What The Meaning Of Is Is

When I read the New York Magazine piece exposing the man-on-boy sexual abuse of Rabbi Yehuda Kolko, abuse that spanned decades and implicated Brooklyn’s rabbinic hierarchy in a prolonged coverup, I hoped for change in Orthodoxy. Two weeks later, the Forward broke the story of the Rubashkin family’s abuse of its workers at the world’s largest Glatt Kosher slaughterhouse.

But the reaction to both stories has so far been muted. A spate of commenters has left comments here and elsewhere decrying the “lashon hara” involved in outing these creeps, with some insisting the “lashon hara” is worse than the crimes committed by Kolko or Rubashkin. If anyone thought rabbis – our so-called moral leaders – would react with horror to either story, one would have been wrong. In rabbinic parlance, Rabbi Kolko is innocent until proven guilty, and his accusers, who dared to violate lashon hara and mesira law to out this pedophile, are guilty no matter what. And what self respecting rabbi would let animal cruelty or worker abuse or theft get in the way of a nice glatt kosher steak? The answer to that largely rhetorical question is none would.

Today’s Orthodoxy is bereft of morality. It is merely a collection of microscopic laws viewed narrowly, without context or meaning. Any Judaism that can l’chatchila (with foreknowledge) sanction the kashrut of a rib steak produced through theft, abuse and animal cruelty, or that covers up for child abusers like Rabbis Baruch Lanner and Yehuda Kolko while persecuting their victims, is not a Judaism I can subscribe to. And, I hope, it is not one you can subscribe to either.

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13 Comments

Filed under Chabad Theology, Crime, Haredim, Jewish Leadership, Modern Orthodoxy

13 responses to “What The Meaning Of Is Is

  1. Yochanan Lavie

    “Today’s Orthodoxy is bereft of morality. It is merely a collection of microscopic laws viewed narrowly, without context or meaning.”

    What’s the alternative? The leftwing of MO and the Renewal movements are tainted by Gafni. The Union for Traditional Judaism is attractive, but miniscule. The modern Karaite movement is tiny, and I don’t know if it’s any better than rabbinic Judaism. Conservative Judaism is adrift, and theologically is becoming more like Reform. Reform Judaism is too extreme in its deconstruction of tradition and embrace of liberal politics. (God is neither a Democrat or a Republican).

    This is not a rhetorical question, Shmarya. What can an average schmuck like me do? Maybe I’m weak, but I need something to believe in. I was raised in a secular/reform household and felt it bereft of meaning.

  2. Paul Freedman

    YL: why not organize? I get a sense that there is a group of Jews along the failedmessiah-mentalblog-rebeljew etc. axis who share a core commitment to orthodox halacha with an iconoclastic intellectual temperment–i would think the idea isn’t necessarily to escape human mendacity, incompetence, or hypocriscy–human nature is human nature–but to affiliate in a chevura/fellowship/supra-individual framework to move things along in a positive direction.

  3. Yochanan Lavie

    PF: Great idea! If people from the Failed Messiah community can respond below, we can get some idea of the needs/opinions.

    The possible complications are geographical and ideological. The former is obvious. Some of us want conventional Orthodox halacha, but with consistency and ethics. Others want to see some systemic changes. But rather than being a exclusively a negative forum about the faults of Orthodoxy, perhaps FM can also be a forum for positive change.

    Thank you, PF, for your support.

  4. Nigritude Ultramarine

    To me, it seems the OU is a centrist organization. But the ranks of the kashrus supervisors seem to be populated with chareidishe rabbis — that is where the problem lies, IMHO.

  5. Nigritude Ultramarine

    What can an average schmuck like me do?

    Step 1: Stop buying Rubashkin’s meat — my wife and I just committed ourselves to a boycott of this product.

  6. Paul Freedman

    YL: I am not myself Orthodox–I am just your day-by-day secular Jew but I know something about how things work. (My nephew is an observant Conservadox and I don’t know what he will do given the changes in family law that are coming down the pike.) Institutions form to serve needs: complex institutions are not easily replaced. My suggestion is that people can form new associations that give positive reinforcment to their aspirations without supplanting the old ones that bother them, or destroying them or even boycotting them. It’s like re-arranging a Rubric’s cube to get a new pattern: repositioning former elements to get something more coherent. But yeah, I would guess that such an effort requires “market research” and thinking about how to translate ideals into work-a-day fellowships, institutions, etc. My suggestion would be that the change/evolution/progression/reform has to “brought down to earth”. I would speculate that the “chochma”–the idea, the inspiration–has to, through analysis be implemented. Without reinventing the wheel, so to speak.

  7. Paul Freedman

    YL: b’kitzur–it isn’t really my station to offer advice … but, although the problem may seem “out there”–I think people already have “solutions” at hand because the fulcrum may not be in removing an external impediment but in realizing an existing potential that is “busy being born”.

  8. Neo-Conservaguy

    1. Stop buying most “kosher” meat products until you have personally investigated the treatment of the animals before and during slaughter. Since most of the major “names” either slaughter at Postville or in South America with shackle and hoist, you may find yourself eating far less meat. We’ve found a source for kosher bison that fulfills all of the criteria we set for “ethical kosher meat”; we went without meat for almost a year until we found this source. We also eat Empire, Wise, and David Elliot kosher poultry – all are either free roaming or free range birds.

    2. Seek and support “left-wing” Orthodox/Traditional groups that are firmly rooted in Torah/Avodah/Gemiluth Chasadim yet are willing to push the halachic envelope to include “ethical kashruth”, greater participation of women in the service, etc. There is some very exciting energy in these groups, although they are few and far between for now.

    3. Find a nice right-wing or left-wing (egal) religious Conservative shul and accept that although there will be some halachic liberties that rub you the wrong way, it might be worth it to be a member of a community that is willing to struggle with the halacha without putting blinders over their eyes and ignoring modern scientific knowledge.

    4. If all else fails, kvetch without shame to a sympathetic audience on Failed Messiah.

  9. Yochanan Lavie

    I like your advice, Neo (especially #4). Yashar koach.

  10. Anonymous

    Indeed! Today’s Orthodoxy is bereft of morality. There have always been two categories of a Mumar (an apostate)- 1) Mumar LeTai’Avon (apostate for physical desire) and 2) Mumar LeHachis (apostate to anger HaShem). Today, a third category seems to have emerged- Tzaddik LeHachis (a ‘righteous person’ to anger HaShem). HaShem YeRachaim!

  11. Anonymous

    Anonymous said…
    Rabbi Kolko at the end of the day will iyh be vindicated…
    he has 2 charges against temimah,
    one who wont show his face the other who is in israel…
    both cases are VERY old and more than likely untrue…
    why after 30 yrs are these stories beinf brought up again??
    is it possible that some1 wants to take him down for a different reason?
    mabye they dont even want kolko???
    mabye its margulis? mabye kolko is the way to margo?? mabye they dont care about either? mabye they want $? mabye its some sort of challenge or game for uoj?

    no one knows…
    the rebono shel olam does…

    this case will go through rabonim and courts and i guess we will all know the outcome… but until then we should let those in charge make press releases NOT us..we dont know and are only spreading lashon hara, motzai shaim ra and stuppidity on these pages… as far as any of us know as a fact is that rabbi kolko has been a rebbe for 30 years with thousands and thousands of talmidim. many of his fellow rebbies and past talmidim only have positive to say,

    there is more than meets the eye in this case, being that rabbi kolko served our community for 30+ yrs mabye give him the benifit of the doubt until the story is definitive…
    right now i dont know and u dont know whats up, UOJ and others are posting “ifs” and “mabyes” as fact or as close to fact as possible…mabye every1 before hiding behind the web and posting lashan hara and crap should ask their rav if its ok to post negative stuff?
    Remember the web offers a fake annomity, god knows what we all do.. Wether or not the accused is guilty or not we have no buisness hurting him..no one made us rabonim, no one made us judges.. Rabbi Yidi Kolko is a rav, and until proven otherwise should be treated as such.
    Many people are afraid to write good because they simply dont know..i would bet that 99% of the ppl writing bad on these pages never met rabbi kolko and prob never heard his name b4 UOJ.

    If everyone who really knew rabbi yehuda kolko would speak up and voice how they feel about him the positives would outway the negatives many times over…

    Remember what goes around comes around… if u use the web to hurt some1 it will come back to hurt u.. if u use it to help some1 it will come back to help u..
    u might be in ur bed on a laptop, or at work on ur bosses time reading this right now…but remember god is watching what u do… and speading loshan hara and motzai shaim ra, will come back to haunt you… Regardless of the outcome in this case, the web has so much good to give, but can hurt some1 so much faster… what u post can affect somesones life… remember a person can post as a ghost attacking rabbi kolko today…but tommrw he might be attacking you for something u r completly innocent of…

    GOD IS ALWAYS WATCHING…dont write about some1 else what u wouldnt want done to u….

    June 06, 2006

  12. There is AMPLE evidence that rabbonim covered up for Kolko for a period of almost 30 years. Victims have tried for DECADES to get rabbonim to act. During that time, Kolko seems to have ruined many lives. It’s true we should not jump to conclusions. But this case does not exist in a vacuum. It exists in a world where rabbonim act in disgusting ways and cover up for their friends. Before crying “lashon hara,” remember the little boys your friend Kolko fondled The DOZENS of lives damaged. Then think about what YOUR silence and your disregard of their testiomony does to hurt them.

    God is watching my friend. And who do you think he symapthizes with? The little boys? Or the rabbis?

  13. Anonymous

    It’s time to break away from these nut jobs. One can deal with flawed people but the charedi world is beyond flawed in my view. The whole thing is a sickness. Just try to have a rational conversation with any of them. They are hysterical or bullying, one or the other. The daat Torah thing is a crock. In general, we need to move away from rabbis. The OJ world focuses way too much on rabbis. The Rambam warned what would happen if people took money for Torah. Now we see, the corruption it spawns.

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