At first, I really didn't bother to look at this item in the "Torah in the News" section on the blog. But then, during my web shiur, one of the students asked me about it, wondering how it found a place on the blog. I explained that the content of the blog's "Torah in the News" section is really 'determined by Google'.He told me that nonetheless I should read it -- it upset the student greatly...and rightfully so.
The article may be found here. I have also re-produced at the bottom of this post.
The basic theme of this article -- it was actually a letter to this paper -- is the argument that pedophiles are protected within the ultra-Orthodox community. This is, of course, a major issue within the Orthodox world -- the question being to what extent the secular, criminal authorities should be involved in the policing of the Orthodox world? My point, though, does not revolve around that issue -- although I cannot see, in matters such as these where individuals, children, are being hurt in their very being, that we cannot do do what is necessary to protect them. (Rav Moshe maintained that while in matters of financial harm, there may be a problem with giving over a fellow Jew to the authorities, there can be no doubt that in matters of physical harm, we are commanded to do so.) There was, however, a specific point in this article that was extremely bothersome in a different way.
The author of this letter attempts to argue that the reason Orthodox Judaism is lenient towards pedophilia is because the Talmud defines, as this author puts it, the "legal age of sexual maturity for girls" at 3. Indeed this is a true statement in that the physical sexual act is deemed to be a bi'ah when a girl is 3 (and a boy is 9) but the context is vastly different than implied in this letter. The gemara is presenting a legal, technical definition. When does the physical act assume the legal definition of a bi'ah with the resulting legal consequences that are connected with this definition? It has nothing to do with, as this letter writer insinuates, an acceptance of such conduct. In fact, that Talmud looked very negatively on relations with minors even if the minor was technically married as would be possible for a female minor through her father accepting the kiddushin for her. As a legal system, Halacha renders legal definitions; the rendering of such legal definitions, though, does not, in any way, voice an opinion on the propriety of such act. Defining a physical sexual act with a three year old as a legal bi'ah does not in any way voice an opinion on the propriety of such an act -- and such a conclusion is an incorrect one. The letter writer is thus wrong for insinuating that this definition of bi'ah implies that Orthodoxy, in any way, gives some type of acceptable status to sexual relations with minors. It does not!
The reality is that this is a problem that occurs numerous times when people outside the world of Torah read passages or sections of the gemara. The fact that the gemara spends time on a specific issue to attempt to define its legal, halachic parameters does not necessarily voice an opinion on the ethical nature of an act. For example, the fact that someone who sealed a person in a room without food and water causing this person to eventually die of dehydration or starvation is not technically guilty of murder deserving the death penalty does not mean that this act is any less horrendous that an act of direct murder. In fact, it may be more horrendous. The Halacha is presenting a legal definition. It is not, through its process of definition, voicing an opinion on propriety. This is something that is so often misunderstood -- or perhaps intentionally misunderstood -- leading to the Talmud sadly being used to challenge the Jewish People
Rabbi Ben Hecht
Baltimore City Paper
Ultra PedophilesAndrea Appleton’s “Silent No More” (Feature, March 9) was a fine treatment of Phil Jacobs’ “several-year quest to expose sexual abuse within Baltimore’s insular Orthodox community,” an effort that resulted in huge repercussions for him personally.
The pedophilia question is a particularly sensitive matter, especially since, as the article indicates, the tendency of the insular (=ultra) Orthodox is to dismiss it or wish to cover it up, even going so far as to invoke Jewish law (Halacha) to chastise Mr. Jacobs for “embarrassing” the Jewish community by exposing it. As though Jewish law trumps American law in Baltimore!
As New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind (who, like Phil Jacobs, is himself Orthodox) observed, “If you’re a pedophile, the best place for you to come to are some of the [ultra-Orthodox] Jewish communities. Why? Because you can be a pedophile and no one’s going to do anything.” (The Jewish Daily Forward, March 13, 2009).
One is prompted to ask : Might there be something in the culture of this community that fosters such outrageous permissiveness? Sadly, there is.
Orthodox Jews strictly follow all the dictates of the Talmud (the non-Orthodox do so critically and selectively). According to the Talmud, “a girl of the age of three years and one day may be betrothed by intercourse.” (Niddah 44b, Yebamoth 57b). For the Talmud, the legal age of sexual maturity for girls is 3 years and one day—and for boys 9 years of age.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) is currently holding hearings in Washington because it is his position that the religion of Islam predisposes its followers to engage in terrorist acts against the United States.
Just as the overwhelming majority of Muslims are not terrorists, so the overwhelming majority of Orthodox Jews are not pedophiles.
But fair is fair. If the American Muslim faith community can be faulted as being “soft on extremism” (per Rep. King), then the ultra-Orthodox contingent (per Assemblyman Hikind) can be accused of being “soft on pedophilia.” Certainly, as Rep. King insists, if there are “too many mosques in this country,” then—if Baltimore is any indication—there are also far too many ultra-Orthodox institutions that are pedophilia-friendly.
Therefore, it seems to me that if a Congressional investigation of Islam is valid, then by the same token, should not, perhaps on the local or state level, a similar probe be launched exploring ultra-Orthodox Judaism’s apparent predisposition toward sexual abuse of children? In the words of Rep. King: “It is our responsibility to put aside political correctness and define who our enemy truly is.”
By all means. Especially for the sake of the children. Of Pikesville.
Or is the trump card quashing any such inquiry going to be that, while the American Muslim community is not politically well connected, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community definitely is—especially in Baltimore.