Holy Deception

Just a few weeks ago the FBI arrested 10 men, some prominent Rabbis among them. The charges included kidnapping, transporting the victims across state lines and torture mostly of men who refused to give their wives a Jewish divorce, a Get. Last week the New York Post carried the story of a woman who was denied a Get by the great grandson of a prominent rabbi. But this is not just about divorces and recalcitrant husbands and their chained wives.

Another story emerged just the other day, along with pictures of a rabbi who while teaching a course for emergency medical technicians, was allegedly caught cheating. He was supposedly taking pictures of the licensing examination so that he could share the questions and answers with the students in his program and they could cheat their way to a health care license. But this is not just about cheating or divorces.

There are currently several convictions against prominent rabbis for defrauding the United States government and money laundering. But this is not about thievery, cheating or divorces.

One of the two main rabbis of the largest kosher certification organizations in the world threw his support behind a convicted child sex offender. The offender was found guilty in open court where victims testified against him. Yet the abuser is, himself, portrayed as victim and supported by this prominent rabbi. No this is not about thievery, cheating, divorce or misplaced allegiances.

My psychology practice serves people with all types of religious background, belief and conviction.  More and more though, I am in a position of treating young orthodox Jews, people in their late teens, early twenties and into their thirties who question the stewardship of their rabbis. They come to see me because of a personal pain and they increasingly cite some of the graphic media cases as examples of their anguish but more often they talk about how they have not received honest answers to their own questions, are shunned, or misdirected by increasing stringencies that are often the obsessive quirks of their rabbis rather than normative religious beliefs and how they have been financially, verbally, physically and, yes, even sexually abused by their religious teachers. They put on a show as if they were truly orthodox but in reality they are not. These experiences in my practice are consistent with the Pew report which found increasing numbers of individuals who are externally members of the tribe but who are in reality non-believers.

Just this morning I saw a young woman who had been physically abused by a rabbi while in high school and she is now in an abusive marriage. Married less than two years and luckily without children, bearing black and blue marks that she said came from her husband; she told me that her own rabbi said that she must stay in this abusive marriage. “How can you have faith in a system that is so blatantly corrupt? “She asked me. Recently I was told by another woman in her thirties that an orthodox rabbi attempted to kiss her when she went to ask him a question and they were alone in his study.

I try to respond by saying that not all rabbis act this way but for many of them there is no solace in those words, especially not for people who have been on the receiving end of the deception and abuse. There is very little in the way of re-building trust or the development of respect for rabbis when it seems that they are bombarded with an ever increasing series of events that appear to implicate their religious leaders. To make matters worse, the leadership of the right wing is more interested in covering the allegations against their members and creating excuses like the internet is to blame, or smart phones are the root cause, or the government of Israel, or if women just covered their bodies a bit more we would not have so many problems. At least more centrist oriented organizations are attempting to deal with the problem in a slightly more open and nuanced fashion. The argument against “Open Orthodoxy” is essentially just another smokescreen, a means of deflecting from the responsibility to clean up right wing orthodoxy’s own failures. And Open Orthodoxy’s major failure is not calling itself “Accessible Orthodoxy”.  If Orthodoxy is to survive it has to be more than orthopraxic. It must have a tent large enough to accommodate all those who wish to enter respectful of the basic tenets and it must have a leadership that is open, honest and approachable and perhaps even user-friendly.

This is not about thievery, cheating, divorce or misplaced allegiances this is about what is happening to an entire generation of young Jews who feel that they are being deceived by a religious leadership that is intolerant of others human frailty while accepting it among their own and is underhanded in their day to day interactions. It is about honesty and caring and loving one another.

About the Author
Dr Michael Salamon, is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and a 2018 APA Presidential Citation Awardee. He is the founder and director of ADC Psychological Services in New York and the author of numerous articles, several psychological tests and books including "The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures" (Urim Publications) and "Every Pot Has a Cover" (University Press of America). His newest book is called "Abuse in the Jewish Community: Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims."