Whom Do You Feel Bad For?

In the last few days, following the ruling by a Beit Din in Israel, a ruling that received support from a number of prominent rabbis in Israel and the United States who represent all shades of Orthodoxy, several highly personal articles have appeared. These intimate articles describe the pain inflicted upon them by a Rabbi Meir Pogrow who was supposed to be their educator, mentor, and spiritual advisor but was in effect their abuser. The Beit Din ruling was clear: “It is forbidden,” the Beit Din wrote, for him to have any contact with women and women were warned to have no contact with him; women should not even go to his Torah website and were instructed to avoid any contact with a woman who was and seems to still be his booking agent.

The implication was clear in their ruling that this woman solicited for him and in the Beit Din’s words “functions as his agent for sin, and in this way they have knowingly (ensnared and) lowered girls into the lowest spiritual depths”.

Pogrow, often referred to as a brilliant and charismatic Torah, scholar taught at Yeshiva University High Schools in Los Angeles, Michlahlah seminary in Jerusalem, and at the Kollel of Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem and Austin, Texas. He first appeared on my radar about eight years ago when Riva (not her real name) a woman in her early twenties came to therapy following some time at the seminary in Israel. She was anxious, depressed, and afraid that she could never get married or ever trust men. She described a relationship with a rabbi at the seminary who was challenging but also extremely demanding. She complained, “He got into my head somehow and it messed me up.” As we worked through Riva’s anguish and concerns, she described how a man of prominence used his position and his intellect to groom her, manipulate her, and ultimately have her do his bidding. With time, she told me his name.

I checked back with other young women I had worked with who attended the same schools. None had been willing to provide his name in the past, but when I asked if it was he, they all said yes. I asked Riva to report him. She felt that she could not because on the one occasion that she had tried, the administrator she went to did not believe her. In fact, Riva said that she felt “belittled” by the person to whom she tried to report him.

With Riva’s permission, I called someone I had contact with to report Pogrow. I was told, “He is a problem, but because the women are adults there is nothing that can be done.” I tried another person. “He is a bad guy,” I was told with little more than a shrug of the shoulders.

This situation is unfortunately no different from far too many others. Abusers are often smart, manipulative professional liars who choose victims carefully and deliberately and abuse victims repeatedly. Overwhelmingly, when someone finally gets the courage to overcome the resistance to make a complaint, it must be treated as a fact. Unfortunately, reports of abuse are still minimized. If someone reports having being abused, it is a fact that they are telling the truth.
People in position of power do not want to deal with bad news particularly if it may harm their institution.

This hesitancy allowed Pogrow and others like him to get away with their evil. Even in cases where a director or board acts against an abuser and dismisses him, there is no attempt to alert other organizations and protect other potential victims. Ultimately, this gives the perpetrator license to keep at his evil.

The Beit Din ruling addresses some of these errors, albeit late. The call for restricting contact with this abuser should apply to all abusers and we should not have to wait 20 years for an abusers name to be broadcast.

When the Beit Din ruling was posted last week as a “Public Danger Warning” and Pogrow’s name was publicized someone asked me whom did I feel bad for, after all he hurt so many including his own family. At first, I thought it was a ridiculous question. Of course, I felt for the many women he abused both sexually and emotionally. I felt bad for his family as well.

I thought about it some more and realized that he not only ruined many lives among the obvious victims, he also groomed the woman the Beit Din referred to as his booking agent. They said, “she functions as his agent for sin.” When I think about her, I recall Patty Hearst, kidnapped at the age of 19 and brainwashed into a life of crime. That is how villains operate — they kidnap their victims’ body and mind — to do their bidding.

Many victims can be saved, some not.

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."