How Not To Deal With Allegations of Impropriety
by Shaya Karlinsky
We have been witness to an increasing number of depressing revelations about Rabbis acting inappropriately towards women they have been counseling or educating. I have no intention of discussing any specific case. I would like to discuss a pattern that is all too common in these cases.
In response to accusations of improper behavior by Rabbis with female students or congregants, lots of well-meaning people come to the defense of the accused. These people will vouch for his tremendous integrity, meticulous observance of all appropriate boundaries in every interaction they ever experienced or witnessed, and the life-changing advice and counseling they or their friends received from the accused. Since, if and when breaches of ethical and Halachic behavior happen, they happen “behind closed doors,” the only way to verify the accusations is for victims to provide detailed testimony of what they claim happened. Frequently, the victims themselves are troubled individuals, or were having some specific emotional crisis which can make them vulnerable to advances from the predator, while compromising their credibility as plaintiffs or witnesses. People can become easily swayed and confused when weighing claims of somewhat unreliable plaintiffs/witnesses against the claims and testimony of obviously well adjusted success stories of said Rabbi’s activities.
I believe the approach is completely mistaken, and a section in the Kli Yakar will give us the correct approach to take in such situations.
At the end of Parshas Ki Teitzei (Devarim 25:13-16) the Torah prohibits holding in one’s possession dishonest weights and measures. The Kli Yakar is bothered by the seeming redundancies and inconsistencies exhibited by the text. The Torah begins by prohibiting holding “large” and “small” weights and measures. It then commands that one have “full and righteous” weights and measures. And the section concludes with the verdict that “It is an abomination before G-d, all who do these, all who act corruptly.”
The simple understanding of “small and large” weights is that the “small” weight is dishonest, used to shortchange customers, as opposed to a “large” one, which would be the honest weight. The problem this raises is that there should only be a prohibition against the “small” dishonest weight! Additionally, the command to have “full” and “righteous” seems redundant. “Full” implies that it is an honest weight, so what is added by the demand that it be “righteous?” Finally, “all who do these” refers to the dishonest use of weights and measures, an obviously criminal activity. So what has the Torah added with “all who act corruptly.”
The Kli Yakar begins his explanation by agreeing that the “large” one refers to an honest weight, and the command of “full and righteous” is the demand that one not only be honest – with a “full” honest weight, not shortchanging his customers – but to be righteous, going “beyond the letter of the law,” providing “a little extra.”
He then references a similar verse in Mishlei (20:10) which has similar textual difficulties that we encounter in our text. “A weight and a weight, a measure and a measure (implying having different sized weights) – an abomination before G-d are also both of them.” If they are both dishonest, why use the language “also?” They are simply both dishonest! Rather, the verse refers to two different weights or measures, one which is honest and one which is dishonest, We are being taught that the honest one is ALSO an abomination, for it is the facilitator that enables the person to get away with cheating customers with the dishonest one. If a storekeeper had a weight with which he was shortchanging a customer, this customer would come home, discover he had received less than what he had paid for, and he would bring the storekeeper to court. The storekeeper might defend himself with the claim that some of the produce must have fallen out of the bag after the customer left the store, or was lost after he got home. But if the court would receive a number of similar complaints it would become apparent that this storekeeper was shortchanging his customers.
What is the “solution?” The storekeeper also maintains an honest set of weights, and many customers are served honestly with them. When a customer who was cheated comes to court to complain, the storekeeper can now defend himself with the claim that the shortage happened after she left the store. And to verify that claim, he offers to bring all the satisfied customers who always received the full amount due them. If the court will send an investigator to check the weight, the storekeeper will show the honest weight, proving that the he does not cheat anyone.
In conclusion, says the Kli Yakar, the honest weight is just as much an abomination as the dishonest weight, for it is the honest weight that enables the criminal to get away with his dishonest dealings.
When a Rabbi or educator is accused of improper behavior of a sexual or abusive nature, character witnesses are irrelevant to verifying whether the accusations are true. All the many people who have been helped in the past in no way undermine the credibility of the accusers. What is important is the specific accusations, whether there is a pattern to those accusations, and whether the accused can properly refute those accusations. If the defendant is being falsely accused by vindictive or unstable women, either the cross examination of the accusers will verify that, or direct testimony to contradict the claims can be provided. If the accusations are credible, if a pattern of improper behavior is verified, if the accused is guilty, then all the people who were helped should have no impact of the conclusions one needs to draw. In fact, his help is revealed to be part of his abominations, empowering him to continue preying on vulnerable and innocent victims. Those he helped are his “honest” measure, enabling him destroy the lives of those he was cheating.
For decades, accusations such as these were not taken as seriously as they needed to be. Many people were damaged by ongoing abusive behavior that was not recognized. It is to the credit of those in the forefront of the fight against this abuse that the trend is being reversed. While no innocent person should be brought down by false accusations of vindictive or troubled women, no guilty person should escape because he kept “honest weights and measures” in his house.
Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky is the Dean and Rosh Yeshiva of Shapell’s/Darche Noam Institutions: Yeshivat Darche Noam/ Shapell’s and the Midreshet Rachel v’Chaya College of Jewish Studies for Women. A native of Los Angeles, California, Rabbi Karlinsky has been in Israel since 1968, where he studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh and the Mirrer Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
‘What is important is . . . whether the accused can properly refute those accusations’
In other words, guilty until proven innocent.
[YA – In a sense, yes! See Shut Shoel U-Meshiv (Kama) sec.1 #185 who says that a court accepting testimony in areas like this is NOT governed by the usual practices governing removing a person from a presumption of kashrus. The reputation of a Torah teacher must be sterling. One whose reputation is marred by credible stories of gross misconduct is pasul from teaching, until his teshuvah restores him to good standing. Rabbi Karlinsky did not argue for disqualifying a person on the basis of rumor or innuendo. He spoke (as well as the teshuva of the Shoel u-Meshiv) about situations in which there is a “pattern to those accusations.” Only then must the accused then be required to “properly refute those accusations.” That is NOT the same as “guilty until proven innocent.”]
Please also see Yechezkal 18:24 for a similar idea
Thank you Cross Currents for facing up to this important issue. This is a step forward.
Once again Rabbi Karlinsky demonstrates why he is from the clear-headed thinkers of klal yisroel. well said.
Kol ha-kavod to Rabbi Karlinsky for shedding light on this sensitive issue using Torah sources. This is the way it should be done. It is not enough to be a mensh in dealing with the problem, although that is a prerequisite. For the Torah world it has to be couched in the terms of Torah, and Rabbi Karlinsky has done it.
The Jewish public should never be given reason to believe that Jewish educators and their associates belong to a “union” whose members always cover up for one another.
I studied with Rabbi Karlinsky more than twenty years ago and my appreciation has grown significantly over time. This article is an example of a scholar who himself uses “honest weights and measures” to judge matters by Torah truth, with no attempt to conform to “frum” slogans. Judaism live on because of the truth-tellers in our midst.
In theory, you’re right, but there’s an issue with applying that in practice. Whether action is to be taken may depend on whether there are “raglayim ledavar,” and the presence or absence of similar reports goes to that question. If it’s legitimate to say “we’ve had several similar reports concerning this individual, we need to take things to the next level,” then it’s just as legitimate to say “we’ve never had anything but good reports about him, let’s investigate according to the normal preliminary procedure.” The comparison to the discussion concerning even va’aven is imprecise because it assumes the conclusion at the outset. The honest is only evil if it’s used as a false piece of evidence; having only one weight, and it being an honest one, is certainly not prohibited. A good character reference is harmful only if it attempts to exonerate a guilty party.
We must protect the victims and prevent further victimization by predators whose modus operandi is well known to professionals in the field. The chances of several women — who stand to lose so much and have nothing to gain — conspiring to frame someone are so low as to be negligible.
We need to be concerned about validating the past victims (denying they were abuse is tremendously hurtful to those brave enough to step forward). We need to protect our most precious resource, our children, from future harm. We need to root out those who should not have any position wherein they can abuse again.
This is a fight for the very souls of our children. The predators may be evil, they may be filled with lust, they may even be sociopaths, but by and large they are not stupid. They know how to pick easy targets, “groom” their victims, manipulate, assault, and then threaten the victim. They know how to cover their tracks.
We need to know these patterns. We need to know that evil people can masquerade as holy men–and women. We need to be alert to the warning signs. We need to make the safety of our youth our foremost priority.
We can do this.
This article sure hits home for me. A certain local Rabbi whose identity I will keep anonymous, did terrible damage to me, basically ruining certain key areas of my life. When I brought up the subject to some religious people (without even mentioning his name in some cases), they were either not interested in hearing about it, or dismissed it out of hand. It was as if the Rabbi in question’s long beard, long black coat, and job title provided him with some kind of immunity from even the most legitimate of criticisms. In how he treated people, he was able to get away with a whole lot more than us ordinary people. This dismissive reaction that I received, coupled with the abysmal behavior of a few other apparently religious Jews, has served to drive me further and further way from living a religious Jewish life. If not for the decent religious Jews that I have met over the years, I would have had nothing to do with my Jewish people by now.
“While no innocent person should be brought down by false accusations of vindictive or troubled women, no guilty person should escape because he kept “honest weights and measures” in his house.”
Rabbi Karlinsky is 100% correct on this point, but what is he suggesting be done in the all-too-common cases where it isn’t possible to determine whether the accused is innocent or not innocent? I would venture to say that in most of the cases being described, the credibility of the accuser cannot be ascertained with a strong degree of confidence and the accusations are of the nature that they are often impossible to refute even if the accused is 100% innocent.
One thing we must never forget. The Torah tells us that the benefit of the doubt goes to the accused. This is so even if the trade-off is letting the guilty go unpunished versus G-d forbid punishing an innocent man or falsely besmirching his name.
[YA – And i would venture to disagree. Read R Yaakov Horowitz’s material, especially his assessment of the record of reliability of whistle-blowers in this area, at least insofar as those who have claimed to be actual victims.]
I’d also add that if there is more than one woman (who don’t know each other) making very similar accusations, then it’s almost certainly a case where the charges are credible. One disgruntled or mentally unstable woman is capable of fabricating a case against an individual, but once there are two independent women making the same accusations, then it’s virtual certain that the charges are true.
Much of the discussion has centered around dealing with allegations after-the-fact. But, as one episode after another comes up and plays itself out, there have been few initiatives toward system reform. Without change, these episodes are sure to continue.
Schools and other institutions sprout up everywhere all of the time. Once a founder gets funding, a building, and some Rabbinic connectivity/endorsement, he/she is in business. Some are short-lived and fly-by-night. Others have been around for a while. What seems to be symptomatic of many such schools, seminaries, or other organizations is there is little transparency, independent oversight, or accountability—to the public and to parents. We see this phenomenon all of the time, only to be noticed retrospectively. While these consistent symptoms are quite obvious to me, the comfort zone of “heimish” rules the day. Rabbi Karlinsky’s paradigm is certainly applicable. But, I would add the Torah imperative of “v’hiyisem nekiyim” as well. This means being proactive. Chazal were wise and quite very sensitive to human temptations when they mandated multiple Gabbai Tzedaka to manage money of hekdesh. I think that Chazal were also serious when they stated “ein apotropos l’arayos” without self-entitled carve-outs for guys like the recently deposed head of multiple seminaries in Israel.
At the specific level of seminaries and Yeshivos (especially the 1-3 year programs for Americans), what about establishing some sort of organized mechanism to propose quality control standards? Every institution would need to buy into them. High schools/Mesivtas and parents would then be able to filter out the mosdos which still prefer to play by their own rules and maintain their continuity as private businesses. And parents would have piece-of-mind that their children will be safe without the erroneous reassurance that there might be some ad hoc Beis Din convened after-the-fact which will protect their children. There might also be room for “tikkun” in the recruiting practices and tactics of some of these places. (v’hamavin yavin). With or without such reforms, it is obvious to me that parents need to take more ownership over the choices which they are paying for both financially and spiritually. We have seen many things falling through the cracks within the current referral system of collusion now operating within many BY’s and Mesivtas, which no doubt have contributed to rogue educators taking advantage of the situation.
And getting back to “ein apotropos l’arayos”, we have reached a point when it is time to revisit Hilchos Yichud, returning to not only the Halachos which Chazal came up with, but looking at the spirit of those laws. This might apply to closeness of faculty with vulnerable young people, including after-hours and digital interaction. And unfortunately, it certainly seems to be time to extend the guidelines to same-gender Rebbe-Talmid interactions as well.
While the notion that positive experiences with a rabbi do not repudiate the claims of the abused is correct, the comparison to the Kli Yakar’s analysis is disappointingly poor. The Kli Yakar explains that the large measure is an abomination because it’s sole purpose is to cover up the immoral use of the small one.
Many rabbis or others who fall prey to their untoward lusts ALSO help people genuinely. The help they give people — sometimes the decades of teaching, scholarship, and chesed — are not always a nefarious smoke screen to aid them in their abuses. Of course, there are predators who feign credibility to ensnare unsuspecting people. But — with no defense for the abuser — please, be careful not to undo the good deeds of many with a faulty analysis.
I will venture to say that Joseph has probably never experienced the workings of predator Rabbi from up close. And well adjusted people probably have trouble imagining the psychology of it. These people may not start out as predators — although to behave in a way some of the recent cases are revealing, indicates deep problems in need of therapy, if therapy can even help. The destructive nature of the behavior that is inflicted on the victims cannot coexist with motivation to truly help people. (See Rav Desslers kuntres hachesed, where he makes the distinction between true “givers” and those who are basically “takers”, but allow others to “taken from them” so they can continue as takers). I certainly have no intention of undoing the good deeds of those who “fall prey to their untoward lusts.” But that is not what we are observing in the cases we have witnessed and I have been discussing. The Kli Yakar is not referring to the person who began with an honest weight, and slipped up a couple of times by cheating his customer with a dishonest one. He is teaching that the honest weight becomes a necessary vehicle to enable a criminal to get away with using the dishonest weight. Sure, there are lots of satisfied customers. And there are lots of people who benefited from the Rabbis time and advice. But the personality and motivations that lie behind predatory behavior has to be acknowledged and dealt with in an unequivocal way — not be “balanced” out by all the many more people he helped, compared to the (relatively) small number of people he destroyed. It makes us quite uncomfortable to think that the people who were helped were tools in his hand to ensure that he had access to his victims and that his crimes would go unsuspected. But we should acknowledge that this is going on. Hopefully on rare occasions.