Robert Kolker Responds to Avi Shafran's Article, "The Evil Eleventh"

From: Robert Kolker
Date: November 16, 2012
To: " This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Cc: Rabbi Avi Shafran
Subject: Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor:

It is depressing to see Rabbi Shafran recycling, in his essay in Cross-Currents, the same arguments he's been using for years to silence the vulnerable people in his community who might otherwise expose abusers.

I am the author of the piece in New York magazine that Rabbi Shafran has apparently found so objectionable. For my part, I can only respond by saying what I said the last time he tried to villify me in print: Any society that shies away from open discussion of certain issues is a society that allows problems to fester longer - and abusers to stay in business longer. As one abuse victim told me, "Whether it's Jewish or Amish or Mennonite or Catholic or Muslim, it doesn't make a difference. I feel like this is kind of like a fungus. It grows in the dark."

His greatest mistake is to argue that the fervently Orthodox community is somehow being singled out as inherently worse than others. In fact, it is the argument of this community's exceptionalism that is what has made matters worse for victims. Rabbi Shafran continues to completely (and, one can only assume by now, deliberately) ignore the cultural forces of shame and denial in his community that have kept alleged victims from going public for decades. Many people been waiting for years for him to take on the so-called shonda factor, lashon hara, shalom bayit, mesira, and chillul Hashem, all of which are invoked to keep victims from bringing their community unwelcome attention by the authorities.

This is the repression that silences victims. This is the repression that enables abusers. But those issues apparently don't warrant his attention. Instead of encouraging abuse victims to go to the police, and instead of opening his community's school's to the same mandatory reporting policies as the public schools, he would rather go after New York magazine again. As I said in 2006, the last time he made this argument in a public forum, Rabbi Shafran is obviously more concerned with defending Judaism from paper tigers - illusory enemies - than he is with actually dealing with the problems of his community.

I hope that someday Rabbi Shafran will understand that every time he stands up to make the case that the fervently Orthodox aren't vulnerable to abusers, he is contributing to a tragic chilling effect. How many people in his community are afraid to speak up, knowing that those in power won't even acknowledge that their community is the slightest bit vulnerable?

And finally, I hope that someday he realizes that if he spent half the effort giving comfort to the abused than he does defending the powerful, his community would have a real reason to be proud of him.

Yours truly,

Robert Kolker
New York Magazine