Sunday, June 05, 2011

The Carpet

This past weekend, we went out of town for a friend's simcha (which was beautiful, but that's not the point here.) Over the course of Shabbat, we got to meet some of their friends, including a divorced woman who had been in what I'll politely describe as a very abusive marriage.

Now I'm not going to talk about the nasty things her husband did to her. My concern is actually not so much with him, specifically, as with the community: the community leaders who knew, and who not only allowed it to continue, but in at least one situation, actively made the problem worse; the community at large, which turns a blind-eye to it; and to us as individuals, and what we need to work on to prevent this sort of thing from even being conceivable.

At this point, the woman is living nowhere near her ex-husband, but in order to get her Get (Jewish divorce), she was forced to accept an agreement whereby she gave up her Ketuba (Marriage contract - meaning she gave up the money her husband had promised to pay, in the event of a divorce.) Otherwise, he wouldn't agree to give it to her at all, leaving her an Aguna - unable to remarry. She does not have access to most of her children, and her Ex has been poisoning them against her. They call her a whore. They tell her that she doesn't care about them; that all she cares about is money. In short, they mistreat her in some of the same ways her husband did.

But he is still respected; well-regarded in his community. Even though the rabbonim KNOW what he is.

About 17 years ago, there was a woman in the Los Angeles community, who was also beaten and mistreated by her husband. She went to her parents; they sent her back. She went to the rabbis; they sent her back. And then one day, he killed her. He strangled her with his bare hands, rolled her up in a tarp, and stuffed her in the garage. At the funeral, which was attended by thousands of people, rabbi after rabbi got up at the podium and said some version of "Forgive me. I knew, and I did nothing." At the time, I felt sad. But now? Now I feel sick! The 18th century statesman, Edmund Burke, once said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil, is that good men do nothing."

How is it that we allow this sort of thing in our communities? How is it that we allow people to behave this way, and get away with it? What is it that would allow a God-fearing, religious Jew to commit acts like this?! And finally, WHOM DOES HE THINK HE IS FOOLING?!?!

In the book, Vintage Wein, there's a story called Un vos zocht Gott? (What would God say?). In it, he describes how, when Rabbi Wein worked for the OU, the head of the Kashrut division would often be heard to say: Un vos zocht Gott? If there were some issue that had both technical/Halachic and moral implications, this was his guiding principle: What would God say? Yes, something might be technically permissible, but is it really the right thing to do? And if his Jewish Moral Compass wasn't alright with it, he wouldn't do it.

What happened to our Jewish Moral Compasses? Why aren't we outraged when something like this happens in our communities, instead of just hush-hushing it all up, and sweeping it under carpet as quickly as possible? Why don't we destroy this kind of thing? Why aren't there siruvim (Censure decrees, sort of) against people who do it?

Here's the real question: Do we still really believe in God? I'm beginning to wonder whether we do. Maybe, after all this time in Galut (Diaspora), we just... don't anymore. Because if we did, how could we do it?

Think about this for a minute: Regardless of the halachic status of any of this, does this woman's ex-husband really believe that he's going to get away with it? The things he's done; the things he's caused others to do - does he really believe that, come his Judgement Day, he's going to be able to fool God? He's going to say, "Um, well, technically I wasn't violating anything." You know what God's going to say? "How about 'Kedoshim Tihyu?'" (the commandment to "be holy") "How about 'Lifnai Iver Lo Titein Michshol'?" ("Do not put a stumbling-block in front a blind man") Do you think that maybe God will hold him at least partially responsible for a frum girl ceasing to be frum? That maybe He'll hold him responsible for his children's failure to follow the mitzvah of Kibud Av va'Eim ("Honoring your father AND mother")? That maybe he'll be judged for failing to comply with his halachic obligation to pay her Ketuba? And many more. Many (if not all) of these are Bein Adam l'Chaveiro - Between Man and his Fellow - which God doesn't forgive. Only a person can forgive for a sin against him/her. But I'm sure that he's quite confident that, when he stands before God on his ultimate Day of Judgement, he'll be judged as a Tzaddik.

Where does this come from? It comes from Ga'ava - Haughtiness. I guess you'd call it Ego. It comes from a narcissistic sense that "I" am right, and that "you" don't have the right to challenge my inherent rightness. And that, too, denotes a failure to believe in God. There are too many cases, today, of people trying to hold each other hostage with Gittin, and the only reason that's even conceivable as an option is because of a need for Control. When are we going to realize that we aren't in control. Our responsibility is to manage ourselves as best we can. And if a marriage doesn't work out, just move on...

I think we need to start moving back to Emunah P'shuta- Simple Faith. We need to believe in God, and to leave this kind of pathetic pettiness behind us. But hey - that's just me...

1 comment:

Rocky said...

Your article is well put.

It is gaivah and chosen ignorance that is causing these problems.