I intend to write a longer piece about the terrible abuse situation that is blighting the Haredi community at this time. However for the time being, I would like to focus on Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel’s comments (I haven’t seen the article, just the relevant passages, quoted here and here) with regard to this situation and the role bloggers have played in it.
Before I do so, let’s get this out of the way:
1) Abuse is the closest thing to retzicha, spiritually and often physically. I have no words strong enough to condemn abusers, nor to comfort the victims. May Hashem give these Yiddeshe Kinder endless strength and bracha in every aspect of their lives.
2) Those who cover up for known abusers are beneath contempt.
3) Aval Asheimim Anachnu. The Haredi community has failed our kids on this issue, period. It NEEDS to, and WILL, get this fixed, hopefully very soon. However:
4) The Aguda position is that accusations must reach the standard of “Raglayim Le’dovor” (reasonable suspicion) even before the authorities are consulted. This is the Psa’k Halacha of Rav Elyashiv and for good reason. A false accusation alone is enough to destroy a person and his family forever. That cannot be allowed to happen. We cannot protect victims by creating more of them. It is the way of justice and mercy (as well as the the Jewish way, going back to Avraham Avinu) that “better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer“. (I know this appears to create a conflict with dina dimalchusa, which greater people than me will have to square away).
5) NO ONE, no community, can claim the moral high ground on this issue, both regarding the abuse itself and the subsequent cover-ups. This scandal has affected Modern Orthodox, The Catholic Church, The public school system etc.
Now, on to Rabbi Zwiebel’s comments:
I don’t write off the bloggers as leitzanim and reshaim, because they will be judged, as we all will, after 120 years for their motivations and techniques. I’m not a condemner, by nature. “I do believe that among them there are people who are deeply pained about certain issues and feel that this is the way they can express their pain. I will even go a step further and say that through the pressure they’ve created, communal issues that needed to be confronted were moved to the front burner and taken seriously. A case in point is abuse and molestation issues.
The question is, if the fact that they’ve created some degree of change is worth the cost. At the very least, it’s rechilus, lashon hara, and bittulzman.That’s a high price to pay. “Then there is the damage wrought to the hierarchy of Klal Yisrael. We’ve always been a talmid chacham-centered nation, and it’s dangerous to ruin the fabric of Klal Yisrael by denigrating the ideal of daas Torah and by allowing personal attacks on gedolei Torah.”
Critics have zeroed in on the “bittul zman” reference to accuse Rabbi Zwiebel of somehow equating wasting time to the imperative of saving lives (which is clearly what stopping this abuse is). This is grossly misleading and severe selective editing.
Rabbi Zwiebel’s point is clear. While giving them credit for bringing this vital issue to the forefront, he puts forth the valid contention that as a whole, bloggers have done more harm than good. As evidence he cites, Lashon Hara, Rechilus and only then, Bittul Zman. Let’s not forget, that although in modern society gossip is par for the course, to Jews it is deadly. It is the reason for the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash and KILLS, according to Chazal, the three people involved: the speaker, the listener and the one it was said about. Obviously, in bringing to light the issues of abuse, Lashon Hara does not apply, (and R”Z was referring to blogs in general when he mentioned this, not with regard to abuse) but abuse is hardly the sole topic for most bloggers. Cynicism, vitriol, disrespect, negativity and yes, lashon hara and rechilus about all areas of Haredi life are what keeps most of these blogs alive and kicking.
Then there is his final point, conveniently overlooked, that bloggers evince a single-minded determination to undermine the pillars of Haredi society with their constant barrages against Haredi leadership and practice. This is not confined to bona fide haters such as the Successful Bigot and his ilk, but is unfortunately the bread and butter of much of the discourse online.
To put it another way, the entire blog enterprise is “noach lo shelo nivra mishenivra” (better had it not been created). It’s admittedly good work on this issue can be classified as a Mitzvah Habah Be’avera. The good they have done in the area of abuse does not excuse the destruction they have wrought in many other areas. Indeed, it just highlights the tremendous responsibility they bear for turning what could’ve been a force for good into the cesspool it is now.
An entity whose raison d’etre is tearing down without ever building up, carpet bombing without a shred of concern for direct or collateral damage, cannot legitimize its existence with an occasional act of goodness, even when that good is great. This is indisputable. Al Capone set up soup kitchens. Meyer Lansky played a vital role in securing the US homeland during WWII. The Red Army liberated Auschwitz. Nonetheless, they are widely and correctly understood to represent the worst in mankind. You can hardly fault Blacks for detesting the institution of slavery, even though it is only through slavery that they enjoy the American Dream instead of being stuck in some African wasteland.
What makes the ire over Rabbi Zwiebel’s comments particularly ironic is that bloggers, more than anyone else, specialize in dismissing entire lives of greatness and success based on a single instance of failure. They are the ones who operate using the standards they now condemn. Sholom Rubashkin is constantly (and falsely) denigrated throughout the blogosphere as a criminal and a thief without any regard for the tremendous good works he did for most of his life in basically supporting an entire town. Indeed, they reduce the tremendous accomplishments of rabbis and leaders to nil because of their (real or perceived) inadequacies on a given issue. Now they complain when they are judged by the majority of their work instead of the few bright spots.
Rabbi Zwiebel is correct in taking the long view of blogs and what he sees is rightfully distasteful and damaging. Bloggers will vehemently dispute these conclusions with all types of rationalizations, but the honest ones among them will quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) admit it: they have no problem with the utter destruction of the Haredi world. As a leader of a prominent Haredi organization, it falls to Rabbi Zwiebel to make the public case for what most Haredim (those who are aware of blogs) make in private. The blogoshpere is not kosher, no matter the chazer fiissel they insist on showing the world.