Rabbi Manis Friedman apologises

It is never too late, and it is usually the sign of a good person when they publicly apologise. I received a copy of the apology

I want to apologize for my completely inappropriate use of language when discussing sexual abuse. I have always believed in the importance of empowering victims of all kinds to move forward in building their lives. In my zeal to reinforce that belief, I came across as being dismissive of one of the worst crimes imaginable.

For that I am deeply sorry.

Molestation is a devastating crime, violating the intimacy and innocence of the pure and defenseless. The victim is left feeling that there is something wrong with the world in which they live. Perpetrators of molestation should be reported to the police and prosecuted appropriately. Any person, organization or entity that stands by silently is abetting in the crime.

From now on, I will make sure to make those points absolutely clear. This is about more than regret. The subject can’t be neglected.

I hope over time to earn the forgiveness of those who were hurt by my words.

I also received some comments attributed to Manny Waks of Tzedek where Manny was alleged to have said:

It is regrettable that Rabbi Friedman waited until now to issue this apology – but it is nonetheless a welcome development.

I do not understand this back-hander. If it takes a week of world-wide condemnation for someone to realise their wrong and express it, why focus on that week and give them a slap? People don’t always act immediately for a variety of reasons. There is all manner of reason for this, but I see absolutely no value whatsoever in being hypercritical about such. When victims take years and years to realise that going to the police is the right thing to do, would anyone dare say, “Oh that’s a good first step, but we regret that you took so long?”. Rabbi Friedman is not a victim. One week really isn’t an eternity, and Manny’s attack over this aspect really is unnecessary and mean-spirited.

I have no issue with Manny’s organisation Tzedek pursuing the issue, and I am on record as being critical of Rabbi Friedman. That being said, he was very foolish, but he isn’t a fool. I have every confidence that he will turn this incident into a launching pad to assist in shaking out the cobwebs and helping those who have experienced trauma. Sadly, some groups, such as Satmar and the supporters of Rabbi Halpern and Rabbi Padwa are not within cooee of even coming close to changing their attitude to the (correct) Torah view, let alone addressing the issue properly within their communities. Hopefully, Manny’s organisation can make some incursions into these two topical infamous cases. I’d encourage Tzedek and other similar organisations, however, to be a little more temperate in their language. When someone apologises, don’t give them a back-hander; it serves nothing.

Beth Din for Rabbi Manis Friedman?

Someone pointed me to an extract which described a purported letter from Manny Waks of Tzedek, where Manny’s organisation calls on two Botei Din to censure Rabbi Friedman. I hadn’t seen this alleged letter when I posted my thoughts on the topic. Let’s assume the letter is legitimate.

Let’s also assume that the purpose of the letter is to ask Rabbi Manis to retract the what I described as “crass and unsophisticated” comments he had made. In two paragraphs, Manny allegedly wrote (I’ve emboldened some key words)

Most concerning, he is having a direct, damaging impact on victims and survivors of child sexual abuse and their families. Some of those who have not yet addressed their abuse will think twice before taking any measures to obtain justice and to alleviate their pain and suffering. And some of those who have already taken measures will be self-critical.

I can only hope and pray that Rabbi Friedman’s remarks do not cause victims additional trauma, potentially leading to extreme consequences.

I do not believe for one minute that a Beth Din making an order to Rabbi Manis, and he acting on this order will cease “causing victims additional trauma.” It could be equally argued that victims will look at both the comments made by Rabbi Manis and any retraction or apology as being in the same category: “simply too far-fetched to be believed or taken seriously”.

If I am beaten black and blue by a thug, and spend 2 years in hospital, and end up with a prosthetic device all my life to help me walk, and somebody says “be happy you didn’t die” or “you know some people are worse off than you” then I may be very upset, very angry, very hurt and more. I might even curse the person as being over simplistic. If that person is then called to a Beth Din by an organisation responsible for helping those who have been mugged recover from their mental trauma and that person is forced to apologise, then I’m not likely to consider it real or likely to “feel better” or feel more inclined to report a previously unreported attack on me. Would you?

Let’s be clear: I’m not making comparisons of the psychological after-effects of different trauma-causing cataclysms. They will differ by trauma and victim. I am commenting on what I think is common human nature.

There are other ways to address Rabbi Manis’s offensive words. The Beth Din, in the context, would not have been my chosen approach. I’m baffled as to what the local sydney beth din has to do with it. As far as I know, Manny lives in Melbourne, and there are victims in many countries. Perhaps a group approach would have been better?

Either way, this issue is really one that should be dealt with by those who Rabbi Manis considers as his Mashpiim. After all, the last Lubavitcher Rebbe ז’ל issued a clear missive that each Chossid should have three Rabbonim/Mashpiim who they should turn to when/if they face issues that need advice or experience conundra and the like. The Lubavitcher Rebbe was clearly talking about the period after his own passing, and made this request first after the Shiva of his own wife, on Motzei Shabbos in a hidden (but now published Sicha) entitled בואו ונחשוב חשבונו של עולם. I don’t have a link to it, but I know it’s available and now published at the back of Toras Menachem. I believe there is an audio and possibly a video of this Sicha. If I recall he said it at the bottom of the stairs in 770. Allegedly, the LR asked for this Sicha to be sent to him for correction, but his Askanim refrained from doing so because? it implied there was a process after he passed away.

Anyway, Good Shabbos to all.

Where Rabbi Manis Friedman got it wrong

There is a controversy regarding comments over the Rabbinic role in helping a victim of molestation, made in a lecture by Rabbi Manis.

I disagree with Rabbi Harry Maryles’s take as described in the above link. If you watch the video alone, without knowing what he said in the first audio recording linked there, I don’t think there is anything objectionable in the video per se (viewed alone). The audio of the first lecture is another thing, however.

It is true that the “role” of the Rabbi must be different to a psychologist. It is true that Rabbis should not assume the role of police or psychologist. The Rabbi (here I assume Friedman means the pulpit or town Rabbi, as opposed to the Rabbinic member of a Beis Din or a Rosh Yeshivah both of whom generally don’t deal with a particular community or its membership in this way) needs to deal with the victim vis-a-vis stressing and fortifying their status as a valued member of Klal Yisrael. The victim’s membership, under such circumstances is inviolate and axiologically grounded. The central issue to me is how you communicate this fact and serve to intercept the sense of possible alienation a victim may feel.

Rabbi Manis’s audio presentation does this in a crass and unrealistic manner. It assumes that a person will feel alienated more by the fact that they have been the victim of a crime whose perpetrator’s punishment is Kores as opposed to say Malkus. In my opinion, this is a nonsense and is a most unsophisticated metric for measuring such factors. The Chacham, wise person, has eyes in his head. He observes, tailors, and reacts according to what he sees. Surprisingly to me, Rabbi Manis is a Chabadnik. Of all people, they are expert in stressing the inherent holiness of the soul, asserting that it can be found in every Jew, and are experienced in helping remove the “layers” of baggage of many varieties which may cloud the vision and experiential manifestation of this soul. Instead, Rabbi Manis, in the audio version, sounds like an old-fashioned, fire and brimstone, B’aal Mussar. Sure, there was a time where you could scare or influence someone to repent based on the technical halachic severity of the sin. Sure, there may have been a time where you could convince a certain type of victim in a certain era that the technico/halachic punishment of what had been perpetrated wasn’t as “severe”, say, as a crime deserving of the death penalty.

No, the approach, ironically, ought to be to give strength by stressing the positive contribution that even continued orthopraxic practice can serve. Importantly, it may well also be beyond the Rabbi. A given community (Kehila) can quickly undo even the appropriate response and support of a Rabbi.

If I was Rabbi Manis, I would apologise, and stress that his words and argument were not formulated in an acceptable manner, and stick to the thoughts that he expressed in the video. Even if he isn’t an official spokesman for Chabad, he’s considered important enough to be ascribed such attention. If he apologised, he’d be no less a person. In fact, he’d come across as more human and thereby more equipped to help people using his undeniable God-given gifts.

We all make mistakes and express ourselves poorly. It seems it’s harder though to admit when we do.