Friday, April 17, 2015

Lessons that Sanhedria Murchevet should learn from Nachlaot about abuse hysteria

Tablet Magazine  In the last few weeks, I have received a startling number of calls and emails regarding an ongoing crisis in Sanhedria Murchevet, a neighborhood in north Jerusalem where many—including some prominent rabbis and communal leaders—believe that an organized ring of criminals have been abusing, raping, and torturing Jewish children and have been doing so for a number of years. There is also widespread belief that the abuse is at least partially religiously motivated—that operating in the community’s midst is a cult, a ring of men and women who are subjecting the children to ritual torture.

Many of the people who have contacted me, however, did so because they believe that this is, at least to some degree, a case of mass hysteria; that a significant percentage (or even all) of the allegations, especially the most fantastic, may be unfounded; that innocent people may have been or will be accused; that an untold number of lives are being ruined; and that cases of actual molestation and/or abuse could potentially be obfuscated.

What is indisputable is that the community is in the grips of a devastating panic. The scope and severity of the allegations are continually increasing: More and more children are claiming (or are claimed) to have been abused; more and more people, including men and women in the neighborhood, are being accused of raping and abusing children. To those in the community, the influence and reach of the perpetrators seems terrifyingly limitless. The police are dismissed as inept at best, corrupt and/or complicit at worst.

I am here because I feel a responsibility to share some of what I learned when I spent more than a year investigating and reporting a similar and related case in a nearby Jerusalem neighborhood in 2012. I want to emphasize, from the outset, that I am not here to report the case; I am not here in any journalistic capacity. I have not conducted interviews. I have not done any significant reporting. I cannot make any firm claims about what is or is not going on in Sanhedria Murchevet—whether this is, in fact, a case of mass hysteria, on whether or not any of the allegations are founded.

But regardless of whether this is or is not a case of mass hysteria, those in the community (and beyond) must not ignore the lessons learned in past similar cases. The stakes cannot be higher. People died in the wake of what happened in Nachlaot. An 80-year-old woman was beaten with a crowbar and hospitalized, because she was believed to be a key member of a Christian missionary cult behind the abduction, torture, and rape of Jewish children. Many lives were destroyed. Children underwent corrective therapy for traumatic events that almost certainly did not happen—therapy that thereby created and reinforced that trauma. All these were needless tragedies born, ultimately, of misinformation. [...]


  1. I am not speaking here of any populations or individuals in particular who are in the grip of what the author describes. In general, though, it seems to me it can't be both ways. Unthinking robots cannot simultaneously be dispassionate freethinkers.

    If someone is brought up to
    (1) Be accepting of authority.
    (2) Not think critically.
    (3) Be obedient to the authority they accept.
    (4) Unquestioningly accept "therapists" as authorities
    then this person is vulnerable to "hysteria" as defined by the author.

    This is because once an idea is planted in the person's head by a therapist, there may be no way to easily uproot it. Even the therapist who planted the idea in the "client" may not be able to uproot it from the client.

    I like to illustrate hysteria by discussing the movie "Invasion of the Bodysnatchers", although in that drama the wild allegations turn out to be true. Some members of a small town, who are in actuality part of a conspiracy, pooh-pooh the allegations brought up by others who live there. To the latter, those who believe something is wrong, the dismissive attitude of the former, the actual conspiracists, is reason to suspect there is a conspiracy.

    So too, consider a therapist who switches gears and who goes back to a client they inadvertently brainwashed and attempts to undo the damage. The client may no longer trust the therapist. From the perspective of the client, the therapist has been duped into becoming one of "them".



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