As global psychological sophistication moves ever forward, the religious Jewish world is one small step behind — carefully weighing Torah values, always desperately trying to reconcile halacha with the current ideals of Western culture. Orthodoxy is currently in the lime-light for a very specific issue, one that is causing a storm in even the most insular religious communities. If you haven’t read (or heard of) the Newsweek expose on abuse coverups in the Orthodox community, it’s time you climbed out from under that cozy rock and joined the rest of us in facing this disturbing reality. Sexual abuse is no longer a secret, and the religious world needs to pick up the pace.
I’d like to give a round of applause for… The Internet. Despite “kosher” phones and filters, even the Chareidi world is an active participant in public opinion, and is much more influenced by Western culture. Aish.com has upped their voice in social media, black hats frequent Facebook, and Chabad blogs are available on every topic you could imagine.
We are starting to see case after case emerging from these communities, with organizations and advocates rising at an equally remarkable speed. The shift has been nothing short of miraculous — bringing justice and long-awaited validation to the countless victims of abuse within the religious world. And yet, the resistance that advocates have to face, seems unimaginable. Ask any advocate in the world of sexual abuse, and they will tell you about hate mail, threats, or even worse, complete apathy and disdain from various individuals in the religious world.
Over the last few years we watched Meyer Seewald and the Jewish Community Watch take the religious community by storm, destroying the webs of lies and abuse that sexual predators had carefully woven, using the Orthodox system, thinking that they were unbreakable. We watched Manny Waks bring down the Chabad Yeshiva Centre in Melbourne, forcing them to take public responsibility for their horrendous role in the abuse of dozens of children. The rise of Tzedek, Magen, the Israeli Lo Lishtok (Don’t Be Silent), and many others, has made a huge statement that many in the religious world are ready to take a stand against sexual abuse.
Last week, a huge case was exposed, and this time not by Newsweek, but by a Chareidi Beis Din in Ramat Bet Shemesh. “Rabbi” Meir Pogrow was labeled a “rasha” in a psak from the Beis Din, signed by extremely renowned and universally respected Rabbis of the Chareidi community. His prestige and power as a “brilliant” Torah scholar brought him no refuge, and his community has now completely shunned him, going so far as to “forbid” members from communicating with him in any way.
Here comes the “but.”
There is a force that is quiet, but still effective, rearing its ugly head in the face of this incredible progress. They are the naysayers, the doubters, and the defenders. They are covering their ears and closing their eyes. They are busy worrying about Loshon Hora and halachic technicalities that may or may not indicate the guilt of a said-predator. There is always backlash when the religious community embraces a value or a movement that is seen as “goyish,” and this is not an exception. There could not be a more important reason for us to unite and clarify that sexual abuse is against the Torah — there is no gray area, this is black and white. Pun intended.
The more involved that I become in this cause, the more evil I am exposed to, which in turn fuels my growing passion for it. Why was Malka Leifer, wanted by Australian police for 74 counts of child-sex offenses, helped to flee to Israel by the very community that she betrayed? And why has our Israeli court system allowed her to evade the justice of standing trial by acquitting the request for her extradition? Why did it take Pogrow’s community years to publicly denounce him, when victims had painstakingly come forward so much earlier? Why won’t the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) require rabbis to ban child sex offenders from Orthodox institutions?
There is a blogger who claims to be the “Chareidi Response,” who has described in meticulous detail, why technically Malka Leifer wasn’t breaking halacha “even if” she is guilty of her alleged crimes. The resistance to change in the religious world is bad enough, but to try to use Torah to justify abuse, is too much to bear. This is personal. This is our Torah. These are our children. It doesn’t matter which denomination we are, or how “observant” we are, because if we believe that our core values are rooted in Torah, then we can’t watch it be distorted and twisted in order to defend horrific behavior.
My wish and plea is for all Jews to pick a side. The right side. The side that says “NO” to abusers and “YES” to victims. Our loyalty should lie unequivocally with the abused, with no hesitation, and certainly no justification for the abuser. I was feeling rather hopeless, seeing the steady stream of accusatory questions and doubts in the Chareidi world about sexual abuse. My hope was restored by a Facebook comment. Genendy Radoff, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, in response to the blog defending Malka Leifer wrote:
“This blog is important as it gives insight into how someone who is an intelligent talmid chacham can molest a child without remorse. The blog writer says many times, he ‘thinks like a Jew.’ The sad truth is, the author of this blog thinks like a Jewish child molester. My grandfather, who was a Rosh Yeshiva and molested me, was also a respected talmid chacham. I imagine his rationalizations were similar to the ones on this blog. A close chareidi friend recently reported her husband for molesting their daughter. He insisted he didn’t do anything against Halacha so it wasn’t so bad. Hashem created man on the sixth day and Shabbos only after that to teach us something very important. You must be a whole person first in order to absorb Torah in the way it was intended. Learning Torah can not make an emotionally and psychologically limited person healthy and whole. The person has to come first. First man. Then Shabbos.”
To being “whole people.” Shavuah Tov.