Vicki Polin
Social Justice Activist

No Resolution for Jewish Survivors of Sex Crimes

Over the past thirty years of being involved in the anti-rape movement, I’ve worked with hundreds of survivors of clergy abuse from just about every faith.

Though each religion has its own beliefs and protocols in the way allegations of sex crimes should be handled, there are so many similarities between the various faiths in which these institutions have operated.

Sadly, it appears that the status quo has been to cover-up the crimes committed and then to blame those who have been victimized.

For years, many activists have joked “that it’s almost as if religious leaders of all faiths went to the same school to learn how to mishandle cases involving clergy, along with employees of their religious institutions.”

Though each faith might use different terminology, it all boils down to one thing.  The reputations of their clergy members, community leaders and institutions come first.  Very few really seem to care about the long term effects and ramifications sex crimes plays on those who have been victimized.  I’ve heard it over and over again, from professionals working with survivors of clergy sexual abuse — that it is as if those affiliated with religious institutions and are in leadership roles “are nothing more then a part of the good ole boys club”, which makes it appear that they care more about reputations –– then about innocent lives of congregants (including men, women and children).

Over the last several weeks, since the first announcement that Pope Francis was coming to the United States and since he left; I’ve been flooded with emails along with postings on both Facebook and Twitter regarding the Catholic church’s inaction when it came to cases of clergy sexual abuse, along with complaints regarding the continued mishandling of more recent cases.

Every time I received one of these announcements regarding the Pope, I couldn’t help but think to myself that on some levels my Catholic friends have it so much easier then we Jews.  Within Judaism, there is not one central person in charge of our faith.  Meaning, there’s not one person to place the blame.  Instead it feels as if we have zillions of pontiffs.  Within Judaism, there is no pope.  Instead each and every rabbi is more or less like the rulers of their own kingdoms.

According to years of research on the topic, I’ve learned that there is really no way to “defrock” a rabbi.  In the Jewish Renewal,Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements, receiving rabbinical ordination is like receiving a college degree.  There’s no taking it back.  In the Orthodox world, there are some that say that if the rabbi who gave the ordination takes it back, then the person is no longer considered ordained.  The problem with this is that often rabbis receive multiple ordinations, meaning various rabbonim would have to remove their smichas.  Another issue is the fact that if the ordaining rabbi is deceased, there’s nothing one can do to remove the ordination.

Some believe that if a rabbi is a member of a rabbinical organization, it provides some sort of protection for the rabbis followers.  The truth is that it does not.  The worst thing that can happen is that the alleged offender might have their membership terminated.  The alleged offenders are still allowed to call themselves, “rabbi.”

Over the years, we have seen rabbis or other community members who have been accused of a sex crime chased out of town after committing heinous acts, yet allowed to move on to a new, unsuspecting community — where the alleged offender can have free reign in victimizing more men, women and/or children.

Another issue we have seen happen time after time is that an alleged or convicted sex offender will hop from one movement of Judaism to another to avoid suspicion, without any sort of notification to other branches of Judaism, offering the alleged assailants the illusion that they can roam free to offend again.

Unfortunately, to date there are no solution to any of these issues — leaving our communities vulnerable.

About the Author
Vicki Polin is a feminist who has been a Social Justice Activist since her childhood. Vicki is also an award winning, retired psychotherapist who worked in the anti-rape field for just under forty years. For fun Vicki is an artist and nature photographer.
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