Conflict between Halacha, Secular Law & Chesed
Selwyn Lipman asks for consistency from the South African religious leadership in dealing with rogue Rabbonim.
Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein (PhD in Law) has called on the SA Jewish community not to shelter or support Rabbi Berland, who fled Israel after accusations of sexual assault. Sefardic haredi Rabbi Yitzhak Vaknin issued a call to all South African Jews to aide Berland and his entourage. It was reported that Kosher-for-Passover food has already been transported to Zimbabwe in advance for the Rabbi and his followers.
This moral dilemma is a complex situation that highlights a possible conflict between halacha and secular law, as well as chesed towards a fellow Jew and not harboring a sex offender. Would obeying the one result in transgression of the other? This is a melting pot of ethics, integrity and consistency versus cover up, corruption and uncaring attitude.
Berland wants to be judged by a Beth Din
The overwhelming response of South African Jewry is that Berland should be extradited to Israel to stand trial and prove his “innocence” in a court of law. Berland does not want to appear in an Israeli secular court and wants to be judged by a Beth Din. The challenge of the latter process is the lack of two Shomrei witnesses whom witnessed the “act”, something Berland will, no doubt, exploit to the fullest.
It should be noted that Berland has been controversial for years, and was chastised by some of the Breslov leadership. Eventually, all the pieces of the Shuvu Banim drama of the past few years are coming together. Until now, we thought that it was his son and grandson who were the evil ones surrounding the saintly father (holding their father hostage, extortion, the mafia, fraud, beatings, prostitution, drugs etc.).
Apparently Berland’s wife is not well either and had a nervous breakdown. As it goes, it is usually the family that knows exactly what happens behind closed doors.
South Africa should not become a hiding place for sex offenders under the umbrella of kindness to a fellow Jew. The rate of sexual violence in South Africa is among the highest in the world. We already have to deal with our own array of disreputable rabbis, who are sex offenders, sex addicts, soliciting sex for money or abusing their wives and children.
Practise Judaism, don’t worship other humans
We should take care to practise Judaism and not worship other human beings. Some “achievements” of one of these rabbis you published (MyShtetl and Jewish Report) were grossly exaggerated or even untrue. I would like to caution you against becoming this rabbi’s PR, describing him as “popular” and “world-famous”.
As an investigative journalist, surely you should double check facts and not regurgitate information he feeds you? It is imperative that you keep your objectivity and maintain your credibility to everyone that enjoys the Jewish report.
In February, the local Chevra Kadisha, in collaboration with the office of the Chief Rabbi and Johannesburg Beth Din, launched marriage week and a communal emergency telephone line for abused women and children. The same stakeholders cannot afford to be seen as being callous against someone accused of these crimes. The Johannesburg Beth Din has a tainted track record as a gender-fair organization and dealing with these morally ignoble local rabbis.
Negative events can’t be swept under carpet
Sex offenders are shipped off to England or Israel with some returning a year or two later. Rabbis accused of abusing their spouses are still functioning as marriage officers and counselors.
How often have we criticized other religions for dealing with abuse in a hushed way? One of the advantages of today’s social networks is that these negative events can no longer be swept under the carpet.
The Jewish Community is already asking of our learned leaders, if you deal so harshly with Berland, why not keeping your own back door clean? Consistency in your approach towards poorly behaved rabbis should be clear. Our dayanim should utilize halacha to protect the vulnerable amongst our community in a transparent and consistent manner.