Friday, February 19, 2010

What We Can Learn From Grossman

As I'm sure you know, all of the Orthodox media outlets have been buzzing this week about the Grossman story. I don't have too much to say about the issue that hasn't already been said by others. I think the best analysis of the frum community's reaction, both leading up to the execution and it's aftermath, was summed up on Orthonomics. (If you have no idea what I'm referring to, update yourself here.)

However, I do want to highlight one aspect of this episode that I haven't yet heard anyone touch on so far. Regardless of how one feels about Grossman, the death penalty, or his supposed teshuva, this week's activities have laid bare another lie that the chareidi world frequently promotes in its defense.

How often have we heard, in response to calls for action on the issue of sexual abuse, whether from the community, its leaders, or its institutions, the tired old excuses - "What can we do about it? It's not in our hands!", "It doesn't matter what I say. It won't have any effect anyway.", "This isn't something that we get involved in.", "What can I really do anyway? I'm just an average Joe!", "We don't address issues that our outside of our organizations concerns." There's always some excuse given, explaining how the person's inaction, or the organizations avoidance of the issue, is simply the more pragmatic and practical response.

If there's anything this weeks events have demonstrated, it's that the frum world - from its highest organizations, to the average layman, to its various media outlets - can and will act when they care about an issue. It doesn't matter how unlikely their efforts are to succeed; it doesn't matter how questionable the object of their efforts really is; it doesn't matter how distant the person - or even the cause! - is to their community. They will speak up; they will take action; they will rally; they will pray; they will do everything they can, from sending out petitions, to making phone calls, to applying political pressure, to writing editorials; even speaking about the issue in children's schools, and appealing to Heads of State to intervene!

What all this shows is just how hollow all their excuses are when they avoid taking action on other issues, issues far more pressing and dire than the fate of an admitted cop-killer.

What does it say about an institution like Agudah, which repeatedly sidesteps taking action against child molesters, yet willingly stands up to help out a cold-blooded killer?

What does it say about a community that is willing to go to bat for a convicted murderer who, until just two weeks prior, most people had never even heard of, but isn't willing to even speak up for innocent victims in their own community?

What does it say about people who speak with reverence and love about someone who bashed in a womans head with a flashlight, simply because "he's a Jew", yet when it comes to helping out a Jew who was raped by someone in their community, they will treat him like a pariah?

What does it say about rabbis who spoke to their congregations, encouraging them to call the Governor, to say tehillim, and to spread the word about this righteous cause, yet these same Rabbis are virtually silent when it comes to taking action against the pedophiles residing in their communities?

What does it say about a community that is up in arms in a matter of days about someone and something so distant to their own lives, yet even after years of poking and prodding by activists about an issue that affects the very safety of their own children, they choose to avoid any concrete action?

It seems that the chareidi community is patting themselves on the back now, so proud of the "…shtadlonus and achdus that was demonstrated by our tzibbur over recent days," as Chaim Dovid Zweibel, in a statement as a representative of Agudah, said. "Your reaction to the impending tragedy was remarkable."

Yes, it truly is remarkable. How can you not be utterly ashamed of yourselves?

Photo credit: flickr user Angelica Nicole.

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Tova said...

Nicely put, Hedyot.

I've been discussing the Grossman execution with several other Jews. Even though my friends and I may disagree on issues like the death penalty, we do agree that so many people's support for Grossman is telling.

I have seen people write that he was a 'tzaddik'. I have heard people only consider the death penalty now that a Jew's end has come through it. I have listened to people brush aside victims (Ms. Park, molested frum children, agunos) while expressing sympathy for the accused and guilty.

It all makes me worry that I'll get another migraine.

Good Shabbos...

Hasidic Rebel said...

Very well said, DH.

I for one find it pretty disgusting that the frum world is now patting itself on the back for its achdus. The self-congratulatory rhetoric just seems so petty -- especially since they actually failed at this life-and-death situation. Although I guess it is pretty much par for the course. Just another example of wearing rose-colored glasses when examining their own actions.

Isaac said...

There are no two ways about it. Frum values are fundamentally racist. We are the only community I know of, that runs its own ambulance service exclusively for its own members. I have never seen any body mention this, but it really bugs me.

JRS said...

Isaac, you can have your gripes about frum attitudes---I'll probably agree with most of them. But let's not get sloppy or unfair with the facts, in the rush to knock all things frum. Hatzolah serves anyone. I'm not kidding myself that their intent is anything other than to serve the Jewish community---but their official policy is not like that, and they stick to it, even if only because of appearances (& government requirements)---metoch shelo lishma...

Abandoning Eden said...

but don't you see, killing people is specifically prohibited in the torah (*coughexceptamalekandwhenthesanhedrenordersitcough*) but rape and child molestation is not! And since the torah is clearly the source of all morality in the world, if they don't prohibit something, it must not be such a big deal!

moshe said...

I'm loathe to disagree with my Rebbe in public (the punishment for which is capital according to Jewish law) so I'll forgo posting the ten paragraph rejoinder I just penned and suffice with noting that this apikoires has a very different view, one which appreciates the stupidity of the frum in rallying for Grossman and doesn't see in it anything anti-humanistic or hypocritical in comparison to its general approach to sex scandals.

Vashty said...

Hedyot, nice work. What a thoughtful and restrained piece. I hope that this becomes the most-frequented blog post on the Grossman issue.

Wrestling with G-d said...

Hedyot - are there any known child molesters still teaching in haredi schools (which are associated w/aguda) ?

The Hedyot said...

Yes, there are. Reichman is still teaching in Williamsburg. Kolko was teaching for decades even after people complained.

> (which are associated with agudah)

This is the very point I was making! What association did Grossman have with Agudah? None whatsoever! Of what concern was this issue to their community? None at all. Yet, they got actively involved. However, when it comes to dealing with far more pressing issues of relevance to their community, the excuse of "we have no association with this person/issue/problem" is trotted out.

shoshana said...

excellent post

Wrestling with G-d said...

hedyot, thanks for replying.

well agudah has really no control over williamsburg. so reichman is not a proof.

which school had a pedofile that was closely associated with aguda?

also is torah temimah (where kolko
taught) is assosiated with agudah?

The Hedyot said...

> well agudah has really no control over williamsburg. so reichman is not a proof. also is torah temimah assosiated with agudah?

wrestling -

Don't you see that you're just proving my point?

Agudah has no control over executions, has no association with Grossman, and yet did so much to help him! But when it comes to issues in their own community of great importance, you're still giving those very excuses to explain why they aren't doing anything!

i agree! said...

spot on! (not from one of you skeptics or otd's or heretics, whatever you are or call yourselves)but from a card carrying memeber of the frum community.

Mordy Ovits said...

"How often have we heard, in response to calls for action on the issue of sexual abuse, whether from the community, its leaders, or its institutions, the tired old excuses"

Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesman of the Agudah, blew off commenting on a frum serial child molester, saying it was not their business:

"Why would we have comment about the arrest of an individual? Because he was an employee, more than 30 years ago, of one of the camps we run (that have had thousands of employees over the years)? I don’t think that requires comment on our part.
We are not even a party anymore to any lawsuit filed against the accused, as I understand it. The suit of the accuser who included Camp Agudah in his action (John Doe #1) has been dismissed (without prejudice, I believe, so it can still be refiled, but hasn’t been)."

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>What does it say . . .

Rotten to the core?
Robotic lemmings?

The Hedyot said...

Thank you, Mordy. I knew that quote was around somewhere. It's exactly what I had in mind.

Orthoprax said...


"We are the only community I know of, that runs its own ambulance service exclusively for its own members."

Not true. If a non-Jew calls Hatzalah or flags down one of their ambulances they will treat him the same way they will treat a Jew of the community.

s(b.) said...

Thank you.

laura said...

Excellent post, Hedyot. I like your way of thinking about it.

I'm glad some commenters corrected Isaac. I personally saw hatzolah members treating a goyishe biker just last week.

Hedyot, I wouldn't call Reichman a "known child molester." Reichman was accused by one person, but nothing was ever proven definitively.

Chava-l said...

JRS: Isaac accurately defined the founding ideology of the Hatzalah. There's nothing sloppy about that fact. It is established for its members. In as much as the status quo dictates actions beyond their philosophy, the philosophy behind the enterprise cannot be argued. I don't think Isaac discredited the good work of hatzalah (who could, who would?) He criticized the racist philosophy behind it.

The Hedyot said...

> He criticized the racist philosophy behind it.

I don't agree with this. Why is it racist to make an extra effort to fill a need in one's own community?

Ben Sorer Moreh said...

I've been umder a rock but just learned about this from some frum people and was outraged. When one of "them" kills one of "us" we demand "justice", but when one of "us", we beg for "mercy". Recall the outrage in 1976, when a frum woman was murdered in Manhattan and the Hispanic killer was allowed to plea bargain.
Not to mention the odd history of Grossman becoming "frum" (have people never heard of cons who cozy up to clergy in jail to catch a break?
I'd venture a guess that part of the hidden agenda of this campaign is to discredit Florida Governor Charlie Crist.

Chava-l said...

Why is it racist to make an extra effort to fill a need in one's own community?

It's racist* to create an emergency care life-saving organization with the philosophy of saving only one's race alone.

* Racism : the prejudice that members of one race are intrinsically superior to members of other races

The Hedyot said...

> It's racist to create an emergency care life-saving organization with the philosophy of saving only one's race alone.

I think this is a gross mis-characterization. As I understand it, that is not the philosophy at all. Their goal is simply to improve emergency medical responses in their community.

I admit that priority is being given to the members of a particular community, but I don't see why that implies that anyone is viewing themselves as superior. Why is it any different than any other community organization that makes an effort to help out its own members? How is this different than a community raising money for its own schools? Or a church collecting clothes for the poor of its own community? Do you really think that making an effort to help those closest to you constitutes racism? If that's the case, than wouldn't it be wrong for anyone to do anything to help out their own community?

As long as hatzoloh doesn't actively neglect any other people who seek its help, I don't see why doing something extra for ones own community members whose needs are not being addressed is problematic. As far as I know, Hatzoloh never asks a caller if they are Jewish or chassidic before they respond. If they are called, they come.

(I'm not denying that there is plenty of racism and bigotry in the Orthodox/chassidic community. But as far as I can tell, Hatzoloh, as an organization, is not at all an example of it.)

The Hedyot said...

Just to preclude anyone making the argument that the efforts for Grossman are also an example, like hatzoloh, where the community is simply making an extra effort for those it feels closest to, here's why it's so different:

a) Unlike the people who turn to Hatzoloh, Grossman is a criminal of the worst kind. He isn't an innocent person who simply needs some extra help.

b) Unlike the situations where Hatzoloh is called, Grossman isn't in need of some some basic help of which he is being deprived.

c) The Orthodox world actively supports killing anyone else who is in Grossman's situation. Only advocating for him is like if Hatzoloh were only saving Jewish people, which they aren't.

The kind of assistance that the Orthodox world displayed in the Grossman case is known in most other situations by a different term: favoritism, or nepotism. It's no different than if a cop who arrested a bunch of people decided to let one of them go because he realized they were related.

That's the kind of "assistance" that is simply immoral.

HaEmet said...

Daas, While all those are excellent arguments for Hatzolah, the main one is that the accusation itself is a lie! Hatzolah NEVER refuses service based on race, ethnicity, religion, etc.

Chava-l said...

I concur that there's nothing wrong with community services. Of course you're right. Your initial comment brought all those community services to mind. But are you saying Hatzolah doesn't value saving Jewish lives significantly more than gentile lives?

This attitude makes the difference between community based services and racist services.

(We're discussing the greater issue of racist attitude by using the best of the community, hatzalah, as an example. Let's not. I appreciate hatzalah as a something that shouldn't be attacked. It was the underlying attitude shared by all frum I addressed.)

The Hedyot said...

> But are you saying Hatzolah doesn't value saving Jewish lives significantly more than gentile lives?

Like I said, as an organization, I don't see evidence that Hatzoloh subscribes to those values. I'd concede that many, if not most, of the people who work in Hatzoloh do feel that way, but the views of its members should not impugn the organization itself. As far as I know, the organization operates without prejudice or bigotry of any kind.

Chava-l said...

On another note, I don't think your comparison of the killing and child molestation was fair. The frum community would have been equally outraged if their children were molested by secular authority. The frum community doesn't approve of abuse or molestation. What it does is protect its own of criminal allegations (child molestation including) because it has a hard time accepting its good people as monsters. It's a matter of possesiveness over one's own. Everyone that is confronted with the reality of a fellow family/friend/community member being alleged of criminal wrongdoing - especially hideous ones - struggles with denial or confusion. You would too. You can't compare the response to crimes committed by your people to crimes committed by others.

Not that the frum community's turning a blind eye isn't despicable. I'm addressing the comparison of Grossman to child molestation, not molestation itself. You don't need to inform me about the evil, grotesque business of denying abuse. I absolutely agree, and didn't make any justification of the unacceptable proceedings.

Chava-l said...

if not most, of the people who work in Hatzoloh do feel that way, but the views of its members should not impugn the organization itself

What makes up an organization if not its volunteer members? How can you claim the people that make up the organization have certain attitudes but the organization does not?

The Hedyot said...

> How can you claim the people that make up the organization have certain attitudes but the organization does not?

First of all, members of an organization have many different values. Which of those values would you claim should be attributed to the organization?

Secondly, if the organization does not act in a way which reflects a particular value of some of its members, why should it be attributed to be subscribing to that value?

Chava-l said...

I can see what you're saying. But if it's not the people of an organization, what then makes the character of an organization?

The Hedyot said...

> what then makes the character of an organization?

I would say a combination of their charter and the way they function. For instance, I would guess that Agudah's charter is simply to promote the interests of the Orthodox community. Innocuous enough. But their behavior, where they deride other denominations, defend and advocate on behalf of criminals (e.g. Madoff, Spinka and Grossman), and look out for their own interests even when it's not in the best interests of the community (e.g. sexual abuse in schools) indicates that their character is deeply rotten.

Lomdishe Kup said...

Another Yeshiva covering up for a molester that is under Agudah's auspices is Ner Yisroel (Rosh Yeshiva Ahron Feldman) that is covering up for Moshe Eiseman. Eiseman also molested in Philadelphia Yeshiva run by Agudah Gadol Reb Shmuel Kaminetsky. They also covered for Matis Weinberg for years and have never come clean, as he is allowed to molest in Israel.

Mr. Hedyot (rabbi?) This is truly the best critique of the Moetzes I have read (or written). Shafran also said it was wrong for Agudah to comment on Tropper because the case was not yet proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Nor will they ever comment on it. And Grossman, who WAS guilty beyond a reasonable doubt they defend.

Their hypocrisy knows no bounds.