Monday, June 16, 2008

The insensitive condescension of the secular towards the Orthodox community

One of the consequences of my posting Rav Sternbuch’s psak regarding calling the police for child molesters is the manifestation of the significant gap between those who observe halacha and those who accept secular ideas and values as the objective standard of reality. I had noted that one of the reasons for consulting with a rav is the fact that the police and mental health workers are not always sensitive to religious values and not always sensitive to the welfare of the child. There is often a condescending attitude towards the “primitive” or “unenlightened” Orthodox which is the result of cultural bias – not scientific facts.

An example of the concern that religious Jews have about the secular system is clearly manifest in the following letter I received. I am using Vicki Polin’s letter as an example because there is no question that she is sincere and dedicated in helping people. But it is also clear she has no clue about halacha and religious sensibilities. She read my first posting, and assumed that Rav Sternbuch – who she admits she never heard of before – must be ignorant. And she was so sure – without checking the facts – that she writes a strong letter of condemnation to be posted on my blog. She drew the erroneous conclusion that his concern is shielding the molester from the police – when in fact the opposite is true. She concludes with “Most professionals want to do what they can to help and understand the cultural differences. I'm sure that Rabbi Sternbuch knows this and I'm afraid to say I think that he is trying to sell a bag of goods, with his fear tactics of saying the police will not work with or understand the cultural differences.”

A rather condescending comment which those in the religious community find offensive and as justification for their concerns with the insensitivities towards religious values.

Here are four examples of many from my personal experience.

1) I once consulted with a secular psychologist regarding a yeshiva bachur who had problems of low self-esteem. The psychologist responded that the problem was the result of the fact that the 17 year old bachur did not have a girl friend for sexual relations. When I objected that this was unacceptable, he replied that this was the only possible treatment for the problem!

2) I know a frum family which was falsely accused of child abuse. The police department was called in and they arrived in force - insisting on being allowed into the house without warrant – or the parents would be taken to jail. They then demanded that all the children be separated from their parents and interrogated. It was only due to the fact that one of the neighbors was a lawyer that the crude pressure tactics were called off and the lawyer said this is not unusual. Even if the accusations were true, there was no justification for the gross insensitivity displayed. Even if we grant that these mental health professions really want to help – it doesn’t ensure that they act appropriately.

3) One of the social workers who was interrogating the children asked a ten year old girl how many children there were in the family. When she was told that there were nine children, this frum girl was asked how many men her mother had lived with.

4) I once was dealing with a yeshiva bachur who was placed in a mental hospital after attempting suicide. I was asked to give background information to the social worker at the hospital. When I asked her not to lock the door of her office because it was against Jewish law, she asked me with a smirk, whether I was afraid she would attack me.


Vicki Polin, MA, NCC, LCPC wrote regarding - Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch's Guidelines for Calling the Police

It saddens me a great deal to read this posting. With all the information and education that is available to our rabbonim it appears that they are still refusing to learn from their past mistakes. I'll admit that I have never heard of Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch until I received an e-mail with the link to this blog.

My hope by providing the following information will help to prevent one more child from being harmed and that those who are already victims of sex crimes, the will be able to receive the proper help.

It's obvious that Rabbi Sternbuch is lacking basic knowledge about sex offenders and the needs of those who have been sexually violated as children. The most important message that needs to get out is that each of us should consider ourselves mandated reporters. This basically means if you SUSPECT a child is in danger you have to call your local hotline, rape crisis center or police. You don't go to a rabbi to get permission or have them make the call. The key word here is "SUSPECT." We need to leave all the investigating and fact finding/gathering to law enforcement and not our rabbonim.

Most children don't come out and say "I'm being raped at home, school, camp and or in shul." If we suspect a child is being harmed or at risk of harm it's vitally important that we don't ask the child leading questions. It's best to have a highly trained mental health professional and or child protection worker who works with law enforcement to talk to the child to get information.

How many times do I have to remind everyone that our rabbis DO NOT have specialized training in collecting forensic evidence nor do they have the education, training or skills to do a victim sensitive interview. Going to a rav "with concerns" just doesn't work. It's much better for the individual who suspects a child is at risk of harm to call their local child abuse hotlines directly.

The concern Rabbi Sternbuch has regarding child protection workers, rape victim advocates and the police not being "sensitive to the needs and nature of the charedi community" is not true in most cases. Most professionals want to do what they can to help and understand the cultural differences. I'm sure that Rabbi Sternbuch knows this and I'm afraid to say I think that he is trying to sell a bag of goods, with his fear tactics of saying the police will not work with or understand the cultural differences.


  1. Daniel,

    It saddens me that you would write such a strong letter of condemnation to my statements posted on your blog. I wanted to make sure that you are aware that I have been living within the eruv of various orthodox communities for just under 10 years. Though I am no longer looking to become observant, I am very familiar with many of the cultural issues pertaining to sex crimes. When I've had questions I have always sought out one of my halachic advisors.

    I'm sorry that your experience with the secular world has been to be looked down at. I have never thought of the Torah observant community as being "Primitive" or "unenlightened." I have used the terms "insulated " and "unaware," yet never "primitive" or unenlightened." I have often asked myself, how can someone have information or reach a level of awareness if they have not been education on various issues?

    It was until around 1999 - 2001, that sexual abuse began to be discussed in orthodox circles. It wasn't until the case of rabbi Baruch Lanner hit the news media, did the religious world start paying attention.

    2001 was the yearThe Awareness Center was founded I was living in Jerusalem at the time, and realized how little was known in how to deal with cases appropriately in the religious world. When I saw appropriate I am meaning reporting crimes to law enforcement, verses chasing the offender out of town -- or shaming and blaming the victim (or their family members) into silence.

    I became aware of the severity of the problem when I started doing outreach with a friend with religious teens who made their way down to Ben Yehuda. Just about every teen I met disclosed stories to me of molestation. Some of the kids were incest survivors others were being abused by neighbors, teachers, rabbis, etc. When I tried to get them help -- there was really nothing out there set up to address the issues. Most of the teens I spoke with came from communities such as Neve Yaakov and Har Nof.

    Most of those who work in the field of sexual violence have at least a masters degree. This means 4 years of college, plus two years of graduate school. After they receive their masters degrees they are required to received at least 1000 hours of supervision prior to becoming licensed. Law enforcement officials who work sex crimes also have to undergo vigorous training in this highly specialized field.

    Though our rabbis are experts in halacha, they are not experts in criminal matters, especially sex crimes committed against our children. When The Awareness Center first got started, I could not find one rabbi who could explain the difference between sexual assault and sexual harassment. Whenever the topic came up of child molestation in which the perpetrator and the victim were male, they automatically called the sex crime -- "homosexual behavior." Unfortunately, in most insulated communities using the wrong terms to describe a sex crime still occurs. By using incorrect termonology often shames and blames the victim and little is done to stop the assailant, which ends up with the offender creating move victims.

    Those who are gay do not commit sex crimes anymore then those are heterosexual. When a male sex offender molests a child who is male -- this is NOT "homosexual behavior". The same is true in cases in which a yeshiva bochur is manipulated or forced into having sexual relations with a rav, or anyone else. These are SEX CRIMES!

    I'm sorry you are confusing facts and the attempt to prevent anyone else from being a victim of a sex crimes as being condescending, offensive or insensitive towards your religious values. The bottom line is that our ravs don't have the information, education or training to be making determinations if a sex crime had occurred. Just as I would not go to a rav to determine if I needed open heart surgery, I would not go to a rav to determine if a sex crime had occurred.

    My suggestion is that our rabbis send a few students to graduate school, let them volunteer at rape crisis centers, let them study law enforcement and then maybe I and many others would feel differently about them making a determination if a child or adult was molested or raped.

    Vicki Polin, MA, NCC, LCPC, ATR-BC

    Founder, Executive Director -The Awareness Center, Inc.
    (the international Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault)
    P.O. Box 65273, Baltimore, MD 21209

  2. You want insensitive mental health "professionals?" How about this one?
    A young BT who spent a few years in yeshivah and then attended and graduated law school got married and had difficulty during their Shana Rishonah. His wife was nice, but could often turn cruel and vicious. I urged him to seek counseling and the woman who counseled him was Jewish but not observant. Her advice to him was: "You're a BT which is no help to your situation. You need to find a nice girl or secretary on the side. don't do anything illegal but do enough so that your wife gets scared that you''re cheating on her. This is a tried and true method!"
    He explained to her that this was not an option but she just shook her head and told him that his "first mistake" was in becoming a BT. She said this half-jokingly but don't think it didnt hurt him to hear this and it was completely out of bounds.
    Everytime I hear someone talk about how Orthodox Jews are wrong for being skeptical of the MH community, I can only wonder how much experience they've had with that profession. There are definitely good ones, but mixed in the bunch are many kooks and insensitive folks as well.


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