Sunday, October 2, 2011

Novominsker Rebbe:Most difficult thing in abuse cases is how to address these crimes publicly while preserving kedusha in homes

In the current edition of Mishpacha (Sept 26, 2011 page 17) is a noteworthy exchange between Mrs. Bella Tzibushkin and Rabbi Aryeh Ginzberg regarding an article he had published in a previous edition  bemoaning the negative impact the knowledge of scandals had on the kedusha of the home. 

Mrs Tzibushkin writes a very cogent  letter strongly criticizing Rav Ginzberg for being more concerned for covering up scandals than dealing with them for blaming the messenger rather than dealing with the message. He replies that she had missed his point. He replies among other things:

When scandals lo aleinu do strike, they are addressed. The Novominsker Rebbe shlita told me that when the terribly painful abuse claims arose, the most difficult thing that the Moetzes Gedolei Torah had to deal with was how to address these horrific crimes in public and yet preserve the kedushah in our homes and in our lives. As difficult as that was, the claim that Mrs. Tsibushkin makes - that the scandals are ignored - is just not in line with the facts on the ground.
Given what we know about the history of the gedolim dealing with abuse - this simply boggles the mind.

For example 2009 in an editorial in the Yated (reprinted in my book on abuse) Rabbi Pinchus Lipshutz acknowledged the ignorance of the gedolim about how to deal with abuse cases and that they were typically ignored in the past:

Let us be clear: For too long, we weren’t tuned in to these innocent victims’ stories and their pain. For too long, we weren’t sufficiently aware that this problem existed and thus were able to ignore the quiet pleas, the sad eyes, the pained lives, and the personalities withdrawn. We didn’t recognize the warning signs and thus largely ignored the phenomenon. Equally clear, this inattention was not a function of some high level conspiracy to harm people or cover up for criminals or abet nefarious activities. It was simply a function of a lack of education about a complex and highly sophisticated problem. It was a result of our leadership simply being unaware of the depths that such sordid people could sink to, and the extreme skill perpetrators exhibit in covering their tracks. And yes, it was undeniably a gezera, which, as so often is the case, claims innocent holy souls - bikroyvai Ekodeish.
I am all too aware that it is fashionable in certain circles to blame this all on our rabbinic leadership. These people have yet to explain why our rabbanim, who devote their lives to serving people, would want to hurt anyone. The days when being a rav or rosh yeshiva meant strictly poskening shailos or teaching Torah are long gone. Rabbanim routinely spend an overwhelming portion of their time dealing with every type of personal problem imaginable. I don’t have to elaborate on this now, but suffice it to say that it defies logic to accuse our most choshuve leaders, who exhibit much mesiras nefesh, of coldhearted indifference. As I said, the problem was a lack of understanding.


  1. Rav Ginzburg is talking about the current situation on how it is dealt; he isn't talking about the past.

  2. Who said Rabbi Lipshutz is correct? Perhaps Rabbi Lipshutz is incorrect about his view of the past.

  3. Is Rabbi David Zweibel also incorrect?
    Rabbi David Zweibel executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America The Jewish Daily, October 10, 2008

    “Until not terribly long ago, the issue was very much in the shadows,” said David Zwiebel, director of government affairs and general counsel of Agudath Israel of America. “The fact that there were isolated reports here and there of cases arising in yeshiva settings, it was known, but they were very isolated.”
    “Sometimes they were dealt with correctly and sometimes incorrectly,” Zwiebel added, “but the severity of the problem and the possible magnitude were really things that most people, including myself, just didn’t understand.”

  4. Sam what is the date when the policy of ignoring abuse stopped and a policy of actively doing something to stop and arrest molesters instituted? The language of the quote was "The Novominsker Rebbe shlita told me that when the terribly painful abuse claims arose,"

    Is that referring to the Mondrowitz case? The Kolko case which dragged on for 30 years? The various Baltimore cases? The Lakewood cases? The Boro Park cases? Maybe the Colmer case in Flatbush? Maybe it is referring to the Hersh kidnapping case which was supported by Rav Aaron Schechter? Or was the latter case irrelevant because it only involved physical abuse in a foreign prison camp? Perhaps it was referring to the Weingarten incest case in Monsey?

    Perhaps he is referring to the year 2007 when the Baltimore rabbis published a letter on abuse where they acknowleged that they had made mistakes and were not competentent to deal with the issue? But I spoke last year to a Baltimore rabbi who is involved in dealing with abuse case under the supervision of gedolim in which he acknowledged that the rabbinic leaders regretted publishing such a letter. He also acknowledged that firing and exiling a teacher to another community without informing the new community is still done so as not to cause embarrassment in Baltimore and that it was not their concern what happened in the other community!

  5. Mondrowitz case? Kolko case? Boro Park cases? What on earth are you talking about. Neither Mondrowitz nor Kolko were EVER convicted of abuse. (Kolko pleaded guilty to some misdemeanor -- kind of like a traffic ticket -- for something like disregarding the welfare of a child -- the same misdemeanor you get for leaving your child home alone.

  6. yenta said...

    Mondrowitz case? Kolko case? Boro Park cases? What on earth are you talking about.
    Not sure what point you are trying to make. Mondrowitz is widely acknowledged in the Orthodox world as being guilty of sexual abuse.Rav Sternbuch told me that Mondrowitz should rot in jail. Kolko is also acknowledged as being guilty of abuse - but not by as many as Mondrowitz. The sentence was an acknowledgment of the problems of getting a conviction - not whether he was a child molester.

    I was just pointing out that granted that was a period where the nature of abuse was not properly understood -but I just want to know when did it change?

  7. This quote touches on the previous topic of Emunos Hachamim:

    "The days when being a rav or rosh yeshiva meant strictly poskening shailos or teaching Torah are long gone."

    i.e. There was a time when a Rav would only decide on halachic matters, and the claim of the Tiferes Shlomo is a relatively new innovation.

  8. A Rov was NEVER just paskening shailos.

  9. Oh please. The infamous words of the Novominsker went down in history that he will not intervene in the Kolko affair because it is taking place a few blocks inside of Flatbush when he is a Boro Park rov.

    It's high time for the Agudah to stop hiding behind phony excuses like the "need" for treating molesters with "dignity" and protect the victims for once.

    The Novominsker also got up at a recent dinner to scoff at critics of the Agudah's inaction on abuse. Has anyone informed him that gedolei Eretz Yisroel are included among the critics?

  10. Let's respond to Rabbi Ginzberg's critical words: "When scandals lo aleinu do strike, they are addressed (by the Aguda Moetzes)."

    Aguda has publicly responded in three tangible ways:

    1. In July 2007, after my years of pestering, they sent a "Dear Principals" letter to all yeshivas recommending that they fingerprint and background check their employees, based on the new law that our small group won. Four years later, the State Education Department told us that out of 390 Jewish schools in NY, only one, a modern orthodox day school in Long Island, is fingerprinting.

    2. In April 2009, when Catholic and Jewish advocates descended on Albany, urging passage of the Markey bill that would relax the civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims, Aguda published a letter against it.

    3. In May and June 2011, Aguda urged all frum licensed professionals who are mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect to violate the law by first asking a rabbi for permission to call child welfare authorities.

    "Facts on the ground", Rabbi Ginzberg glibly writes. I suppose that's an expression borrowed from the settlements in Israel that just doesn't apply here.

  11. I'm glad Agudah defeated you on all three points, Elliot.

  12. The excuse that there simply was a lack of understanding of child sexual abuse, is still applicable and is still a big problem.

    Because if rabbonim truly understood this issue, they wouldn't worry about the so called 'problem' of preserving the kedusha in the home while-addressing-outside-issues. If not dealt with correctly, the perversity of child sexual abuse will be within the home, and it surely chases the kedusha away.

    As for the scandals, just like we see that certain rabbonim are willing to tell mandated reporters to break the law, so to the financial treasurers are convinced that for the sake of chessed or a mitzva, one can ignore the law. It is the same mentality, of being above the law.

    This apology by R'Lipshutz would be better taken if it truly represented the rabbonim, but since even today I can point out to you 'choshev' rabbonim that choose dangerous, ignorant views of the evil intentions of pedophiles, the apology is not accepted.

    To say it is "fashionable" to blame rabbinic leadership, is just another attempt to silence the victims and their families who really can point their finger and say, "this rabbi covered this up, and this is how," and by silencing us, they are once again unaccountable for their actions and don't have to make tshuva. What is most infuriating, is this "fashionable" new rabbinic response whereby the rabbi exclaims that this issue is so terrible, "the poor (ruined) children, make sure to take all the kids to therapy". But leaving out, still, the important factor of (the hishtadlis of) stopping the perpetrator by reporting.

    To me, true miseris nefesh by rabbonim would be to trust us, to give us the encouragement to do the right thing by our kids and report abuse.

    And further, miseris nefesh would be to tell us the truth about the law (not just the Torah way to get over it), and encourage us to bravely trust H that financially we'll be ok if we keep the law of the land, because it too is a mitzva.

    Speaking from experience on both matters.



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