The Other Kind of Clergy Abuse: When Congregations or Individual Congregants with Social Pathologies Abuse Their Clergy
During my fifteen years in the practicing rabbinate and ten years as a practicing attorney, I have encountered – both first-hand and, as a result of my open discussion of those experiences, through the parallel and often horrifying experiences that many colleagues and even clients have shared with me – a whispered subject that shames American Jewish life: Clergy Abuse. In its Jewish dimension, I use the term “Clergy Abuse” to describe the shameful, disgraceful, and painful efforts by certain laity to destroy their clergy: their rabbis, their cantors, and others among their klei kodesh.
These abusive and destructive efforts are advanced through many forms and vehicles, primarily including disseminating libel and slander, character assassination, and building of alliances through social groupings, carpools, and even the weekly coffee klatch, bowling match, or poker game. Thus, if one is a strong enough personality and imposes enough intensity on his or her social grouping, a dominating environment can influence others in the social subgroup to join along, if only for the social equanimity of the group and its dynamics. Soon, people with children the same age and attending the same school, or simply carpooling together, join the dynamic.
The phenomenon of Clergy Abuse, as directed against rabbis, is discussed with refreshing honesty and pinpoint accuracy in Chapter 22 of Rabbi Berel Wein’s latest volume, Tending the Vineyard (N.Y.: Shaar Press, 2007). Nor is this tragic and disgusting phenomenon unique to Jews. See, e.g., G. Lloyd Rediger, Clergy Killers: Guidance for Pastors and Congregations Under Attack (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997); Kenneth C. Haugk, Antagonists in the Church: How to Identify and Deal with Destructive Conflict (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988).
In literature, the stage, and screen, one is reminded of the tragic figures of Sir Thomas More (“A Man for All Seasons”) and St. Thomas Beckett, notwithstanding certain historical inaccuracies in the respective representations. Even outside theology, the phenomenon parallels social tragedies reflected by the dynamics so well captured in Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People,” in which Dr. Thomas Stockmann finds himself targeted for destruction.
Through the many stories I have heard from colleagues – ranging from Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative rabbis to Orthodox rabbonim – I have come to wonder whether our American Jewish secular organizations were similarly plagued by destructive internal politics of this nature during the Holocaust years. My research reflects that, indeed, the internal politics of destruction existed in the 1940s and deterred American Jewish organizations from effecting rescue at maximum force and full throttle – at a time when 12,000 Jews went to the ovens in East Europe every day.
To this day, every time I meet a rav who now is a
full-time stock broker, a full-time realtor, an entrepreneur with a
storefront business or an export-import firm (not to mention a lawyer,
an accountant, or even a therapist) -- and I then ask why the rav left
the rabbinate --the answer always is the same. He did not leave to make
more money, although he has found he makes more money. He did not lose
interest in his desire to serve G-d.
Rather, in case after case, I have learned that he is but one more Jew recovering from Clergy Abuse.
These pages invite the stories of my colleagues who have been wronged and abused. Please communicate in confidence by contacting me.
* Clergy Abuse at The Gates of Perdition: An Amalgam - Part 2 of 7
* Clergy Abuse at The Gates of Perdition: An Amalgam - Part 3 of 7
* Clergy Abuse at The Gates of Perdition: An Amalgam - Part 4 of 7
* Clergy Abuse at The Gates of Perdition: An Amalgam - Part 5 of 7
* Clergy Abuse at The Gates of Perdition: An Amalgam - Part 6 of 7
* Clergy Abuse at The Gates of Perdition: An Amalgam - Part 7 of 7
Give Your Rabbi a Break: If You Make It Hard for Inspired Torah Leaders, They Won't Be There When Your Kids Need Them [published in Jewish World Review 06-11-10]
[Excerpt from full Commentary] As venomous as secular politics can be when partisans engage in character assassination to vie for power and prestige, the matter becomes so much more dispiriting when Korach-style politics comes into the synagogue or church. A new pastor is hired, or a rabbi or cantor, and the search committee's opposing minority vows that she will never have a day's peace. [¶] Soon , the cynics are "making lists," and there begins a very tragic congregational descent into what might be termed "the other kind of clergy abuse." How well selected does the pastor select his ties? Does the rabbi iron her skirt, or can satellite images from outer space detect wrinkles? And when will she stop arriving at services only on time, when the list-makers demand that she always arrive five minutes early? [¶] This is what touched the very core of Rabbi Applebaum, who actually was loved and served his congregation with love — and had a lifetime contract. He had seen destructive efforts advanced against some of his closest colleagues and friends through many forms and vehicles, as list-makers slandered, meandered through the weekly Kiddush collation while spreading criticisms, and built social alliances through carpools, coffee klatches, bowling matches, and poker games. . . .
Posted on The Huffington Post by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: December 27, 2010 04:44 PM
Presenting directly after me at a recent conference in
It's something today's rabbis might take to heart.
As I visit Jewish communities around the world I constantly hear, "Our rabbi is the nicest guy." Or, "He's not my rabbi, he's my friend."
Often the comments come from people who see the rabbi in synagogue perhaps three times a year. Yes, our rabbi is amazing. He never creates the discomfort of making us question our vacuous lives. He never lectures us to spend less on ourselves and more on the needy. Rather than rebuking us for squandering our potential on crass TV and mindless celebrity gossip, why, he can actually join the conversation about the latest movies with the best of them.
Welcome to a generation where rabbis have been defanged and declawed. The days of the rabbi as a weighty moral conscience are behind us now. The rabbi as irritant has been replaced with rabbi as ego-massager. The rabbi's the with-it guy with whom you watch the ball game. Yep, that's one swell guy, our rabbi.
Ah, you say, the Jewish community is sinking into an ever-deeper pit of material consumption and over-the-top bar mitzvahs? Fear not. The rabbi knows where his bread is buttered. He's not going to anger the board by admonishing the congregation about a life bereft of Jewish values.
Which explains why rabbis have next-to-no-influence in the Jewish world.
You heard me right.
Go to any of the major Jewish conferences like AIPAC or the
General Assembly (GA) and you'll see the rabbis rolled out to say the
blessing on the bread. They are seldom, if ever, consulted on issues of
activism or policy. Birthright
The rabbi is there for ceremony. We train him for five years to announce page numbers in synagogue and present your daughter with a leather-bound Bible for her bat mitzvah.
But has it profited the Jews to have rabbis confined to telling a man to break a glass under the wedding canopy rather than cry out that our community is becoming more religious but less spiritual?
Through our desire not to offend we rabbis have reduced ourselves to a caricature, the full vitality of our souls sandwiched into the extremely narrow bandwidth accorded to us by a community that calls on us primarily for lifecycle events.
I constantly hear myself being described as "controversial," as if that's an insult to a rabbi. Yes, I am a rabbi who is loved and hated. A preparedness to be unpopular is what I have learned from Judaism, not to mention the world's most influential figures. No one experiences greater rejection from the Israelites than Moses, who made uncomfortable demands. Mordechai spares the Jews a holocaust but is described as being admired only by "most of his brethren." The Lubavitcher Rebbe saved the Jewish people from spiritual annihilation, yet even today his legacy remains "controversial." No American was more hated in his lifetime than Abraham Lincoln, our greatest president, and Winston Churchill was immediately fired by the British right after defeating Hitler.
The most influential rabbis in the world today are those like
Rabbi Marvin Hier of the
The always agreeable rabbis? I would mention them. But you would never have heard of them.
Rabbis must begin broadening their roles away from the ceremonial and toward the provocative. You're given a pulpit. Use it. Get up there on Saturday morning and belt out a sermon about the high rates of divorce in your synagogue and how you expect husbands to be gentlemen who compliment their wives daily. Tell the women that dignified dress has always been the hallmark of the classy Jewish woman. Announce that outrageously lavish weddings violate Jewish values since they make those who can't afford one feel like they've let their children down.
Stop being merely a rabbi and become an organizational
entrepreneur. Put on world-class debates in your synagogue that make
people take a side on intermarriage, women's roles, and softening
Last week I called three
Rabbis, write weekly provocative pieces. Get under your congregant's skin. Polarize your audience. Seek influence rather than popularity.
And stand up for yourself. Rabbis deserve to be appreciated, respected, and compensated for their work and their time. They have families too, often quite large.
I wrote recently about how I had agreed to have my upcoming
I have worked throughout my life to broaden the definition of a rabbi. No, I have not always succeeded, and yes, I have made mistakes. But I have pushed the boundary because the title is too august to be a straightjacket, and the Jewish message is too defiant to simply breed an innocuous Mr. Nice Guy
A Postscript Thought by Rav Fischer:
very subtle here. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach's article is very courageous --
but, uh, is he the rabbi of a congregati