Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Da'as Torah


You have brought a lot of questions and discomfort to my mind over the last few weeks. Frankly, probably similar to your family, I wish you didn't exist and that I had never heard of you. But I have and I haven't been given a psak to ignore you, so therefore I can't. 

So here I find myself sitting down to write you this email, despite many reservations. That having been said, I have a question that has been weighing on mind, and I am very interested in hearing what you have to say  on the matter. Feel free not to respond, but I will take your silence as agreement with my dilemma.

So here goes. I've been following your blog for some time now and you appear to be a solid, well rounded person who has experienced a very painful and traumatic childhood. Your expression on your blog appears to be in good faith and your words ring true. My heart and my mind believe in you and can not imagine the extent of your pain.

However, what am I to think/do? All of the Rabbonim in Baltimore are supporting your father and send their children to TI. When my husband and I did research and spoke to some local Rabbonim regarding this issue, everyone was on the same page. So what exactly do your recommend? What would you do in my shoes? Believe the words of an "estranged" daughter who da'as Torah has said to ignore, or follow the words of our Rabbonim? In my own opinion your words may sound real, but how am I to choose you over daas Torah? I'm not a fan of blind faith, but the essence of my Judaism is hinged on mesorah and following the words of our gedolim. Without a firm belief in psak and the rulings of daas Torah, we'd be even more lost than we are today! Every single Rav I spoke to, both in Baltimore and out, agreed that your words should not get in the way of sending my son to TI. I even went so far as to ask some very detailed and specific questions regarding the safety of my child, and the answers I received were reassuring. 

So please tell me, my dear Genendy, what would you do in my situation? Do I listen to the guidance I was given,   or Ignore all of daas Torah, and listen to the words of some random stranger's blog who says that TI is not a safe place to be??

Please do not take my words as a challenge to you or as a question to your honesty and integrity. I told you, that's not the question at hand. But without daas Torah, we're lost. I think everyone would agree to that. 

Do you?

Dear Baltimore Parent,

Thank you for sharing your excellent question with me.  It is a sign of your honesty and integrity that you are willing to sit with this 'cognitive dissonance', and allow yourself to feel the conflict of your situation.  I suspect that some of the rabbonim who you spoke to in Baltimore are not able to do what you are doing.  I have to disagree, though, with your assessment that I am "some random stranger."  I am not a random stranger.  I am talking about my very own father who I love, and who you are trusting with your most precious children.  People will believe whatever they want to, but I assure you that if I did not have a serious concern for your children's safety, I would not be doing what I'm doing to my father and my family.  I have heard personally from two former students of my father that they were also abused by him.  I have heard of others but not first hand.  My heart is breaking as I write this.  Hashem gave me a very difficult task in this world that I too would rather not have.  

Your gut tells you to protect your child at all costs, and your rabbonim, your "da'as Torah," tell you otherwise.  What to do?

Consider this:   If there was an anonymous bomb threat at T.I. today, would you send your child to school even if the rabbonim told you not to take the threat seriously?  Or, would you wait for the bomb experts to go in there and declare the school safe?  Unfortunately, many rabbomin who are giving an opinion about the safety of  accused child molesters in the community, including my father, are not experts in the area of child sexual abuse.  As a responsible parent I would consult with the experts.  As a responsible rav I would advise the school to consult with experts,  and not give an opinion on safety in a situation where I have absolutely no training.

 If I was in your situation I would do one of three things.  If I liked the school as an institution I would get together with like minded parents and insist that my father be evaluated by objective professionals who are TRAINED to evaluate potential child molesters.  Or, I would get together a group of parents and insist that my father not continue to work in the school because of the potential safety issue.  Or, I would send my child to T.A. which is full of erlich frum Jews like you, who won't send their precious children to a school where there is an unresolved "bomb threat."  

My own personal view of what da'as Torah is, and how it applies in this, and any situation has changed dramatically from my family's, and is actually shared by many frum Torah Jews including those who many consider our real "Gedolim".  
In Perkai Avos it is written, "Asai Lecha Rav"  "Make" for yourself a rav.  As a community we MAKE our leaders.  We CHOOSE  them.  We GIVE them the power to decide about things that are important to us.

  If we choose leaders for ourselves that can not lead us properly than we WILL be misled, and it is OUR responsibility because we GAVE them this power.   Some in the frum community allow others to choose their rav for them, or they choose a rav who is incompetent to advise them, and then if someone is hurt, be it another person, or even themselves or their child, they deny all responsibility by quoting, "da'as Torah."   

This attitude is taking the concept of da'as Torah in a very unhealthy and corrupt direction. It is using da'as Torah to avoid responsibility for our choices and our decisions.   

Hashem gave us bechira, free will, which is a huge responsibility.  Hashem wants us to use our minds to think and to question and to make good choices.  Hashem does not want us to give up our bechira, that He created us with, in the name of da'as Torah.  (Nor does Hashem want us to teach our children to give up their bechirah by blindly following a rav who makes no rational sense.)  If a rav gives you the message that you can not question him, then this particular rav is interested in power and control, and not in Torah or truth.  

"Asai Lecha Rav."  Choose for yourself a real Rav.

When we give up our free will and our responsibility by shrugging and saying,  Oh well, what do I know, "Da'as Torah, emunas chachamim!" then WE become responsible for the pain and the damage that our leaders cause to ourselves and our children.   

I have heard of so many parents whose children were abused and they did nothing because "da'as Torah"  told them to ignore it.  The sad reality is that Our community has a very sorry track record when it comes to our leaders protecting our children from child sexual abuse.  

 Take a look at the blog, http://www.adkanenough.com/,  for way too many specific examples of trusted rabbonim who have supported and protected perpetrators (some are actually perpetrators themselves)  for decades in our community, allowing so many destroyed children and families.   On this website, A young man from your community, Eliyahu Goode, is listed as a victim of child sex abuse.  How he really died is unclear, but I can't help wondering, Was he a student at T.I.?  When a child is abused, and then dies as a result of the abuse, I would consider it a homicide.  Is anyone in Baltimore asking serious questions about who hurt him? Is Eliyahu's perpetrator still around?  I can't help thinking that he could have been me.  My family would have been so relieved If I would have succeeded in my suicide attempt so many years ago.  If Hashem did not want me to be alive today I could have easily self destructed.
When da'as Torah goes AGAINST the Torah it is neither da'as nor Torah, but Avodah Zarah!  We no longer have a yetzer hara to sacrifice our children to "molech."  Today we sacrifice our children to "da'as Torah."

 Why not consult with a rav who actually knows something about this topic:  Rabbi Ron Yitschak Eisenman for example, Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, for example, Rabbi/ Dr. Bentzion Serotzkin, for example.  Rav Yosef Blau, R' Moshe Soloveichic (Chicago).  How about R' Ilan Feldman who is himself from Ner Yisrael.  Ask them if they would send their child to T.I.  Ask them who their "gadol" is?  Who do they turn to to ask their shailos?

Consider the words of the Rambam's son:
  Rav Avraham ben Harambam in about 1200, in Meavo ha-Aggadot, chapter 2: 

One who wishes to uphold a known view and to elevate the one who said it, and to accept his view without analysis and evaluation whether this view is true or not- this is a bad trait.  It is forbidden according to the Torah and according to logic.  It is illogical for it indicates inadequate comprehension of what needs to be believed; and
 it is forbidden according to the Torah for it strays from the path of truth... The Sages do not accept or reject views except on the basis of their truth and proofs, not because the one who says them is who he

Consider Tamar who was raped by her brother Amnon.  Tamar is my role model in Tanach.  She did not go quietly to the rav to ask what to do.  Tamar knew what happened to her, and she knew that if such a thing could happen in the house of Dovid Hamelech then it was happening everywhere and we as a nation were in BIG TROUBLE. Something had to change.  I too know what happened to me.   I believe that if such a thing could happen in my family it is happening everywhere, (those of us who do not live with our heads in the sand know that this problem is HUGE)  It could happen in your family too!  We are in serious trouble.  Something has to change.

  Tamar screamed and cried until the rabbonim heard her and enacted the laws of yichud in response.   As mothers who love our children we MUST scream and cry until we are heard and responded to appropriately by our rabbonim.

I am very interested in hearing from others about this important hashkafic topic.  Those of you who tried to post comments in the past with personal attacks, name calling, disrespect, and the like, please be reminded that I will not post such comments on my blog.


  1. So true, Genendy. Excellent post. To the Baltimore parent - NOT all the Rabbonim in Baltimore support Eliezer Eisgrau(EE). There are those who have told the TI executive staff not to allow EE to put their child on his lap, due to the allegations and wouldn't send their kids or grand-children there. There are other Rabbonim in Baltimore that will give you the truth, if you speak to them in confidence. You just need to seek them out. They are not the ones with their names in highlights and controlling positions in the community.

    1. I hope you realize that by saying what you said above:

      "There are other Rabbonim in Baltimore that will give
      you the truth, if you speak to them in confidence."

      you condemned the entire rabbinate of Baltimore to being cowards and liars.

    2. That is not the correct way to interpret the English language. There is no reference to the entire rabbinate (other Rabbonim).

    3. And if you want to understand the phenomenon then read this - http://haemtza.blogspot.com/2013/08/time-to-come-out-of-closet.html

  2. And why don't you go to the experts at the Shofar Coalition - http://chanabaltimore.org/page.aspx?id=224665

    1. I would actually warn against CHANA - they sit on allegations and cover up too. Baltimore is the mafia.

  3. One more point, to the author of the letter: You are wondering if you should trust the rabbanim or me. Demanding trust is the rabbis' game, not mine. I am not competing with the rabbis for credibility or asking anyone to trust me- I am asking you to trust YOUR OWN INTUITION AS A PARENT.

  4. Genendy, your answer was great and to the point. Thank you for taking a stand. I pray that you succeed in making a dent in the bedlam that defines too many lives.
    May Hashem bless you with hatzlacha!
    Sara Chava

  5. The LW wrote:

    "That having been said, I have a question that has been weighing on mind, and I am very interested in hearing what you have to say on the matter. Feel free not to respond, but I will take your silence as agreement with my dilemma."

    That's rather coercive. It means you are not really "free" not to respond, since your non-response will be assigned a specific meaning, which it may not have.

  6. B’h

    Beautiful response! GOOD FOR YOU!

  7. You show much strength and clarity in your answer- kol hakavod.
    I hope ALL Baltimore parents will read this

  8. I am writing from Israel. I think that Genendy makes an excellent point. We MUST follow Daas Torah, but for what? Most of the leaders in the community are competent for our questions in kashrut, shabbas, mikvah and general questions of hashgafa. But there is a big difference between our scholarly community rabbis and our Gedolim. I don't know if anyone in the Baltimore community would be consider a Gadol like Rav Chaim, Shlita, Rav Auerbach, Shlita etc. There is no Rav Elyashiv, Zt'l in Baltimore (unless there is a Lamed Vavnik hiding somewhere). I may listen blindly to Rav Chaim's advice on a personal issue (which he doesn't provide so easily) but my community Rabbi, Rav Leff, Shlita only expects me to follow his kashrut advice blindly, advice on my personal life is not ever given in such a way that I feel compelled to do and then understand.

    As Genendy said many of these rabbaim are not trained in areas in which we ask them questions. They can give general advice, but its not "daas Torah" for us to follow. If you suspected your drinking had gotten out of hand and maybe you are an alcoholic, would you go to a Rav Hopfer and ask him to diagnosis your issue? Would you ask him for a recovery program or even guidance on how to recover? No. I don't think any one of us would. Yet for many years people did.

    And speaking of addiction, now with internet and porn addictions rising, our rabbaim are not trained to advice people how to succeed against these plagues. And they seem to realize it. They refer these people to the professionals. I don't understand why the issue of child abuse is handled so differently.

    This is the point that truly bothers me. Why do Rabbaim think that they can evaluate who is an abuser? They wouldn't diagnosis someone who has bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, narcisstic personality disorder or any other mental health issue. People who abuse children have a mental health issue. There is some personality disorder that causes them to deviate so greatly from social norms and often their own moral beliefs.

    As Genendy said, the parents should insist on an evaluation from an independent mental health professional. Let them settle the matter, not well meaning colleagues with no expertise in these areas.

    I wish community leaders would stop believing that they have the skills to assess who is credible or not. Too many women and children are abused by men who have a perfect public persona. Rabbis, send these men to the professionals for evaluations, don't believe there smooth stories.

  9. Why do Rabbaim think that they can evaluate who is an abuser? They wouldn't diagnosis someone who has bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, narcisstic personality disorder or any other mental health issue. People who abuse children have a mental health issue. There is some personality disorder that causes them to deviate so greatly from social norms and often their own moral beliefs.

    This is all wishful thinking. If you imagine that mental health professionals have some magical ability to ferret out abusers, you are sadly deluded. You are also naive if you believe that professionals do not have biases of their own that will sometimes lead them to shelter and make excuses for abusers. I have seen it happen in more than one case. The issue here is that rabbanim need to be educated to take abuse much more seriously than they do today. If there are serious allegations against a person, they should not stand in the way of a proper investigation. The question of what constitutes serious allegations, however, is an open one. Frivolous accusers abound. We need to be careful, or we'll end up with a series of witch hunts on our hands.

  10. Many thanks for blogging.

    Ha-Rav Aharon Lichtenstein spoke about 1.5 yr. ago about "da'at Tora", and made quite a few of the points you made.
    Heb. orig. (PDF) אם דעת אין, מנהיגות מנין?
    Unauth. Eng. trans. (PDF) If There Is No “Da’at,” How Can We Have Leadership?

    1. Thank you so much for this!! It is beautiful. I wish everyone in my entire extended family would read it. THIS is Torah.

    2. Mrs. Eisgrau, I am happy you liked it. (As it happens, I have no connection with Ha-Rav Lichtenstein other than admiration from afar.) After seeing your small exchange with Mrs. Dermer below, I thought a little more about your words about Tamar. I remembered another sicha of Ha-Rav Lichtenstein's that has much to say, in my opinion, about many of our communities and rabanim, and responding to signs that the system is failing in a basic way. The subject of the sicha is not child abuse - and since it is political I hope it will not offend you - but I think the analysis in the sicha, as well as its tone, apply here.


    3. I read it. It's very profound. It's about taking responsibility as a community. When something basic fails We are all responsible. Even the people who say, "I don't have a child in T.I. so this doesn't concern me."
      Where is R' Lichtenstein the Rosh Yeshiva?
      Thank you for sharing this.

    4. Ha-Rav Lichtenstein is at Yeshivat Har Etzion. If I remember correctly it is in Alon Shvut.

      Also, I realized that my thoughts were incomplete when I posted my last comment. I think I thought of this sicha because Ha-Rav Lichtenstein's reaction was very Tamar-like, very much like your understanding of her.

  11. Hi Genendy -

    Reaching out to you because I recently stumbled upon your blog. I am also a survivor of incest in the frum world. Your post with your poems are so powerful and I can relate to so much of what you write. I read through your whole blog from the start over the weekend.

    You/your blog give me so much hope that I can heal and one day have a family of my own. I am really inspired by how healthy & balanced u seem.

    Thank you for sharing so much with the world and exposing yourself to the hatred and potential backlash. Thank you for putting a face to the stories of incest and abuse. Thank you for standing up and fighting the fight publicly. Thank you for pushing to have your father removed as a teacher/principal. I truly hope the parents of the school open up their eyes and DEMAND change as we know that's the only way change and progress will happen.

  12. How is it possible to have the highest form of person a Navi as says in the torah and for the Navi to be a Navi Sheker? Because even though he is on the level to communicate with God his interpretation of the communique can be false. If daas torah was infallible then there would be no Gemara which is full of contradictions and arguments. The very ideal of questioning instead of following blindly is the quintessential Jewish trait which has been lost in our generation. It is socialism of the mind.

  13. Dear Kishke,
    I will give $1000 to any tzedaka of your choice if you can bring a case of a proven false accuser in the frum world.
    It is well known and documented that, other than divorce cases, the percentage of false accusations are infinitely small.

    1. A proven false accuser? And how is the falsehood to be proved? Surely you know one cannot prove a negative. There most certainly are and have been false accusers in the secular world, most notably those who testified against Gerald Amirault, who languished in prison 18 years on what were almost certainly false charges. Read Dorothy Rabinowitz's book and be enlightened. There's no reason it cannot happen in the frum world as well.

    2. Yes. Very possible. That's what Eidim Zomimim is all about. No one said that it hasn't ever or will never happen. The point is that it's hardly ever happened between two people who have no prior conflicting relationship. The accusers need to be taken seriously and accusations investigated fully so that the continual cover-ups stop(not like Baltimore history), perpetrators are stopped, victims are healed, and victims are not increased.

    3. Just this Shabbos, a rav active in these matters told me of two cases in which people were accused falsely of molesting children. One was a rebbi, and the accuser, who had been molested herself in her youth, said that he walks like a molester and talks like one. Later she claimed that her son saw him put his hand in another kid's pocket. The school investigated the rebbi and found nothing. She then withdrew her accusation and asked that her son be put in the rebbi's class. A while later she renewed the accusations. As you can imagine, this was not exactly a picnic for the rebbi and his family. I know the town where this took place; the rav who told me about it met with the rebbi and his wife himself. He then told me about another similar case, again involving a woman who had nebach been molested as a child, who accused numerous people with whom she came into contact of sexual molestation. So don't tell me it doesn't happen.

    4. "The school investigated the rebbi and found nothing" THE SCHOOL HAS NO POWER OR AUTHORITY TO INVESTIGATE THESE ACCUSATIONS. They "found nothing?!" Of course they found nothing!! The second example about the "woman who had nebach been molested as a child, who accused numerous people with whom she came into contact of sexual molestation" is exactly how my family describes me. The fact is that every allegation must be taken seriously, investigated by professionals, who are NOT previously involved in any way with the family of the accused perp or victim, and traced back to the source.

    5. "The rav who told me about it met with the rebbi and his wife himself"


      "She then withdrew her accusation"

      This is common given the pressure and blame that those who find the courage to accuse someone in a position of power in our community encounter.

      These don't sound to me like "proven" false accusations. These sound suspiciously like more of the same old cover ups to me. This rav in these stories could easily be Rabbi Hopfer, Heinemann, or Berkowitz, talking about me.

    6. "This is common given the pressure and blame"

      There was no pressure and blame. To the contrary, they took her accusations seriously. And if she's only responding to pressure, why would she then request that her son be placed in the rebbi's class?

      " The second example about the "woman who had nebach been molested as a child, who accused numerous people with whom she came into contact of sexual molestation" is exactly how my family describes me."

      And since the description does not fit you, it does not fit anyone? That is what this woman actually does.

      " The fact is that every allegation must be taken seriously, investigated by professionals,"

      An accusation based on the fact that someone "walks and talks like a molester" (whatever that means), in my opinion, does not warrant calling in professionals. This is exactly what I mean about witch hunts. Any wild statement becomes gospel truth.

  14. I am in awe right now. The courage and eloquence you imbue your post with inspires me. My name is Tamar. Yes, that's my given name. I always thought that I was cursed, that by having myself named Tamar, it was as if I was fated to be raped, incested, however one wants to call it. At some point, I decided to detach from my biblical story and stick with the actual tree, the tamar, the Palm tree. The Palm tree is tall and doesn't look very strong. But when the storms hit, the palm tree bends back and forth. It's trunk and branches are whipped around. But the palm tree can take even the fiercest storms and still be standing tall when they are over. I feel that I have been subjected to some serious storms in the form of early childhood sexual abuse. Yet I'm still here. I'm still standing.

    Until today, I had never heard of a positive spin on the story of Tamar. You have given me a new understanding that I feel can apply to me. Thank you for that. I also thank you for being open and honest even in the face of severe storms.

  15. Tamar,
    Tamar is the name I would give to my daughter...If I ever have another one:) Tamar is the epitome of the potential strength and courage of a Jewish women. She stood up to the entire infrastructure of her time. She changed Halacha! She understood that what her brother did to her was not her shame and she did not keep it a secret to protect herself and her family. (But what about shiduchim??!) I feel like Hashem put Tamar in the Torah as a personal example for me. Your name is as holy as your beautiful soul.

  16. Dear Genendy,

    I feel your pain and applaud your courage. Please refrain from sending anyone to Rabbi Feldman or anyone in the administration of Ner Yisroel since they have been harboring and protecting their own molester, Moshe Eisemann, for decades. They are as guilty as TI and have blood on their hands as does TI as does anyone who protects and defends murderers of innocent neshomas.

    Is Daas Torah the gedolim in Eretz Yisroel who are not distracted by the almighty dollar and do NOT run our religion like a business? Does every community have their own Daas Torah and when it comes to such serious issues we are supposed to be blind and deaf and not listen to what Gedolei Yisroel say? Was Rav Eliyashuv's z"tl psak not good enough for us Americans? Because the Rav zt'l did not look at the business end or the "kovud" end of the situation? There is no place in the Torah that states that one should NOT deal with a RODEF the same way because he is a choshuv member of the community or it will cost the Yeshiva he works in great sums of money if they don't protect him. The Rav's psak was pure and direct, a RODEF must be turned over to the authorities to protect any victims and future victims from harm.

    The children of our heilige Daas Torah are safe. They are willing to "RISK" the welfare of other peoples children to uphold the "honor", the "parnasa" , the respect of the molester's wife and the finances of the yeshiva. ALL of this adds up to the destruction of our children and it has for decades. Nothing has changed on the part of Daas Torah. The only change is that individual Rabbonim have moved away from this club and have listened to the psak of Gedolei Yisroel. These Rabbonim have educated themselves on the topic and have met with victims and advocates. They have heard the truth from the heart and soul of those who are affected the most.

    When a person is sitting shiva the most important thing another person can do is just sit with them and listen. By listening and crying with them, it removes some of their pain and burden. Do our Daas Torah bother to sit with our victims, listen to them, cry with them and remove some of their pain and burden? NO. They protect their own pure neshomas from the horrific facts of the abominable acts that were forced upon these victims. Do our Heilige Daas Torah want to hear that a child was raped by her own father or even just kissed inappropriately.

    I am NOT in any way saying this to bash Daas Torah. For any and all other sheilos they listen intently to every aspect of the situation. This is NOT the case with this issue and if you refuse to listen to the issue intently you can't possibly come to the proper decision or conclusion. The only reason they are involved in this issue is to keep it quiet and protect the molesters. If you want to ask a sheila about this issue you must find a Rav who has educated himself on this unfortunate topic and is well versed in both halacha and psychology. One needs to know the long term and short term effects on the victims to truly understand the damage this betrayal has on its victims because not only is it a forced sexual encounter, it is a betrayal of love and trust of an authority figure but most importantly a role model and representative of our religion. The risks can not be taken lightly. Your child's mental health is at risk, your child's future sexual health is at risk, your child's faith and emunah is at risk, and your child's emotional well being is at risk.

    If you knew there was a murderer working in the school would you send your kids there? If you knew there was someone there that had a mental disorder would you send your children there? Well Genendal you reported that your father has a mental disorder, he is a pedophile, and he is a murderer of yiddishe neshomas. What more do they need to know?

    1. Thank you for your input.
      When you say, please don't send anyone to Rabbi Feldman, are you referring to the Rosh Yeshiva, or to R' Ilan Feldman who I mentioned in my post?
      Moshe Eisemann is my grandfather (the late Rosh Yeshiva's) first cousin. This problem tends to run in families.

  17. Why do you believe everything you read on the internet? That ad kan website is BS and the author didn't know the people he was talking about. Simply an idiot trying to make up things about people they know nothing of.
    Internet haters of Orthodox Jews use every possible tragedy to somehow attack the Rabbis. Disgusting creeps.