Another Scandal: Let’s Not Miss the Point this Time Around

Published: 
June 23, 2016

Source: The Times of Israel

 

Another scandal. Another rabbi/educator accused of all kinds of outrageous, inappropriate behavior with female students. This time it is severe enough that rabbis who live across the world, in Israel, New York and Los Angeles, and who span the Modern Orthodox-Chareidi-Chasiddishe spectrum, have come together to sign a letter warning the public to stay away. This time the person involved is thought to have performed hundreds (!) of indecent acts and to have ruined countless lives.

And yet with all the talking, I feel that the real issue is not being spoken about at all. And therefore, despite my deep reluctance to write publicly about any person or place, I want to tell another part of this story.

And so I want to talk about it. I want to talk about teachers who use fear and guilt frequently and indiscriminately in order to motivate and inspire. Teachers who deliberately try to alienate their students from everything they come from — their parents, families, homes, previous schools, communities, shuls, and even shul rabbis. Teachers who break students down so that they can recreate them in their own images. Teachers who cultivate groupies and are dependent on their students for self-esteem. Teachers who lack real relationships with their own peers because they are “so devoted” to their students. Teachers who teach students not to trust themselves, not to rely on their instincts, and not to listen to their inner voices.

Unfortunately, teachers like this are not uncommon, and we don’t talk enough about the damage that they do. About the fact that the rapid growth and change that they foster usually doesn’t last or, if it does, comes at a heavy price. About the fact that their students, years later, often find themselves empty and lost. About the guilty feelings that can stay with a person forever. About the relationships that are ruined in the process. And about the dependence that has been formed.

I hope that in the wake of this scandal, we don’t just talk about one outed, sick educator and then move on as if everything were okay. Let us not get so distracted by the outrageous details that we forget what was so grossly inexcusable about his conduct as a teacher, even had he never touched anyone.

People like this are facilitated by an educational culture that celebrates and rewards brilliant and charismatic figures, despite the fact that they are often highly problematic and leave silent trails of ruin in the shadows of their successes.

As a community, we can be aware of this and do a lot to change it. Our schools, administrators, and lay leaders can think, and think again, about our educational goals and about the healthy ways in which to help our students reach them. And, in the event that there are staff members whose behavior is wholly inconsistent with our conclusions, then it’s time that we put our children’s well-being first.

Let’s talk about that.

Read the entire article at The Times of Israel.

Updated: Jul. 06, 2016
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