I am going to drift from my "normal" protocol on this blog and introduce an ethical problem I was faced with over the past few days. In fact, it consumed so much of my time, I didn't post my usual percentage of stories.
On Monday morning, a friend of mine mentioned that the child of a prominent rabbi had made several startling announcements during a public appearance at a well-known shul in NYC. Among those startling announcements was that this child had "found G-d" at a church. My friend said that several people walked out of the event, and many complained.
I was shocked, and asked for more information about this situation. Soon, my friend sent a letter carefully detailing the events, including pictures, but specified that he/she must remain anonymous in order to prevent being ostracized by his/her community. My friend had sent the information hoping it would get out, as he/she didn't want anyone to be harmed by this prominent person's antics.
Thinking that such a shocking event would cause a stir, I tried searching the Internet for any mention of the situation, and then, unable to locate any mention of it, sent the information I had to a few close contacts in the Jewish News world, along with the pictures, which seemed to corroborate the event. I asked my media contacs if they had heard anything about the situation and if they could find some witnesses to the event.
At first, those contacts seemed enthusiastic, but then, as time wore on, they seemed to turn their back on the inquiry. One sent a letter to me from the friend of this rabbi's child suggesting that the detailed events may have never occurred and the whole thing must have been a misunderstanding (although the person writing the letter had not attended the event).
So, here I sit writing about the event in the vaguest of terms myself, torn between the prominence of the accused person, the respect I hold for those in the Jewish Media who decided not to carry the story, the careful details of the accuser (along with pictures), and the importance of letting this information out if, in fact, it is true.
And, as I experienced this, I realized how so many significant issues in the Jewish community are similarly treated. Some of those issues of much greater seriousness than this--like the abuse of children. Many people are aware of something happening, but because they are afraid of community pressure either don't report something, or report it anonymously. Then the accused is never confronted by the news media or (if applicable) the legal authorities because there are no corroborating witnesses. Often, if the accused is actually guilty, the accused becomes empowered by the lack of censure, and they continue or, G-d forbid, increase their activities.
I, for one, was quite convinced by the detailed account I received about the incident, and I believe other's were too. However, for lack of people stepping forward to take responsibility and speak out about this incident, no one can report upon it.
I pray that this "alleged" incident never happened, but, if it did, I am hoping people will step forward--not just that one person who can be hurt for their concern and courage in writing up the details, but many who could, even anonymously, corroborate his/her words. After all, silence is often much more dangerous to the community than speaking out, and if the majority isn't willing to step forward, we may all be victims sooner than later.