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.