Is Brooklyn Home to a Penn State Scandal?

According to Charles Hynes, the Brooklyn District Attorney, in the last three years over 95 Orthodox adults have been investigated for sexually abusing and their cases have been processed by his office. That alone should be a clarion call to some within the Orthodox establishment to stop with their repeated insistence that while there may be a problem of abuse it must be so much smaller in the Jewish community.  All of the available data that exists argues otherwise and according to a recent Center for Disease Control report it appears that the rates of abuse are the same across virtually all communities when ethnicity is controlled. There is an almost prevaricating need on the part of some community members to ignore this fact to perpetuate the myth that there is no abuse by going so far as to intimidate individuals who were abused to prevent them from testifying against abusers.

Agudas Yisroel, (often referred to as Agudah) which is an umbrella organization for the disparate right wing segments of Orthodoxy admits that there is a problem – just not such a bad one. Interestingly, this limited admission of the problem led them to reiterate their policy initially discussed at a closed door meeting. At that recent convention Agudah stated that Rabbis can judge if a report should be made to the police. The meeting created a major kerfuffle though when it became clear that it was not geared to training Rabbis to be mandated reporters but to understand the Halachic concept of “raglayim l’davar” (virtually the same as reasonable cause) and act as gatekeepers for reporting.  What Agudah said and continues to state is that they insist that their followers report suspected cases of abuse directly to a rabbi, only then will a rabbi decide if a formal report is made to the authorities. Any suspected case of abuse is, by law and not just American law but also according to the majority opinion of religious law, to be reported to those best able to investigate the situation, like the police or protective services. But no, according to Agudah, rabbis are to listen to the reports and only then determine if a report should be made. Some suggested that the Brooklyn DA approved this approach but the DA himself issued a statement saying otherwise and clarifying the position – all cases must be reported to the proper authorities. In a recent interview with the leaders of Agudah, reported in The Forward, Agudah is not backing away from the position that a rabbi must first decide if a report of suspected should be made. All this is occurring in an environment where those with the courage to report are intimidated for doing so.

DA Hynes is certainly not a Ray Gricar who as the Centre County District Attorney decided not to press criminal charges against Roy Sandusky in 1998 despite the fact that Sandusky admitted to investigators that he showered and hugged young boys while naked. But there may be some interesting parallels between the Penn State administration and some members of Agudah. One can hardly deny the fact that from Joe Paterno on up, all the way to the terminated President of Penn State University there was at the very least a failure to report to the authorities subsequent concerns of abuse. Some may even see this failure of reporting by those who are mandated to do so as an attempt to protect the football program at the expense of “insignificant” individuals. It was not until the independent Board of Trustees of the University was informed of the investigation that it took action. Unfortunately, while I am not accusing Agudah of protecting its own members per se one must also acknowledge that Agudah does not have an independent Board. This lack of oversight can be construed as a desire to protect an organization at the expense of its members or the community at large. Victims of abuse continue to be deemed “insignificant“ and are thus re-victimized when untrained rabbis who in New York are still not mandated reporters are put in a position of deciding the legal issue of reporting. Agudah’s most recent restatement of their position suggests that they may be gearing up for a test case with overtones of religious freedom, all while ignoring the needs of the victims.

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."