The Rabbi Sinned – What about his Followers? And the Women who Trusted Him?
By Rabbi Yisrael Rosen
Dean of the Tzomet Institute
The affair of the "rabbi" from Tzefat who went on an evil path continues to make waves, and to spread out deathly curses in all directions. There is no way to avoid our continued discussion of this matter, even though we wrote about it last week. As time passes, we are exposed more and more to the depth of the educational damage and the crisis in faith that have taken place, and it becomes clearer and clearer how wide a circle of people have been harmed by this "explosive force." Below I discuss some lessons that are not so simple but that must be discussed at this time of emergency for national Torah education. I therefore write the following, with a trembling hand...
No Rehabilitation! The Yeshiva must be Closed!
There is talk of "rehabilitating the yeshiva" in order to continue the activities of the institution in terms of Torah learning and acts of charity under the leadership of another Torah figure, who will replace the former head. From my nonprofessional point of view, this is not a viable option. There is no way to rebuild this community in Tzefat and its institutions, which were all founded and controlled with an iron fist by this evil man. The only way open for the yeshiva, the kollel for married men, and the other institutions is to disband them all. I do not propose this as an act of punishment - after all, nobody has appointed me as a judge or an instrument of punishment. Rather, it is a position based on realistic educational goals with respect to the rest of the world, which also contains an element based on faith. As has been noted, this man was the ultimate authority in all of the institutions of the community. His "fingerprints" can be found in every corner, and it is not enough for somebody to declare, "We have destroyed the blemish!... We have removed the abscess!" When the foundation falls the building collapses, and the only way to make impure pottery vessels pure again is to shatter them.
I do not know how to disband a community, but I can suggest to the students – single and married – to search for a place of true Torah, to quench their thirst and to heal their wounds by drinking the waters of other sweet and pure springs. "If they are wise, they will understand this" [Devarim 32:29], and they will move away from their city, as is written, "Do not look behind you" [Bereishit 19:17]. They can go south, to a greater or lesser degree, let them flee from the ruins of their community and its memories of sin. I think this is what is needed in order to rehabilitate the families – father, mother, and all the children.
And this leads me to another comment, painful but unavoidable. As far as is known, this man was at the head of a kashrut organization together with another prominent rabbi (we cannot give details because of the gag order that is still in force at the time of writing this article). And I therefore have this advice: This Badatz kashrut organization which rested on an impure base should be closed, since its authority has been compromised! As above, this is not for purposes of punishment or based on a halachic ruling, but rather a matter of education, deterrence, and a show of "eradicating" such a blemish as a public action.
I cannot skip over another extremely painful aspect of this affair, which cries out to heaven! What part was played by the women, who were involved in "tactile therapy," which did not reach a level of sexual activity?Are they naive? Simpletons? Daydreamers? People without a personality? According to reports, these were women who are normative, Ulpana graduates, educated in the best institutions, and intelligent. I understand and accept (including from the halachic viewpoint) that they were enticed and partially coerced because of the way they followed mysticism and "other forces," but I still feel that I must voice my criticism of women who seek advice in private meetings with rabbis in general, and specifically with miracle-workers, especially women who are willing to undergo mystic "treatments." Anyone who has a spiritual need for this should do it only if accompanied by a friend!
This type of event has appeared at least once in our past. (With thanks to a rabbi who pointed out this publication to me.) "An event has come to my attention, one that will burn the ears of all who hear about it. In one of the villages... when the husband went on a trip for his business, a man came from Poland with torn clothing, and he asked the woman for a place to sleep. The woman, who was very humble, had pity on the man and gave him a place to sleep, and also food and drink. The guest refused to eat any meat, practiced all manner of asceticism and self-denial, and he sat all day in his room with a book in his hand... Every night at midnight he would weep about the destruction of the Temple... He immersed himself in cold water... One Friday night, after the end of the meal, when the children and the servants had gone to bed, the man, this fraud, told her, 'I am the Prophet Eliyahu, and my mission is to gather my brothers from the four corners of the earth... I have not found anybody as righteous as you who is worthy to give birth to the Mashiach, but your husband is not worthy of this. This is my mission from heaven... Now, at this time next year, you will have a son, who will be Mashiach, the son of David.' The foolish woman believed him... And the adulterer fled Sunday before dawn. When the woman saw that he had lied, she wept bitterly and told her husband all that the evil man had done. She insisted that she had not meant to rebel against her husband, she swore to heaven that she had good intentions. In the end, the rabbi who had been consulted, Rabbi Yaacov Etlinger, from Altuna, worked very hard to find a way to allow her to go back to her husband..." [Binyan Tzion, 154].
Only the Elderly
Last week I listed some possible ways to identify fraudulent masters, the main one being to accept blessings only from a recognized halachic expert. Let me add one more limiting condition: the man should be at least sixty years old! I call out to all of the rabbis of Yisrael, to the Chassidic rebbes and to the mystic "Baba's": Declare a strict ban and have nothing to do with anybody who gives blessings and amulets if he is younger than this!
**** FINAL NOTE: After I wrote this article, I was informed that a strong letter has been published by women who harshly accuse the "evil rabbi." I join their condemnation with all my heart and with great pain. I want to express my full support for these victims of evil and cruelty.