Thursday, December 22, 2016

Fixing the “Takanah Forum”

By HaRav Yisrael Rosen 
Dean of the Zomet Institute

“And his master’s wife set her eyes on Yosef” [Bereisheet 29:7].

My gaze today is towards the “Takanah Forum,” which I have supported in this column and continue to support as a necessary element which should not be disparaged. Since I know some of its Torah-true members well, I can testify that there are no blemishes in them or their work. Perhaps you can already feel that I feel that this sentence must be tempered with the word “but.” Well, I have three “buts” that I will discuss in this article.

Who is the Next Target?

The name of the forum, “Takanah,” means to mend something, and also to make a decree. As many people understand, the forum handles complaints and rumors about harassment and beyond, where the accused are people with responsible positions in religious education, or rabbis, who have failed from a moral point of view. Woe is to us because of their lusts which constitute a tremendous educational failure as a result of an educational tragedy, which has led to improper/forbidden/shocking activity in sexual matters.

The forum is not meant to be a “morality police” of the religious sector, and if I am wrong let people connected with the forum correct me. Is there any possibility that it will initiate its own investigation of such people as Ofek Buchris or Yinon Magal “for the good of those involved” or in order to clear up problems with the religious sector in general, after hearing public reports of their wrongdoing? If I am wrong, I take this opportunity to warn them that the forum will not last much longer if they do attempt to take on “police” actions of this type. In their own manifest, the targets of the organization are defined as “ persons of authority and leadership in the religious community.” But if they would listen to my advice I suggest that they do not try to take on a case of a religious hair stylist who has been accused of misusing his authority against a woman in his care. And they should also not get involved with any prominent religious lawyer who is accused of improper conduct by a clerk or of harassing her, or a religious police officer who is accused of starting up with his subordinates. The police force exists for such matters , and if a woman refuses to file a formal complaint her case should not be moved over to the Takanah Forum.

There is indeed a halachic source for establishing a “morality police.” The Rambam writes, “The courts must appoint police officers on the holidays who will move around and search in gardens and orchards, and at the rivers, to prevent men and women from getting together to eat and drink, which might lead to sin” [Hilchot Yom Tov 6:21]. However, this is quite specific and limited: “The courts must appoint...” – it is not a volunteer action taken by people within the sector. I fully concur with the conclusions of Rabbi Yaacov Ariel (Techumin volume 31), “The Authority of the Takanah Forum,” that the forum was established as a “court” by “The Educational Institutions of religious Zionism,” and it is not an independent initiative.

And if someone will try to respond that the goal of the forum is not focused on educational institutions and rabbis but is rather “to rescue oppressed women from their oppressors” in general, I would say that if so its scope should not have anything at all to do with whether the accused are religious or not and whether they are connected to educational institutions. After all, the danger of harm (including to religious women) is greater from nonreligious suspects than from religious ones!

Individual Initiatives

Here is a second note on this subject. There are those who have taken on this work as individuals, becoming something of a “private forum,” open to gathering complaints. I can understand it when the rabbi of Tzefat and the surrounding area “cleans out the stables” in his own city and helps to send a “rabbi” who has committed offenses to prison. I find it harder to see where he gets the authority to ban a hospital rabbi in the north who sinned, when the people of Tzefat are in need of his services. And I do not understand what status he has with respect to a prominent MK of the Bayit Yehudi Party. As a well-known and powerful rabbi, perhaps he can persuade a victim to enter a complaint with the police, but that should be the end of his involvement in this case. Does he have a net spread out all over the country, with the power of the head of a court of appeals?

Amateur Hunters

And now for my third note on this subject, which is a consequence of the first two points, and is in fact more significant. This is for the members of the Takanah Forum, which indeed enjoys the trust of the community, which it needs as much as the air it breathes: The members of the forum, and especially the leaders, must never get involved in these matters “in their spare time,” outside of the formal meetings of the forum! The trust in their operation will suffer if they ever agree to provide “professional” services of investigation and intimidation “outside of their regular working hours,” whether the one who needs the service is acting personally or for the good of a community. Such action would be diametrically opposed to the basic ethical stance which provides the justification for the existence of the forum. As a result of such action, they would become obsessive and eager characters who are mainly interested in criminals wherever they can be found.

Similarly, they should never talk in the press about ongoing cases of the forum, past or present, or about any cases being handled by other groups, as an “expert witness.” This is true even if the discussion is preceded by a disclaimer that it is being presented “as a private person.” It makes the people look like amateur hunters, and gives their activities within the forum the appearance of people who spend their time searching for blemishes. If they want to, let them retire from the Takanah Forum, and then they can open up their own office for investigations related to morality.

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