Tuesday, August 6, 2013

We've come a long way - It is now commonplace to criticize rabbis for failure to deal with abuse

Not too long ago - only about three years - when I was contemplating publishing my books on child abuse, I was advised by rabbis, friends and family that it was suicidal. There were two major reasons given. 1) "We don't talk about abuse." Stores told me they would not sell any book that had the word abuse in its title or used the word "sex" in it. Someone who had initially offered support for the book, withdrew it when he saw that I actually explicitly discussed sexual abuse in the book. 2) "You can't criticize rabbis for failure to deal with the issue." Or rather I was told I can't make the claim that rabbis were not following halacha - it was viewed as an oxymoron. Obviously rabbis follow halacha because that is what rabbis do - at least Chareidi rabbis.

In fact I was told that I was going to be put into cherem and that nobody would sell the book or buy it. Rav Sternbuch, however, was insistent that the issue of child abuse needed to be dealt with and he urged the publication of the book.

Fast forward to the present. In the past week I have had the following encounters. 1) After kayaking on the Jordan River - someone gave me a seat on the overcrowded bus returning us to the parking lot. In the ensuring conversation, I discovered that he had a kollel for Choshen Mishpat. I mentioned that I was dealing with child abuse and C.M. 388. He responded that the rabbis either didn't know halacha or were grossly misapplying it in regards to abusers. Furthermore he had quit a good teaching job at a yeshiva because of his disgust with the school's failure to deal properly with child abuse. Thus after a few minutes of first meeting another Chareidi Jew we were openly discussing the problem of abuse and the failure of rabbis to follow the halacha. 2) I had a long talk with a relative who is a solid talmid chachom learning in Kollel. He is a very strict about lashon harah, respecting rabbinical authority and is strongly against Internet, smart phones and believes in Daas Torah and only reads the Yated. Yet he readily acknowledged that he personally knew cases of abuse that were mishandled by rabbonim and is fully aware of the cowardice of poskim in  dealing with the issue of mesira and calling the police. He also expressed surprise that I thought that any rabbi would apologize for making a serious mistake. 3) Today I met a very well known Yerushalmi posek and rav that I haven't seen for years. He remembered who I was and asked me what I was working on. When I responded, "Child abuse" - he readily expressed strong approval. When I told him my biggest problem was that the rabbonim don't follow the halacha - this well known exemplar of the rabbinic establishment's immediate response was , "I can tell you some really good stories about that." There was no hesitation, no defensiveness. It was simply an obvious fact - such as the sun rises in the morning or objects fall when dropped.

16 comments :

  1. Let's turn this post into everyone's story of progress...

    Two days ago (8/04/13) I got this text...

    "Btw I spoke 2 […] who knows all the hock; he surprisingly didn't know the details of the [Lakewood Kolko]story but said e/o is horrified by the absence of a mea culpa!!"

    R' Doniel, thanks to you, other askonim, and to some very brave victims the oilam is waking up.

    Before long the problem will be in the reverse. Those without yiras shamayim will be accusing, any perceived threat to them, of being molesters!

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  2. This is an impressive post - especially the last case with the famous Posek. So my question would be, simply, what has lead to rabbonim not following halacha? Are they simply unaware of it?

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  3. Torah and the frum velt are not synonyms. They overlap, Baruch Hashem, but not always. Your inspiring story reminds me we should never give up on Torah merely because the frum velt speaks contrary to Torah. Torah truth is Torah truth, whether it is opposed by roshei yeshiva or secularists.

    -ben dov
    1honestlyfrum.blogspot.com

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  5. Thank you for these heartening stories, a bit of light in a dark landscape. Keep at it!

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  6. Are we really to assume that, for example, Rav Belsky is ignorant of Halacha in this area?

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    1. It is more complicated than that. He has publicly stated two conflicting policies - 1) one does not go to the police and one who does is a moser 2) if there is credible evidence of molesting then you go to the police.

      If you try to resolve this by saying that where he has personally investigated the matter and determined the alleged molester is innocent than it is mesira to go to the police - but he did not conduct a proper investigation. He did not even speak to the father of the victim and apparently discount all evidence that was contrary to his belief in Kolko's innocence. In addition he has accussed the father of molesting his own son - and yet he did not report this to the police

      Thus in Rav Belsky's case the problem goes beyond the question of knowledge of halacha.

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  7. I am a first time reader of your blog, so excuse me if my question has been discussed previously. The fact that the frum world have become estranged to Halacha is well known and it is a trend that is continuing, every decade (or less) I see a big drop in Torah understanding and an equal increase in frumkite and a very superficial understanding of their beliefs. I think I understand why this is the case but not relevant to this thread. Now when you make a claim that Rav Moshe Sternbuch has always been a supporter of being able to discuss and publish openly child abuse, I find that difficult to accept, simply because he has been a man with significant influence for many years both in South Africa and Israel and yet he didn't act and speak out all those years. This is an ongoing problem that I have when I am told that the reason why teachers in my day were encouraged to beat kids and now it is not acceptable is because we were dealing with different times etc..... If that is the case then surely we need to be listening to rabbis who were not in power back then, yet we are following (blindly) the very same people and for some reason now they know what they are talking about.....anyway I apologise for the waffle but I think you will understand (and hopefully respond to) my point.

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    1. FYI. The above was cut & pasted from earlier on, I only did this as my name didn't come up and I wanted it to be seen as a genuine.

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    2. You raise an interesting and important point. The same question is relevant to the Aguda - where Rabbi Zweibel acknowledges that they have known about the abuse problem for years - but it was on the backburner until the bloggers and secular media publicized the problem. That goes for Torah U'mesorah, the various chassidic groups, Yeshiva University, the Mizrachi and Modern Orthodox etc etc etc.

      At the same time the question needs to be raised why the issue of abuse has been ignored or covered up in the secular world, businesses, military, schools etc etc.

      Historically there was absolutely no interest in this issue of sexual abuse until about 1970's as a result of women's liberation and the trauma of the Vietnam war.

      A similar dynamic can be see regarding the issue of wife beating, racism ,slavery and anti-Semiticism. In general we see that every society tolerates horrible things and then one day wakes up and in a few years it changes. The concern for the barriers to the handicapped is only a few years old

      In sum, at the same time we ponder these issues in order to avoid the mistake with other issues - we need to make more progress. Looking for blame often is a distraction or impediment to this progress. Where looking for blam doesn't impede - then it needs to be understood.

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    3. We were always taught to believe in our leaders because they are divinely inspired to the point where we do not question them in the same way we do not question the fundamental beliefs of Judaism. - I cannot accept, (if our leaders have this divinely inspired truths) your argument in their defence from what was going on in the wider world. You are almost (though I am withholding judgement for now) saying that abuse was not a problem before women began to have a voice etc... It was as terrible of the Rabonim to hide it back then as it is today.

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    4. Regarding Rav Sternbuch you write, "Now when you make a claim that Rav Moshe Sternbuch has always been a supporter of being able to discuss and publish openly child abuse,..."

      I never said that he has always been. I really don 't know what his views were 10 years ago or even 5 years ago. I said he has encouraged me since I got involved in the topic several years ago. I do know he has an important teshuva that he published regarding the issue of lashon harah and listening to allegations of abuse.

      A number of rabbis have said that they really didn't understand the severity of psychological damage resulting from abuse until a few years ago. Many rabbis still think it is primarily a moral issue.

      I do know that he has been willing to be cited in my book on his progressive views on the topic. I remember when I addressed the White Conference on abuse I got a number of comments from the frum participants that they had never before heard that it was permitted to report abuse to the police.

      Rav Sternbuch has requested that I give him copies [and I do]of what I write on this blog. He is genuinely interested that change comes about in this area. There have been a number of issues in the last few years such as the Tropper scandal, the starving mother case at Haddassah, the riots in Meah Shearim, the Making of a Gadol etc etc - where he was the only rabbinic voice of sanity willing to be quoted.

      As Rav Sternbuch told me, "In order to be able to be lenient you must first establish yourself as being machmir."

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  8. This post is both good and scary. Good - because people are saying these things. Scary - because they are only saying them privately; not one of these people would actually claim the same thing to the klal and take them to task.

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  9. Very enlightening post. I posted about it today on my blog.

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    1. http://haemtza.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/time-to-come-out-of-closet.html

      R' Harry's post

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  10. Dear Rabbi,

    Continue you yur great work!!

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