From the COLlive inbox: Devorah, a former student of Rabbi Manis Friedman reveals what the renowned teacher really thinks about the issues of molestation and abuse.
My name is Devorah. I am what some people call a fan of Rabbi Manis Friedman. I am also a friend, a relative, and an acquaintance of far too many abuse victims to ignore the video I recently saw of Rabbi Manis making some all too simple comments about something as serious as abuse.
I watched the video which caused as much a hype as the actual arrest of a pedophile. And for good reason.
The anger that he riled up proved that there are now people that finally understand that abuse is not something to be taken lightly. It showed that there are many many people who are spreading the zero tolerance stance.
Nonetheless, I do believe that Rabbi Friedman has a lot more to say on the topic than you saw in an 8 minute 12 second video. I'm not here to defend Rabbi Friedman but to share some of my thoughts and perhaps give some perspective.
Rabbi Friedman is and was, for many years to me, someone I looked up to, a man who saw the world in a larger way, one who understood the complexities of individuals who have been through a vast array of experiences, specifically abuse.
My first response to seeing the video was anger. I was angry that he was insensitive to the suffering an abuse victim endures. Angry that he dared equivocate such a matter to the pain one feels when belittled by a teacher. I have always been one to advocate the reporting of abusers to authorities, to vocalize that too many of our ultra orthodox body are harboring criminals. I was always one to simply discuss the painful truth, that our insulated communities are not immune to pedophilia and abuse.
Discussing the fact that we are a few slow steps behind the rest of the world in being fully aware of abuse and taking all steps to stop it, if shared enough times, will make a difference.
After anger, came disappointment. How can someone who I've trusted and respected for so many years as a progressive, wise, and compassionate man, dedicated to admirable causes, have such primitive and cold hearted opinions.
I was also confused. I personally saw Rabbi Friedman help a teenage rape victim. I witnessed a tremendous impact that came with incredible wisdom, depth and compassion. I am sure that Rabbi Friedman has helped dozens of others with such matters. I can assure you that this girl and the many others did not think Rabbi Friedman thought abuse a joke.
I remember a certain night in a Bais Chana summer camp, having a question and answer session with Rabbi Friedman. One of the papers passed up explained a girl's difficulty to function after years of ongoing abuse. His response had a similar "get over it" vibe we saw in the video. I was furious. How dare he? Doesn't he see the scars, the shells of people walking around as a result of abuse? I felt this way until I later learned how the girl who read the paper absorbed his response.
While I was too busy being heated and enraged, Rabbi Friedman actually explained something that had a significant meaning to it. Everyone that knows the ABCs of the effects of abuse understands that the most damage comes not from the actual physical trauma, but from the harboring of a secret, from the self-hatred and blame, from the loss of trust, the shame, etc.
Overcoming such overwhelming psychological issues is about gaining perspective and the way to get over such issues are similar with whatever it is the cause. Each of these issues and insecurities can be grave and need intense help to get past, and Rabbi Friedman wasn't ignoring that. This is what I think Rabbi Friedman was saying. And this is what the victim heard. His horrible mistake was that he didn't say enough of what he actually thinks.
I do not, however, think he should not have said what he did. He should have stuck his foot in his mouth or at least been more sensitive. But I definitely don't think the Rabbi Manis you watched on that video is the real Rabbi Manis you ought to know.
Sensationalism is what sells and Rabbi Friedman is most at fault for taking it a step too far. It is not untypical for him to say things that come across as shocking, witty, paradoxical, but then he explains. Yes, it is an injustice and a disgrace to undermine an abuse victim's experience, and what he said on the video was wrong simply because through his words, many people felt pained.
But one thing I know is that the video that we all watched does not reflect Rabbi Friedman’s stance on abuse. He is not one to protect a criminal or to advise one to shove anything under the rug. Rabbi Friedman is far from the criminals he is being grouped with.
A criminal is a principal who knows that a pedophile has access to children and stands by idly. A criminal is someone who knows that a child is hurt and his perpetrator is not behind bars. A criminal is someone who gags the victim and says shhh.
Get real. If you told Rabbi Friedman that you had been abused and your abuser was out and free, he'd be the first to tell you to dial 911.
Rabbi Friedman is not the man that deserves being attacked on Facebook or to be linked to other Jewish leaders that raise money for a rapist's court fees. He is a man that saves people, a man that devotes his life to helping others, a man that listens to the plight of others. Give the attention back to Nechemya Weberman and let Rabbi Friedman continue doing all the good that he does.
* * *
In this newly released video, Rabbi Manis Friedman explores what is the response supposed to be to molestation and abuse? How should a Rabbi respond? How should a psychologists respond? What is the obligation of every individual in a moral society?