Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Being A Rabbi (And Role Model)

I've been struggling to make sense of the Rabbi Freundel affair and thus far, have been failing. The way I process is to attempt to make meaning when I am confronted by something difficult and foreign to me. I have been speaking to several people I respect in an attempt to make meaning from this situation, and the following are assorted thoughts I've come up with on the way.

The main difficulty I have with Rabbi Freundel's behavior is that it was meticulous and planned out. I absolutely understand the desire to behave in ways which might be considered deviant, especially when it comes to sexual pleasure. I even understand that such desires or acting on such desires might be considered falling prey to an addiction. But in my mind, I envision  (perhaps due to romanticizing?) a struggle with addiction. I imagine a mighty struggle where someone might give in one day but would attempt to shackle themselves in order to attempt to refrain the next day, much as Ulysses ensured that he was tied to the mast with ropes so that he would not be ensnared by the siren song of the Lorelei. I understand someone who is struggling but failing. I don't understand someone who does not struggle at all. To me, for someone to meticulously procure multiple instruments that clandestinely record others, then position them, record individuals, gather data and then store the data (again, labeled and recorded and filed away in an organized system) does not bespeak a struggle. Then again, perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps the fact that the man erred 152 times actually means he wanted to err 600 times. But this is my point of conflict. I do not see the struggle, and because I do not see it, I find it difficult to respect the man.

If you struggle and fall, I respect you. If you do not struggle, I don't understand you. I cannot imagine any individual who could simply accept in themselves an ability to hurt other people - unless they truly lack empathy, such as the clinical sociopath. The stories people tell about Rabbi Freundel do not suggest this; hence, I am stuck.

The only takeaway that I can find thus far has to do with the role of rabbi.

Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff records the following in his book The Rav: The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Volume I, page 193:
5.07 The Role of the Rabbi 
Related by the Rav in his lecture entitled "Rashi on Aseret HaDibrot" at the RCA Annual Convention, June 30, 1970.  
Reb Meir Berlin [1880-1949; a relative of the Rav] once told me that he asked his grandfather Rabbi Yehiel Michal Epstein [1829-1908], the author of the Arukh ha-Shulkhan, what was the role of the rabbi. He answered, to decide questions of Jewish law [posek shealot]. Reb Meir Berlin asked the same question of my grandfather Reb Chaim. He said that for guidance in Jewish law, one may go to a dayyan [rabbinical judge]. However, the main role of the rabbi is to help the needy, protect the persecuted, defend the widows, and sustain orphans. In a word, it is acts of loving-kindness [gemilat hasadim]. 
The truth is that the acts of Reb Chaim in these areas were fantastic. Stories abound about the illegitimate children whom he adopted, provided for, and sent to heder. You all know how he helped the Bundist revolutionary on Yom Kippur. He saved his life. 
This was the most important attribute inscribed on his tombstone, namely, that he was a master of loving-kindness, a rav ha-hesed. 
Rabbi Freundel took disenfranchised individuals (converts) and betrayed their trust. He is thus the antithesis of a rabbi. We must look for rabbis who reach out in love towards every Jew; they are the ones who deserve the title. Individuals who are extremely erudite should be considered scholars- or perhaps a dayan- but not a rabbi.

This comes to mind during this Shavuot season as Boaz is the example of someone who did not take advantage of a woman who literally threw herself at him. She came and lay at his feet in a very sexually suggestive manner. He treats her properly and formally redeems her- even offering the closer redeemer the opportunity to marry her. He views her, not as an object or as his property or even as someone sexually exciting whose advances he ought to accept, but as a person. Yael Ziegler writes in her book Ruth about how Boaz acts in total contrast to other individuals during the time of the shoftim (judges) who do treat individuals as property (Yiftach, Pilegesh B'Givah, the way Binyamin subsequently finds wives for themselves). He is heroic precisely because of how he defies the trend.

To be a rabbi means to love fellow Jews. It means to feel for them when the halakha forces you to do things which the congregant finds difficult (the way Rabbi Soloveitchik was torn up about the kohen who couldn't marry the convert). It means to care. And if you care the way you should, you cannot deliberately harm.

One of the most ironic things which is said about Yirmiyahu appears in 38:4-
כִּי הָאִישׁ הַזֶּה, אֵינֶנּוּ דֹרֵשׁ לְשָׁלוֹם לָעָם הַזֶּה--כִּי אִם-לְרָעָה.

The man is expending his every breath to attempt to save his brethren from hunger, death and fire, but they are sure that he only wants evil for them. I can't even imagine how frustrated Yirmiyahu must have felt, how misunderstood.

That is an example of someone who is believed to be harming others when he truly wants their good. It eats him up inside.

But here we have a man who harmed others while giving the impression that he wanted good for them. And I just don't understand how he was able to rationalize it to himself. I don't understand what seems to be the lack of struggle. I wish he would speak publicly about his struggle- if there was one. At least then those of us who want to believe that humanity is innately good- flawed, sometimes terribly flawed- but good, would have a case to make.

But right now I can't even make the case.