Rabbi Sacks has recently published a blog post entitled “On Not Being a Victim” which can be read here.
Rabbi Sacks is widely regarded as one of today’s great thinkers and philosophers with good reason. In his post he encourages people to face the future rather than focus on the past (over which no one has control), or to use his words “You cannot change your past but you can change your future”. Whilst this idea is extremely empowering, and in many cases is probably the most productive approach, I don’t believe it paints the full picture.
Unfortunately, in life there are situations when a person is severely wronged by another person or group of people. Very often, those victims will receive advice from friends, family, rabbis or communal leaders such as “move on”, “leave the past in the past” or “there’s nothing you can do about it now anyway”. This appears to be in agreement with Rabbi Sacks’s blog post. If this advice is followed, those perpetrators will never face justice for their crimes and will be free to abuse yet more victims as is so often the case. Many of those new victims will no doubt also be told to “move on”. Abusers will retain their positions of respect and authority, whilst deceiving entire communities who will never hear of their criminal actions.
Furthermore, some people are unfortunately still suffering in their situation, as is the case of domestic violence. It is not possible for those victims to separate the past from the present. Each day that passes is a failure on the community in allowing the abuse to continue. The Talmud, B’rachot 5b, describes clearly that “a person is not able to free themselves from prison”, meaning that often it is up to the community to rescue those who are not able to rescue themselves. This is illustrated in the tragic custody case of the Schlesinger twins in Vienna. The response should not be to focus on “moving on” from the past, and allow the innocent children to continue to suffer, but rather, the responsibility falls on our religious leaders, some of whom were active or complicit in the barbaric separation from their mother, to reverse the injustice and stop further suffering.
Contrary to Rabbi Sacks’s advice, victims of abuse should be encouraged to report their perpetrators and the much harder task of achieving justice be sought. Not only does this provide a sense of closure for those who have suffered, but it protects the community from a known abuser. Even the awareness of an institution or group of people who have either abused or covered up abuse is a powerful tool in allowing parents to help protect their children. As a community, we need to express our heartfelt appreciation to those brave individuals who have taken this route, rather than villify them with accusations of loshon harah, mesirah and chilul hashem. Justice is recognised by Judaism as being such an integral part of society that it features as one of the seven noachite laws.
To help make his point, Rabbi Sacks cites holocaust victims and how they reacted to the horrors they faced. He neglects to mention Simon Wiesenthal who dedicated his life to bringing nazi war criminals to justice. Would Rabbi Sacks have advised Simon Wiesenthal to simply move on and make a new life for himself elsewhere?
No one chooses to be a victim, and those who fortunately have not been victims cannot truly understand what this means. Everyone is entitled to justice and it is only under an efficient and accurate judiciary that we can claim to live in a civil society.
Unfortunately, there are times when the past needs to receive focus if we all want to have a safer future.