Points People Pondered
My previous post, Disappointed in the Appointed: Grasping How Orthodox Leaders Can Lead Unorthodox Lives, discussed the recent scandal of a formerly respected Torah teacher who abused, some directly, and a whole community of coreligionists by extension. The post seemed to have resonated with people. Many reached out to me with feedback. Most of the responses I received were enthusiastically appreciative, positive, or supportive. Some were critical.
There are five main critiques that people have had about my article:
- Giving a name or diagnosis to an abhorrent behavior or string of behaviors does not:
- resolve religious questions about how G-d could let this happen or how He creates people that have such challenges.
- remove the legal or religious culpability of a person for his decisions or actions.
- It is not good practice to diagnose a person that you never met clinically – let alone at all (viz. the American Psychiatric Association’s “Goldwater Rule”).
- Reducing people to diagnoses can serve to cover over and simplify the complexities of their interactions and of a long standing set of circumstances.
- Naming a disease does not remove culpability to “the establishment”, including other rabbis, teachers, administrators, supervisors, and superiors for not ameliorating the situation.
- Most poignantly, giving a diagnosis does not assuage the unspeakable anguish, pain, torture and grief of even one victim. In fact, labels can sometimes seem to broadside and whitewash their emotional pain, torment, and suffering.
Two additional points that no one expressly stated are that:
- Highlighting possible warning signs might make victims second guess themselves and create guilt that they had not seen those signs sooner.
- A diagnosis, whether it is speculative or comprehensive, full or partial, never discusses etiology – the causes for the disease. It is merely descriptive of symptoms that are presented.
Approval of the Disapproval
I agree with those lines of reasoning. The points are valid and powerful. Some of those ideas are much broader than this specific context. They lie at the core of the raging dispute about how to write a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for mental health (which describes, delineates and codifies the symptoms and thresholds for mental diseases and disorders) and if there should be such a manual altogether. Other points involve a larger discussion about the reach of a plea of “insanity” in a court of law or in Judaism or how to best support those that suffered most.
The Objective Objective
In my article I strive for a greater understanding of the broad areas of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and narcissism. I believe that it is an important area for people to be aware of and consider in the context of this situation. What can an increased knowledge and consideration of the interaction of a mental health disorder do?
Perhaps it can facilitate understanding that:
- There are certain people that are more prone to this behavior than others, possibly mitigating a sense that stressors are constantly present (but not communicating to people to diminish their vigilance).
- There might be a greater concentration of them in situations of leadership, including the Orthodox rabbinate.
- The existence of warning signs can help people be more in touch with what to notice in the future.
- There are therapists that are aware of such behavior and versed in interventions to assist individuals and the community.
- Torah does not usually change an individual’s personality when it has pronounced deficiencies.
- Create a sense of order out of disorder, stability out of chaos, and harmony out of deep confusion.
- Find a common thread and language to describe many situations that people may see as disjointed, yet are linked by similar presentations, factors, and conditions.
Disillusion and Confusion
A colleague expressed to me that one might see this situation as creating two groups of traumatized victims that are both very different, yet similar: those directly abused, and those that “suffer from a shattering of their former conceptualizations” of Torah, leadership, and religiosity. I include myself in the second category. As Elihu ben Berachel said while discussing his friend Job’s travails and suffering (Job 32, 20), I speak that I might find relief.
I pray that it come to all those that suffered from this situation and those like it.