David Cheifetz

A Time For Repentance

A quick thought as we start the Aseret Yemai Teshuva – the Ten Days of Penitence.

There are thousands, tens of thousands, and perhaps more, of victims of sexual abuse in our Jewish Community. While some rabbis have signed proclamations acknowledging the “mistakes of the past” and the poor systemic handling of abuses in our community and calling on victims to reach out directly to the police, many more have not signed onto such a proclamation. In the United States, that includes such Modern Orthodox luminaries as Herschel Schachter and Mordechai Willig, and umbrella organization such as Agudas Yisrael of America.

We are before Rosh Hashana, when the Heavens are supposed to be open to our repentance. But there can be no repentance without direct sincere apologies to the victims, and addressing the needs of the victims in the five part framework defined by the Gemara – Nezek, Tza’ar, Ripui, Shevet and Boshet – Direct damages, pain and suffering, medical bills, reparations for lost wages, and reparations for the public embarrassment and public humiliation of victims.

As long as sexual abusers and their enablers have not asked, begged, forgiveness from their victims, their prayers are empty. For if a Jew cares only about Mitzvot Bain Adam LaMakom – commandments addressing religious requirements between a human being and the Divine, and ignores Mitzvot Bain Adam LeChaveiro, commandments addressing religious requirements between a human being and another human being, there is no justice. We know this well from the teachings of Isaiah and others.

I am told that in heaven there is no Statute of Limitations. So sexual abusers and their enablers have no Halachic structure to hide behind.

At this Rosh Hashana, Yeshiva University, Agudah, Lakewood, Satmar, Camp Dora Golding, the supporters of Moti Elon, and the many other institutions and individuals who have been involved in denying past abuses and ignoring the needs of victims have an opportunity to apologize to their victims. Not to God, because “He turns his face” when humans deny their culpability for their own faults.

The institutions and individuals involved should issue personal apologies to their victims, and engage in meaningful discussions with individual victims about the pain and suffering they have undergone as the result of the abused that occurred.

(I for one seek no compensation for abuses done to me – just an apology by the current and former administration – from 1979 – of Camp Dora Golding.)

This is a time for Teshuva. Let those who are guilty acknowledge their guilt.

Otherwise there will be no forgiveness. And without forgiveness, there will be Justice. And without Justice, there will be not peace.
Because the victims of sexual abuse in our community are losing patience, and are beginning to heed their pain more than their fear of community pressure and threats of reprisal.

Now is the time for Teshuva. And in the absence of Teshuva, there will be consequences in the future and the World To Come.

About the Author
David Cheifetz has spent 20 years in the private sector, focusing on high tech and marketing. Before attending business school, David had a 6-year career in government public relations for the State of Israel working in the Consulate General of Israel in New York and at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem. He is an activist of issues related to sexual abuse in the Jewish Community, and is the founder and president of a non profit - Mi Li - Who Is For Me - dedicated to the topic. David is also a member of the American Board of Directors of Gesher, an Israel based organization focused on dialogue and collaboration between religious and secular Jews in Israel.
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