An Open Letter To R. Manis Friedman

JewishJournal.com reports:

Rabbi Manis Friedman, a prominent rabbi from the Hasidic Chabad Lubavitch movement who appeared in a video recently posted on YouTube minimizing the harm caused by sexual molestation, has apologized for what he called his “completely inappropriate use of language.”

“I have always believed in the importance of empowering victims of all kinds to move forward in building their lives,” Friedman wrote in an email to The Journal. “In my zeal to reinforce that belief, I came across as being dismissive of one of the worst crimes imaginable.

The controversial video was first posted on YouTube on Jan. 29 and had been viewed over 4,500 times as of Jan. 31. In it, Friedman, the founder of an educational institute for Jewish women in Minnesota, appeared dismissive of victims of sexual abuse, at one point suggesting that the long-term effects of molestation were no worse than those of diarrhea.

“You’re not that damaged, cut it out,” Friedman said in the video, speaking of victims of sexual molestation.

“Zay a mensch,” the rabbi added, a Yiddish phrase that roughly translates to, “Act like a human being.”

From JewishCommunityWatch:

(Benny Forer is a veteran criminal prosecutor with experience prosecuting cases ranging from narcotics offenses to gang murders to complex white collar crime. Currently, as a member of the prestigious High-Tech Crimes Unit, his job focuses on complex technologically based crimes. Additionally, he is an experienced lecturer, lecturing on matters pertaining to being a District Attorney. Topics include: criminal justice, criminal procedure, privacy concerns, constitutional issues, sex crimes, complex fraud and white collar offenses.)

January 29, 2013 תשע’ג ,שבט ח’י
Rabbi Manis Friedman

Dear Rabbi Friedman,
I am writing to you today as a professional in my specific field, to protest your recent video discussing child molesters and the effects of child-molestation. While I am sure you have received countless letters, emails, telephone calls and other correspondence protesting your ignorant view, I am nevertheless writing to continue to express the disgust I have for your comments.
I am a frum, Lubavitch, Oholie-Torah-educated member of our collective society. I also happen to be one of the only District Attorney’s in the United States who is all the above. From all the frum people that I know who have held a similar type job, I am certainly the longest tenured employee of a DA office. As a result, I have particular perspective and insight into many matters pertaining to criminal law.
One of the difficulties I have often encountered is the continued misinformation transmitted by our “leadership” to the community, in an effort to justify the actions of those who have committed crimes. Sadly, we have created a society where every Lubavitcher criminal holds equivalent status as the Rebbe’im and certainly of Reb Mendel Futerfass and his contemporaries. Nothing is further from the truth and this perspective degrades the great mesiras nefesh that those people had.
I am communicating the above in order to attempt to impress upon you both my credentials to write to you, as well as the source of your ignorant perspective that ultimately caused you to demean yourself, your teachings and your family.
I have had many encounters, interviews, discussions and trials involving sexual abuse. I have had a variety of training, both formal and informal, dealing with these topics. I have also examined and cross-examined “expert” witnesses on these matters. What I have learned is that sexual abuse is truly the worst harm a person can perpetrate on society and is worse than murder.
True, educated, learned and honest Rabbonim will admit and pasken that a molester has the din of a rodef. Moreover, he is muchzak to do it again and therefore we can and should treat him as such. The reason for this is that a molester is a) always a recidivist[1]; and b) ultimately the direct cause of death in many people. Consequently, it is acceptable Halachically to chase after and kill a molester and it may, in fact, be required.[2]
The Torah has many instances of sexual misconduct. Beginning with the dor-hamabul, Sodom and Gmorah, Er & Anon, Dina & Shchem, Yosef HaTzadik and Potifar’s wife[3] and culminating with Pinchas Ha’Cohen and Zimri. The similarity between the above cases is that with only one exception (Yosef), all the offenders were sentenced to death in one way or another. What is learned from these Torah examples is that sexual misconduct is so severe that the Torah and God believe in the termination of humans who engage in such misconduct. Yosef, however, was sentenced by a secular court and, similar to our current secular judicial system, a sex offender cannot be executed, rather is sentenced to lengthy terms of confinement. [4]
Ultimately, the perspective that is perpetuated by Rabbonim such as you is directly in line with the Catholic Church. Demean, diminish and disregard any victims. It is severely misplaced and dangerous. I am unaware whether you have ever had a candid conversation with a victim of sexual abuse or whether you took them seriously, but from professional experience, I can assure you of the lasting impact that most suffer. The intense pain a victim feels and the harmful resulting impact to society is degenerative. Flippant disregard of these feelings is not just insensitive, but is ignorant and harmful. The extreme violation of a child’s person has an enduring consequence no matter how much it is trivialized.
As a District Attorney, I have dealt with a wide variety of victims. I have witnessed the pain suffered by murder-victim’s families and have seen families torn apart by drug abuse. I have been in court as victims wept over the untimely death of a loved one and have seen the hardships endured by victims of various other physical crimes. However, nothing compares to the pain and suffering of a sexual abuse victim. Not only do they live with this pain daily, but they have to contend with community members’ (and in our case so-called “Rabbonim”) daily denial of these incidents. Your thoughtless comments have furthered this pain and fostered more unnecessary agony.
In our community I am continually amazed that no crime brings out more communal support for the perpetrator than sexual molestation. I have been shocked to walk into courtrooms and observe overwhelming support for a monster, despite vast evidence of his guilt. I further find it shocking that the Rabbonim are so eager to “clear” a molester of such wrongdoing, justifying their actions under a variety of misplaced and misunderstood Halachic concepts.[5]
Moreover, there have been countless instances of Rabbonim seeking to prevent victims from going to the police. A variety of tactics are used, all of which stem from extraordinary distortions of the Torah. Rabbonim are not sex experts. They also have very limited power in both preventing future sexual abuse and in helping victims overcome the past harms. Accordingly, it is imperative that Rabbonim encourage all victims to immediately contact local authorities to deal with abuse scenarios. Rabbonim who demand the power and right to determine whether a victim should come forward are nothing more than egotistical and arrogant.
The myopic and ridiculous view that you have perpetrated, along with many Rabbonim, needs to be corrected and fixed. It needs to be acknowledged by Jewish leaders in a profound way – one that does more than merely pay lip-service to the issue. You need to express true teshuva in a constructive and helpful way that will assist future victims and condemn future predators. At this point, public condemnation of molesters, in general, is simply insufficient; more must be done.
In Tanya, the Alter Rebbe reflects on many instances of Halachic sexual misconduct, revealing how dangerous such misconduct is. The Chitas for this past Shabbos discusses that sexual deviance is equivalent, if not worse than idol worship. That such actions completely removes G-d from one’s soul, to the extent that a gnat is of a holier nature.
I urge you to not only publicly recant your recent statements but to rededicate yourself to assisting victims and condemning predators. To doing everything in your power to bring these monsters to justice. This is true teshuva.

Sincerely,
Benny Forer
[1] Department of Justice statistics reveal that compared to non-sex offenders, released sex offender (i.e., those that have been caught, prosecuted and imprisoned) are 4 times more likely to be rearrested for a sex crime. Those numbers go up exponentially when dealing with unprosecuted sex offenders.
[2] This is obviously unacceptable in the current civilized society that we live in. The point is simply being made to express the theoretical Torah perspective.
[3] Obviously, Yosef did not engage in sexual misconduct, rather he was only accused of such. As a result, God did not seek to punish him by the prescribed Godly punishment. Rather, he was sentenced by a secular court for his actions.
[4] In Kennedy v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court held that the death penalty is a disproportionate punishment for crimes that do not involve the taking of a life. As a result, the only time our system of justice prescribes death as an appropriate punishment is when the crime involved the murder of another. Most states have sought to give enhanced sentences to sexual offenders by enacting a variety of laws that would place them in prison for life or indefinitely.
[5] “Teshuva” is often used to justify allowing a predator to be a part of a community. The fact that a person hasn’t been recently accused does not mean the person hasn’t recently engaged in predatorial actions. Another concept is that of “Pidyon Shivuyin”. The discussion regarding these misplaced concepts is for a different time, but suffice it to say that the misplaced perception of these important Torah laws have resulted in the harm to many children for the sake of a single individual. I would direct you to the mitzvah of eglah arufa for further understanding of rabbinical responsibility.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
This entry was posted in Abuse, Chabad. Bookmark the permalink.