“I very frequently hear from people: ‘I’m so glad that you do what you do…even though I hate all of it…because I wouldn’t know what’s happening [in my community] if I didn’t [read your articles]. I wouldn’t be able to find these things out—I wouldn’t know that I was being lied to—if you didn’t do it.”
All communities have leaders that abuse their power. What makes Haredi Judaism unique is that it is those very leaders that choose to exploit their congregants, that control the information their followers are exposed to. Those leaders who do choose to abuse their power are able to excommunicate opponents, and community members will largely abide by their leaders’ rulings. To make matters worse, Haredi Jews are generally suspicious of the Internet and secular media. In fact, many Haredi homes do not have Internet connections, and most families rely primarily on approved sources like Yated Ne’eman for news.
In Haredi communities, many Orthodox criminals are able to portray victims as religious transgressors, and this power can ruin the already traumatized victims’ lives even more. While I, personally, grew up in a non-Haredi and Modern Orthodox community, I still attended a high school where sex abuse allegations were covered up, only to come to light twenty years later. The rabbi involved abused yet other women while working for a different institution later on in his career. I am fairly certain there are many similar cases that do not come to light at all.
Enter Shmarya Rosenberg. A former member of the Haredi-Hasidic sect of Chabad, Rosenberg was excommunicated after he publicized a letter addressed to him by the Lubavicher Rebbe, the leader of the Chabad movement. Rosenberg published the letter on a blog he named “Failed Messiah,” in reference to the belief held by some Chabad and Hasidic believers that the late Lubavicher Rebbe was the Messiah. The letter contained instructions to Rosenberg to focus his charitable efforts on his local Chabad community, rather than on Ethiopian Jewish communities that, at the time, were in a dire need of financial support. Rosenberg described the letter’s content to the Forward as follows:
“He tried to make an equivalence, as if stopping a secular Jew in Minnesota and saying, ‘Put on a pair of tefillin with me’ is the equivalent of saving somebody’s life that’s dying in Ethiopia. I mean, it’s insane!”
Rosenberg documented his own excommunication from the Chabad circle on his blog, and he continued blogging even after his Chabad community, synagogue and friends had severed all ties with him. Although he faced his fair share of attacks and death threats, Rosenberg also received some positive responses from current and former Orthodox Jews that had gone through similar experiences. This encouragement motivated Rosenberg to continue blogging.
Failed Messiah has worked to expose the worst faces of Orthodox Judaism. Rosenberg has used his blog to compile information about topics such as abuses of laborers in kosher slaughterhouses, money laundering and corruption in Chabad leadership, and the covering up of child sex abuse in Haredi communities.
Unfortunately, Failed Messiah is no longer in existence. On February 3, 2016, the blog posted a message from an entity known only as “Diversified Holdings”, which identified itself as the new owners of Failed Messiah. I was unable to find any other traces of this organization on the internet. They claim that they are “a group of people dedicated to protecting the reputation of the Orthodox community.” Their stated intention was to “present articles and conversations that speak to what Hashem [God] truly wants from us,” as well as to “pursue and expose people that create a desecration of God’s name.”
It seems likely that “Diversified Holdings” may be a front for a group of Orthodox Jews that, dissatisfied with the negative press that the Orthodox community was receiving from Failed Messiah, decided to take matters into their own hands by buying off Shmarya Rosenberg. In the process, they shut down the only news outlet that reliably provided information about the abuse of power in the Orthodox world.
“Diversified Holdings” has since redesigned Failed Messiah’s website. According to a backup copy from about 6 months ago, the site used to look like this:
The header image previously showed a Haredi man looking at a pashkevil, a type of poster that Haredi Jews typically use to publish news and information to the community. Under the header image is a list of links to topics that Failed Messiah regularly reports about, such as Chabad, Rubashkin (a meat company that guilty of committing labor violations), and the treatment of Ethiopian Jews in the broader Jewish community.
In the days since “Diversified Holdings” took over, the site has been redesigned. It now looks like this:
The header has been replaced by a plain black-and-white theme, and the topics that the blog used to post about are nowhere to be seen. Instead, the new owners have provided links to a series of inane articles about topics such as BDS, European anti-Semitism, and the gravitational waves predicted by Einstein. While these topics are not trivial, they do nothing to help Orthodox Jews learn the truth about corruption and abuse in their communities.
Failed Messiah is dead, and the Orthodox community is worse off as a result. Abuse will surely continue, and it will be easier to be covered up now more than ever before. I sincerely that hope a new media outlet will arise to do what Failed Messiah once did, and I pray that they will not sell out.