Schadenfreude is not my usual response to the downfall of a religious leader—with perhaps the exception of televangelists. After all, religious leaders are only human. Occasionally one crosses a very serious line, as the news about Nechemya Weberman, a Hasidic counselor who was found guilty of molesting a girl under his profession care, reveals. The sad part of this situation, apart from the tragic consequences for his victim, which are very serious in their own right, is that the Satmar Hasidic community insisted that it should have had the right to do its trial in secret. Sects that take their cue from the Bible are seldom fair to women. The Bible, after all, is not a very female-friendly tome, no matter how much feminists may try to rescue it from its androcentric world. Religions based heavily on the Bible feel they have the right to judge by their own standards—something a secular court can’t understand. It is back to the paradigm of the two swords here.
What are we to make of the civil crime that violates no religious laws for any one sect? What is wrong in one book is all right, or at least forgivable in the other. For a secular crime committed in a closed religious community in a country of religious freedom, who is to decide? These questions are decidedly more than rhetorical. Any religion that says women are here to serve men—and there are a disturbingly large number of such religions—can claim that God trumps gent d’armes every time. What’s more, they believe the decree is eternal and they are violating the divine will if they don’t keep to it. This situation is nothing new; at least as early as Tiglath-Pileser III, and probably earlier, ancient religions sometimes had to compromise under the hegemony of a higher power. But they were only biding their time until the political situation would grant their autonomy once more.
It is simplistic to suggest that the two swords represent the two hemispheres of the brain, but we do have a rational versus emotive issue here. Rationally, would an unseen force endowed with a human personality demand the unfair treatment of some people simply because of an unexplained favoritism? It does not seem likely. But religions are seldom logical. “Credo quia absurdum,” Tertullian is remembered as sighing—“I believe because it is absurd.” Theologically profound? Certainly. Helpful in society? Not so much. Freedom of religion is a classic ouroboros, a serpent biting its own tail. Religions are free to declare their own beliefs, but their own beliefs may challenge the very authorities who grant them that privilege. Secular authority may have the ability to put to death, but resurrection is the prerogative of religion.