Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Gotterdammerung

The scandal surrounding Rabbi Moti Elon has shocked the Religious Zionist community, and shaken it to its core. (See here, here, here, and here.)

For those who are unfamiliar with him, for decades Elon was touted as the great white hope of the Religious Zionist community. His public lectures were attended by hundreds of people from all sectors of Israeli society, and listened to by thousands more on the radio and TV. His followers are legion, and he has been dubbed the 'rebbe' of the National Religious world.

Now Elon is accused of sexual impropriety, harassment and exploitation of some of his students. A relatively new organization called Taqanah, has issued a public warning against R. Elon. The members of the forum number some of the most senior, and certainly the most revered, members of the community. Most prominent among these is the חתנא דבי נשיאה, Ha-Gaon R. Aharon Lichtenstein שליט"א, whose reputation for probity and moral rectitude, caution and respect for human life are nigh on legendary. The distinguished, irreproachable makeup of the forum is what makes this matter so disconcerting. Their charges cannot, under any possible circumstances, be lightly dismissed.

I am still trying to organize my thoughts in the wake of this wrenching, ongoing tragedy. And yes, it is a tragedy; for R. Elon, for his students, for the members of Taqanah, and for the entire RZ world. I sense a feeling of despair that reminds me (and perhaps surpasses) that which resulted from the expulsion from Gush Qatif. The following are the directions I've been contemplating:

1) Charismatic Leadership is an extremely volatile, often dangerous, quantity. As a good friend noted, charisma may well be a gift of God. However, as with all such gifts, it can be (and all too often is) abused both by the leader or by his/her followers.

2) In our present circumstances, we are so desperate for leadership that we run amok looking for saviors and messiahs. We either deify them, or we use them up and spit them out. This is true of both secular and religious society. It is, however, more dangerous and more heinous in religious society. Our primary loyalty is supposed to be to God, not a human being.

3) I have a feeling that the above is a function of the fundamentally neurotically narcissistic character of contemporary culture. We worship celebrities, with or without beards. As Edith Hamilton wrote of the Greeks, we create our gods in our own image. One result is that there is a general abdication of personal responsibility. Ironically, it was from R. Elon himself that I first heard the cynical comment: סלח לנו אבינו כי חטא הוא.

If the allegations are true, I hope that R. Elon will do the right thing and emulate King David by uttering the words: חטאתי לד'. If not, I trust that the members of Taqanah will beg his forgiveness. Either way, I am sure that they are fasting, as is appropriate when judging cases wherein lives are involved.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

in tentative response to your contemplations:
1. charisma may also very well be narcissism turned outward. in his recently published book on jewish high schools, paul shaviv has a chapter or so on the charismatic teacher, and warns against them: even when they seem to be fighting the good fight and an asset to the school, they can easily turn
unreliable and harmful, to say the least.
2. i fear that part of the reason we in the rz community create our own gods is that we do not have a torah umadda culture in israel, a culture which encourages a healthy critical thought process subject to respect for tradition. there is also a need to somehow have an embodiment of religious symbol, which leads to a larger-than-life figure. this may be a reaction to hareidi society, either in emulation or in response [that is, 'we have gedolim too.']
3. unfortunately, there is no forgiveness here. it is way too big.
as always, i look forward to hearing your more developed thoughts.

baalabus said...

Well.

Here are my humble thoughts:

(1) All societies have their fair share of deviants, perverts, and sexual predators, but insular and authoritarian societies such as ours are particularly prone. Coverup and victim's shame guarantee that violations are kept quiet.

(2) The real question then is what steps we take to first acknowledge, and second to root out the problem. [Here the Haredim lag behind the Dati Leumi in spades. Can you imagine a Haredi forum that includes psychologists and females?]

Anonymous said...

I am heartbroken.

Menachem Lipkin said...

i fear that part of the reason we in the rz community create our own gods is that we do not have a torah umadda culture in israel, a culture which encourages a healthy critical thought process subject to respect for tradition.

Yes, because that worked so well in dealing with Lanner. To this day there are Lanner lackies who worship him and are in denial.

If anything, this Takana group was far better than the OU cover-up or the sham Bet Din. Had a group like Takana taken on Lanner early on much victimization would have been avoided.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Here's a post I'm working on:

As Chardal Rabbanim line up to trash the "Srugim" show for depicting less than perfect halachik observance in the "Bitza" -- reality is far, far more severe.

Srugim has actually sugar coated the bitza - so not everyone is shomer negiya or perfectly observes hilchot yichud...yet the harsh reality of modern religious life in Israel has its share of things, far worse, as the current affair has shown.

I'd prefer Srugim any day, than to hear about abuse cases involving our charismatic gedolim.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that you took out the portion that was quoted above. As if YU or Bar-Ilan didn't have sexual harrasment or financial scandals.

As if there are no "charismatic" Rabbi Dr. types leading shuls which invite goyish pop-stars into their services and even give them honors during the services.

Jeffrey Woolf said...

I never said, nor would I ever have the temerity to say that the dangers of charismatic leaders in the religious community are confined to the Haredi or the Hardali world. All you need to do is look at the list at The Awareness Center to know otherwise.

Anonymous said...

I have something of a contrarian view on this issue. Why can't we appreciate and listen to R. Moti Alon's Torah, indeed, appreciate his charisma, while at the same time distancing ourselves from him as a sexual predator. Is there a way to salvage some appreciation for his accomplishments and not relegate him to complete, utter worthlessness?

You mentioned the Awareness Center. Shlomo Carlebach is among the more well-known sexual offenders on that site. Yet, we still sing his songs.

Chava said...

This is my first post in my recent undertaking of reading your well thought out and eloquently written critiques of the modern day dilemmas in the “Orthodoxy.” It has been a wonderfully refreshing voice of what seems to me, to be real reason. That is something that is sadly lacking in the modernity of our time, despite the academia, gedolim and the “learning” institutions available to all of us.

Let us pull or proverbial heads out of the sand and LOOK around. The more we continue to deny what is really going on inside of us and deal with it as we should, the more we will see failure after miserable failure.

Dealing with it means recognition and the humility to find answers. Yes, I resolutely affirm that this should include at the very least, what basic psychological therapy offers in terms of trying to become cognizant of our real issues. I have had the opportunity to be a part of a religious sect(s) that are most assuredly, as frum as the most Hassidic. The problem is we to often use our so called religious beliefs to avoid the necessary tikkun of our neshemos. This is due to a very important ingredient that is necessary for that authentic tikkun.

its called truth.

The root of the issue is not complicated in my humble opinion. It is not charismania, the evil is not our deifying our leaders (That has been done for a millennia) the reason is quite simple.

Plainly said, Yeshurun (English) has once again become FAT!

We are proud and, you do not have to be a triangle to teach geometry!

How unfortunate for us

Elitzur said...

Is it a tragedy for the victims?

Or are we not worried about them...