Misrepresentation and Ignoring Chazal

By Rabbi Natan Slifkin (Rationalist Judaism blog)
November 17, 2012

As I noted in a previous critique of an article by Rabbi Avi Shafran, there are people who reasonably claim that it is pointless and undignified to pay any attention to him; after all, this is a person who believes that Bernie Madoff is more worthy of admiration than Captain Sully, and who believes that "unyielding reverence for currently regnant dogmas" is more of a problem in the scientific community than in the charedi community. However, since Rabbi Shafran has an important position and his voice is heard by many people, I believe that he cannot be ignored.

Rabbi Avi Shafran's latest missive boggles the mind. Not only does he utterly misrepresent the people that he criticizes; he quotes a Gemara that proves precisely the opposite of the point that he is trying to make.

The object of Rabbi Shafran's ire is the speculation of an article in New York magazine that child abuse is more common in the Orthodox Jewish community than in other communities. According to Rabbi Shafran, this speculation was based on the theory that repression fosters abuse. Rabbi Shafran responds that, on the contrary, it is the lack of fearing God that enables immoral behavior.

However, checking the original article (via Google; Rabbi Shafran did not provide a link or reference) reveals that "repression fosters abuse" was only one theory offered regarding the claim that abuse is more common in the Orthodox community. There were several other theories that were also offered: that there is a higher degree of shame in the Orthodox community over such things; that there is fear of badmouthing rabbis; and that there is a perceived prohibition of mesirah. Does Rabbi Shafran deny the existence of these? Why did he not mention them?

(Of course, we can also add the fact, admitted by Agudas Yisroel's own executive director, that the charedi leadership did not take abuse and molestation issues seriously enough. And Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, who works for a taskforce approved by Agudah, writes that the rate of abuse is higher in charedi communities, for the reasons given above!)

Bizarrely, Rabbi Shafran concludes by noting that even religious people sometimes forget to fear God; he cites the Gemara's account of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai's wish for his students that their fear of God should equal their fear of man.

Well, that's the whole point!

The Gemara's point is that people's fear of God is less than their fear of man. In other words, contrary to Rabbi Shafran's claim, what stops people committing crimes is not fear of God so much as it is fear of man. Which is exactly why there is reason to believe that abuse is higher in the Orthodox Jewish community. In the charedi community, perpetrators have less to fear, since they know that due to widespread concerns of shonda and mesirah, they will not be reported!

I don't know why, with so much happening right now, Rabbi Shafran is writing an article in response to something written in 2006. But if he's going to do so, he should at least accurately represent those that he is disputing, and listen to what Chazal are actually saying! Especially since the latest Orthodox scandal, currently unfolding in the UK, simply further proves that Chazal were right and Rabbi Shafran is wrong.