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Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word - Rabbi Barry Gelman

by Rabbi Barry Gelman

December 28, 2009 | 11:45 pm

The last two weeks have brought reports of very troubling allegations against Rabbi Leib Tropper, founder of Eternal Jewish Family (EJF), an organization that has sought to influence conversion standards.  http://jta.org/news/article/2009/12/17/1009796/eternal-jewish-family-head-resigns.

I am not the only one outraged by the recent events related to Rabbi Tropper, who has resigned from his position at EJF. While what he allegedly did (he has not denied it yet) is despicable, the EJF train wreck will actually get worse if all we continue to hear from the EJF leadership is silence.

I have heard number of Rabbis call for the disbanding of the EJF, while there are others who are hopeful that the EJF can recreate itself. One thing is for sure, EJF will never recreate itself if there is no apology. 

The current EJF rabbinic leadership must do three things:

1.        Repudiate the actions of Rabbi Tropper,
2.        Apologize for the chillul hashem created by the EJF due to Tropper’s actions, and
3.        Come clean about the various claims of financial “funny business” at the organization.

In the words of Marshal Goldsmith, a well-known leadership consultant, apologizing is “the most magical, healing, restorative gesture human beings can make.” He also explains that refusing to say “I am sorry” to someone you may have wronged is the equivalent of saying “I don’t care about you.”

Goldsmith makes the point that when one apologizes, one is in effect saying, “I can’t change the past. All I can say is I’m sorry for what I did wrong. I’m sorry it hurt you. There is no excuse for it and I will try to do better in the future.”

Whether or not the rabbinic leadership of EJF knew about Tropper’s misdeeds is beside the point. (I do find it interesting that so many find it impossible to believe that Tropper duped the rabbinic leadership of the EJF; as if to say that Halachik and Talmudic expertise makes one an expert in human psychology and immune to be tricked by a guy like Tropper.) What is important is that the EJF leadership must take responsibility for what Tropper did if they ever wish to move past this episode.

Finally, I share with you the following from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

God never asked us not to make mistakes. All He asks is that we acknowledge them when we make them, apologize, make amends, heal the relationships we harmed, and commit ourselves not to make the same mistake again. That is what turns failure into a learning experience. It’s the cluster of ideas the Bible calls repentance, atonement and forgiveness. It is what makes biblical cultures more humane than their alternatives.

We owe to the anthropologist Ruth Benedict the fundamental distinction between shame cultures and guilt cultures. In shame cultures what matters is how we are seen by others. In guilt cultures like Judaism and Christianity, what matters is the voice within - conscience, what Freud called the superego, the moral values we internalise and make our own. In shame cultures a person is judged by the honour in which he or she is held. In guilt cultures there is no way of escaping the still, small voice that calls to us as it once called to Adam and Eve saying, “Where art thou?”

Shame cultures seem to lack the idea of forgiveness. If you’ve done wrong, the most important thing is to hope no one will find out. Once they do, there is no way of removing the stain of dishonour or the loss of face. Depending on time and circumstance, the shamed hero either goes off to fight and die in a distant battle, or flees to some remote country, or (in the old British theatrical tradition) disappears offstage to do the decent thing with a loaded revolver in the library of a country house. Shame cultures produce literatures of tragedy.

Guilt cultures produce literatures of hope. King David sins - seriously, as it happens - is confronted by the prophet Nathan and immediately confesses. So do the inhabitants of Nineveh when Jonah finally reaches them and tells them of their impending doom. They are given the greatest gift a culture can confer: the chance to begin again, not held captive by the past.

I urge to EJF leadership to take the path of guilt cultures.

P.B. = Post Blog

After writing this blog post a very sad realization came to me. In the blog I wrote the following: “What is important is that the EJF leadership must take responsibility for what Tropper did if they ever wish to move past this episode.”

After further consideration, I wonder if this will come to pass.  I fear that the Yeshiva world will let this latest scandal slide, like so many others, without calling their leadership to task or at the very least demanding an apology.

I pray that this time, things will be different.

For more on this:

While written before the EJF scandal, the following by Rabbi Avi Shafran certainly applies - http://www.5tjt.com/news/read.asp?Id=5315

This one should also ring true -  http://www.5tjt.com/news/read.asp?Id=5457

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