Three ladies, three lattes: Betrayal

Three ladies, three lattes looks at percolating issues in Israel's complicated social and religious fabric. Secular Pam, modern Orthodox Tzippi and haredi Danit answer your questions.

 WHEN LEADERS decree it ‘lashon hara’ to speak of Chaim Walder, this is tantamount to keeping a terrible secret.  (photo credit: UNSPLASH)
WHEN LEADERS decree it ‘lashon hara’ to speak of Chaim Walder, this is tantamount to keeping a terrible secret.
(photo credit: UNSPLASH)

With such horrific stories about sexual abuse hitting the headlines, do you think there is something amiss in your communities’ and leaders’ responses? How would you like to see this addressed?

Feeling Shattered,Netanya

Tzippi Sha-ked:

What a dismal few weeks this has been: a haredi national sex abuse scandal, a local National-Religious one on my yishuv and Tel Aviv high schoolers molesting fellow students. I’ve felt sick to my stomach. The National-Religious are guilty, as are other segments of society, of sweeping abuse under deep cover.

When communal, religious or national leadership fails us, the price is incalculable. We lose faith in those we’ve previously trusted; our children are lost and screaming of injustice. Of course, it’s our children that most concern us. Bit by bit, innocence is shed to make room to comprehend the unthinkable.

How can we instill coping skills, resiliency and watchfulness within our youth? What plan of action can safeguard against this happening again?

We must overhaul religious attitudes toward teaching about sexual misconduct. No more skipping sensitive parts of the parasha that may include rape, as this is the perfect springboard into discussions of this nature, which must be part of the curriculum in all religious schools. Education that begins in the family home should segue into religious educational institutions as a joint undertaking. Families should be instructed by a panel of experts in the school setting on how to broach sensitive topics. 

We should hold clear conversations regarding expected behaviors from rabbis, doctors, teachers, entertainers and others, explaining what constitutes unacceptable behaviors. As Torah sages say: kabdehu vehashdehu (be respectful but wary).

Across the board we must empower our children to speak up to the relevant authorities and claim their rights as full participants in their own lives.

Danit Shemesh:

The haredi community is bleeding. It is one thing to hear that a beloved author, counselor and therapist is accused of sexual harassment for the past 20 years by tens of girls and women; it’s even a greater injury that he apparently committed suicide without facing his community and family. What an extreme narcissistic betrayal. 

Proving rape from a Torah perspective is intricate and complex and not so easy to achieve. So should we treat Chaim Walder as innocent? Absolutely not! That would be a travesty for his many alleged victims who will never completely recover from the damage of alleged mentor-turned-predator. In addition, coddling evil or glossing over it will never vanquish it. Evil needs to be faced down.

We, as a community, are not immune to evil people. We like to think we have the Torah and therefore we are better people. While a good person may become better through Torah observance, a sociopath will use it only to cover his tracks. It is written: “Torah can be the elixir of life, but also the drug of death.”

When leaders decree it lashon hara to speak of Walder, this is tantamount to keeping a terrible secret, a burden that will break us. When we are traumatized, the only cure is to talk in order to disentangle from evil. Chief Rabbi David Lau going to the shiva was a blow to religious integrity in the eyes of the world, as well as a mockery of us, the haredi people. In effect it is kashering the greatest hillul Hashem (desecration of God’s name) of our time. 

I propose to the haredi community that we focus more internally and oust the evil from within, rather than trying to be a showcase to the external world. If we are truly haredi (in awe of the word of Hashem), the rest will follow. 

Pam Peled:

Clearly, vile sexual, physical and mental abuse occurs with chilling frequency across religious and secular communities of all socioeconomic types. People are people underneath their shtreimels or their shorts; there are good and bad in all types of societies. 

I guess the difference is that in my world – the world of liberal, open societies – abuse is not as hushed up as in the more religious environments; the press reports avidly on the high and mighty who harm the less powerful, and if convicted they are sent to jail, be they the president of Israel or Hollywood’s most successful producer. 

Maybe because in secular society leaders are not considered holy, if they fall it seems obvious to punish them. In religious circles this may be more complicated: testimony of boys raped by Catholic priests revealed how they felt God himself was abusing them; if they complained they’d be ratting on God. Does this explain the reluctance of some religious to out abusers in their community? Like the haredi former health minister Ya’acov Litzman, who protractedly protected haredi alleged serial abuser Malka Laufer? 

Sexual modesty is so paramount in ultra-Orthodox communities with such stress placed on covering hair, elbows, knees. No touching before marriage, no mixed swimming or singing. I would embrace the lifestyle myself if I were convinced it leads to less dysfunction, less abuse, less sexual predators. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case; there is no less abuse, only more cover-ups.

I’m glad I’m not part of that world.

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