By Yonoson Rosenblum | JANUARY 4, 2022
Once trust is lost, it is notoriously hard to restore, and never completely
Trust is the glue that secures every personal relationship and society in general. The widespread assessment that America is on a downward trajectory is largely a function of the division of the country into two large, antagonistic groups, neither of which credits the other with basic human decency. Once trust is lost, it is notoriously hard to restore, and never completely.
Torah society is perhaps uniquely predicated on a high degree of trust. We live with the assumption that members of our communities share our commitment to Torah values and that they strive to live in accord with those values, albeit not perfectly.
In light of recent events, however, we find ourselves of necessity giving our children the message: "You cannot trust anybody — at least not completely." And though it is not our intention, our children may hear that message as "Everybody cannot be trusted" — which is something very different. The societal glue has weakened as a consequence.
Anyone who enjoys a modicum of communal respect bears a large responsibility not to act in such a way as to undermine societal trust — the greater the respect, the greater the burden.
That responsibility is greatest with respect to the most vulnerable and gullible members of our community — the young. When they are abused by those whom they have been taught to view as representatives of the Torah — e.g., rebbis — their connection to Torah itself is shattered. And when the abuse is at the hands of those to whom they are bound by innate bonds of love — i.e., close family members — their ability to form any deep bonds thereafter is similarly destroyed.
In either case, the only hope that young victims can ever overcome the betrayal of trust is if they share their secret, and subsequently their pain is fully validated by those closest to them and the society at large. That means, inter alia, that wrongdoers are prosecuted. (I have written in the past about how crucial "validation" of the victims' pain is to their chances of leading a normal, productive life.)
Predators inevitably tell their victims, "No one will believe you. If you ever speak about what happened, nothing will come of it." The existence of an effective system of batei din goes a long way toward taking away that power from the perpetrator.
Any words or actions that discourage victims from coming forward, or that could appear to cast the blame on them, are invalidating, and result in their feeling twice murdered. Here again, the existence of batei din to deal with the issues is validating: It reinforces the importance that the community attaches to the issue.
THE MORNING SHIUR that I attend is currently studying Shaarei Teshuvah on chanufah (flattery). In the second category of flatterers, Rabbeinu Yonah lists those who praise an evildoer, whether or not in his presence, even though they do not justify his crime or give a false account of him (III:189). And that is so even if one praises him for qualities that he does in fact possess. When we first studied this paragraph, I was puzzled: Aren't we always supposed to look for the good in others? Aren't we constantly advised to focus on the positive in our own child-raising?
And yet Rabbeinu Yonah describes one who praises an evildoer, even accurately, as falling within the verse, "They who forsake the law praise the wicked" (Mishlei 28:4). For if one had not forsaken the Torah, he would not praise the transgressor of its words and violator of its mitzvos. I now understand Rabbeinu Yonah to be saying that by praising the wicked, one diminishes the revulsion that his deeds should cause. And it is crucial that Torah society preserve and reinforces that sense of revulsion.
In the preceding paragraph (III:188), Rabbeinu Yonah cites the Gemara (Sotah 41a) that attributes a decree of destruction to the flattery of the Jews toward Agrippas, the Herodian king. One day Agrippas was reading in the Torah. When he reached the verse, "You may not place a foreigner over you [as king], who is not your brother" (Devarim 17:15), tears streamed from his eyes. Those who were with him consoled him, saying, "You are our brother," even though he was halachically unfit to be king.
From the case of Agrippas, we learn that even generally positive motives can bring communal destruction when they lead to a distortion of the Torah. Sympathy for the family of a perpetrator is natural and even praiseworthy. But it causes a distortion in the world when concern for the family of a perpetrator takes precedence over the suffering of his or her victims, who, unlike the former, are often unknown and faceless to us.
Still remaining to be answered, however, is why the words of a few should bring about a decree of destruction on the entire community. Rav Dessler provides a clue to the answer. When the Jewish People entered the Land, under the leadership of Yehoshua, 36 Jews were killed, and "the people's hearts melted and became like water" at the first battle of Ai (Yehoshua 7:5-6). Hashem explains to Yehoshua (7:11–12), "Israel has sinned; they have also violated My covenant that I commanded them; they have also taken from the consecrated property; they have also stolen; they have also denied; they have also placed [it] in their vessels. The Children of Israel will not be able to stand before their enemies... because they have become worthy of destruction."
Yet only one Jew, Achan, had taken from the cherem. Why, then, was the entire people punished? Rav Dessler answers that the community has great influence on every member in their midst. Had taking from the cherem been something disgusting in the eyes of Bnei Yisrael, it is quite possible that not even one would have had the effrontery to do so. But because the community did not convey to Achan the feeling that if his crime were discovered, he would be subjected to ignominy and totally ostracized, the members of the society were punished as well. In short, the society had not sufficiently conveyed its revulsion at Achan's me'ilah.
HOW CAN WE REINFORCE OUR COMMUNAL STANDARDS in the clearest possible fashion, and thereby avoid further communal disaster and chillul Hashem? Rav Yitzchak Berkovits, in a talk to mental health professionals, suggested several means. One simple and clear-cut response would be a communal takanah against any male counseling females. There are plenty of highly qualified women counselors, and too many examples of male-female counseling relationships that have gone awry. (He explicitly did not mean to exclude couples therapy.)
Second, it is time to reinforce parental safety messages about what it is absolutely forbidden to do to any child, and of the importance of the child or young person confiding in his or her parents if anyone acts to make them feel uncomfortable. The brightest flashing light is if an adult tells someone much younger to not tell anyone or threatens them if they do.
And finally, there is the necessity, as mentioned above, of establishing communal batei din, whose authority to remove stumbling blocks from the community is universally recognized, and which have access to experts in the field. Such batei din offer the best chance of removing the danger, while protecting both victims and families of perpetrators from the glare of publicity. Such batei din would also have the expertise to know when there are sufficient reglaim l'davar to involve secular authorities, if need be. A member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah told me last week that he is fully involved in creating such batei din.
Batei din will encourage victims and their families to report what they have suffered, and help avoid the misbegotten attempts of some to sweep matters under the rug to prevent communal disgrace and chillul Hashem. Any attempt to do the latter only ensures more victims and even greater chillul Hashem.