"

Not only is such denigration indefensible, it is particularly outrageous regarding the dedicated mechanchim of our children, he continued, illustrating his characterization of rabbeim by reading a note his son received from his sixth grade rebbe in which the rebbe took great pains to correct a small error in something he had taught, and apologized to his talmidim for the mistake. "We are so fortunate," the Agudath Israel leader said, "that such people are being mechanech our children."

He went on to show how central the concept of daas Torah has always been to Agudath Israel, and recounted how happy Rabbi Moshe Sherer was when a Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah decision went against the expert advice of a lay panel of experts. "This," he quoted the late president of Agudath Israel of America as having explained at the time, "is why I came to Agudas Yisroel."

"Who would you rather have making such decisions?" Rabbi Sherer had explained. "You and I, or the gedolei Yisroel?"

Subservience to Authority

Citing Chazal's dictum, "Asei lecho rav — Establish a rabbinic authority for yourself," Rabbi Zwiebel declared that even those who do not look specifically to the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah as the ultimate arbiter of daas Torah must nonetheless defer to their own rabbonim. Whatever latitude may be inherent in the "asei lecho" part of the equation, he averred, in no way undermines the ultimate subservience to rabbinic authority inherent in the "rav" part of the equation.

Such subservience requires one to accept the judgment of the rabbinic authority even if it is at variance with his own judgment, Rabbi Zwiebel said. As the Sifsei Chachomim explains on the Rashi in Parshas Shofetim quoting Chazal that one may not deviate from the ruling of the rabbinic judge, "even if he tells you that right is left and left is right," in such situations a Jew is obliged to assume that the mistake in judgment is his own.

Furthermore, even if the rabbinic authority should be mistaken, the Agudath Israel leader stated, it is incumbent upon the community to defer to his judgment — "and not that each person should do as he personally understands, because that will lead to `churban hadas', communal division and total national loss," in the words of the Sefer Hachinuch.

Two Very Different Visions

And so, the speaker concluded, we have two visions before us, "a vision of the people, by the people, for the people, a vision of free speech, freedom of the press, a vision of skepticism and cynicism, a vision designed to find flaws": and a second vision, that of recognizing that there is a hierarchy in Klal Yisroel, that we need the misnas'im al kehal Hashem, and that any attempt to knock them down is ma'aseh Korach."

Today, "more starkly and clearly than ever before," declared Rabbi Zwiebel, "which path we ultimately take will decide whether we will continue to thrive as a Torah community or, chas vesholom, face churban hadas. May it be Hashem's will," he concluded, in the words of the weekday post-krias haTorah tefilloh, "that He preserve among us the sages of Israel, they and their wives, their sons and their daughters, their disciples and the disciples of their disciples, in all their dwelling places, and let us say omein."

Demonstrating Deference

The evening's feature address was then delivered by the Mashgiach of Beth Medrash Govoha, Lakewood, Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon, who began by noting how the Haggodoh introduces the "four sons" with a reference to Hakodosh Boruch Hu's giving of the Torah to Klal Yisroel. The implicit lesson, the Mashgiach explained, is that only the Torah can provide the tools for knowing how precisely we are to interact with individuals, each of whom must be dealt with according to his own personality.

Rabbi Salomon then proceeded to note that the response the Haggodoh provides for the rosho's challenge is not the one the posuk assigns to the words of the rosho's question in the Torah. What is more, the Mashgiach pointed out, the Haggodoh's response to that son is not couched as an answer, or "amira," at all.

Many answer, Rabbi Salomon said, that the Baal Haggodoh is teaching us not what to answer the rosho, but rather how to react to the derision he voices, not to be impressed with his challenge, to respond by stating a fact that will set his teeth on edge. Thus, the Mashgiach explained, the scoffer, seeing our firmness and determination, may just be shaken, and perhaps brought to do teshuvoh. For we must remember that Klal Yisroel bowed in gratitude at the "besuras habonim" heralded by the rosho's question; bringing reshoim back into the fold, which we can do if we choose our responses correctly, is our ultimate hope.

That our answer to the tam is the same as to the rosho, Rabbi Salomon continued, may imply that we must provide him the answer to use should the rosho scoff to him. For we must strengthen all of our children, and give them the ammunition with which to fight back when their beliefs are attacked.

But, the Mashgiach stressed, echoing the other speakers of the evening, "we did not come here to criticize or attack others, but to strengthen ourselves," to ensure that the "insidious poison" not seep into our homes, to "immunize ourselves" against the plague of anger toward and mockery of talmidei chachomim and gedolei Yisroel.

One suggestion he offered for accomplishing that immunization was to be extremely careful that our Shabbos tables be filled with simcha shel mitzvah and words that bespeak ahavas talmidei chachomim, not, cholila, anything that might be construed as the opposite. "Let our children see whom we respect. Let us be more demonstrative of our deference to authority." Our children, he averred, have to feel that respect and deference, and they can only feel it if we do ourselves.

Rabbi Salomon took pains to declare that we have no complaint against anyone asking questions about our convictions, or even disagreeing — agreeably — with stances we have seen fit to take. But, he explained, when it is done with cynicism and derision, when vulgar language and sentiments are used to denigrate rabbonim, manhigim and talmidei chachomim, "we must rise to their defense."

Even, sadly, when wrong things are done, we cannot stand by when a "broad brush" is used to smear those to whom we look for guidance and daas Torah.

Contemporary scoffers, the Mashgiach pointed out, like to accuse the chareidi community of "sweeping things under the carpet." They are right, he explained, but not in the way they mean. "Do they know how many perpetrators" of sins against others "have been dealt with?" No, he explained, because when actions are taken against individuals who have proven themselves untrustworthy, we do not trumpet our actions. Even as we take what steps are necessary to help protect others, we also seek to protect human dignity. And when crimes are asserted but not proven, we are guided not by a mob mentality but by the Torah. That, the Mashgiach declared, is not cowardice but courage.

As the night's topic is so painful, Rabbi Salomon concluded, and as we cannot even know how many people are influenced by the unwarranted criticism and mockery of Torah-scholars so prevalent today, "it would be fitting to show our response" to the words spoken over the course of the evening "not by clapping" but rather "by standing up, and being mechabeid the gedolei Torah" of our times. That, he declared, is how we have to be mesakein the bizoyon. "We are soldiers. We are mekadshei Sheim Shomayim."

And with that, all in the large assemblage rose from their seats and joined the Lakewood Mashgiach in declaring their allegiance to Torah and its transmitters, loudly and clearly, "Atoh hor'eiso loda'as, ki Hashem Hu ho'Elokim, ein od milevado!"

End of the Report of the Thursday Session


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