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Religious leaders gone bad…

November 19th, 2015 Posted by Ask the Rabbi No Comment yet

Question:

Sadly, we’ve all heard numerous accounts of pedophile priests, with some explaining away their sickness as being a result of forced celibacy and inability to “connect” with a loving wife.

But just today, the news from the east coast of a rabbi accused of filming young women, as they undressed for the mikvah (ritual bath) just rattled me. Not celibate, he has NO EXCUSE and is a “disgrace to his race”.

∼ Mrs M.

Answer:

Dear Mrs. M.,

We know of the 2014 incident you are referencing and like all Jews, we found it painful and disturbing. Clearly, the rabbi involved sinned greatly and he must be a troubled and sick man. His actions were certainly evil. It is very hard to deal with this and it rattles us as well. We expect more from someone in his position – or actually from all people.

We disagree with your premise that we can ‘understand’ the Catholic priest who sins because of his celibacy. While as Jews we don’t believe in celibacy as a virtue, there is no excuse for pedophilia or other taking advantage of people who look up to you as a religious figure. There is no excuse for anyone to sin, otherwise the entire doctrine of free will becomes a travesty. When those in positions of religious leadership  do wrong, they compound whatever wrong they do because the desecration of God’s name is greater.

Rabbis, unlike priests, are not seen as ‘chosen by God,’ nor is the title bestowed by a central authority. There was human, not Godly, failure both on the part of this rabbi and on the part of any colleagues who had reasons to suspect wrongdoing and stayed silent. It is heartbreaking to hear how this man and, to a different degree, anyone who turned a blind eye to him, betrayed God and people.

The bottom line is that we humans do fall and sin. We also fall prey to sickness of the soul. When someone in a position of trust does so it is especially upsetting. One of the realities of life is that the trust we grant people will sometimes be betrayed.

Yet, it is valid to ask if the religion itself promoted the activity or if the behavior was  a violation of the religion. It is fair to ask if most leaders and adherents of the religion defend the misdeeds or whether the sin is overwhelmingly seen as an aberration and condemned. This is important because the secular left tries to implicate Judaism and Christianity for the transgressions of their followers while excusing Islam. For example, Judaism and Christianity condemn pedophelia or voyeurism, while large numbers of Moslems and Imams defend honor killings as theologically sound. The twin religions of the Bible are not morally equivalent to Islam.

It is a challenge not to lose faith in all people because of the evil done by some.

Yours was a question we wish wasn’t needed,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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