Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Glamorization of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

By Vicki Polin
The Examiner - August 30, 2012

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach - Serial Sexual Predator
Over the years it has become apparent that writing an article or talking about Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach in any way that does not paint him as a tzadik (saint), can bring out a great deal of anger from highly respectable people, and it can also become dangerous.

A few weeks ago after the article Only in NY: Broadway Musical About Sexual Predator - Shlomo Carlebach" was published, I’ve received applause, complaints, cyberbullying and a death threat. The article was about a musical that made its way to Broadway that glorifies this well known sex offender.

Considering that followers of Shlomo Carlebach profess to be a peaceful, loving lot, these types of “hate” reactions are the status quo and have come to be expected when anyone writes anything negative about this iconic figure -- who passed away over a decade ago. What makes no sense to me is that there still is no real public outrage that Carlebach’s family and friends are still canonizing one of the most prolific sexual predators in all of history. During his forty year rein of terror Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach left hundreds if not thousands of women who were sexually victimized around the globe. It’s even more shocking is that even after his death rabbonim worldwide are trying to sweep his offenses under the carpet.   

The truth is that Shlomo Carlebach was given a free pass to sexually assault young adult women and teenage girls. The first allegations started popping up around nearly seventy years ago, yet many of his newest followers are blinded by the façade that has been created ever since his death back on October 20, 1994.

Like many other cult like leaders, Shlomo Carlebach knew he had to make himself accessible to the masses, yet still presented his wisdom and knowledge as mysterious and rare; and only available to those who were “really ready for it”. This is basically the same tactics used by other alleged cult leaders such as Marc Gafni, Ephraim Bryks, Mordecai Tendler, and several other “spiritual leaders” in the ultra-orthodox Jewish world.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein banned the music of Shlomo Carlebach
Back in the 1950s, very little if anything was ever written on the topic of sex crimes, let alone clergy sexual abuse. It wasn’t until 1975 that the very first rape crisis center in the United States opened in New York City. Looking back at history it wasn’t until 1984 when there was a clear cut legal definition for sexual abuse or assault. During Carlebach’s early day the only recourse his victims had, was to rely on the rabbis of the time to do what they could to protect other women from being victimized.

Due to numerous complaints about Shlomo Carlebach’s behavior of hugging, kissing and fondling women -- without specifically naming him, a ruling was made banning his music back in 1959 by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who was a highly revered Jewish legal authority, who’s p’sakim (halachic rulings) were accepted worldwide.

Recently during a conversation with “Dr. Neshema Ahava” a highly decorated orthodox psychotherapist and researcher who wishes to remain anonymous wrote:

“While I totally support your efforts to expose sexual predators in the Jewish community, I cannot understand going after someone dead, who cannot defend himself. This strikes me as character assassination.”

After explaining the damage and harm the glamorization of this serial sexual predator has had on the women he victimized, Dr. Ahava wrote:

“Ok you convinced me. I have thought about this and I think the victim's pain outweighs the consideration of accusing the dead. Moreover, apparently many people do think Carlebach is a saint, which is inexplicable, the play about him does not deal with this aspect of his life at all.”

Rabbi Yosef Cornfeld, who is an Israeli social worker wrote:

I agree with you, and sympathize with with the victim's pain. I just think that trying to ban this play or anything else will only bring it more publicity and a bigger box office draw. I think that it would be better to expose the dark side independently of any of his music or teachings.

On some levels I have to agree with Rabbi Cornfeld, yet the truth is that without bringing direct attention to the newest methods of canonising this sexual predator, nothing will be done to stop it. This is exactly what happened several years ago on the 10 year anniversary of Shlomo Carlebach’s death, when a small group of his followers were attempting to name a New York City street after him. With enough public outrage, the group dropped the petition.

In honor of all the women who have been sexually abused, assault and harassed by Shlomo Carlebach; it’s time that we all step up and JUST SAY NO to honoring this sexual predator.


Death Threat from Shloimy Mermelstein - Hasidic Rebel


ד"ר נתן אופיר said...

Dear Viki,

As a ground rule for this discussion, I recommend looking more carefully at the citations. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein did not ban Carlebach's music. His objection was to Shlomo's violating the ultra-Orthodox prohibition against women and men singing together. Furthermore, he actually allowed playing Carlebach music if one does not go to his mixed concerts. Responding on May 30, 1959, R. Feinstein answered Rabbi Shmuel Dishon saying that it is permissible to play Carlebach tunes at weddings because he is not an apikorus (a heretic) or a mumar lete’avon (a transgressor for pleasure); his transgression is merely kalut rosh and peritzut in that he performs before mixed audiences (Iggerot Moshe, Even HaEzer, 96).

Here is the excerpt from the original Hebrew responsa of Rav Moshe Feinstein.
והנה בעובדא זו שהסני שומעניה אינו בעניני כפירה אלא בעניני קלות ראש לנגן בפני בחורים ובתולות יחד שודאי אין להחשיבו כמין ואפיקורס ואף לא כמומר לתיאבון דהא רק לדבר אחד דקלות ראש ופריצות הוא עבריין לתיאבון מסתבר שעל אדם כזה אין למילף שיהיה דין וחיוב שלא להניח שם לו ולמעשיו. ואדרבה הא ברור שהס"ת שיכתוב איש כזה יהיה כשר

To place the issue in context, it should be noted that Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was unyielding in his opposition to coed classes and he was vehemently opposed to mixed singing, only grudgingly permitting fathers to be present at school performances where girls under the age of 11 sang (Even HaEzer 1:26). For an English synopsis see David Derovan, Feinstein, Moses, Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd ed., vol. 6, pp. 741-742.

In sum, R. Feinstein did not ban Shlomo's music, he encouraged him to perform even during the days of mourning before Tisha BeAv in a summer camp of HaShomer Hatzair as R. Feinstein admired the outreach work done. In the early 1970s, Shlomo and his disciples consulted with R. Feinstein on issues such as the height of the mehitza in the House of Love & Prayer in San Francisco.

This is really a side issue. The real question is how to relate to Shlomo today. But by adding a yellow journalism picture when the facts are easily verified, a credibility problem is created and it becomes difficult for the silent majority out there who would like to evaluate your labeling of Shlomo in a calmer and more objective way.

Anonymous said...

The comment above was signed by Dr. Natan Ophir