This week KYD is showcasing extracts from this year’s Unpublished Manuscript Award shortlist, who are spending the week fine-tuning their work in an online intensive as part of the KYD/Varuna Copyright Agency Fellowship. Read extracts from the other shortlistees here!
Ezra and Yonatan were both students at Yahel Academy, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish school, when allegations of sexual abuse arose against a teacher, Rabbi Hirsh. After Hirsch fled to Israel, Ezra’s parents pulled him out of the school, while Yonatan remained. Now in their thirties, the lives of the two men have taken very different paths: Ezra identifies as secular and atheist, while Yonatan has been ordained as a rabbi and even teaches at the Yahel Academy. At a rally in support of the extradition of Rabbi Hirsch from Israel the men are reunited, and the events of their past and present collide with devastating consequences.
Sweating, Yonatan woke two hours before his alarm with the thread of a dream stuck to the edge of his mind as he gradually gained full consciousness—bulbous white, a whole sky full of moon, pockmarked and brilliant. It unnerved him, its waxy shine, the sheer size of it. He felt uneasy beneath it, as though at any moment it might sink and crush him, and then he woke.
Across from him in the dark, on her own bed, Rivka turned over, murmuring in her sleep. Carefully, he extricated himself from beneath the sheets, recited Modeh Ani under his breath and felt for the basin of water and natla he’d placed by his bed the night before. After washing his hands and whispering netilat yadayim, Yonatan navigated his way to the door, opening and closing it with practiced quiet.
In the bathroom, he noticed that the tzitzit he slept in was plastered to his chest. After pulling it over his head, he placed it on the cream-coloured towel rack, relieved himself, recited asher yatzar and walked back towards his and Rivka’s bedroom. Satisfied with the strip of darkness at the bottom of the door, Yonatan continued to his study, where he carefully closed the door behind him and sat, half-naked at his desk. The worn leather of his large office chair was cool against his bare skin. A part of him had anticipated that feeling and relished in the shiver that followed. He switched on his desktop computer, and as it whirred, he considered the walls of his study, his musty, leather bound copies of the Babylonian Talmud, the Jerusalem Talmud, Shulchan Aruch, commentaries of Rashi, the Vilna Gaon, the Rashbam. It was the study of a pious man, a teacher, a man who should know which actions are halachic and which are in breach of Jewish law. Once the screen loaded, Yonatan clicked on his internet browser, glanced up from the screen at the closed door and typed in the web address for Facebook.
Strictly speaking, Chief Rabbi Feiner at the Yahel Academy shule had provided no official standing on social media participation, but its use was still frowned upon in the community. Recently, some of the foremost rabbinical leaders in Israel released a newspaper article in which they referred to the advancements in modern technology as providing ‘unprecedented access to immodest material’ that would inevitably create a ‘breach in the wall of holiness’ and lead to the spiritual destruction of the Jewish people. Personally, Yonatan enjoyed engaging with technology, and on the rare occasion when pop-ups from undesirable websites infiltrated his screen, he was always quick to raise a hand to his eyes and click the cross icon in the corner of those windows. Inevitably though, he couldn’t prevent himself from seeing some of the pornogrophic advertisements that appeared, laden with promises and naked women.
FIND YOUR FUCKBUDDY
FREE LIVE CAMS
ASIAN GIRLS WANT TO FUCK YOU
Whenever that happened, Yonatan would immediately appeal to Hashem to forgive his aveira and keep him from future evil inclinations towards perversity and temptation.
Initially, when he received the notification, Yonatan assumed it was another mass-invitation, but upon inspection, he saw the reference to Yahel Academy, Rabbi Hirsch, and knew he’d been found out.
He kept his Facebook account spare—a shortened version of his name with no other identifying information—and by following certain pages he was able to stay up to date with the works of contemporary Talmudic scholars as well as developments in the State of Israel. Yonatan felt that the ability to access information and communicate across the world in an instant was a blessing, and if embraced by the rest of the community, could revolutionise, without compromise, their halachic way of living. Rivka, however, did not share his views. Her father, Rav Yitzchak Bloom, had been a member of the Australian Rabbinical Council and a highly-regarded Talmudic scholar. He believed that, as much as possible, a yehudi should live as their European ancestors did. On Shabbat, a fur-trimmed shtreimel on your head, your feet stockinged and a long black bekishe hanging to your knees. Rav Bloom shunned the advent of new technologies and never owned a car, television or computer. But it was only after the Rav’s death, two years earlier, that his beliefs began to gain popularity in the community and at Yahel Academy. The one positive to the uptake of Rav Bloom’s conservative approach within the community was that Yonatan had little to worry about when it came to maintaining his anonymity online. Or rather he’d thought that was the case, until he received a Facebook event invitation from Avraham Kliger.
There was a cherem on Avraham and the entire Kliger family, for the accusations they made against Rabbi Hirsch some twenty years ago. They had committed the sin of lashon hara, spread evil about another, and followed their accusations with mesirah when they reported Hirsch to the police rather than deal with the issue within the community. For their sins, Avraham and his family were ostracised, excommunicated.
Initially, when he received the notification, Yonatan assumed it was another mass-invitation from the Association of Jewish Studies in New York but, upon inspection, he saw the reference to Yahel Academy, Rabbi Hirsch and knew he’d been found out.
He’d been brazen, foolish and led by hubris.
‘Putz,’ he’d said to himself, shaking his head.
The mouse was slippery in Yonatan’s hand. He accessed his privacy settings, deactivated his Facebook account and turned off the computer, vowing to let it alone if he should come out of this unscathed.
The day after they were sent home from school, Pinchas Singer found Yonatan, after shacharit, and filled him in on the allegations Moishe had made against Rabbi Hirsch. A paskudnyak, they called him. Monster. Chazer. Pig. The idea was difficult for Yonatan to reconcile with the image he held of his fourth-grade teacher—a bushy brown beard, flecked with red and always split by a large white smile, his front teeth hanging over his bottom lip. He was big. Not fat or imposing, but when Hirsch was in a room, he seemed to fill up most of it. He encouraged the shy, challenged the boastful and guided those who read poorly. It was rare for him to admonish anyone. His hands were large and covered in thick, black hairs from wrist to knuckle. Yonatan remembered the weight of one on his shoulder, Hirsch looking down at him, smiling with those buck teeth and asking how he’d found the homework. Could that man have done such things?
The idea plagued Yonatan all afternoon. Was it possible Moishe had been mistaken? Why would a man even want to do that to children? Could Rabbi Hirsch be both a good teacher and a monster?
An hour or so before they normally left for ma’ariv, too conflicted to worry about disrupting him, Yonatan approached his father’s closed study door and knocked.
‘Come in,’ his father said.
The study was small, or at least it appeared that way, cluttered as it was by books, a large desk and his father’s hulking frame. Nearly two metres tall, Yonatan had heard his father referred to as a ‘giant in the community and in life’.
‘Boychick.’ His father sat up and closed the Yerushalmi before him. ‘What is it? We have time still, nu?’
Yonatan nodded. ‘Could I ask your advice, Abba?’
‘Of course, boychick. Sit down.’ He gestured to the chair on the other side of his desk. He appeared to be in an affable mood and Yonatan was glad.
Yonatan sat. Where to begin?
Yonatan remembered the weight of one on his shoulder, Hirsch looking down at him, smiling with those buck teeth and asking how he’d found the homework. Could that man have done such things?
His father’s eyes flicked to the side of his face.
Yonatan hadn’t realised he was twirling one of his peyot. He dropped his hands to his lap.
‘It’s about Reb Hirsch.’
His father’s lips tightened, but he didn’t speak.
‘The things people are saying about him—I cannot—could he have—’ Yonatan took a breath. ‘I did not know him like that. He was a good teacher, but if he did those things—how am I meant to feel about him now? I thought the Talmud might—’
‘Talmud.’ His father’s eyes sharpened. ‘What is it you think the Talmud says?’
‘I don’t know. I thought that maybe—’
‘You don’t know? But you thought to interrupt my study of the Almighty’s will anyway?’
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t—’
‘Do not speak to me of Talmud.’ His father’s voice shook. He stood, curled his hand into a fist and raised it as though he might strike the desk. ‘And do not speak of this again. Not to me, not to anyone. Mevin?’
Yonatan froze. What had he done? Whatever it was he hadn’t meant to do it.
‘Mevin,’ his father repeated. ‘You understand, Yonatan?
‘Good. Now go, get ready for shule.’