Monday, November 21, 2016

Shlomo Carlebach - the enigma within a paradox - the tzadik who was a sexual molester

One of the larger than life figures in recent history is Shlomo Carlebach. A man who promoted and lived a life of love of one's fellow man. A man who was responsible for bringing many to observance or at least strong positive feelings about Judaism. A talented performer, a composer of beloved songs and teller of inspirational tales. A man who inspired the widespread phenomenon of the Carlebach Minyan. A man who molested some of the women who idolized him - including young teenage girls. 

There is a teshuva in the Igros Moshe regarding whether his songs are appropriate since there are allegations that has committed the sin of singing before mixed audiences. I confronted Carlebach with the teshuva and his response was that he had a very good relationship with Rav Moshe Feinstein.

שו"ת אגרות משה אבן העזר חלק א סימן צו
בדבר ניגונים שעשה אדם כשר שאחר זמן נתקלקל וסני שומעניה אם יש לנגנם על חתונות כ"ב אייר תשי"ט. מע"כ ידידי מהר"ר שמואל דישון שליט"א.

בדבר אחד שהיה בן תורה בחזקת כשרות כמה שנים והוא מנגן שעשה ניגונים על שירי קדש ולשיר לחתונות והורגלו כמה בני תורה לזמר אותם בשמחות של מצוה ועתה אין שמועתו טובה שמכנס בחורים ובתולות יחד ומזמר לפניהם, ושואל כתר"ה אם מותר עתה לזמר בניגוניו שעשה תחלה כשהיה בחזקת כשרות. לע"ד איני רואה בזה שום איסור מכיון שהם ממה שעשה בכשרותו. וראיה שהרי מצינו בתקנות יוחנן כהן גדול שנקראו על שמו במתני' סוף מע"ש ובפ' עגלה ערופה בסוטה ויש שסוברין שהוא זה ששימש שמנים שנה בכהונה גדולה ולבסוף נעשה צדוקי עיין במלאכת שלמה במע"ש שם, ואף ששם לא היה אפשר לבטל התקנות הגדולות שתיקן ונתקבלו בישראל ונעשו הלכות קבועות, מ"מ לא הי"ל לקרא אותם על שמו אלמא דכיון שתיקן אותם בכשרותו יש לקרא על שמו אף שעתה הוא רשע ומין כיון שנקרא על השעה שהיה כשר.

איברא שהרמב"ם רפ"ט ממעשר כתב שהוא יוחנן כהן גדול שהיה אחר שמעון הצדיק וכתב הכ"מ לאפוקי שלא נאמר שהוא אותו יוחנן כ"ג שנעשה צדוקי לבסוף, מ"מ מסתבר שאינו משום שסובר הרמב"ם שהיה אסור לקרא על שמו אם היה אותו יוחנן כ"ג שנעשה צדוקי לבסוף, שאין לנו לעשות מחלוקת בחנם וא"כ מדידהו נשמע שגם הרמב"ם יודה שמותר לקרא על שמו מה שתיקן בכשרותו, אלא שיודע מאיזה מקור שהיה זה יוחנן כ"ג הקודם לזה שנעשה צדוקי. וגם הא מצינו מאמר באבות פ"ד מ"כ מאלישע בן אבויה אף שהוא לו זכרון גדול והוא משום דאמר זה בכשרותו.

ולבד זה הא מוכרח כן דהא כל המקור לאסור הוא לטעם הרמב"ם בס"ת שכתבו מין שישרף שהוא כדי שלא להניח שם לאפיקורסים ולא למעשיהם, והא זה ברור שבנעשה מומר אחר שכתב הס"ת היא כשרה ממש אף לקרות בו עיין בפ"ת יו"ד סימן רפ"א סק"ב אלמא דכיון שכתב כשהיה בכשרותו הוי הנחת השם לזמן כשרותו שלזה ליכא קפידא. ואין לדחות דבכתב בכשרותו הרי קידש את השמות שהיה אסור לשרוף אף בכתבו מין כדמשמע שם ברמב"ם, דמ"מ היה לן לפסול ולהצריך גניזה, אלא צריך לומר דכיון שהנחת השם הוא לזמן כשרותו ליכא קפידא גם להרמב"ם. ולכן גם בעובדא זו הניגונים שעשה כשהיה בכשרותו שאף אם נימא שיש בזה ענין הנחת השם לעושה הניגונים אין לאסור דהרי הוא הנחת השם על זמן כשרותו שליכא קפידא בזה ומותר. ואף לבני תורה ובעלי נפש אין מקום להחמיר.

ובעצם מסופקני אף בהניגונים שעשה אחר שסני שומעניה, אם הם ניגונים כשרים שאין בהם קלות שראוין לנגנם, אם יש לזה ענין הנחת שם למעשה רשעים, דמסתבר דרק בעניני קדושה ככתיבת ס"ת שהוא חשיבות הנחת שמם בדבר קדושה הוא אסור להרמב"ם אבל בעניני חול אין בזה שום חשיבות במה שיהיה שמם עליהם ואין לאסור. וכמו שפשוט שמותר להשתמש וגם לקרא שמם על עניני חדוש ברפואות ומאשינעס /ומכונות/ וכדומה אלמא דרק בעניני קדושה הוא גנאי להניח שם לאפיקורסים ולא בעניני חול. וא"כ גם הניגונים הם עניני חול דאין להם שום קדושה ולכן אף שעשו לנגן בניגונים אלו דברי קדושה אפשר אין להחשיב שהוא הנחת שם להרשע בדברי קדושה כיון שבעצם הניגונים שחידש אין בהם קדושה. וא"כ אף ניגונים אלו שעשה אחר שסני שומעניה נמי יותר נוטה שאין לאסור לנגן בהם. אך באלו יש לבני תורה ובע"נ להחמיר כיון שיש גם טעם לאסור אף שהוא טעם קלוש.

והנה בעובדא זו שהסני שומעניה אינו בעניני כפירה אלא בעניני קלות ראש לנגן בפני בחורים ובתולות יחד שודאי אין להחשיבו כמין ואפיקורס ואף לא כמומר לתיאבון דהא רק לדבר אחד דקלות ראש ופריצות הוא עבריין לתיאבון מסתבר שעל אדם כזה אין למילף שיהיה דין וחיוב שלא להניח שם לו ולמעשיו. ואדרבה הא ברור שהס"ת שיכתוב איש כזה יהיה כשר, ומפורש ברדב"ז סימן תשע"ד הובא בקיצור בפ"ת שם שס"ת שכתב אחד מהקראים אסור לשרוף ובעצם היה מותר גם לקרות בו רק משום שאפשר שלא נעשה כתקון חז"ל עיין שם והא במין ואפיקורס שכתבו ס"ת אף בהיה ידוע בעדים שכתבו כדין היה אסור לקרות בו להרמב"ם כדי שלא להניח שם להאפיקורסים, מטעם שחלק הרדב"ז שאף שהם בכלל הכופרים כיון שעכ"פ מאמינים בקדושת השם ובקדושת התורה אין קפידא בהנחת שמם בקדושה שמחזיקין. א"כ כ"ש שמומר לתיאבון כשמאמין בקדושת התורה שכשר לקרות בו. וכ"ש בעבריין רק לדבר אחד לתיאבון דכשר הס"ת שיכתוב. וא"כ כ"ש הניגונים שעושה שרשאין לנגן בהם ואין להחמיר אף לבני תורה ובעלי נפש. ואם סני שומעניה גם לעניני כפירה אז הוא כדכתבתי לעיל שאלו שעשה מתחלה אין מקום להחמיר כלל ואף אלו שעשה אח"כ מסתבר יותר שאין לאסור כיון שאינם ענין קדושה אבל לבני תורה ובע"נ ראוי להחמיר, ידידו מוקירו, משה פיינשטיין


He was larger than life, and since his death, Jews running the full religious and political spectrum have continued debating the true nature and beliefs of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach; a new memoir places him among the hippies, but in truth he didn’t fully belong to anyone. [...]

Lilith Magazine

In 1989 the feminist group Women of the Wall defied the Orthodox Jewish establishment and read from their own Torah scroll at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Shlomo Carlebach, steeped in hasidic tradition but committed to the spiritual rights of women, was the only male rabbi present.

An Orthodox rabbi by training, Rabbi Carlebach took down the separation between women and men in his own synagogue, encouraged women to study and to teach the Jewish texts, and gave private ordination to women before most mainstream Jewish institutions would. Described as a musical genius. Rabbi Carlebach’s melodies—including Adir Hu, Am Yisrael Chai and Esa Einar are sung throughout the world in hasidic shteibels and Reform temples alike; they have sunk so deeply into Jewish consciousness that many don’t realize these are not age-old tunes. And Rabbi Carlebach encouraged women to sing out loud—a challenge to the Orthodox teaching that women’s voices should not be heard publicly lest they arouse men.

Shlomo Carlebach also abandoned the Orthodox injunction that men and women not touch publicly. Indeed, he was known for his frequent hugs of men and women alike, and often said his hope was to hug every Jew—perhaps every person—on earth.

It is an alarming paradox, then, that the man who did so much on behalf of women may also have done some of them harm. In the three years since Rabbi Carlebach’s death, at age 69, ceremonies honoring his life and work have been interrupted by women who claim the rabbi sexually harassed or abused them. In dozens of recent interviews, Lilith has attempted to untangle and to explain Rabbi Carlebach’s complex legacy.

“He was the first person to ordain women, to take down the mechitza, and I think he thought all boundaries were off,” says Abigail Grafton, a psychotherapist whose Jewish Renewal congregation in Berkeley, California, has spent the last six months trying to cope with the allegations.[...]

Among the many people Lilith spoke with, nearly all had heard stories of Rabbi Carlebach’s sexual indiscretions during his more than four decade rabbinic career. Spiritual leaders, psychotherapists and others report numerous incidents, from playful propositions to actual sexual contact. Most of the allegations include middle-of-the-night, sexually charged phone calls and unwanted attention or propositions. Others, which have been slower to emerge, relate to sexual molestation.[...]

However, he was a special rabbi, and those she had looked up to had looked up to him. Rachel, today an artist and martial arts teacher in New Mexico, told almost no one what had happened. Those she did tell said he was “just a dirty old man.” Thirty-five years later she was jogging with Rabbi Gottlieb, both her friend and her congregational rabbi, when they began talking about Rabbi Carlebach. Hearing that others were claiming experiences similar to hers, Rachel broke down in tears. Only then, she recalls, did she get very angry. “I felt acknowledged. It wasn’t a dream, it really happened.”[...]

Other stories have begun to emerge, suggesting that Rachel’s experience was not unique. Robin Goldberg, today a teacher of women’s studies and a research psychoanalyst on women’s issues in California, was 12 years old when Shlomo visited her Orthodox Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, community to lead a singing and dancing concert. He invited all the young people for a preconcert preparation. And it was during the dancing that he started touching her. He kept coming back to her, she reports, whispering in her ear, saying “holy maidele,” and fondling her breast. Twelve years old and Orthodox, she says she didn’t know what to think. Her mother, that afternoon, told her she must have been mistaken and that she must not have understood what was going on. But when she was taken to a dance event led by Rabbi Carlebach years later, while she was in college, she reports that the same thing—dancing, whispering, fondling—happened to her again. [...]

This Fall, Spiegel summarized the stories she had heard regarding Rabbi Carlebach in a letter to Yaakov Ariel, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who is studying Rabbi Carlebach’s spiritually innovative California synagogue, the House of Love and Prayer. In the letter, which Spiegel made available to Lilith, she states that in the last few years, a number of women in their 40s have approached her “in private and often with deep seated pain” about experiences they had when they were in their teens. “Shlomo came to their camp, their center, their synagogue,” she wrote. “He singled them out with some excuse . . . . [G]etting them alone, he fondled their breasts and vagina, sometimes thrusting himself against them, and muttering something which they now believe was Yiddish.”[...]


Two years ago, following a “Carlebach Shabbos” at my former shul, I wrote an article in which I described the conflict I felt hearing Carlebach being praised for his selflessness and kindness, while simultaneously aware of allegations that he had molested women. I left the article open ended, simply giving my two sides, and left it open for my readers to responded. And boy, did they. The responses flooded in; comments, emails, Facebook messages, even some in-person responses. They came in heavy, heated, and varied. It’s been two years, and I’ve had time to reflect more on the subject, discuss it with more people, and gain some perspective on the issue. Furthermore, since then I’ve spoken to quite a number of his victims, three of whom left comments on my original post. I’d like to address a few things.

Right off the bat, people challenged me on the ethics of sharing an article alleging that someone who is dead and cannot defend himself committed abuse that has never been proven in court. Many people have claimed it’s simply lashon hara, and therefore refuse to even listen. Setting aside whether or not those same people are as careful about the laws of lashon hara when the person under discussion is not one of the spiritual idols, I’ll take it at face value.

It is lashon hara. But one of the exceptions to the prohibitions against speaking lashon hara is when there’s a to’eles, a purpose. Most notably, if there’s a general purpose in the community knowing, if it will prevent some harm, then it is permitted to speak lashon hara. The benefits of discussing Carlebach’s crimes are twofold. First, it sends a message to the community that abusers will have to pay, in one way or another for their crimes, that death is not an escape from the damage caused by sexual abusers. It’s a powerful message to send because there are so many victims out there whose stories are kept hidden by coercion and fear, because the people who keep those secrets are terrified of what their families, their communities might say or do to them if they dare come forward. The more stories are made public, the more people come forward, the more victims will feel safe and secure in coming forward and telling their stories, exposing their abusers, and pursuing justice against them.

Second, for decades Carlebach’s crimes were covered up. For decades, all his victims heard about him was constant praise bordering on deification, any criticism quashed, any attempt at bringing his crimes to light hushed and suppressed. It wasn’t just his followers either who were complicit. Perhaps they can be forgiven because they were blinded by his charisma and façade, but his right-hand men, his gabba’im were aware of the allegations, and actively suppressed the accusers. And for years all his victims heard were stories of Carlebach’s greatness, the constant praise of a man who could do no wrong, simultaneously invalidating their experiences and exalting the man who hurt them. They deserve to have their stories told, to have their experiences validated, and there are enough of them to constitute a to’eles harabim.[...]

This past weekend, after sharing my article again this year in “honor” of Carlebach’s yahrtzeit, two women posted their stories as comments on the article. I’d like to share them below, because it leads me to my final point. The first is by a poster who used the name Shula.

“I was a 15 year old Bais Yaakov girl, enthralled with his music. I was in seventh heaven when he offered me a ride home from a concert. The driver and another person sat in the front, and he sat with me in the back. When he put his arm around my shoulder I was stunned but delighted; and then his hand started massaging my breast. I was 15 and completely naive, had no idea what was happening, but somehow felt embarrassed and ashamed. I just continued to sit silently without moving. This continued until I was dropped off at my house. He told me to come to his hotel room the next morning, and I did! He hugged me very tightly, and I stood frozen, not really understanding what was happening. Then the car came to pick him up, and again I went with him in the car and he dropped me off at school. And I never said a word to anyone, never! I’m a grandmother today, and can still recall that feeling in the pit of my stomach, the confusion and feeling ashamed. I never spoke about this, ever. But all of these comments of denial make me feel I have to confirm that these things happened. He was 40 years old, I was 15. He was an experienced 40 year old man and I was a very naive 15 year old Bais Yaakov girl. In those days we never talked about sex. I had never even spoken to a boy! I didn’t associate him with ‘a boy’ – he was like a parent figure, he was old. But I felt it was something to be ashamed of.

Your article is extremely important – these are conflicts that we have to deal with in life, but if no one ever brings them up, then each person, in each generation, has to over and over again re-invent the wheel of faith. The struggle for faith is hard enough; when these issues are so wrapped in secrecy (and I’m one of those that kept the secret for 53 years!).”[...]

But as to why they didn’t come forward sooner? They did. Or rather, they tried. Many of them tried to confront Carlebach about what he did, but when his gabba’im found out about why they wanted to talk to him, they made sure to keep them away. When his followers found out that someone was harboring such an accusation, they made sure to shut them out, and make it plain that they were no longer welcome. The legend they’d built in their minds and their hearts was too big and too fragile to fail. And the truth is it’s not unexpected. Carlebach, to so many, represents the very essence of their Judaism. For many he’s the very reason they have any connection at all, whether spiritual, cultural, or religious, to Judaism. For many, his message of love and acceptance, of connection to God rather than strict observance of a set of laws, of following the spirit to transcend the letter. Without him that message is lost, and without that message they lose their connection.

I feel for such people. I do. And that’s how we return to the original question: Is it possible to separate the art from the artist; the message from the man. Two years ago, when I wrote the article, I didn’t know the answer. But now, to me, the answer is clear. I’ve decided to let it all go. I no longer listen to or sing his music. I don’t feel personally that it’s appropriate to listen to the music and stories of a man whose art gave him the power and status he needed to get away with abusing so many women. I can’t honestly stand at the Amud and sing L’cha Dodi to any of Carlebach’s tunes and feel anything but dirty. I can’t tell myself that God wants my prayers when they come packaged in such poisoned melodies. [...]

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