How Jews Can Respond When Jews Do Bad Things
By Dr. Erica Brown
Jewish Lights Publishing, 2010, 166 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - October 20, 2010
Scandal has affected every religious group recently. This is not new, nor surprising. People are people, not matter their religion. The Bible highlights this reality repeatedly in its first five books where every person makes mistakes, many intentionally. The very first humans showed their humanity by doing wrong; Adam and Eve disregarded God's first and only command. Their son Cain killed his brother Abel. Even Moses, the great law-giver transgressed God's command to speak to a rock, and struck it instead. Yet knowing this does not help. Having co-religionist do something that hurts or offends people, such as Bernie Madoff cheating investors, or rabbis and an Israeli president that have inappropriate sex, or producers of kosher foods swindling employees, or Israeli prime ministers charged with taking bribes, is quite embarrassing. How should Jews respond to these disgraces? What can they do about it?
Dr. Erica Brown addresses this problem in six chapters filled with quotes from many sources and many stories. In the first, she describes how and why Jews are so disturbed when they read about the crimes of co-religionists and how they react. There is an interesting interview between Dr. Brown and Gary Rosenblatt, the editor-in chief of the Jewish Week, who aired the story of a prominent rabbi who took criminal sexual advantage of youngsters under his care and also revealed other scandals. Rosenblatt tells why he feels such stories should be publicized, how he was threatened by Jews for revealing the truths, how he had to hire body guards, and how he generally handles criticisms of his disclosures.
Dr. Brown's second chapter offers a brief history of Jewish criminals; "brief" because the story of Jewish criminality is so huge that it would take large books to tell everything. These include tales of murder, robbery, extortion, beatings, incest, wife beatings, and money-laundering, as well as how these criminals contributed to helping the Jewish community, and some analyses of what caused the anti-social and the proper behavior.
Her third chapter focuses upon morality. It is interesting to note how rabbis frequently refuse to speak about the subject. There is an interview that Dr. Brown had with Jeffrey Goldberg on whether or not there is a crisis of morality in the Orthodox Jewish community today. This discussion received wide publicity and, as could be expected, Dr. Brown received criticisms for airing the subject. Many people were embarrassed and objected that she was criticizing Jews.
The fourth chapter looks at the widely practiced hypocrisy when people in positions of authority act differently in public than in private. There is the story, for example, of a prominent "pious" rabbi who revoked the conversion of a woman because he heard that she wore pants instead of a modest dress or skirt, yet he seduced another would be female convert.
The fifth chapter speaks about repentance. It addresses subjects such as are we prepared to welcome Jewish criminals who have served time back into the community? Can we forget or overlook the pain they caused? How can criminals repent?
In her final chapter, Dr. Brown offers ten ideas how to remedy the situation. These include getting the Jewish community to wake up and develop a stronger moral sensitivity, start teaching moral living rather than platitudes, developing habits of performing acts of social justice, and expecting more from Jewish leaders and making sure that they deliver.