Category Archives: Uncategorized

Keep Your Kids Safe: Ask Women for Help, Not Men

At the risk of making global, alarmist statements, I believe that there is a simple measure parents can take to ratchet up the safety of their children: turn to women for help with children, not men.

The reason is simple: 95% of pedophiles are men. The odds of finding a woman with that personality disorder are simply far slimmer.

A story that broke today in several media organs is the sentencing and incarceration of Adam Croote, someone who was a registered sex offender in upstate New York and was previously the poster child for missing children. To view the details of the story, click here. In any case, the family who hired him knew he was a sex offender, and out of the goodness of their hearts, gave this man all sorts of odd jobs to help him out. Tragically, their daughter was choked and raped by Croote while he babysat her. The oversight of these parents is obvious. Thankfully the daughter is alive, but she will require a tremendous amount of help in order to live a normal life. And thankfully, Croote, whose own life story is horrendous, is behind bars.

Very few people would be willing to take such a risk as to hire a registered sex offender to babysit their children. I hope that nobody will ever make a decision like that again. But, when it comes to making a decision as to who should watch your children, you don’t need to know if a potential babysitter is on the offenders’ registry. Go with the stats. 95% of pedophiles are male.

And teach your children accordingly. Need help crossing the street? Ask a mommy.

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Death and the Other Side of Death

Judaism includes a belief in the afterlife, a “day that is entirely long”, i.e. eternal. Though no one living can claim to have seen the reward of the righteous in the World to Come, for “no eye has seen it”, our sources affirm that in fact this is a reality. In the Talmudic tractate Sanhedrin, the process of law and judgement are described in detail, as well as the full complement of penalties and punishments carried out by the court–monetary, corporal and capital. The eleventh chapter of the tractate, which follows the discussion of capital punishment, concerns the item that the sages felt was most relevant as a continuation of the topic, namely, who merits a portion in the world to come. What I am pointing out here is that it is clear from the arrangement of subjects in the Talmud, that the afterlife is the next step beyond death, and it is assumed.

Death, then, in Judaism does not represent the end of life in the total sense, but a transitional stage between life as we know it in Olam HaZeh (this world) and Olam HaBa (the next world). What we learn as a caveat regarding the next world is that the quality of our experience of it is directly affected by our behavior and accomplishments in this world.  This means that Olam HaBa is more of a deadline for physical man than death itself, since the ramifications of his use of self in this world will play themselves out there, on the other side of death.  I should mention that Olam HaBa also includes a complete physical resurrection and purification of the body and a re-installing of the soul within that body–a perfect marriage of the two aspects that comprise man, in a manner that was intended before the sin of Adam and Eve.

The Chassidic master Rebbe Nachman of Breslov advised his followers to remind themselves of the World to Come immediately upon awakening, and to remember that it is the ultimate destination and goal.  Without a thorough treatment of his statement, it would be difficult to plumb its depths appropriately, but suffice it to say that this type of consciousness can accomplish two things: one, a transcendent orientation towards the vicissitudes of life in This World including all of the tools to do that (like humor, broad-mindedness, orderly priorities), and two, a concrete sense of the obligations that have been placed upon oneself–not by society, but by G-d Himself.

This second item adds to the life of the Jew a layer of meaning that goes far beyond standard meaning, reaching into the realm of ultimate meaning.  What critics of Judaism (Jews and non-Jews alike)  have struggled with through the centuries is the seeming dichotomy between a quest for meaning, which appears at first glance to be up to the individual seeker, and a religion that claims to represent the gateway to ultimate meaning and contains laws that govern virtually all areas of human behavior.  How can one reconcile the individual freedom and personal space to quest after one’s meaning on the one hand with a precise checklist of behaviors on the other?

More thoughts to follow…

The Nihilism of Nir Barkat

This week, a bomb was detonated near Binyanei HaUma, a large convention center in Jerusalem.  The bomb killed one woman, Mary Jean Gardner from England, and injured many others.  The explosive went off near bus number 74, which is a bus line that serves my neighborhood.  Not only that, but all of the buses that pick up passengers at that bus stop come to and from my neighborhood.  Later that evening, I received an email from a neighbor reporting that a little girl from the neighborhood was undergoing surgery on her head as a result of injuries she sustained at the bomb site.  After that, another message landed in my inbox with a quote from Jerusalem’s mayor Nir Barkat that really took me aback.  I did some research, and discovered that its source was an interview with Neil Cavuto from FoxNews. I suggest that you click on the link and read the interview, but here is a quote that I believe gives the basic gist of Barkat’s position:

Mayor, what’s the latest there?

NIR BARKAT, MAYOR OF JERUSALEM, ISRAEL: well, the latest is that, in Jerusalem, we’re going back to normal life.

And, naturally, the Israeli security forces are, I believe, will hunt the person and the find the root of the terrorists and pursue the maximum under law. And it’s very imperative and important for Jerusalem to go back to normal life as fast as possible, which we’re doing.

CAVUTO: Well, you guys are very good at that. And you have been sadly used to these kind of things, but lately not. And maybe since the building of that wall, these incidents have dramatically been curtailed. What now? What do you do if this is a sign of maybe more increased violence to come?

BARKAT: Well, I think terrorism is a global problem. And if anybody, here in Israel and in Jerusalem, we know how to deal with it.

It’s a local incident. And I believe that when we find the terrorists that is putting death in the — as — as — is the most important thing in a city that promotes life, I believe we’ll find the roots of it and get things back on track.

Israel and the world needs quiet. And we mustn’t get the terror to have any gains, zero gains for terrorists, and go back to normal life. It’s the best way to deal with terror.

Whether or not Barkat carefully crafted these statements just to sound good for the American media, while he secretly felt the gravity of the situation is irrelevant for the simple reason that everyone is responsible for what he or she says, no matter what the motivating factor.  Therefore, I reserve the right to take these statements at face value.

If I was the mayor of Jerusalem, I would have issued a completely different type of message, not only to the world but to the people whom I had been privileged to govern, the residents of Jerusalem.  I would have described the situation for what it was: a tragedy.  I would have made it clear that their pain was my pain and that their loss was my loss.  I would not glibly suggest that the best way to deal with terror is “to go back to normal life”, and then go on to talk about the upcoming Jerusalem marathon.

You don’t have to be religious, a rabbi, or even Jewish to have that kind of sensitivity.

You see, those people are not going to return to normal life.  When the media describes people as “hurt” or “injured”, that can mean anything from scratches and bruises to 3rd-degree burns and having one’s limbs blown off, G-d forbid.  Some people who are “only” injured live the rest of their lives in a vegetative state as a result of “mere” injuries.  Even those among the injured who will hopefully be restored to a state of perfect health will not return to normal life as it was before the bombing.  Nor will their respective families and loved ones.  Nor will the people who were in the vicinity who heard the blast, saw the glass shatter and witnessed the throng of ambulances and paramedics whisking the victims away to the city hospitals.  There are many, many people whose lives have been changed forever by that “local incident”, as Barkat describes it.

And when there is a directive to simply return to normal life, victims are turned into pariahs, because they stand as living reminders of that which we would like to ignore on our rush to resume our everyday affairs.  These are people who have been horribly traumatized, who need support and sympathy, and who will suffer terribly if their needs are perceived–and resented–as an imposition on others’ normal lives.  This is precisely what happened to the residents of Gush Katif, many of whom till this day have not been able to resume normal life.  And nobody wants to hear about it anymore.

I am an American living in Israel, and I have observed that a defense mechanism employed by many people here is lo kara klum, “nothing happened”.  Because of the intense pace of living here, and the often chaotic, sometimes explosive interpersonal reality of this culture, people develop an incredible amount of body armor; they go to great lengths to demonstrate how they are totally unaffected by things: unfortunate events, criticism, outrageous behavior, and in Barkat’s case, terrorist attacks.  But to brush these things aside in order to maintain the increasingly canned image of Israeli toughness is a form of existential neurosis.  Because tragedies are meaning moments, opportunities to take a stand towards inescapable fate, to reflect upon life, upon values, and to decide how to suffer without losing one’s human stature.

Frankl said, regarding the prisoners of the concentration camps, that, “the best of us did not return”.  I had trouble understanding this statement; did Frankl mean that those who did survive were of lesser caliber than those who did not?  If it was the strongest who  survived, whether through their physical endowments or their ability to psychologically adapt to their insane circumstances (i.e. choose to react to the stimulus in a way that affirmed life), is one to conclude that a Divine injustice was done, or that the world we live in now is populated by stronger, worse people?

I have concluded that what Frankl meant was, survival is not the litmus test of human victory; upholding one’s human stature, adhering to one’s values even under the most adverse of conditions is.  Thus, there were people who perished in the camps, but whose righteousness exceeded that of others who survived but were not able to maintain their values or character traits at the highest level.  The former were the true victors.

Similarly here, I do not believe that denying terrorists victory is the highest value, nor is displaying one’s toughness by simply resuming normal life.  Rather, trying to understand how we are being commissioned by this tragedy, seeing which values we can realize through this event, at the very least coming together to support and nurture the victims of the attacks and their families in the most empathetic way–this is a proper response to a very meaningful happening.  And I believe that it is the human response.  We do not need quiet; we need meaning.

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How Many Consciences Can One Have?

Conscience, as I’ve written about many times in this blog, is a basic element in Logotherapy: the mechanism that detects meaning and conveys it to the possessor of conscience. Yet, there are at least two types of meaning as Frankl stated it: meaning and ultimate meaning. Meaning is accessible to all humans who attune their consciences towards it, whether religious or secular. Ultimate meaning is, essentially, the realm of the G-dly, the spiritual, and the absolutely moral.

Then there are the three dimensions of the human being: the biological, the psychological and the noological (the human dimension). The noological dimension is the locus of conscience and meaning within the human personality, because it is with these two endowments that man is able to transcend the limitations that his biological and psychological places upon him. In addition, it is these two endowments that makes it possible for a person to be judged according to the ethical value of his or her actions; the excuse of being “only human”, or “society’s child” is done away with by the noological capacity for transcendence (and by extension, greatness).

Now, I have wrestled with the question as to whether or not there exists a dimension above the noological, a second level of conscience, one that enables people to perceive ultimate meaning as opposed the standard meaning available to all. Because, let’s face it: what exists as spiritual truth to one person is often viewed as hogwash by another. How can this be possible? If ultimate meaning is an objective reality, how is it seemingly perceivable only to a select few, and rejected by others?

After much opposition from others within my training group to my initial foray into two consciences, and more reflection on the matter, my newest conclusion is: rather than there being two types of conscience, there are two types of meaning. Frankl’s own words serve to substantiate this, as in a number of places, he defines the noological dimension as the human or anthropological dimension of man (which he calls spiritual but not religious). The second type of meaning he left undefined, I believe, for two reasons. First, because of his contention that religion, if it is to be meaningful, has to be a uniquely personal experience. Second, because he felt that the realm of ultimate meaning was the domain of the clergyman, as opposed to being the domain of the psychotherapist.

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It’s Not Over Yet for Amazon.com’s Pedophilia Peddling

I received an email, this time from Amazon.com’s customer service, stating that The Pedophile’s Guide was no longer for sale at Amazon.com. That demonstrates that people are still outraged at the phenomenon itself, and that when we vote with our wallets, we get results. Kudos to everyone who spoke up against the sale of Philip R. Greaves’ ugly ode to prurience.

However, it should be known that the war is not over yet. Amazon.com still carries a host of other titles that either portray pedophilia in a not-so-negative light, or openly extol its “virtues” and bash what these perverts refer to as the “pseudoscience of victimology”. What pedophiles mean by this is that the notion that children involved in these relationships are abused is simply hype. It seems that the most prolific author of this drivel is one David L. Riegel, whose books (e.g. Understanding Loved Boys and Boylovers) are still for sale at Amazon.com.

Don’t let up! Keep this boycott going until the last of these titles is removed! Pedophiles should have no safe haven, no quarter, and should occupy no space in human culture. By protesting the presence of their expressions at every turn, we come a step closer to pushing this phenomenon back under the slimy, malodorous rock from whence it comes.

Here is the transcript of my ongoing dialogue with Amazon.com:

The answer is, no. I had said that I would not purchase another item from Amazon.com until Greaves’ AND like titles are removed from the catalog. I am thankful that The Pedophile’s Guide is no longer available, but there are at least a dozen other titles on the Amazon.com site, including everything by David L. Riegel–whose books are nothing but a celebration of pedophilia in the guise of serious academic inquiry. Please remove all books that promote pedophilia from the Amazon.com site.

On Thu, Nov 11, 2010 at 8:05 PM, Amazon.com Customer Service wrote:

Hello,

This book is no longer available for sale.

Thank you for your recent inquiry. Did I solve your problem?

If yes, please click here:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/survey?p=A1K5IKDPQF6F5K&k=hy

If no, please click here:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/survey?p=A1K5IKDPQF6F5K&k=hn

Best regards,

Vijaykanna S.
Amazon.com
Your feedback is helping us build Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company.
http://www.amazon.com/your-account

—- Original message: —-

11/11/10 04:29:28
Your Name:Tani Burton
Other info:I am boycotting Amazon.com until Greave’s book is removed
Comments:Amazon.com, by carrying Greave’s book is giving tacit legitimacy to pedophilia, which, when acted upon, constitutes a crime, and even when harbored without a victim, is listed in the DSM as a mental disorder. Amazon.com is lending legitimacy to a perversion that thoroughly traumatizes and ruins the lives of its victims. Worse, the book is available for electronic download through Kindle, which means that stock availability is not a barrier to its acquisition.

As an ongoing customer of Amazon.com, I hereby state that I will not purchase another item from Amazon.com until that title (and like titles) are removed entirely from Amazon.com’s offerings.

Tani Burton

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Amazon.com and Pedophilia: A Call to Action!

I was sent, in an email, a link to an article on MSNBC regarding Amazon.com’s refusal to remove a self-published book entitled The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover’s Code of Conduct from their website offerings. The book was authored by a depraved and sick man named Philip R. Greaves II, and offers advice to pedophiles along the following lines:

“This is my attempt to make pedophile situations safer for those juveniles that find themselves involved in them, by establishing certian rules for these adults to follow. I hope to achieve this by appealing to the better nature of pedosexuals, with hope that their doing so will result in less hatred and perhaps liter sentences should they ever be caught.”

(all misspellings are Greaves’)

Despite the uproar from Amazon.com’s customers, the retailing giant has until this point refused to cease carrying the title, which is available electronically through their Kindle option. I have not given any of this information in order to facilitate acquisition of this dangerous item, but to underscore the fact that, given the book’s electronic format, it can be downloaded by an unlimited number of people; stock quantity is no longer a barrier to its dissemination. You don’t have to be a professional in my line of work to be able to imagine the potential damage, hurt, pain and trauma that may befall children as a result of the strategies provided by the book’s demented author.

Amazon.com’s position is that it continues to carry and distribute the book in deference to principles of free speech and in opposition to notions of censorship. However, I contend that Amazon.com, like every other business, has the ability–and the obligation–to choose its merchandise in a responsible manner. Amazon.com is not the ACLU; it is a business, a publicly-owned book retailer with stockholders. The company does not bear any responsibility for being the vanguard of free speech. I do not know if Amazon.com also has titles that instruct readers how to murder people, how to torture animals or how to successfully pull off a Ponzi scheme, but it would be patently obvious if so that Amazon.com would be making itself somewhat of an accessory to potential crime, heinous crimes.

I have been a customer of Amazon.com. However, I refuse to buy another book from them until they remove this and all similar titles from their catalog. I call upon the readers of this article to take the same stand, and to communicate to Amazon.com accordingly. Pedophiles do not deserve encouragement to concretize their deranged fantasies upon innocent children, destroy the lives of their victims, and leave their noxious imprint upon our society for generations to come. You can contact Amazon.com by clicking on this link and tell it to them straight!

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Reflections from the Gottman Training Seminar

Yesterday, I finished a two-day training at Yeshiva University with the Gottmans, Dr. Jon Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz-Gottman. Couples therapy is, for me, an odyssey. Even though I have been working with couples clinically for some time now, the dynamic that exists in couples therapy–between the members of the couple, between the couple and the therapist, even between the couple and the therapy itself–is always something that challenges me, something that is as unique as the people I sit with in the office.

Having the proper tools to approach this type of work is vital. One of the main points of emphasis at the conference, was the need for research to validate treatment interventions, which is something that Dr. Gottman has been doing for 35 years. Thousands of hours of videotaped sessions, where the members of the couple are wearing heart monitors and pulse oximeters (which measure oxygen saturation in the blood), and sitting on chairs atop platforms known as “jiggle-ometers” (which measure fidgeting) have yielded results that can verify one way or another if treatment interventions are working and if the theories behind them are true.

I think what interests me about this point is that it seems like a novel idea to subject adult treatment methods to verification through research. Anyone who has browsed the self-help or psychology sections of bookstores has seen the scores of volumes touting the latest and most avant-guard approach. Has anyone ever wondered if these would hold up to research? Are we courageous enough to face that as practitioners?

But the fact is, when it comes to child treatment approaches, the research has been extensive. I had the pleasure of meeting Roni Loeb-Richter, who runs the Pinat HaYeled (child division) at the Family Institute in Har Nof, and who gave me a window on what has been going on in that field for years. And it’s research. Extensive research. The best professionals in that field are always getting refreshed by examining the latest findings in medical and psychological research, videotaping, going to conferences, studying parent-child relationships, and incorporating all of that into their practices. It’s refreshing to see a similar process going on in adult treatment, and couples treatment.

Bandler and Grinder did this type of work as well, and their findings eventually coalesced into the modality known as Neuro-Liguistic Programming (NLP). But NLP is more of an operator’s manual for effective human communication. They showed us what works, and how it operates. Their work has been an important contribution to the fields of personal development, which in turn has had positive ramifications for communication in business and in therapy. However, if you look at the Gottmans’ Sound Relationship House model, which is the organizational basis of their method, you will see that the top “floor” of the house is “Shared Meaning”. In other words, although they have researched and documented “what works” in couples’ communication and coping skills, the entire method aims towards this ultimate goal of creating shared meaning for the couple. It is with a clarified sense of the meaning shared by the couple that conflicts can be managed.

We heard at the conference that nearly 70% of all conflict items in a couple are perpetual, an that success comes not from resolving them, but managing them. I imagine that this is one of those instances where Frankl’s concept of attitudinal values–where a person can take a stance towards an unchangeable reality?

Q&A with AJC Acting Co-Director Marc D. Stern: A Successful Model for Combatting Sexual Abuse in the Orthodox Community?

Being a former resident of Passaic, New Jersey myself (and a former intern in the Jewish Family Services there), I was very impressed to read a recent article in New York’s Jewish Week that described our former hometown as a leader in the very difficult struggle against the phenomenon of sexual abuse in the Orthodox community. Not only was my former town of residence involved, but my esteemed Rav, Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman shlit”a of Congregation Ahavas Israel, was essentially the leading rabbinic voice in this movement!

I work for an important organization in Israel called Shalom Banayich, whose raison d’etre is to raise consciousness about this issue in the religious community, to garner rabbinic support for this effort, to counsel the victims of sexual abuse, and, working in partnership with law enforcement and the courts, to facilitate therapeutic groups for religious sexual predators under the rubric of clinical criminology. Naturally, the goings on in Jewish communities worldwide with regard to this topic are important to me, but seeing that Passaic was now “on the map” as it were in dealing with sexual abuse, gave me a sense of real pride.

I am very fortunate to know Marc Stern, who is currently the acting co-director of the American Jewish Congress, a lawyer with an impressive career, a musmach of Yeshiva University, and a longtime resident of Passaic. I contacted him as soon as I saw the Jewish Week article to get his perspective on the events in Passaic. Mr. Stern has very generously given his time and consideration to my queries, as follows:

 

1. If Passaic can be upheld as a successful model of a Jewish community that is confronting the issue of sexual abuse, what are the elements that contribute to this success? Do these elements exist in other communities and/or can they be replicated elsewhere?

There are a number of elements which explain the ‘happy’ situation of Passiac—some “luck,” some not.

(a) Although there has been a day school here for 60 years, most of the growth in the community took place within the last 20 years, at a time when taboos against discussing child abuse were on the wane, and people no longer dismissed such charges as children’s fantasies.

(b) Fortunately, the older day school appears not to have had any (known) instances of child abuse, and certainly not by a long-term teacher who had substantial supporters as well as detractors. We thus avoided the contentious issues of redressing the past (or, at least, what is claimed to have happened in the past) which have plagued other communities.

(c) We have been blessed with rabbonim who ware united in their determination to protect children, and not to let “slogan-type” p’sak (no autopsies, no mesirah) to interfere with rational actions necessary to protect children, all well within the bounds of halakha.

On this issue, at least, rabbonim from all ideological corners of the Passaic-Clifton Orthodox community have worked together, thus eliminating the common, if unacceptable, practice of one shul offering alleged offenders refuge. (The same can be said of husbands who abuse wives.)

(d) Our Jewish Family Services is run by a frum woman who works with local rabbonim, and offers a variety of “frum-friendly” services, including serious informational programs for rabbonim and the community which have alerted people how to identify and respond to abuse.

(e) As a whole, the community does not have an adversarial relationship with relevant government authorities. (This is mostly because the state child protection agency has improved in many ways over the last two decades.) As a result, there is greater confidence in these agencies, which are no longer broadly regarded as hostile to religious observance. People are less afraid to report crimes, real or suspected, to these agencies.

(f) Almost twenty years ago, when dealing with the sudden death of a child, I was told by a community “activist” child abuse does not happen in frum communities. No one here believes that anymore, although there are still segments of the Orthodox community elsewhere that appear to do so.

(g) The so-called activists play a role in keeping the issue alive, and ensuring sympathy for victims. At the same time, our rabbonim—who share the activist determination to protect children—have taken an active role in dealing with these issues as they arise, such that there is not a leadership vacuum leading to extreme and unsustainable over-reactions.

2. With regard to the prevention and eradication of sexual abuse in the Orthodox community, where does systemic change have to occur–in the Jewish community or in the context of the broader legal framework in which the community finds itself?

I think much of the American Orthodox community has taken important steps to deal intelligently with child abuse. I doubt we can ever fully eliminate it, but we can—and have—in many places taken steps to ensure that systematic abuse does not go long undetected. There are still segments of the community in deep denial, in large part because they view the Orthodox community as immune from the evils and temptations of the secular world, and believe, usually counter factually, that the non-frum world is on a search and destroy mission aimed at Orthodoxy.

From what I can see, programs serving children are now careful to guard against abuse—whether by screening staff, instructing them about abuse, ensuring that children are not alone with staff, etc. Passaic offers a wide series of lectures for parents, and, I think, people know to whom they can turn for advice.

None of these measures is cost free. That a rebbe or morah cannot put an arm around a child, or pull a child into a private room for a quick chat, is a cost worth paying, but a cost nonetheless.

There are still open questions, about which I am not competent to express an opinion: should schools offer students formal programs about abuse? Is there a point at which an emphasis on protecting children causes children and parents to be paranoid about innocent actions? What level of suspicion is needed before a report is made to the authorities? Are there treatment programs that work, and which ones? Are programs offered under Jewish auspices as good as they possibly can be?

I think it fair to say that overall, in Passaic-Clifton we have struck a good balance between protecting children and avoiding hysteria and vigilantism.

Another open question is the extent to which recourse to a beit din is a prerequisite to a report to the authorities. We have not formally insisted on such recourse here (and my posek has not insisted on it). Other communities and poskim do insist on it, but in my view this is legally questionable, since the Beit Din has no legal standing. Other communities have programs involving psychologists and batei din. We have not found this necessary yet, but it clearly would be best to have available mental health professionals specially trained in detecting and treating victims of abuse.

A problem that needs community-wide discussion is how to ensure that children victimized by abuse—and who report it—are not victimized a second time when it comes to shidduchim. Part of the answer no doubt lies in providing adequate (as much as possible) treatment, so that victims do not carry their pain into their marriages and relations with their own children. We also have no answer—and perhaps there is none—how to deal with offenders who have satisfied any criminal sanction imposed on them. Should we allow them in synagogue?

 

3. Does the American legal system handle the issue effectively, from your perspective?

By-and-large, I think the legal system is handling these cases reasonably well. Child abuses cases are typically not easy to prove, as children are typically not molested in front of witnesses. There are palpable improvements in the system’s preparedness to handle these cases with dedicated prosecutorial and investigative units, and enhanced sentencing rules. New crimes have been created (possession of child pornography) and civil confinement laws (as well as laws publicly disclosing the names of serious offenders) which improve the state’s ability to combat child abuse.

This system isn’t perfect—resources are a continuing problem, the flood of all criminal cases presses for speedy resolution of cases, and distinguishing between offenders likely to re-offend and those who are not remains a problem—but overall, it does work pretty well.

There are also debates about how far back civil justice should reach, but these, too, are complicated. Should cases in which the statute of limitations long ago ran out be reopened?

 

4. How do you understand reluctance on the part of Jewish communal leaders, either lay or rabbinic, to involve themselves in a public manner in the struggle against sexual abuse?

First, I think the reluctance to speak out against sexual abuse is receding, and receding rapidly. This may just be a generational issue. Second, in a sex-drenched society, Orthodox leaders are—rightly or wrongly—reluctant to publicly discuss anything to do with sex. This is a mistake, one now being corrected in some places, but reinforced in others (see, e.g., the letters page in Yated).

Third, I think there was a feeling that rabbis and teachers were vulnerable to false accusations. This is less of a worry now, or one eclipsed by concern for children. And fourth, and most significantly, the ‘it can’t happen here’ attitude combined with the feeling that ‘they are out to get us’ are probably the most serious lingering problems of all, and lead to a circle the wagon mentality.

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A Pseudo-Academic in Tel Aviv Revives the Khazars

Professor Shlomo Sands, a “scholar” of French history at Tel Aviv University, has written a polemic whose ultimate aim was to deligitimize the Jewish claim to the land of Israel. In order to do this, he has invoked the mythical theory that posits that Ashkenazi Jews are actually descended from the Khazars, an ancient Turkic ethnic group whose monarchy adopted Judaism as the state religion sometime between the 8th and 9th centuries. This would essentially mean that the majority of the architects and founders of the State of Israel (as well as 90% of American Jews) had and have no meaningful biological connection to the Jews who lived in the land of Israel before the Diaspora. They are but latecomer descendants of Turkic peoples who assimilated and intermarried–in short, who were inadvertent impostors who, through the faultiness of historical memory, mistake themselves to be part of a people that doesn’t really exist: the Jews. This pseudo-theory, which has been debunked, has proven to be an object of fascination, not to people of repute, but generally to non-Jews whose opposition to Israel is fueled by Jew hatred.

But Sands goes a step beyond his goal as well. Is his aim merely to undermine the claim of the Jewish people to the land of Israel? The title of his magnum opus is The Invention of the Jewish People. Understand the title literally: there is no Jewish people. It’s not about colonialism anymore. These Jews cannot lay claim to the land of Israel because they are not actually Jews.

That an anti-semite would want to invoke the Khazar myth to disconnect the Jews from the land of Israel does not perturb me; people driven by hatred will employ all means to prove their point. I do find it odd that a published professor on the staff of an academic institution would utilize a theory that he knows has been proven totally false through historical, genetic, linguistic and archaeological evidence. I find it fascinating that a university that considers itself respectable would retain someone like this as a faculty member. And what is even more diabolical about Sands’ work is that he is only making use of this lie to accomplish his goal of subverting any Jewish claim to the land of Israel. This goal alone provides the rationalization for him to publish tripe.

What I find most significant, and horrifying, about this tripe is that, according to the New York Times, Sands’ book has been on the bestseller list for months. Where? In Sweden? In Iran? No, in Israel.

The question begging to be asked is, if a significant portion of the Israeli populace is able to keep a book that reduces the notion of the Jewish people to a historical myth on a bestseller list for months, what does this tell us about Jewish identity amongst secular Jews in the State of Israel? How can the fascination with this book, whose thesis is based on an idea that has been laughed out of the laboratory, be explained?

I do not think that it is coincidental that on this date in the year 1859, Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species was published. Darwin is credited with introducing the concept of evolution into the consciousness of the Western world. This is an exaggeration; the aspect of evolutionary theory that Darwin was responsible for was natural selection from accidental variations. Jacques Barzun, in his landmark work Darwin, Marx, Wagner (Little, Brown and Company, 1941), summarized the effects of Darwinian theory and their contribution to modern thought as follows:

“The entire phrase and not merely the words Natural Selection is important, for the denial of purpose in the universe is carried on in the second half of the formula–accidental variation. This denial of purpose is Darwin’s distinctive contention.” (p. 11)

and

“Evolution was restless, and though it could mean progress, it was strictly speaking progress without a purpose” (p. 4)

Barzun contends that the three figures mentioned in the title of his book gave the world mechanical materialism, a worldview which essentially severed man from his soul.

And this is secular Zionism as well: a type of evolved redemption and return to the land without The Purpose.

I see a parallel in the advent of Sands’ and others’ works in terms of how these portray the relationship between Judaism, the land of Israel, and the Jewish people. The aim of their respective contributions to the world is to separate the Jew from his neshama, the land of Israel from its destined inhabitants. In this case, by calling into question the very existence of a Jewish people, Sands also removes the purpose of our existence in history and geography. His surprising popularity, however, amongst Israelis themselves, I believe, is indicative of a epidemic of confusion regarding Jewish identity. I think that his warped idea gives perverse hope to those people who have been trying to figure out since the First Zionist Congress how to be Israeli without being Jewish.

Viktor Frankl’s Stand Against Psychoanalysis

I have been training in Logotherapy for most of this year, under a quite capable and accomplished teacher, Dr. Teria Schantall, who herself was a student of Viktor Frankl, and who currently administers the Institute’s program in both in Israel and South Africa. Although I am as loath as anyone else to point towards a secular discipline and exclaim, “this is what the Torah meant!”, I must say that Logotherapy does seem to articulate certain ideas that bear an uncanny resemblance to certain concepts that can be found in Torah. This fact makes its understanding both useful and potentially dangerous, because a person encountering the secular discipline may be tempted to see Torah through the prism of the secular discipline, instead of the reverse.

Frankl said,

Freud saw only unconscious instinctuality, as represented in what he termed the id; to him, the unconscious was a reservoir of  repressed instinctuality…It might be said that psychoanalysis has “id-ified”, and “de-self-ified”, human existence.  Insofar as as Freud degraded the self to a mere epiphenomenon, he degraded the self and delivered it to the id; at the same time, he denigrated the unconscious, in that he saw in it only the instinctual and overlooked the spiritual.” (2000, pp. 32-3)

Frankl’s objection to the reduction of the human being to a mere array of drives, and to the invalidation of the spiritual elements in man, serves as a critical voice against a paradigm that–I would suggest–most Western people have assimilated wholesale into their way of thinking.  Logotherapy as Frankl conceived it may have been nonsectarian in its conception, but had this path gained ascendancy before Freudian psychoanalysis, Western society might have been a lot more conducive to a life of meaning and spiritual growth.  This is not to deny the important contribution Freud made to the development of psychology, but to point out where it has been a stumbling block as a influence on society. 

Consider: Freud considered the repression of the sexual and aggressive drives (i.e. in their unrestrained, “id” forms) to be a key element in human misery, neurosis, and anxiety.  Yet, in contrast to the prudish Victorian era during which his theories were conceived, these very drives are ensconced and out in the open today.  It is difficult to imagine being able to traverse any maor city without being assaulted from all sides by media–whether billboards, radio and television programs, movies–or fashion that promotes violence and prurience in very explicit forms.  Cultures around the world have altered their relationships to these things, and have made shifts in consciousness, and have legalized that which was previously unthinkable.  Sex and violence are everywhere.  The news media itself has become a pornographic horror film, because that’s what brings higher ratings.  Are people happier today, now that these “drives” have been given free reign? 

What Logotherapy offers us is the possibility that we bear responsibility for ourselves and our actions, and that our resposibility to be meaning-oriented has to transcend merely being “driven”.  But isn’t this exactly what the Torah teaches us? 

 The Ramchal, in Derech Hashem, gives a description of man as an overlap of the animal and the angelic.  He possesses a body like an animal and a soul like an angel, but he is potentially greater than both, because he can choose to give pride of place to his soul through the mitzvos and service of G-d, and thereby purify his body to the extent where it becomes a vehicle for this holy purpose.  The animal cannot transcent its body, nor does the angel have the choice of whether to serve G-d or not; both are hardwired to do what each does. 

Human beings have a choice between “death” and “life”, between nihilism and meaning, and as this weeks parsha tells us, “you shall choose [the] life” (Deuteronomy 30:19).  This is only possible if we conceive of man as a responsible being, capable of choosing the transcendent path of values and meaning–but it is impossible if man is merely a creature composed of an atomistic array of ego drives.

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