Thursday, January 13, 2005

Call Me Daddy!

It is a lot of responsibility to be a moral leader. I have thousands of readers each day who look to me for guidance about the most difficult issues of life. Based on my study of the sacred texts, I am able to guide them in the right paths. All the while, I am keenly aware that a carelessly chosen word here, an incorrect emphasis there, and one of my readers might fall into an abyss from which he would never recover.

It would be a terrible thing if I were to abuse my position and prey on the vulnerabilities of young and attractive women seeking father figures. It would be a terrible thing if I were to abuse such a woman, and then cloak my fears about being revealed as a predator by publishing pious Torah rhetoric about not speaking lashon hara (gossip).

If I were a rabbi who wrote something like this, I'd want to make sure that holiness of my behavior matched the holiness of my rhetoric:

The simple fact of the matter is that the laws of Lashon Hora continue to apply. There is no journalist’s (or blogger’s) exemption. Nor do I think it is accurate to say that problems don’t get solved until they are made public. That may be true in rare cases, but there are many others where matters are resolved without mentioning names. I do not believe that we have the right, and certainly not the responsibility, to report badly about individuals.

Right now, there is a web site carrying extremely serious allegations about a member of our community, allegations which, if believed, would result in the immediate termination of that individual’s employment – or great damage to the company that employs him. The “evidence” against this person comes entirely from a blog (and another web page created by the blogger), which also contains a series of allegations against various rabbis and others who are “protecting” this individual.

Anyone who knows any of these people knows that the allegations are ludicrous. If the allegations had a hint of truth to them, then (given their nature) the rabbis in question would be first to tell him he must leave his job. The allegations were discredited long ago – but certain people don’t care. They would rather besmirch the innocent based upon “testimony” which changes substantially each time the story is re-told.

The fact is that you don’t need loshon hora to stop spousal abuse. The rabbis are accused of not caring by people who have never bothered to speak to them directly – and, not incidentally, have a huge chip on their shoulders about Judaism.

Blogging – or newspaper reporting – is no excuse for loshon hora. In another surprising bit of Divine Providence, yesterday the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation asked me to publicize the following notice (which they also provided as a PDF for all who want to see it nicely formatted). It’s quite appropriate to this topic.

If I was going to become the Internet point man for Orthodox Judaism in its righteous defense against "self-appointed watchdogs," I'd hope it would not be in defense of my own misdeeds.

If I was going to recruit a distinguished panel of contributors to go to war against lashon hara and the needless destruction of people on the Internet, I'd hope that I'd never screwed up one of my young vulnerable employees through sexual abuse and hypnosis.

If I was going to be the point man for a community (say the Baltimore Orthodox community led by rabbis Yaakov Hopfer and Moshe Heineman) fighting numerous charges of sex abuse, I'd hope that I didn't have a background in sexual abuse of a vulnerable employee.

If I was going to offer a bribe to remove publication of a report on the stonewalling of a police detective's investigation of sexual abuse in a community, I'd hope I wasn't thinking primarily of my own reputation.

If I had a past where I took advantage of a young female employee, I hope I'd feel that I had done a bad thing, and I hope I would move along the path to teshuva (return).

If I were the editor of an establishment Jewish newspaper, the Baltimore Jewish Times, say, and I realized that I had been covering up for sexual predators in my community (and the powerful rabbis who protect them, say rabbis Hopfer and Heineman) and writing fluffy articles about persons who might deserve inspection, I'd resign my position. Any other job, even as a secretary, would be more honorable than publishing articles like this.