How Much Do We Disassociate Flawed Men From Their Ideas?

 

Several years ago, my rabbi was arrested on charges of voyeurism. He had placed a secret camera in the bathroom of the ritual bath of our synagogue and captured ~150 women on tape (I was one of them). The story became the biggest in the Jewish world that year, and I found myself at the center of it, as the most public of the victims. (You can read the whole story here)

This is how my attention to sexual scandals from those in positions of religious power came to be. And as such, I read this piece from David French in the Dispatch with great interest about a scandal involving another religious leader, the now-deceased Ravi Zacharias. I also have a personal connection to the story, similar to French, in my friendship with his former spokeswoman, Ruth Malhotra. I’m not as close to Ruth as David (I had to ask David for her number to send a text of sympathy when all of this broke), but David does an incredible job deep diving into the scandal and devoted a great deal of space to how Ruth tried in vain to right the ship.

With the news of Zacharias’ offenses, I noticed a major homeschooling curriculum make an announcement today about continuing to use his materials,

The announcement sparked an interesting conversation on the post about if his words, which retain their truth in their religious messaging, should be cast aside due to his misdeeds. One comment said,

Flawed humans can still have a body of work that is right and true and a valuable contribution . one can commit grave sins and still do other things well. 2 things can be true at once. King David and Paul come to mind.

It’s a question I find myself asking a great deal when I consult with the books of my rabbi’s that I still own. People see them on my shelves and are surprised I haven’t made a bonfire, and perhaps I should, but his actions in my mind don’t invalidate his valuable Jewish scholarship. But while I still use his work for reference on matters of law, I don’t read his books to gain any insight on spirituality or morality, nor do I publicly reference him anymore.

Seeing as though many people are unaware of what it’s like to be a victim of a religious leader, I wanted to share that perspective as it pertains to individuals like Zacharias. As a victim, when I see the religious work of flawed individuals like my rabbi still respected and venerated, it is invalidating of everything his actions put us through. It tells us his actions don’t matter and never did, and that he has a get out of jail (or hell) card due to his position of power. It further alienates us (both victims and also people who care about these issues) from faith, feeling as though this is the person who is esteemed in our religious community remains respected and venerated. The former is a problem for individual victims alone, but the latter is the ripple-effect of victimization in a wider religious community. In my research of sexual crimes and offenses, and in my personal and anecdotal experience, it’s this sense of alienation that has the greatest damaging impact on the wider community after a scandal erupts. In this vein, I think the move from Classical Conversations is the right one, sending a clear message about its position on modern-day flawed individuals of faith. It would be nice to see more moves like this when scandals like this one break.

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  1. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Bethany Mandel: …when I see the religious work of flawed individuals like my rabbi still respected and venerated, it is invalidating of everything his actions put us through. It tells us his actions don’t matter and never did, and that he has a get out of jail (or hell) card due to his position of power. 

    Mere mortals do not have the power to issue get of hell cards. That’s up to God. 

    • #1
  2. Pete EE Member
    Pete EE
    @PeteEE

    I seems to me that the work is separate from the man. Losing track of this can go in one of two ways: idolization or ad-hominem. Both are errors.

    If I can’t fully understand a work, ad hominem may have some value in helping me understand. If I am unsure of its truth, ad hominem may give a clue as to whether the author believed his own work, or whether his work represented a feasible, coherent vision. Other than that, I don’t see how the author’s personal life affects the truth of his work.

    • #2
  3. Jules PA Inactive
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    How is it that we can revere King David for his wondrous Psalms, his frequent bravery, his thirst for G-d, while reading and comprehending the stories of his egregious acts?

    Solomon was flawed too. Moses.

    G-d uses flawed humans in all his work on Earth. That is how we learn.

    If nothing else, it reminds us to search our own hearts for the wheat and chaffe.

    Your pain is real, and your recoil warranted. I hope that those who are near you tread lightly and shield you from repeated exposure.

    May G-d heal your wound, and bring you peace, along with all the other victims in your synagogue.

    • #3
  4. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Perhaps the trick is to separate the words from the person; “a Rabbi once said”. 

    Because if the words are, for lack of a better word, G-dly, their cancelling can lead to no good. 

    • #4
  5. The Cloaked Gaijin Member
    The Cloaked Gaijin
    @TheCloakedGaijin

    How Much Do We Dissasociate Flawed Men From Their Ideas?

    I never really used to watch Bill O’Reilly, but for some reason I remember that Bill as a strong Catholic would make a big deal about the Episcopal/Anglican Church being founded by King Henry VIII who Bill would stress was a “bad guy.”  Episcopal/Anglican Church was the church many of the Founding Fathers attended.

    Martin Luther had his flaws too.  “Tovia Singer, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, remarking about Luther’s attitude toward Jews, put it thusly: ‘Among all the Church Fathers and Reformers, there was no mouth more vile, no tongue that uttered more vulgar curses against the Children of Israel than this founder of the Reformation.’ …  Heinrich Himmler (albeit never a Lutheran, having been brought up Catholic) wrote admiringly of his writings and sermons on the Jews in 1940.”

    On the other side of the Protestant Reformation were…

    Pope Leo X (1475–1521) — Martin Luther later said that Leo had vetoed a measure that cardinals should restrict the number of boys they kept for their pleasure, “otherwise it would have been spread throughout the world how openly and shamelessly the pope and the cardinals in Rome practice sodomy.”

    Pope Paul III (1468–1549) — supported Michelangelo and supported “human rights of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.”  He was the person who Nicolaus Copernicus dedicated his heliocentric treatise.  Pope Paul III also had five children with his mistress.  Tough to provide dukedoms for your grandchildren when you are busy trying to be pope.

    Pope Julius III (1487–1555) — had a “scandal-ridden relationship with his adopted nephew, Innocenzo Ciocchi Del Monte.”

    • #5
  6. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    One of my favorite medical textbooks, that I’ve read over and over, was written by a pedophile, who is now serving a life sentence in Florida, I gather. 

    I still use his book.  It’s outstanding.  The author, apparently, is a horrible person.  But his book is outstanding.

    • #6
  7. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    Bethany Mandel: Flawed humans can still have a body of work that is right and true and a valuable contribution . one can commit grave sins and still do other things well. 2 things can be true at once. King David and Paul come to mind.

    That is true and what I have read by Zacharias was excellent, although if I were to reread any of it I would have a more critical eye where subjects like sin and sexuality are discussed. The fact that the scandal broke only after he died makes me think people within the ministry knew, or should have known, about what was going on and chose to ignore it. They viewed protecting the ministry as more important than doing what is right, and that is horrible.

    Years ago a pastor I know mentioned how one of the gifts he received when he first got ordained was a book on purity written by Jimmy Swaggert. People laughed because of Swaggert’s scandals but the pastor insisted it was a good book and wished the writer would have practiced what he preached.

    • #7
  8. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Jules PA (View Comment):

    How is it that we can revere King David for his wondrous Psalms, his frequent bravery, his thirst for G-d, while reading and comprehending the stories of his egregious acts?

    Solomon was flawed too. Moses.

    G-d uses flawed humans in all his work on Earth. That is how we learn.

    If nothing else, it reminds us to search our own hearts for the wheat and chaffe.

    Your pain is real, and your recoil warranted. I hope that those who are near you tread lightly and shield you from repeated exposure.

    May G-d heal your wound, and bring you peace, along with all the other victims in your synagogue.

    To me, King David is the best example of flawed humans doing good things.  It’s like the old cocktail game of asking a moral dilemma question.  For example:

    “If it turned out Adolf Hitler had invented a cure for cancer, would you take it if you had cancer?”

    I would and I’d feel sick about it.  However, if others refused, I wouldn’t say anything negative about it because it’s their choice to make . . .

    • #8
  9. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Bethany Mandel: It’s a question I find myself asking a great deal when I consult with the books of my rabbi’s that I still own. People see them on my shelves and are surprised I haven’t made a bonfire, and perhaps I should, but his actions in my mind don’t invalidate his valuable Jewish scholarship. But while I still use his work for reference on matters of law, I don’t read his books to gain any insight on spirituality or morality, nor do I publicly reference him anymore.

    Having spent many years in the Zen Buddhist community, where misconduct seemed to thrive, I’m especially sensitive to this topic (although I was never a victim). It must be painful for you. And I think your comment that I note here is a moral and wise approach.

    • #9
  10. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and
    @Misthiocracy

    Bethany Mandel: Flawed humans can still have a body of work that is right and true and a valuable contribution . one can commit grave sins and still do other things well. 2 things can be true at once. King David and Paul come to mind.

    a) That lesson is one reason why the Left hates the Bible.

    b) King David and Paul were punished for their sins. David lost his first-born son, and Paul was struck blind for three days (not to mention being decapitated by Nero). It might be harder for some to accept the works of a sinner who wasn’t demonstrably punished.

    • #10
  11. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Misthiocracy got drunk and (View Comment):

    Bethany Mandel: Flawed humans can still have a body of work that is right and true and a valuable contribution . one can commit grave sins and still do other things well. 2 things can be true at once. King David and Paul come to mind.

    That lesson is one reason why the Left hates the Bible.

    And that’s why they vote for men without flaws, like Joe Biden and Bill Clinton.

    • #11
  12. Linguaphile Member
    Linguaphile
    @Linguaphile

    I think there is a  great difference between the example of the sin King David and Zacharias’.  David, when confronted with his sin (adultery & murder), broke down and repented (2 Samuel 12). He acknowledged that he had sinned against God (Psalms 51) and his repentance was real and deep. You cannot read this Psalm without feeling the depth of his remorse.  I could make the same case for Paul–he often lamented his sins, even calling himself the chief of sinners in one place (I Timothy 1:15). However, he presented a changed life post-conversion. Of course, we all sin, but the difference here is that Zacharias’ was a practice, a way of life; deceit and lying were part of that.  In other words, he was living a double life. As far as anyone knows, there was not repentance that resulted in a changed life, but it was apparently carried on to the end.  I think of the many people he used and hurt deeply, and the people who are now hurt by this news; yet he was able to carry on his ministry as if all were well. Of course, we all sin, but there is a difference between occasional lapses and premeditated, continual practice of sin while talking and presenting yourself as something quite different. Ravi is a great example how we all need people in our lives who know us and keep us accountable.

    • #12
  13. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Jules PA (View Comment):
    Solomon was flawed too.

    Bigly

    • #13
  14. DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone Member
    DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone
    @DrewInWisconsin

    This is another reason not to create ‘celebrity Christians,’ and only follow Jesus.

    • #14
  15. DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone Member
    DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Bethany Mandel: And as such, I read this piece from David French in the Dispatch . . .

    I am so triggered.

    David French is another one who needs to spend time in reflection and repentance instead of pointing fingers at others.

    • #15
  16. David B. Sable Coolidge
    David B. Sable
    @DavidSable

    Bethany:  I’m so sorry that happened to you.  

    We live in the golden age of apologetics where resources abound.  So if you are looking for reasoned, intellectual basis for Judeo-Christian faith traditions, they are not difficult to find even if RZ was taken out of the vast library.  

    What was lost was something more than just a cannon of truth.  We turn to our religious leaders to not only tell us what is true but to model for us that these truths can be lived out in real life.  Our issue with leftist ideology is that it is unhinged from reality; they insist that marriage, children and biology has nothing to do with sex, they believe racism is solved by emphasizing identity groups and promoting resentment, they believe that when right wing extremists are out of line, it is a national crisis but when left wing extremists are out of line, it is a peaceful protest.

    But our religious leaders remind us that there is a truth that transcends politics and it is “true truth”.  Because it is true not just in ideology but in reality it can be carried over into real life.  It produces a faith that works.  I don’t have to believe one way religiously and behave a different way in my daily, practical affairs.

    So when these things happen by teachers of truth, it is a genuine blow and hurt that likely will make it hard to look at any of his videos or books.  We really wanted to believe Bill Cosby that black in-tact families can succeed, and that is still true, but it will be hard to watch the Cosby show.

    Years ago, I was in Goodwill and saw several copies of a leadership book by a CEO of an organization I am tied to that was fired due to a moral failure.  Perhaps RZ’s last contribution is going to be the money Goodwill makes by the influx of this books.

    • #16
  17. Jules PA Inactive
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    Linguaphile (View Comment):
    Of course, we all sin, but there is a difference between occasional lapses and premeditated, continual practice of sin while talking and presenting yourself as something quite different.

    I’m thinking in G-d’s eyes sin is sin.

    But I agree humans see sin this way, in terms of degrees. It helps us find a pecking order.

    All have sinned, and fall short of the Glory of G-d.

    Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 3:23

    • #17
  18. Podkayne of Israel Member
    Podkayne of Israel
    @PodkayneofIsrael

    What a horrifying story! Every time I hear about that Freundel, I am sorry that the American justice system has not retained horsewhipping.

    I wouldn’t use any of his books, because a man like that has nothing to teach me about Judaism, spirituality, or ethics. But I might use a textbook written by a pedophile.

    • #18
  19. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Podkayne of Israel (View Comment):

    What a horrifying story! Every time I hear about that Freundel, I am sorry that the American justice system has not retained horsewhipping.

    I wouldn’t use any of his books, because a man like that has nothing to teach me about Judaism, spirituality, or ethics. But I might use a textbook written by a pedophile.

    A pedophile writing great books about science or law feels different than a pedophile writing about G-d or ethics. 

    • #19
  20. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and
    @Misthiocracy

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Podkayne of Israel (View Comment):

    What a horrifying story! Every time I hear about that Freundel, I am sorry that the American justice system has not retained horsewhipping.

    I wouldn’t use any of his books, because a man like that has nothing to teach me about Judaism, spirituality, or ethics. But I might use a textbook written by a pedophile.

    A pedophile writing great books about science or law feels different than a pedophile writing about G-d or ethics.

    Today, “science” and “law” have replaced G-d and ethics.

    • #20
  21. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Vance Richards (View Comment):

    Bethany Mandel: Flawed humans can still have a body of work that is right and true and a valuable contribution . one can commit grave sins and still do other things well. 2 things can be true at once. King David and Paul come to mind.

    That is true and what I have read by Zacharias was excellent, although if I were to reread any of it I would have a more critical eye where subjects like sin and sexuality are discussed. The fact that the scandal broke only after he died makes me think people within the ministry knew, or should have known, about what was going on and chose to ignore it. They viewed protecting the ministry as more important than doing what is right, and that is horrible.

    Years ago a pastor I know mentioned how one of the gifts he received when he first got ordained was a book on purity written by Jimmy Swaggert. People laughed because of Swaggert’s scandals but the pastor insisted it was a good book and wished the writer would have practiced what he preached.

    Sinners, arguably, know a lot more about sin than the devout. 

    • #21
  22. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Misthiocracy got drunk and (View Comment):

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Podkayne of Israel (View Comment):

    What a horrifying story! Every time I hear about that Freundel, I am sorry that the American justice system has not retained horsewhipping.

    I wouldn’t use any of his books, because a man like that has nothing to teach me about Judaism, spirituality, or ethics. But I might use a textbook written by a pedophile.

    A pedophile writing great books about science or law feels different than a pedophile writing about G-d or ethics.

    Today, “science” and “law” have replaced G-d and ethics.

    If actual had replaced G-d that would be OK. But it’s sentimentality without any rigorous empiricism that is replacing G-d. 

    • #22
  23. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Jules PA (View Comment):

    Linguaphile (View Comment):
    Of course, we all sin, but there is a difference between occasional lapses and premeditated, continual practice of sin while talking and presenting yourself as something quite different.

    I’m thinking in G-d’s eyes sin is sin.

    But I agree humans see sin this way, in terms of degrees. It helps us find a pecking order.

    All have sinned, and fall short of the Glory of G-d.

    Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 3:23

    And finding a distinction between David’s repentance from his sins and RZ’s lack of repentance is not quite accurate.  David’s sin was on-going, lasting, what, a year?, essentially living two lives, up until he was publicly accused.  When he was accused publicly and he had no acceptable defense.  RZ’s was secret until he died.  He didn’t have the benefit of public scorn to lead him to a public repentance.

    • #23
  24. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Jules PA (View Comment):

    Linguaphile (View Comment):
    Of course, we all sin, but there is a difference between occasional lapses and premeditated, continual practice of sin while talking and presenting yourself as something quite different.

    I’m thinking in G-d’s eyes sin is sin.

    But I agree humans see sin this way, in terms of degrees. It helps us find a pecking order.

    All have sinned, and fall short of the Glory of G-d.

    Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 3:23

    And finding a distinction between David’s repentance from his sins and RZ’s lack of repentance is not quite accurate. David’s sin was on-going, lasting, what, a year?, essentially living two lives, up until he was publicly accused. When he was accused publicly and he had no acceptable defense. RZ’s was secret until he died. He didn’t have the benefit of public scorn to lead him to a public repentance.

    Those Jews sure know how to shame. They should have a competition with Asian moms.

    • #24
  25. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Jules PA (View Comment):

    Linguaphile (View Comment):
    Of course, we all sin, but there is a difference between occasional lapses and premeditated, continual practice of sin while talking and presenting yourself as something quite different.

    I’m thinking in G-d’s eyes sin is sin.

    But I agree humans see sin this way, in terms of degrees. It helps us find a pecking order.

    All have sinned, and fall short of the Glory of G-d.

    Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 3:23

    And finding a distinction between David’s repentance from his sins and RZ’s lack of repentance is not quite accurate. David’s sin was on-going, lasting, what, a year?, essentially living two lives, up until he was publicly accused. When he was accused publicly and he had no acceptable defense. RZ’s was secret until he died. He didn’t have the benefit of public scorn to lead him to a public repentance.

    Now do Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived.

    • #25
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