- Tomorrow morning iy’h the North Hendon Adath Yisroel Synagogue will hold an Extraordinary General Meeting to decide whether or not to leave the UOHC.
- I hope and pray that we do leave, if only for the selfish reason that then I will be able to return and daven in my local shul to which I have belonged for about 20 years. For the last two weeks I have felt unable to set foot inside the building, and this post explains why.
- Abuse of the vulnerable is a natural human temptation, and it is therefore inevitable that in any community someone will sooner or later be abused by someone else.
- The test of a community is not whether it can prevent abuse, but how it handles abuse when it happens or is alleged.
- Indian society today is having to take a long and painful look at itself to work out how it has allowed attitudes to women to deteriorate to such a degree that abusive and violent treatment of women had become so commonplace that the atrocity that occurred a few days ago was simply waiting to happen (or had already happened further from the public, and international, eye).
- Catholic society around the world has been having to take a long and painful look at itself for some time to work out how child abuse had become in effect tolerated and condoned by a religious institution.
- Until very recently, many orthodox Jews may have had our fears that perhaps abuse – which must inevitably occasionally happen in our community since we are as susceptible to human failings as any other community – may not have been being handled properly. But I for one have not felt it necessary to confront these fears openly and investigate them – perhaps I should have done, but to look the other way is another strong human temptation.
- In the words of one of the most powerful activism songs of all time, “How many ears must one man have, before he can hear people cry? … How many times can a man turn his head, pretending he just doesn’t see?”.
- The crying is now too loud to pretend not to hear it; and to turn ones head in today’s situation makes one morally complicit in what is happening.
- The Torah law of sexual offences makes an important distinction. Where a woman has an adulterous relationship in a populated area, she is unable in effect to plead that she was forced because the Torah asks why she did not cry out; in the countryside, however, the Torah plaintively notes “maybe she did cry out and there was nobody to hear”, and expands that maybe she did not cry out only because she knew there was nobody there.
- The women of India had almost given up crying out at the degrading treatment to which many of them are treated every day, because they feared that in one of the most densely populated areas of the world there was still nobody who cared to hear them: they have just found new voice, and one hopes and prays that the ears of all Indian society will listen.
- The vulnerable of the London orthodox Jewish community have apparently just cried out. A number of specific allegations of abuse have been made against one of the most powerful and respected Rabbis of the community. I am not required or able to pass judgment on whether these allegations are true or false: but as a member of the community I am morally obliged to satisfy myself that the cries of the vulnerable are listened to in an appropriate way.
- There is only one appropriate way to listen to allegations of abuse in our community. Our botei din have no criminal jurisdiction; so in any matter of law that is not confined to a dispute between individuals about property matters that can be arbitrated under the Arbitration Act 1996, we are obliged both as a matter of halachah and as a matter of secular law to present evidence of any alleged crime to the police, and evidence of any other kind of abuse of the vulnerable to appropriate civil authorities (such as the social services).
- If we believe that perhaps an allegation of abuse may not amount to an allegation of a criminal offence, whether because the acts complained of may have been consensual or for any other reason, we need to leave it to the police and the prosecuting authorities to look at the evidence and make a decision. It is not for us to decide, for example, whether apparent consent is vitiated by having been obtained through undue influence or through fraudulent misrepresentations as to the halachic position; those are matters on which we could only speculate but the prosecuting authorities first, and possibly later the courts, are equipped and obliged to decide.
- If we are to be a God-fearing community, our self-regulation must be efficient and effective, and it must know its limitations and engage with those outside people and authorities who are available to take over where self-regulation is no longer available.
- The only proper response to anyone who comes to a rabbi with an allegation of having been abused is “get in my car and I will take you to the police station, I will stay with you while you make a statement to the police, and I will support to my last breath your right and duty to have your allegation investigated by the authorities of the State, so that wrong-doers can be punished and deterred, and other vulnerable people can be protected”.
- Members of our self-absorbed and insular community will of course be very reluctant to go to the police. It is never easy or pleasant for someone to make a complaint about a sexual offence. But many women, children and men have found the courage to go through the traumas of the court procedures, at horrendous personal emotional cost, in order to make sense of what has happened to them by using it to prevent the same from happening to others. Members of our community may have additional fears for themselves and their families: but outspoken support from the rabbis acting together can allay those fears, and if they do not provide that support then they do not deserve to be our rabbis.
- The fear of washing dirty linen in public is something I have never been able to understand. Dirty linen smells: to pretend there is no dirty linen in the cupboard deceives nobody. And why go through the charade of a pointless pretence anyway? It is no disgrace for ones linen to get dirty: but it is a disgrace not to take it to the wash in the same way as everybody else.
- To encourage people not to take criminal allegations to the criminal authorities, or to encourage them to use alternative, necessarily ineffective methods of “resolving” potentially criminal matters, rests on a failure to understand the halachic implictions of the law of mesirah as it applies in the context of the political and legal structures of the United Kingdom today. The Torah forbids recourse to the secular courts in matters where a Beis Din is competent; and it forbids recourse even in other matters to an arbitrary, unjust and inherently anti-semitic system. There are no Cossacks in the UK today; and although the police and courts are not perfect, and miscarriages of justice will occur, there are mechanisms for righting even those; and they are not as inevitable to begin with as the injustice that is bound to occur when criminal allegations are dealt with in an informal manner by people who are neither trained nor appointed to assess them, nor have effective remedies to deal with them.
- “Leave the rabbis to sort this out – we can make the place too hot to hold any perpetrators”, as well as resting on this halachic misconception, can result only either in perverts being shunted from place to place to reoffend once people’s short memories have become confused with the passage of time, or in innocent people being driven from their homes and their livelihoods based on insufficiently tested evidence. This behaviour is not only wilfully ineffective, but may, depending on the precise circumstances, amount to the criminal offence of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
- As for behaviour which after full analysis of the available evidence, and full cooperation from the community, the police or the Crown Prosecution Service decide is not criminal, or is not sufficiently evidenced to make a conviction likely, at that point the question of self-regulation arises again. The rabbis need to have, as do the medical and other professions, a process for dealing with allegations of professional impropriety not involving (or not necessarily involving) criminality. That procedure needs to be transparent and efficient, following due process in an accountable and public way (subject to such privacy as is justified in individual cases for publicly recorded reasons); and it needs to engage effective and proportionate remedies.
- I can happily belong to a community in which I am not the only imperfect human being; I cannot belong to a community in which my silence is part of the collective cowardice and institutional inertia that allows the cries of the vulnerable to go unheard.
- North Hendon has always been a remarkable community. If nothing demogs like demography, in the same way few things geog like geography: as a result of being set a little apart physically from the rest of the orthodox Jewish community, we have always had a degree of objectivity. Now is a time to put that objectivity, and its consequent clarity of vision, to good purpose, and to show the rest of the community the way: leaving the Union may be only a small gesture, and it may only be a start, but it is at least a start to putting our community back on the sound moral basis which is its only justification for existing in the first place.
- One way or another, a crashing injustice has been done and the London Jewish orthodox community should feel utterly ashamed of itself.
- If Chaim Halpern did not abuse his position as a counsellor, then the community has allowed an innocent man to be hounded from positions of respect as a result of malicious gossip.
- If he did abuse his position as a counsellor, then the community has sent a loud message to his victims that the closest they can expect to get to anything like justice is a messy cover-up.
- If I were a girl or woman in the community today who was experiencing abuse from a communal leader, I would look at what has happened here and despair. I would not contact the police, because I would be afraid to; and I would not contact the rabbis, because the most I could expect would be a kangaroo court in one of their houses resulting in some kind of messy compromise.
- Mi k’amcho Yisroel – Who is like your people Israel? How often do we hear our leaders trumpet this phrase as they congratulate the community on its warmth and our kindness to each other.
- That is absolutely worthless if there are victims in our community who are being allowed to cry themselves to sleep at night because nobody cares enough to stand up for them.
- If Chaim Halpern abused women – whether or not he committed assault or any other crime – he should be publicly stripped of the title Rabbi and he should be placed in cheirem – excommunication – by every single rabbi in the area.
- If Chaim Halpern did not abuse women – then every single Rabbi in the area should sign a paper stating that if anyone has evidence that he did they are not just permitted, but obliged, to take it to the police, and that unless and until a charge is brought the Rabbi is publicly upheld as a righteous and innocent person.
- That neither of these things have happened, but a messy “deal” has been done behind closed doors, is such a disgrace that we cannot take ourselves seriously as a religious community until it is put right.
- The Rabbis need to make one thing absolutely clear. If a person is abused by anyone in the community, whether or not they are sure that a crime has been committed, they are under a halachic duty to go to the police, and the Rabbis will give every encouragement and support to people who come forward in these circumstances. No closed-sessions of rabbis in each others’ houses; no appointments of local lawyers to take down evidence and have it looked at by ad hoc Batei Din. Just a simple commitment to use the competent authorities of the State for those matters in which they are competent and the Beis Din is not (using the word competent in its legal sense).
- This must not be allowed to blow over. Each one of us who belongs to the orthodox Jewish community in London will be confronted on the day of judgment and asked: Why did you, the Jewish public, allow this to go on in your name?
- Irrespective of who is the victim.
1. The sudden reversal of the public image of Jimmy Savile reminds me of one of the few strong points that institutional religions still have going for them.
2. Children raised in any environment, religious or secular, will look around for role models, because human beings are naturally imitative and inspiration is a human need.
3. In an environment that does not subscribe to religion or another all-encompassing philosophy, there is no choice but to seek inspiration in individuals. Many children, and adults, are left with nothing to look up to but the public images of footballers or singers, even though they can inspire people to nothing more than the acquisition of wealth and obsession with self-gratification, neither of which are particularly helpful life-goals.
4. How often must Savile have been held up as a particularly inspiring role model, since his celebrity was so largely earned by and directed to the doing of purely secularly-inspired good deeds, from volunteering as a hospital porter to realising the dreams of those in distress? But in the space of a few days, the inspirational value of his life is reduced to less than nothing, recalling Undy Scott’s dismissive summary of a fellow corrupt politican in Trollope’s The Three Clerks: ”Yesterday he was a god; to-day he is a devil; to-morrow he’ll be a man again; that’s all.”
5. In CS Lewis’ That Hideous Strength, a young woman raised in a vehemently anti-religious environment turns to a fellow member of a resistance movement who has dared to doubt the wisdom of its leader and asks him indignantly whether there is no such thing as loyalty. Her colleague, a staunch atheist product of a religious background, turns to her with “generations of Calvinists glinting in his eyes” (I cannot find the book just now, but the actual quote is much better than that!) and remarks something along the lines of “Young lady, indeed there is, and as you grow older you will find that it is too precious a commodity to lavish on individual personalities”.
6. Organised religion is not without its problems; indeed, sometimes it seems to me to have little but problems left. But it has one immeasurably important advantage: take away the rabbi, priest, imam or other leader who has been preaching the religion, expose him or her as a hypocrite, and the religion remains. Catholicism has been damaged by the revelations of priestly misbehaviour; but it has not been destroyed, because there is more to it than belief in individual personalities. If one exponent of the religion is revealed as a shallow fraud, one can always look for another whose life is enriched by his or her religious conviction; and human frailty and dignity being what they are, one will always find both.
7. As I bored my children by repeating, with very few exceptions indeed nobody is quite as good or quite as bad as they appear to the outside world. Children who grow up without being offered anything other than individuals to look up to are being condemned to a life of inevitable disappointment.
- As the Tal law exempting religious (“Chareidi”) Jews in Israel from military service finally expires amid confusion as to what will succeed it, I declare an interest. My younger son is a strictly-orthodox Jew: he follows the Code of Jewish Law as meticulously as anyone in the Chareidi community, and his rabbis are as pious and learned as anyone in the Chareidi community. He emigrated to Israel last summer and has already been signed up for military service, although he could have avoided it pretty much forever had he chosen to.
- But my son prefers to be able to look himself in the face in the morning than to avoid army service.
- If you live in a country where the borders need guarding, then you take your turn in guarding them: otherwise, what are you but a coward and a parasite, living off the efforts of others?
- The argument that one often hears – that by studying in yeshivah a boy does more to invoke divine protection of Israel than any soldier can achieve – holds good for a tiny minority of boys who are such devoted and successful scholars that not one man or woman in Israel would wish to disturb their studies, or would think them more useful in the army than in the yeshivah. By definition, however, these boys will have the humility not to see themselves as anything special, and they will wish to take their turn in the army along with everyone else, and will have to be restrained.
- Anyone who protests that he is too good or too holy for the army proves the falseness of the proposition by making it.
- As to the suggestion that army life will corrupt boys, it is either complete nonsense or a horrendous indictment of the Chareidi educational system that needs to be corrected whether or not their boys go into the army.
- Israel has stumbled by blind degrees into a situation that would now be farcical if it were not so tragic. Boys hiding behind their religous books in order to evade army service don’t damage the army, but they threaten the nature and future of Israel as a Jewish State, which can be justified only when all Jews present a united front, held together by love and respect for each other, with our cultural and religious differences simply enhancing our overall unity.
- If I were a non-religious Israeli today I would hate Judaism. I would look at the many tens of thousands of Jews who tell each other how superior they are to me, and live a life characterised by cowardice. I would see the orthodox boys who come from abroad to learn in yeshivah, and whose wives become immigrants in order to collect welfare benefits while they themselves remain foreign-nationals in order to evade army service; and I would be disgusted with them, with their rabbis who allow it, and with their God in whose name it is done.
- The crisis over the Tal law has little or nothing to do with the army, but it has everything to do with the health of the nation. For those of us who believe that God protects Israel and the Jewish people only while they deserve protection, finding a solution that allows the Chareidi world to recover its self-respect by playing a full and equal part in society is the last chance.
1. I was asked to write something about the case of Ronite Bitton.
2. Details of her case are already available on the internet. In essence, she is facing a lengthy term of imprisonment, in addition to terms already served, because she is accused of having removed her son to Israel and arranged for him to disappear, in order to avoid the possibility of his being ordered to return to live with his father in Belgium.
3. There are plenty of impassioned pleas and opinions about the case in various places on the internet. I am not going to add to their number: apart from anything, I have had no opportunity to check the truth of any of the factual assertions made in the case.
4. Whatever the facts, the case is a reminder that the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction can be a two-edged sword. The Convention was designed as a tool against injustice and a way of imposing rule of law among the 80 or so signatory countries. A fantastic idea: to protect children from being dragged from one country to another in order to evade justice or to frustrate orders of courts made with their welfare in mind.
5. But all legal systems can go wrong: and what happens if one legal system, whether through corruption or incompetence, threatens to detroy a child’s life? Like diplomatic immunity or extradition, the only way the Convention system can operate is by unquestioning respect by each participant for each other participant’s processes, even in cases where they seem to have miscarried. As soon as you allow a participant to examine the quality of justice in a particular case, the system starts to break down and to become infected by political and other considerations.
6. So can the Convention be used to enforce injustice? Yes, of course it can.
7. If the assertions made on Ronite’s behalf are true, she has been the victim both of this inflexibility of the Convention, and also of actual injustices and failures within the Israeli judicial system.
8. In the United Kingdom now there is a Criminal Cases Review Commission, which is able to review criminal cases independently and, if they believe that justice may have miscarried, instigate fresh proceedings. Perhaps the Convention needs to have a similar system on an international scale so that, without compromising the automatic nature of the Convention as a general rule, there is a non-political and independent way of intervening in cases where the Convention appears to have been used as a weapon of injustice, whether through corruption or incompetence. I have a troubled feeling that if such a body were to exist it would find more than enough cases to occupy it.
9. In the meantime, I would encourage anyone who feels strongly about injustice to access some of the petition and other sites about this particular case, to satisfy themselves as to the facts, and then to take any action they feel inclined to take, whether by signing a petition or otherwise publicising the case. A forgotten injustice will never be rectified: a publicised one just may be.
1. On 10th June the Jewish Student Chaplaincy organisation is arranging a charity event in which chaplains and past and present students will jump from a 140ft Bungee Crane.
2. A parent of present students asked me to comment on whether this is permissible in halochoh. Clearly, it is not.
3. Searching the internet reveals a commonly-advanced statistic for bungee jumping of a fatality average of 1 in 500,000 jumps. That, of course, is generally compared favourably with driving a certain distance or crossing the road or being struck by lightning.
4. But the comparisons miss the point for halachic purposes. I am required to guard the life that God has given me and not to expose myself to unnecessary risks, for which purpose “necessary” is determined by reference to whether the risk is reasonably proportionate to the need to undertake the potentially dangerous activity.
5. Since there is no need to fall off a crane attached to a piece of elastic, the acceptable level of risk in doing so is nil.
6. “But it’s for charity” – this makes no difference. If it would be wrong to do something without the excuse of raising money, it is wrong to do it despite that excuse. Indeed, charities should generally be more careful than they are about profiting only from permitted activities (and not, for example, selling £100 tickets for a chance to win a car, which is gambling of a kind strongly disapproved of in halochoh).
7. Worse than that, if a charitable motive encourages people to do something that they would have enough sense not to do otherwise, the charity is transgressing the Biblical prohibition of putting a stumbling block before the blind.
8. Someone who wants to bungee jump as part of an athletic exercise, or for sight-seeing purposes, and as part of a carefully calculated assessment of the small risk against the great pleasure they expect to feel, they may have a halachic justification. (Whether that would apply to a person with dependent family is, of course, more doubtful.) But in this case people who would otherwise have no wish to jump off a crane, and may actually be frightened of doing so, are being encouraged to conquer their instincts (which some may recognise as common sense) because of the gratitude that they feel for the chaplains.
9. The Jewish chaplains are uniformly wonderful people whose dedication and service are exemplary. Their care of our students is superbly inspirational; it should, however, extend to discouraging past and present students (and themselves) from jumping off a crane, which is generally regarded as an unwise thing to do.
1. According to the winning Grand National trainer Paul Nicholls, despite consecutive races in each of which two horses have suffered injuries as a result of which they have been put down, the show should go on. He said to BBC Sport: “There is always risk in sport. A lot of people have to grow up, and realise that it is life. … We’ve got to be realistic about this. The horses have the best of everything they could have. They probably have better health care than we have. … If people are going to continue to participate in sport, there is going to be both a human and animal risk.”
2. There are two obvious fallacies here on which Judaism has a strong and clear message, based on three principles.
3. Principle one: there is a Biblical requirement to take reasonable care of my own life and health.
4. Principle two: there is a Biblical requirement to take as much care of other people’s life as of my own.
5. Principle three: animals are entitled to the same consideration, being God’s creatures; and, in particular, it is forbidden to cause them unnecessary suffering.
6. Sport is not forbidden in Jewish law even if it entails risk: as Nicholls rightly says, there is risk in life, and the Biblical command to take care is to take reasonable care in the context of pursuing a full life, of which exercise and sport are part. But I can assess for myself how much risk is appropriate and reasonable, and make an informed choice whether or not to participate. Horses cannot. So Fallacy number one: “people have to realise that it is life” – it is acceptable for me to decide for myself what is a reasonable risk, but it is not acceptable for me to decide for an animal that it should be exposed to serious risk of injury and pain, for the gratification of my own or other humans’ wish for excitement.
7. “The horses have the best of everything they could have.” Fallacy number two: chessed – kindness – does not create ownership or obligation. If I look after horses nicely, that is my choice not theirs; even if they were capable of feeling gratitude, I do not have the right to assume gratitude and to transfer it into a willingness to repay an assumed obligation by suffering pain and injury to gratify me.
8. Sport is sometimes described as being something of a religion to some people; there is certainly one clear point of analogy here, the need to guard against the temptation to excuse something that is clearly wrong on the grounds of a broader purpose.