Thursday, March 15, 2012

Admiring The Great Man With A Horrible Flaw

Is greatness together with a great flaw, still great? Can we not appreciate a person for his achievements, when there is a gorilla sized skeleton in the closet?

This topic keeps coming up, in various mutations. What has recently gotten me thinking about this issue, is the campaign being waged to deny Rabbi  Haim Druckman from receiving the Israel Prize. The prize committee, headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Ya’acov Turkel, said that the state’s highest civilian honor is being awarded to Druckman for his “many important activities in the field of education for national-religious youth.” and that:

 “With his national perspective, he was among those who founded the hesder yeshiva program which combines military service and Torah study. With his sensitivity and love for Israel he worked to bridge social gaps and absorb immigrants from Ethiopia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (formerly members of the Soviet Union).
The prize committee said that Drukman is “attentive and a unifying influence for all social groups, is involved in resolving serious debates at the core of Israeli society involving issues of religion and state, and serves as an address to which state leaders throng to for advice and ingenuity.”

The campaign against him receiving the prize is focused on his actions concerning one famous case of sexual abuse that occured in a Yeshiva-High School in Jeruaslem called Nativ Meir. Failed Messiah summerised the story as:

Druckman was told then that Rabbi Ze'ev Kopilovich, Netiv Meir's rosh yeshiva, was sexually abusing students. Druckman failed to report the allegations to police and protected Kopilovich, keeping him in his job and allowing him free access to students.
Kopilovich later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison.

This wasn't the only case where Rabbi Druckman went soft on alleged sexual abusers. Rabbi Druckman famously allowed Harav Motti Ellon to teach in his yeshivah, long after Harav Ellon's was openly accused of sexually abusing some of his students, and long after he became a pariah in the Dati-Leumi public. These two stories together, would seem to make a reasonable case that Rabbi Druckman fails to appreciate the severity of sexual abuse by rabbis.  But does this disqualify him from receiving the Israel Prize?

Were we to argue the point ad absurdum, the question become easy. No one would give an Israel Prize to a brilliant scientist, who is also a rapist. However, arguments ad absurdum are rarely useful in real life. So when does a serious flaw, overshadow a lifetime's achievement? Can we not have flawed role models? Is that not the very lesson of Rabbi Meir and  Elisha ben Abuyah ?

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