Jerusalem – Two days after paying a controversial visit to an elderly rosh yeshiva who continues to serve a prison sentence for sexual abuse while under house arrest at a convalescent home, the Israeli health minister issue a written apology to anyone who may have felt hurt by his actions.
As previously reported on VIN News (http://bit.ly/2oq7Nbn), Rabbi Yaakov Litzman called on Rabbi Eliezer Berland who is being treated for advanced cancer while serving out the remainder of his prison term at a facility at Hadassah University Hospital’s Mt. Scopus campus.
The 80 year old head of Jerusalem’s Yeshiva Shuvu Bonim walked away with a relatively minor 18 month jail sentence in a plea bargain deal last November after expressing remorse for his actions.
Israeli news site Kikar HaShabbat (http://bit.ly/2pGluE2) reported that Rabbi Litzman’s visit created a storm of protest in both the public arena and the political world. In response to Rabbi Litzman’s visit, attorney Sara Markowitz sent a strongly worded letter to the minister of health saying that while Rabbi Berland had figuratively driven a knife into his victims’ souls, Rabbi Litzman’s visit twisted the blade even deeper into their already wounded hearts, causing further pain and suffering.
Markowitz also questioned a statement made by a spokesperson for Rabbi Litzman who said that the Isru Chag visit did not legitimize Rabbi Berland’s actions, “if they actually took place.”
“I am stunned that a member of the Israeli government could question a decision that was handed down by the courts,” wrote Markowitz. “I don’t understand how the minister could cast doubt on the credibility of the victims, who are honest and pure.”
Markowitz also called Rabbi Litzman to task for taking a strong stance on fat and sugar consumption in Israel while neglecting to exercise caution with his words.
“I would take the opportunity to remind you that the baalei mussar often said that what comes out of your mouth is far more important than what goes into your mouth,” wrote Markowitz, appealing to Rabbi Litzman for both an explanation and an apology.
In his April 20th response to Markowitz, Rabbi Litzman observed that his responsibilities at the Ministry of Health included providing assistance to all who reach out to him, regardless of their religion, race, sex or status.
Rabbi Litzman acknowledged that he had refused multiple request from Rabbi Berland for a personal visit while he was in jail, but now that he was released and was considered to have paid his debt to society, it was appropriate to perform the mitzvah of bikur cholim.
Rabbi Litzman noted that hospitals exist to provide every person with non-judgmental care, even those who have sinned.
“It should be emphasized that the mitzvah of bikur cholim does not legitimize a person’s actions or misdeeds,” wrote Rabbi Litzman. “I would prefer that my visit not be viewed as a slight towards any of Rabbi Berland’s victims and apologize if my actions were interpreted as such.”