A Teaneck NJ rabbi appeared in state Superior Court last week for a hearing in advance of his upcoming trial on charges of child endangerment, aggravated sexual contact and criminal sexual assault.
Rabbi Uzi Rivlin, 65, is accused a molesting two 13-year-old Israeli boys in his home in 2009 and 2010. According to Bergen County prosecutors, the victims had been staying in Rivlin’s house during two summers as part of a scholarship fund run by the rabbi. Upon returning to Israel, the alleged victims made the accusations separately to Israeli authorities.
Rivlin maintains his innocence. The court denied his request for dismissal of the charges.
I’m of two minds when it comes to the existence of a mental affliction that some psychiatrists and psychologists, like Marlene Winell and Valerie Tarico, have been banging the drum about. It’s called religious trauma syndrome (RTS).
RTS is a set of symptoms and characteristics that tend to go together and which are related to harmful experiences with religion. They are the result of two things: immersion in a controlling religion and the secondary impact of leaving a religious group.
Then again, it doesn’t seem at all far-fetched that many children who grow up under an authoritarian belief system that threatens them with a horrible snuffing if they engage in bad behavior (“The wages of sin is death,” Romans 6:23) are eventually going to have problems, perhaps many years later. So, notwithstanding my skepticism about the ever-growing thicket of mental disorders, I’m fairly open-minded about RTS.
Winell is well aware of the naysayers’ reservations, and she’s ready with a counter-argument.
Saying that someone is trying to pathologize authoritarian religion is like saying someone pathologized eating disorders by naming them. Before that, they were healthy? No, before that we weren’t noticing. People were suffering, thought they were alone, and blamed themselves. Professionals had no awareness or training. This is the situation of RTS today. Authoritarian religion is already pathological, and leaving a high-control group can be traumatic. People are already suffering. They need to be recognized and helped.
She understands, too, that many people are surprised by the idea of RTS,
because in our culture it is generally assumed that religion is benign or good for you. …
But in reality, religious teachings and practices sometimes cause serious mental health damage. The public is somewhat familiar with sexual and physical abuse in a religious context. … Bible-based religious groups that emphasize patriarchal authority in family structure and use harsh parenting methods can be destructive.
But the problem isn’t just physical and sexual abuse. Emotional and mental treatment in authoritarian religious groups also can be damaging because of 1) toxic teachings like eternal damnation or original sin 2) religious practices or mindset, such as punishment, black-and-white thinking, or sexual guilt, and 3) neglect that prevents a person from having the information or opportunities to develop normally.
To be clear, much as it would please some atheists, neither Winell nor Tarico is saying that belief in God is itself evidence of a mental disorder. They are talking about specific unhealthy family and social environments that are created by strict religious edicts and the unbending, dogmatic enforcement thereof.
Religion causes trauma when it is highly controlling and prevents people from thinking for themselves and trusting their own feelings. Groups that demand obedience and conformity produce fear, not love and growth. With constant judgment of self and others, people become alienated from themselves, each other, and the world.
A former student at Jewish Yeshiva University in Manhattan is still distressed after a rabbinical professor, years ago, challenged some axioms of students’ Jewish faith during a course called Introduction to the Bible.
So upset is Elliot Resnick that he published an impassioned plea in Kol Hamevaser, the student body’s “Jewish Thought Magazine,” this week — a piece that he headlined Shut Down the Bible Department.
He points out that
…the overwhelming majority of Orthodox Jews grow up believing that Moshe [Moses] wrote every word of the Torah as dictated by God.
For some, that belief turns out to be unexpectedly shaky. Resnick, who graduated from Yeshiva College seven years ago, feels deeply wounded that the school’s Bible introduction made him consider, among other things, that today’s Torah is not a copy of an absolute and unassailable “original.” To his horror, he learned that words and sentences and most likely entire sections have been added or deleted over time, as is the case with all Abrahamic so-called Holy Books. (I truly thought that that was common knowledge; I was wrong.)
In addition, complains Resnick,
Hebrew, I learned, is just another ancient Semitic language. It possesses no intrinsic holiness.
Oh, the humanity!
Resnick assures us that he loves truth. Loves it.
If my beliefs are naïve or based on ignorance, I am fully in favor of reconstructing my Judaism on a more solid basis.
Awriiight! Now we’re getting somewhere.
But this is not what my Bible professor did.
He destroyed my core beliefs without replacing it with anything. He tore down my foundation and left me staring at the rubble.
Really? Resnick’s articles of faith perhaps weren’t particularly robust then, were they?
I recently met a fellow student who took the very same Intro to Bible course with me years ago. He, too, left that class dazed, he said. He did not know what to believe anymore. How can a professor do that to a frum [devout] teenager? What is the point of teaching all of this to impressionable nineteen-year-olds?
In other words, “How dare you confront me with new information?”
I’m no teacher, but I’m pretty sure that teaching students anything at all neither presumes nor necessitates the affirmation of their dearly-held biases and beliefs. Quite the opposite: good teachers, in addition to offering facts and knowledge, probably endeavor to open minds and challenge students to consider new points of view. That’s kind of what academia is for. Not to learn by rote; not to learn what to think; but to learn how to think — by adroitly juggling all the available evidence, I should hope.
Still, you know what they say about leading an ass a horse to water. Quoth Resnick:
When I speak to right-wing acquaintances of mine, my main hesitation in recommending YU for their siblings or children is … the Bible Department. I therefore propose that YU either radically reform this department or eliminate it entirely.
As an atheist, I have no dog in this fight — although I’ll note that you won’t soon come across a finer example of why facts are to faith as cats are to dogs.
Resnick’s pusillanimous, provincial philippic attests to that, as do the more than one thousand ‘likes’ his piece has so far received from his frum fellow Yeshivites.
If you have a serious drinking problem, you turn to AA, right? But what if you’re an agnostic or an atheist? Can you still climb those famous Twelve Steps if you don’t believe in God?
Six of the steps have strong religious connotations, to say the least:
2) (We) came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3) Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
5) Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6) Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7) Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8) Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Quite the litany. Turn our will and lives over; admit the nature of our wrongs; remove our shortcomings and defects of character; pray for God’s will for us.
Sounds like a sect to me. A pretty brainwashy sect, at that.
So would you rather ruin your liver or your brain? Some choice.
I should precede the affecting video below by confessing that I’m not a terribly big fan of the grievance junkies who commissioned it — the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. The ADL can try to pass itself off as the enemy of bigotry all it wants, but those of us who pay attention know that the ADL and CAIR (the Council on American-Islamic Relations) are two sides of the same tiresome coin.
New Atheism author Sam Harris once correctly called CAIR “an Islamist public-relations firm posing as a civil-rights lobby,” and much the same can be said for CAIR’s antipode, the Anti-Defamation League. It is the ADL’s mission to cry anti-semitism at every turn, just as it is CAIR’s mission to advance, ad infinitum, the narrative of “Islamophobia.” Victimology is their lifeblood.
So, is the ADL opposed to discrimination, racism, and religious strife? Not always. Sometimes the ADL engages in it. For instance, in 2010 the organization agitated against the building of an Islamic recreation and social center in downtown Manhattan, saying that the center’s adjacent but independent Muslim prayer space would be an intolerable affront to families of the 9/11 victims. The ADL stated that those families were “entitled” to feel “irrational” and “bigoted” toward all Muslims. Hmm.
One more thing. It surely is a bit much for an organization that defends not just cultural but religious Judaism to use John Lennon’s Imagine as its soundtrack. In that signature ballad, the British bard is asking us to think about a world without religion, a sentiment that didn’t make it into the digital edit used for this ADL video. I wonder why.
Other than that, it truly is a sweet and laudable message, based on a lovely idea that tugs at the tear ducts.
Ex-convicts are usually sent to post-imprisonment rehabilitation programs, but in Israel such a person has immediately attained a high position. Yaakov Yitzhak Rata, who was convicted of [child] rape and sentenced to 16 years at the Maasiyahu Prison’s religious wing, was released from jail last week only to become a rebbe – a position he inherited from his father, who died during [the son’s] imprisonment. …
Haredi website Kikar Hashabat reported about “great joy in the Hasidic movement” when “the righteous rabbi, Yaakov Yitzhak Rata, was released from a 16-year imprisonment.”
What gives this story a special flavor, however, is that the people with the clearest sense of how positively dippy Rata’s appointment is turn out to be the assorted criminals who were his prison homies.
Ex-convicts who served with Rata in prison were surprised to learn about the position waiting for him outside. “How can it be that a person who served a prison sentence for sex offenses is now appointed as a rebbe?” one of them wondered. “It’s amazing to discover how cheap this job can be.”
When the sense of propriety of robbers and rapists is head and shoulders above that of pious believers, I’d say the latter have a little re-evaluating to do.
Assemblyman Dr. Steve Katz of New York is a Tea Partier who campaigned on a platform of law and order, gun rights, religious freedom, and sanctity of life. He presents himself as a ramrod-straight model citizen; as such, he naturally has an aversion to the use of illicit drugs — and this brave man isn’t afraid to come right out and say so.
Friends and family members noticed subtle changes in Assemblyman Steve Katz (R-NY) after the devil weed began taking over his life.
Katz is a member of the Assembly’s Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Committee. Last year, he voted against a bill to legalize medical marijuana. In a recent mailer to constituents, he decried “an increase in drug use and drunk driving” by New York’s godless yoot.
You can probably guess what’s next.
The other day, Katz was pulled over for breaking the speed limit (80 miles in an 65-mph zone). The trooper who asked for his license and registration detected a strong odor of marijuana and asked Katz about it; the politician then produced a small bag of marijuana. He was charged with speeding and unlawful possession.
• Rabbi Yehuda Rosilio stole $130,000 worth of Torah scrolls from his own synagogue, and replaced them with cardboard-and-paper replicas.
• The former pastor of an Arkansas church, 42-year-old Hank D. Guilliams, is in jail, accused of multiple counts of sexual assault. Some of the crimes allegedly occurred in the church.
• A pastor in Jamaica invited the police into his church in an effort to quell rumors that his wife had been sleeping around. The service then erupted in “pandemonium,” according to the Jamaica Star.
• Pakistani-born Lord Ahmed, Britain’s first Muslim peer, caused an accident while he was thought to have been driving-and-texting. Although his sentence was postponed so that he could keep “building interfaith bridges,” that didn’t prevent him from going on a radio show and complaining the verdict was the result of a Jewish conspiracy.
• According to Human Rights Watch, there are at least 15 people on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan, and more than 50 people have been killed while facing trial for the charge.
• Indiana pastor Jack Schaap (55, photo) had sex with a 17-year-old girl who had been sent to him for counseling. He told her that Jesus approved of his advances: “Christ wants to marry us + become eternal lovers,” he wrote her in a text message.
• Muslim Mali, a new video game for would-be jihadists, features a button in the corner of the screen that reads: “There is no God but God, and Mohammad is his messenger.” Click on it and it sends a pulverizing black laser beam of death at the French enemy, courtesy of Allah.
• The FBI has apprehended a former Missouri pastor wanted on suspicion of child sexual abuse in New Orleans. George Spencer, 48, was arrested Friday on several charges of forcible sodomy of a child and child molestation.
• Jason Lee Ray, treasurer and youth pastor at a church in Tennessee, admitted to stealing money from the church from more than a year. He is thought to have taken more than $60,000.
• A retired Roman Catholic priest was given an 11-year sentence in a Newfoundland (Canada) court on Thursday for sexually abusing children. George Ansel Smith, 75, was sentenced for offenses involving 13 children he assaulted between 1969 and 1989.
• The deadliest mass killing in Orange County, Calif. history (Seal Beach, 2011, 10 dead) might have been God’s way of protesting the community’s treatment of homeless people, believes pastor Shirley Broussard. City Councilman Michael Levitt offered, however, that God wouldn’t kill a group of people just “because we didn’t pay for housing.”
• More details emerged in the Fairfield, Calif. sex-abuse case involving the Rev. Robert Ruark. Known by parishioners as “Father Silas,” Ruark was charged with more than 30 counts of committing lewd acts on children as young as 13 and, in some instances, photographing them while naked. The victims told detectives that most of the molestations took place either at the church or at his home.
• To prove that he wasn’t hungry for companionship or sex, a 59-year-old priest in Britain who is accused of sexually assaulting a teenage girl announced he had in fact been secretly married for more than a decade. William Finnegan claims he couldn’t have attacked the 17-year-old because, despite his vows of celibacy, he was enjoying a healthy sex life with his wife.
• Robert Lyzenga, a former pastor at Sunrise Christian Reformed Church in Lafayette, Ind., has been charged with five counts of child exploitation and five counts of voyeurism. He had installed small video cameras inside air fresheners in the women’s bathrooms at the church.
Always good to know who the real enemy is: killer “schvartze” (blacks), but most of all, mendacious, sex-starved kids. I’m not entirely certain that that’s in the Torah, but New York Rabbi Hershel Schachter is making it an article of faith anyway.
A top rabbinic dean of Yeshiva University has warned rabbis about the dangers of reporting child sex abuse allegations to the police because it could result in a Jew being jailed with a black inmate, or as he put it, “a schvartze,” who might want to kill him.
Rabbi Hershel Schachter, one of the most respected faculty members of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, also said that children can lie and ruin an innocent man’s life.
Schachter’s warnings appear to be a response to reports about sex abuse at Yeshiva University — some of it involving another rabbi, George Finkelstein, who loved to wrestle. With his penis, apparently.
Yeshiva University has been embroiled in a mounting scandal following a series of reports in the Forward [a Jewish newspaper] since December about abuse allegations against two former staff members at Yeshiva University’s high school for boys in Manhattan.
Several former students have told the Forward that they were sodomized by Rabbi Macy Gordon, a Talmud teacher employed at the school until the mid 1980s. More than a dozen students have complained of inappropriate behavior by Finkelstein who rose to school principal before he resigned in 1995. Finkelstein was notorious for forcing students to wrestle with him in a school office and at his home. Several students told the Forward they could feel his erect penis grinding up against them during the wrestling sessions.