Another day – another travesty from the frum community. Well, this one isn’t really new, it’s actually an old issue – how to deal with the problem of sexual molestation in yeshivas. But it's in the news again. Firstly, there was a powerful article in last week's Forward which profiled a victim of such an atrocity. And also, recently,a person that I tremendously respected has backtracked on the issue and is now taking a side diametrically opposed to what he seemed to have previously held. According to various blog reports (Failed Messiah, Vos Iz Neias, Harry Maryles), Rabbi Yakov Horowitz has publicly declared his opposition to the Markey Bill. This bill would extend the statute of limitations for victims of molestation to bring their perpetrators to justice, and it would also provide them a brief window of opportunity in which to bring to justice crimes that have long since passed. Unsurprisingly, certain powerful religious institutions – namely, the Catholic Church and the Agudas Yisroel – are vehemently opposed to this bill. (You can listen to a recording of the radio show where he made his statement by going to those aforementioned blogs.)
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why the Agudah is against this bill, and I’m not going to rehash the debates that are going on in the comment threads of those blogs (I strongly recommend the VIN one), but everyone (including myself) has been pretty shocked that Rabbi Horowitz has actually come down on the side of the Agudah on this one. Until this point he has been an outspoken advocate on behalf of the victims, and it’s truly disappointing to see him change his stance in this manner.
Anyway, in the debate, one of the big red herrings that is being thrown around to excuse the Agudah’s position is that if this bill is allowed to pass, the schools will risk being shut down due to an onslaught of litigation. Everyone is screaming that if it passes, people will be suing left and right, and then the sky will fall in, and all the yeshivas will be forced to close, and it will be the end of the world as we know it!!! Oy vey!!
Please! That is such a bunch of BS.
Let’s put aside the fact that in the other states where such a bill has been passed, no such dire prophecy has ever come close to happening like that.
Let’s ignore the fact that the schools have nothing to fear unless they know they have something to cover up.
Let’s instead talk about this issue of schools closing down. Because, you know, it’s come up some time in the past. There was a point in recent Jewish history where the most famed and prominent Jewish school was actually forced to close down.
Volozhin was the jewel in the crown of 19th century European Jewry. Putting aside the fact that there is much misinformation about what exactly caused the institution to shut its doors, the version of the story that the chareidi world believes is well known. Ask any black-hat yeshiva boy, and he will tell you, in a most proudly defiant tone of voice, that Volozhin was closed down because the heads of the yeshiva were being forced by the Russian authorities to incorporate secular studies into the curriculum. And the roshei yeshiva felt, horrible as it may sound, that it was better to have this sacred institution close its doors than to sully it with the taint of secular knowledge! That’s how bad secular studies are! And that’s also how important pure torah study is!
This legend is one of the foundational myths of the chareidi world, and regardless of its veracity, it tells us that, to the chareidi mindset, there are some things that are worth paying the awful price of closing down the most venerable of torah intuitions.
So, I can’t help wondering, if chareidim feel that it’s ok to close down a yeshiva because of secular studies, but it’s not ok to close it down because it harbored (or may still be harboring) child molesters, does that mean that chareidim believe that learning secular studies is worse than molesting a child?
Update: Rabbi Horowitz has posted an article explaining his rationale.
Update 2: Rabbi Horowitz apologizes (for offending people, but not for his position).