Why Do We Talk Trash about Trashy People?

We’re fighting again. We got this intense submission for Hevria — a fairly scathing piece about a fairly prominent rabbi. It’s about the way he sees sexual morality. It’s written by a survivor of sexual abuse.


And we don’t know if we should publish it. On the other hand, if we don’t, who will? If it gets printed by one of the “mainstream” secular-Jewish websites — Tablet, JTA, the Forward — most people who read it will be non-Orthodox, or not Jewish. They’ll roll their eyes at us. More crazy haredis. Everything about their sexist, medieval society is totally messed up.

And many of the people who really need to see it won’t see it. The places that should be publishing pieces like this, the magazines and news outlets in the Orthodox world — Mishpocha, Ami, Hamodia — wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot impure vessel. Telling such stories in public is loshon hara, gossip. The only figure I know of within the frum world who regularly speaks out against the evils of rabbinic abuse is Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, who’s a crusader and a hero, and doesn’t get nearly enough help. Instead, he’s often castigated for speaking up about abuse in the community.

When Elad and I started this site, I really wanted Hevria to be about the intersection of creativity and belief. I wanted to reach the most ultra-Orthodox people in the world, the people who’d never touch a secular novel. I wanted them to read creative writing done by frum people, or non-frum people who were writing about frum-friendly things, and think to themselves, This is something I can do. I wanted there to be more religious memoirs than ex-religious memoirs. I wanted someone to write a short story as moving as a Rebbe story, a poem as beautiful as a Psalm.

I still want that. I think that is what we’re doing. But the other Hevria writers, and the greater Hevria community, have made me realize that, in order to really wrap our hands around the creative spark, we need to take the whole thing — the ugly parts. The vicious parts. The parts that acknowledge the imperfection of this world alongside the yearning for the Ultimate World. We need people who are angry, though righteously angry, and productively angry.

When I shouted out from my pit of depression after my rabbi turned out to be a sex fiend, people were there to hear me — and people bonded together over the piece and helped each other cope. Within the negativity, there was positivity. And yesterday, Chaya Kurtz’s brilliant piece about the Marc Gafni affair didn’t just kvetch about that obnoxious and oblivious Times profile that ignored his victims — she took her anger and made it something pointed and productive, and it gave us something to laugh about, and in that laughter we began to feel like we were no longer powerless.

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I wish I could bury this stuff. Marc Gafni’s abuse of power and abuse of his students; the rabbi’s sexually moralistic messed-uppedness (the piece is in the works, btw, and will run soon); even our day-to-day kvetches about Trump and Obama and the people who annoy us at shul. I want to just tell you inspirational stuff. I want to make you happier.

But there are things that we need to talk about the difficult stuff, times when we shouldn’t be happy.

Judaism has very specific rules about gossip. The short answer is, you should never do it. But there are times when you’re actually required to gossip about someone: when that person poses a threat or a danger to others. Or maybe — and this is only my own supposition– we can also use gossip to facilitate healing. The community of Orthodox Washingtonians and ex-Washingtonians who banded together in the wake of the scandal there was incredibly powerful; in fact, a bunch of victims created this awesome mosaic to reclaim the mikvah experience.

Yes, there are wicked Orthodox people in this world. There are also wicked Reform and Christian and Hindu and Muslim and Sikh people. But most of them are pretty awesome human beings — funny humans, and sardonic humans, and humans who won’t mind if you cry on their shoulder, or share a laugh with them. Go for it. Give it a try.

image: “Land of the Tabloids” by Daniel Novta