Michael J. Salamon

Needed – New Orthodox Leadership


    Just last week a colleague told me that a patient that she had been seeing for years had told her that she was molested by a rabbi four years ago. The therapist said to me “Four years ago I made the mistake of asking the wrong rabbi if I should report it. At that time my rabbi told me not to report him. So I asked him again this week. He gave me the same answer.”  So she did not report the abuser to the proper authorities.

I asked her if caring for her patient by seeing that some form of justice was performed or, possibly protecting others by having the authorities prosecute him or, her license, which made her a mandated reporter regardless of the outcome of the investigation, ever entered her mind when she asked the “wrong rabbi” both times after these four years. I wonder if I can call her a colleague or even a therapist anymore but, my colleague, the therapist was quiet. She would not respond. It’s a Talmudic suggestion “silence is as if an admission” in this case of a breach of appropriate protocol maybe even malpractice or malfeasance. Then, perhaps out of a sense of guilt, she told me the name of the rabbi who abused her patient – it was the same man that my new patient, someone who just recently started seeing me, told me about just two weeks earlier. She too had been abused by him. My patient and I discussed options about reporting and we decided that she, a mature adult, would like to do so herself. So she did report him. In that two week time I received a call from a detective who asked some questions about the molester and let it slip, deliberately I believe, that the abusing rabbi was a predator and had been one for likely 30 years. The detective said in just a few days of investigation he has been able to determine that it is likely that the rabbi abused as many as 40 or more young women.

Think for just a second about the implication of the detectives comment. Had someone reported the abuser earlier, even just four years ago, so many women might never have been abused. Now think about the issue of hypocrisy. Why are there still leaders and supporters who are insistent that abuse not be reported?

The arguments in the Orthodox world against reporting abusers seem to factor down to two provincial and simplistic notions. One is that reporting will be a smudge against Orthodoxy. The other is loss of control. And, the rationalization used is the laws of Mesirah, which we know does not apply in these situations, situations that cause significant personal harm and in societies that treat all citizens equally.

As far as reporting causing a smudge against Orthodoxy – I think some rabbis are doing a pretty good job of smearing things all on their own. Just look at any newspaper and see the graft, lies and of course the abuse that is reported within this religious world. It is not just the blogs that they complain so bitterly about that is reporting on these sins; it is coming from the legitimate media as well. Still, they must believe, it is always good to have a scapegoat.

Their loss of control fear is a palpable one. My understanding of the recent Pew report results on Jewish life suggests that the dropout rate from the right wing Orthodox world is higher than anyone wants to admit or explore. And, it is easy to deny that because the dropout rate is masked by the high birth rate. Statistically control for birth rate and look at the actual right wing Orthodox dropout rate – it is quite high.

Then there is the issue of finance. If the dropout rate is high who will fund programs that they so desperately need? So a covenant is made to pretend to keep things locked in to a specific mindset. Yet, look at the news – the Chief Rabbi is arrested, at the Agudah convention only one speaker tells the crowd the truth about how Orthodoxy is losing the true meaning of educating the young and the largest kosher certification organization in the world allows one of its two top rabbis to retain his position while he openly supported a known sexual abuser.

I miss the Orthodoxy I grew up with, though at times I wonder if it ever really existed. Maybe it was a bit more naïve but it was respectful, caring, supportive, understanding, communal and inclusive.  It has lost its way. Is there anyone who can help bring it back? I think there are some people. It is time for them to step up.

About the Author
Dr. Michael Salamon ,a fellow of the American Psychological Association, is an APA Presidential Citation Awardee for his 'transformative work in raising awareness of the prevention and treatment of childhood sexual abuse". He is the founder and director of ADC Psychological Services in New York and Netanya, the author of numerous articles, several psychological tests and books including "The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures" (Urim Publications), "Every Pot Has a Cover" (University Press of America) and "Abuse in the Jewish Community: Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims."