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Katzav Meets Foley’s Folly

Rabbi Stern points out the distinct irony of Israeli President Moshe Katzav refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of Conservative and Reform rabbis on the basis of Orthodox law as interpreted by Israel’s Religious Ministry while engaging in personal behavior that, if found to be true, is morally and religiously reprehensible.

I think there is a bigger problem here, however.

When Israel’s founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion dreamed that Israel would someday be like the other nations of the world, I doubt he had in mind that a prominent Israeli leader would face a sex-abuse scandal at the same time as an American congressman. The analogy to Florida Republican Mark Foley is apt in too many ways.


If the rape and sexual misconduct charges against Katzav are true, I have to wonder how many people, by their silence or acquiesce, enabled Katzav in his offenses, just as the Republican leadership enabled Foley in his misdeeds. (A report in this week’s Newsweek magazine cover story traces evidence of such knowledge back to at least 2002.)

Of course, the good old boys club mentality that facilitates and protects such egregious misbehavior (whether the victims are women or teenaged boys) is particularly disgusting when the individuals and parties in question claim to represent religious morals, whether of Jewish Orthodoxy or Christian conservativism. Under Jewish law, at least, someone who knows of a danger and does nothing about removing it can also be held liable for it.


But the Katzav affair reminds me of how the Orthodox Jewish political establishment also fails vulnerable women and children in another way, as corrupt religious courts force women to remain in abusive relationships, lose custody of their children to abusive fathers, be blackmailed and, by denying them a get (a religious divorce), languish as agunot–grass widows–unable to remarry.

While there is a significant number of Orthodox rabbis who try to help agunot, the reality is that the problem only exists because of a lack of will within the Orthodox establishment to correct it. The Conservative movement years ago found a way to annul a marriage where the husband refuses to give his wife a get.

While some might say solving the agunah issue is more complex than or unrelated to either the Katzav or Foley sex-abuse scandal, these women and children share something in common with Katzav’s and Foley’s alleged victims: They are endangered every day because politically powerful men do nothing to help them.

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posted October 18, 2006 at 8:54 pm

Oh, please, there is a difference between consensual sex, rape and pedophilia. Bill Clinton was not the first politician who behaved inappropriately; it was just not covered in earlier times by the press and it goes back to FDR! Rape is not about sex; it is about fear and control. I heard on the news this morning that Foley is now in an (undisclosed)alcoholic treatment center and is planning on talking about the sexual abuse perpetuated on him. (Shades of the ‘Twinkie Defense’ covered in “The Abuse Excuse” by Alan Dershowitz). In the case of young boys or girls, I would error on the side of caution to make sure they were safe. Better to feel “stupid” than to discover my complacency had permitted a child to be molested.

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posted October 19, 2006 at 1:10 pm

“Bill Clinton was not the first politician who behaved inappropriately; it was just not covered in earlier times by the press and it goes back to FDR!” Too right- think about how the Kennedy’s were behaving throughout the sixties. I think it is the power they command- they think they are invincible, beyond reproach and the law.

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L Kanterman

posted October 19, 2006 at 2:19 pm

With Clinton, it may have been “consensual sex” but it was at the very least adultery and also perjury – that’s 2 of the “big 10″ in one fell swoop. So far with Foley there is no evidence or even accusation of any ACTION. Foley may have pedophilic tendencies/ideas but my understanding of Judaism is that we are more concerned with behavior than ideas. I’m not defending Foley, I think he’s sick and needs help, but I feel IF he did not act on his tendencies – that’s a big if – his failings are less substantial than Clinton. BTW, Gerry Stubbs, another gay congressmen (D-Mass), DID have sexual relations with a 17-yr old page and all he got was a slap on the wrist. He was “censured” and then re-elected. So at least Foley was mensch enough to resign.

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posted October 19, 2006 at 4:57 pm

Foley….. “Mensch”….?? Nah.

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L Kanterman

posted October 19, 2006 at 7:46 pm

Foley as “mensch” only in the sense that he was willing to take SOME responsibility for his own actions. Yes, he did blame alcohol and his own childhood abuse, but he didn’t pretend that this lapse shouldn’t have any effect on his continued public service. Public service should be just that – serving the public’s interest, not your own (and those of your campaign contributors). As far as FRD and JFK – journalistic standards were different in those days. Probably WRONGLY different, but these men had every reason to believe their private behavior would remain private. In today’s media climate, NO public figure can reasonably expect that their private lapses will NOT be publicly exposed. Given this climate, private indiscretions can have reckless conseuqences for the society public figures are supposedly serving.

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