Dear Rabbi Lopiansky,
I was moved by your article in Mishpacha Magazine titled “For This We Weep,” an important milestone acknowledging the horrors and pain of those who suffer from abuse in our community.
Sadly, the profound lack of action on the part of Rabbonim, Kehilos, and Yeshivos will have many victims of this abuse asking themselves how sincere new voices of our Rabbanim are on this painful topic of abuse. To this I echo the words of Yosef to his brothers: “Im Kenim Atem” if indeed you are sincere.
You outline the many difficulties in organizing a rabbinic response to hold predators accountable.
“Yes, you will righteously declare, “the rabbanim ought to do x, y, z.” I need to break the news to you: There is no organization called “the rabbanim.” There are thousands of rabbanim, rebbeim, ramim, each inundated with the needs and demands of their communities and talmidim. But each one is a yachid, overwhelmed by the particular needs of his charges.”
Here are three simple steps that can be taken to show victims and our next generation who are all watching to see how sincere we are and if we are doing anything to protect them.
- Every Rov and Rosh Yeshiva—ba’asher hu sham—can declare that abusers are not welcome in their communities. This sounds obvious—it is not. Take a fellow like Harvey Erlich in Toronto, perhaps the frum community’s most prolific abuser, someone legally documented to have abused a large number of boys and young men, with very little consequences. Today, he is a well-integrated and widely accepted member of the Toronto frum community—with the knowledge and approval of many of the city’s rabbanim. No apologies to victims required. No mechanisms ensure the safety of the communities’ children. You can be the first to say such a person should not be allowed into any shul before a process of Teshuva—which begins with begging his many victims for forgiveness. You can make this statement from home with no need to clear too much time from your schedule.
- Call Rav Shmuel Eliyahu. In your column, you express legitimate despair towards the difficulty of assembling a beis din that will properly handle complaints. You say: “so let us cry out of self-pity. We are suffering and are helpless. Victims suffer. Perpetrators are allowed to continue until they destroy victims, their families and eventually themselves. So much suffering and the valley of tears seems endless, as we live through story after story that never seems to find its happy ending.” My response? Im Kenim Atem, give Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu a call. I would be happy to make that connection. Ask him. See what he has done to accomplish what many before him considered impossible. Better yet, get every responsible Rav and Dayan in America to call Rav Shmuel Eliyahu. Let us see what can be done, not throw our hands up saying how difficult it is.
- Make clear future guidelines— For too long, predators and abusers have walked our communities, taken advantage of innocence, and destroyed the lives of too many. What is the communal consequence of such behavior in the future? Schools and communities have guidelines for any number of breaches of communal codes of conduct for far less serious issues than abuse. Im Kenim Atem—if you are sincere and serious about preventing abuse and acknowledging the pain of those who endured it because of our communal social norms, make future guidelines clear. What are the consequences of those who cross what line? What past behavior precludes one from our community, and what measures will we take against those who have abused in the past. Will we demand apologies from ANYONE for murdering the innocence of the most precious members of our community—Yiddisheh Kinder—or do we prefer to see them disappear from our communities while abusers continue getting shlishi in shul?
I look forward to your response.
Rabbi Elchanan Poupko