Haaretz Radio and newspapers are remaining silent, but news sites are reporting about rabbis and other senior figures suspected of crimes against women and girls.
A 15-page indictment filed last month against a well-known ultra-Orthodox rabbi included detailed descriptions of sex crimes he allegedly committed against female relatives over many years. The indictment, filed in the Jerusalem District Court, caused an earthquake in ultra-Orthodox society.
The affair has been covered with unprecedented intensity on news sites for the Haredi community, but most of the ultra-Orthodox media – newspapers and radio stations – haven’t even hinted that such an affair exists.
The indictment has been shared on Haredi Facebook pages and in internet forums. It has been sent out via email and WhatsApp, and has penetrated the layer that has thickened in the ultra-Orthodox community over decades, if not generations.
The dissemination of the indictment hasn’t just broken down conspiracies of silence, it has ended the automatic lack of trust against the complainants and the accuser – the Israeli government.
Everyone is talking about it on the street and in synagogues. Teachers and parents are talking about it at schools. No one can ignore it, and many people are terrified.
The Bais Yaakov girls school in Elad sent parents a note with instructions on how to be cautious against any threats. “In case of any doubt, refuse and say no categorically,” is rule number seven out of 10.
Rule nine advises girls: “Be careful of people you know or don’t know, and don’t be tempted to go with them. Even if they approach you in a friendly way, break off contact, keep away from them and tell your parents.”[...]
Slowly, and many years too late, the community’s leaders are beginning to respond.
Two months ago, the police held a conference of senior rabbis from Haredi towns on “modesty and holiness in the community” in order to combat sex offenders. Programs for students have been launched in a number of schools on the matter.
These are just the first signs of people speaking out openly, but over the past three weeks the best-known Haredi websites such as Kikar Hashabbat and Behadrei Haredim have followed the “supervisor” affair closely with both news stories and opinion pieces. They have also followed three other cases of sexual assault in the Haredi community, with some of the alleged attackers coming from the school system. [...]
Haredi society is opening up to the existence of sex crimes, which Karlinsky partly attributes to the programs that have been introduced in the schools. In the “supervisor” case, no rabbi has come out in defense of the accused or claimed that the charges were a fabrication, which Karlinsky says is probably due to the accessibility of the indictment. [...]