A Grain of Sand

"I will multiply you as the stars in heaven and as the sand upon the shore." - Genesis 22:17

"I can see the master's hand in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand." - Dylan, Every Grain of Sand (on Shot of Love)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Polanski and Forgiveness

I've been so out of the loop with the chagim and all the work (I should say avodah) around them that I've been in a kind of news exile.

In any event, Roman Polanski was arrested on charges of child rape. He was charged over thirty years ago in California with raping a 13 year old. He fled the US and has been living in Europe since. US authorities arrested him as he was traveling to Switzerland (?) to receive an award. He is awaiting the judgment of a Swiss (?) court as to whether his extradition to the US for prosecution of this long ago event.

I came across the story in an article, in the NYT I believe, in which the French culture minister, Mitterand, said, essentially, that Polanski had erred many years ago, but his contributions as a great artist far outweighed this error. There is a United States that the French loved, he said, but that there was a United States that scared people, and that was the one showing its face with this arrest.

Many others have come to the defense of this beloved and brilliant filmmaker and have argued against his arrest.

This article from Salon is a powerful and plainly stated reminder of why such sentiments are so terribly wrong.

The defenders of Polanski who I have read online are not necessarily arguing that he didn't commit the crime. There seems to be a theme that he did commit the crime but that we should forget about it.

Our capacity to create, even to create great beauty, does not negate our horrible acts. Those acts have to be confronted, contemplated, understood and punished. Polanski has made no attempt at reconciliation - he fled the country. We have a tendency to be dazzled by beauty - but we can't become so dazzled that we no longer can see right and wrong.

There is also an impulse to be sympathetic because of Polanski's age and that fact that the alleged crime took place 32 years ago. But forgiveness doesn't just seep into one's skin over time. Polanksi is charged with raping a young girl - having sex with her against her will. How could this just melt away?

The religious dimension of repentance is that when we hurt someone - and clearly 'hurt' doesn't begin to describe the experience of this young girl (now a woman in her mid 40s) - we have to attempt to make amends. We seek forgiveness and reconciliation with the other person and we also engage in an internal process known as teshuvah - contemplation, reflection, commitment to change.

Both this external and internal process are hard to imagine in the case of a child rape - how could one seek forgiveness? The notion that he has the power to assuage her is offensive - what could be done? Halachah states that one who refuses to be assuaged takes on a burden of guilt but I do not know if the halachah is equipped to deal with such traumatic cases (I'm not saying this rhetorically; I really don't know). And second, it would seem likely that she would only be traumatized by any encounter with him and would want to, and should be entitled to, avoid it.

The legal (that is, US law) dimension is clearer. How can we not charge such a crime, even three decades late? If the law can not bring justice in the case of a 13 year old girl raped by a predator...then what good is the law?