Rabbi Hershel Schachter is the jewel in ‘centrist Orthodoxy’s’ crown.
As I’ve written elsewhere about this stream of Judaism, ‘Yeshiva University likes to bill itself as the home of ‘centrist Orthodoxy’. It’s not so right wing that its men wear too many funny clothes, and not so left wing that it treats women like human beings.
‘Ah! Orthodoxy done just right….
The first thing people should know about Schachter is that he believes people reporting rape could just be having a bit of a laff – making shit up – and therefore, the police should NOT be the survivor’s first port of call. Better you should consult sensitive rabbonim (rabbis) like Schachter.
You think I’m kidding? Read the this article.
Pay special attention to this bit: ‘Schachter, one of the most respected faculty members of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, is called upon regularly to lecture and advise America’s leading Orthodox organizations, such as the Rabbinical Council of America and the Orthodox Union.
‘Hundreds of rabbis hang on [Schachter’s] every word and interpret his every utterance as binding Jewish law,’ said Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, spiritual leader of Washington’s Ohev Sholom National Synagogue, a Modern Orthodox congregation. ‘Because of that, he has a tremendous responsibility to speak carefully.’
No he doesn’t.
He’s Hershel fucking Schachter and he can say whatever the fuck he likes!
And in centrist Orthodoxy, the worst that will happen is that he may be forced to issue a mealy mouthed apology.
And like mindless drones, many in the Orthodox world will confuse his status for actual moral authority.
But here’s the thing: Schachter is not a bug in this sick system: he’s a feature.
‘The university has faced intense scrutiny in recent months following an outpouring of claims of emotional, physical and sexual abuse against former employees of Yeshiva University High School for Boys between 1970 and 1995. Herzfeld, a prominent graduate of the school, said Schachter’s child abuse comments sent a message to victims that Y.U., which is conducting an investigation into the abuse allegations, is not receptive to hearing about claims. It’s really very sad and very, very concerning,’ Herzfeld said. In December and January, the Forward published several reports in which more than 20 Y.U high school students told of being sexually and physically abused at Y.U.’s high school over a period spanning three decades.’
But let’s say you’re just fine with women being compared to monkeys, black people referred to as shvartzes, rape survivors being told not to go to the cops… how are you with incitement to murder?
From The Forward: ‘In 2008 [Shcachter] was forced to cut short a trip to Israel and to issue an apology for suggesting that the Israeli prime minister should be shot if he ceded control of Jerusalem.’
Schachter’s defenders sound a lot like Muslim defenders of imams who say crazy shit in support of things like misogyny or violence – Oh, you’ve taken the great man out of context! Appreciate the *nuance*!
From JTA: ‘In a recent article, Schachter argued that having women lead services or read from the Torah constitutes a religious breach that corrupts the spirit and violates Jewish laws regarding women’s modesty, public dignity and the requirement of deferring to Torah sages.’
Schachter’s concerns about sexual propriety are very very ‘nuanced’.
On the one hand, according to Schachter, survivors of rape cannot be immediately believed. And their victimisation is less important than the possibility a Jewish rapist might be assaulted by an African American in prison.
Most significantly, Schachter is no shrinking violet.
He’s obviously not afraid to make public statements about sexual morality. He gladly signed, along with a number of rabbis who have since been accused of sexually inappropriate behaviour or speech or outright rape, a revolting missive against marriage equality.
So what does it say about Schachter that he is too timid to come out against these colleagues, including Barry Freundel (who sexually violated converts) not to mention colleagues at Yeshiva University who sexually assaulted students there?
More nuance, I suppose.
To be clear, this is what Schachter believes: ‘Women have an obligation to remain as private as possible. They are forbidden to take any public role.’
So I guess that makes Freundel’s sexual assault OK because at least the violation was done in private.
According to the Schachter sexual moral code, being a rabbinic menace like Steven Pruzansky, who defends rape, as well as rapists is fine, while wanting to participate in egalitarian prayer practice is a violation of sexual norms.
Are you worried that I’m being unkind?
That perhaps Schachter is a gentle, naive, scholar who can’t bring the fight?
Well, never fear: Schachter’s thuggish behaviour in response to a talk scheduled to be given by rabbi, Aryeh Klapper, should put your mind at ease.
What about arguments that Schachter is such an intellectual giant, that ordinary morality need not apply to him?
Perhaps his erudition really is that stunning.
Once again, the evidence is pretty clear cut.
‘Rabbi Schachter, who objected to the study of the Christian Bible, also told The Commentator he sees the work of Geoffrey Chaucer as expendable and that 50 percent of an art history course is probably ‘avodah zara and gilui arayot’ (idolatry and licentiousness).’
Yep. If Schachter has read a single word of Chaucer, I’ll march right on down to Waks Wigs and cover my hair from now to eternity.
But we need to keep our focus on what’s really at stake when men like Schachter get access to power.
It’s no coincidence that Schachter’s misogyny sits so comfortably with his sanguine attitude to sexual assault. Again, as far as Yeshiva University is concerned, this is not a bug, it’s a feature!
The Yeshiva University folks like to refer to themselves as ‘Centrist Orthodox’ – as though their position between egalitarians to the left and revanchist fundamentalists to the right somehow places them in the ‘sensible centre.’
What must be remembered is just how comfortable this Orthodox ‘sensible centre’ is with rape and other forms of sexual abuse, while being completely *uncomfortable* with affording women anything approximating equality to men.
Make no mistake: these phenomena are inextricably linked.
The Australian Royal Commission into child sexual abuse found, ‘…the following doctrinal beliefs as contributing to the risk of abuse occurring and the Churches’ poor response to disclosures:
– the absence of women in key leadership positions with any authority, leading to an absence
of gender-appropriate role models and support (Higgins, 2001; Morrison, 2005)
– patriarchal and authoritarian beliefs about the family, which create an environment in which
victims are less likely to question the authority of their abuser (Finkelhor, 1979; Higgins &
– doctrines about sin, through which an emphasis on ‘personal sin’, to the exclusion of social
justice issues, can easily lead to victim-blaming
– teachings regarding repentance and forgiveness, which may lead to premature attempts to
seek forgiveness from the victim or to holding victims partially responsible for their own
abuse (Parkinson, 2003)
– the role of civil authorities – for example, teachings against the use of court proceedings,
based on biblical passages referring to civil suits, can lead to confusion about the
appropriateness of reporting abuse
– reverence for church leaders (for example, priests being viewed as ‘indelibly marked’) can
make victims reluctant to speak about abuse at the hands of clergy members, and members
of the Church reluctant to question the actions church lead’
So, dear readers, you’ll surely forgive me if I decline to take my moral cues from such a man – or indeed anyone who venerates him.