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BETRAYING THEIR SACRED TRUST Section 2

The subject of rabbinic, cantorial, or chaplaincy sexual boundary violations is unseemly and unsettling. An essay titled "When Melodies, Torah Scholars, and Abuse Collide," raises uncomfortable questions.

     What should we - as a community . . . do with teachings of highly respected Torah scholar[s] who turn out to be pedophiles?

     Sex offenders (and alleged sex offenders) come from all walks of life-some can be gifted and talented, capable of churning out music that makes our soul dance and teachings that make our spirit soar. But what are we to do with the products of their genius if these gifted persons turn out to be pedophiles or are alleged to have committed sex crimes? Does the value of their educational material go to waste? What should we do with their commentaries, some that our rabbunim have been quoting in their own teachings, in their own Musar (moral teachings) and D'vor Torahs?

     This essay also poses this question: "What should we do with Jewish melodies and songs (Nigunim) that became part of our lives, celebrations (simchos), and Shabbos tables, when these melodies were composed by an alleged sexual predator? To be more specific . . . what should we - as a community - do with the songs and music of Shlomo Carlebach?"7

Over the years, hundreds of Shlomo stories have come to light.8 Marcia Cohn Spiegel writes that Carlebach, this "beloved, saintly storyteller and singer sexually abused girls as young as twelve."9

For too long the Jewish community has turned its back on this problem. Therefore, it is guilty of failing to uphold the commandments found in Leviticus 19, warning us about cursing the deaf and placing a stumbling block before the blind.

Regrettably, there are examples in sacred Jewish writings where the Jewish community has turned a blind eye to the abuse of sexual boundaries. No less a personage than King David - from whom Jewish tradition say the Messianic line will come - abuses his power as ruler and takes Bathsheba into his bed. He arranges that Bathsheba's husband Uriah, will meet his death in battle. Chastised by the prophet Nathan, David claims he regrets his actions, but it is the child of that illicit union, that bears the burden. David's reputation is virtually unsullied (2 Samuel 12).

In the next generation, David's son Amnon lusts after his half-sister Tamar, and ends up raping her. When David learns about it, he does nothing to punish his son. Finally, Tamar's brother Absalom takes matters into his own hands and kills Amnon (2 Samuel 13.)

In the Apocrypha, in the story of Susanna, the Jewish community is willing believe the words of the two Jewish elders, and would have put innocent Susanna to death, had she not been saved by the intervention of Daniel. In that instance, the Jewish community does exact retribution from these predators.

  2004 David J. Zucker

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