This morning I was apprised by an acquaintance of yet another prominent Rebbe in a prominent Yeshiva who, not long ago, was accused of sexual abuse of some of his students. The accusation includes behavior going back many years. I found a website that spoke of his misconduct. And after reading all the accusations, I am not convinced of his guilt. But the results of those accusations seem to have cost this Rebbe his position in the Yeshiva and his reputation for life. If he is guilty, he deserves that… and a lot worse. But if he is innocent, a great injustice has been done with irreparable harm to the individual, his family and the Torah world.
I don’t know whether to be more upset at publicizing accusations without substantiations or more upset that there have been so many abusive teachers that have managed slipped through the cracks. Actually I think I am most upset by the cover-ups by people in positions to do something about them. But which ever situations are the worst, none of them are tolerable.
The problem in this case is that a website that is famous for it will name a suspect and then list the accusations by supposed victims. Not evidence. Just accusations. But often the accusations describes behavior that is far from abusive… even if some what questionable.
Here is basically the sum and substance of one accuser’s experience: “(The rebbe) would tell me he loved me and would hug and kiss me inappropriately. In this day and age, what rebbi does this?”
This is hardly a description of sexually abusive behavior. But that did not stop them from listing it first in list of accusations by those who described their experiences.
I don’t know if the individual Rebbe I was told about is guilty of anything or not. And certainly the argument of “better to be safe than sorry” should apply when the welfare of our children is at stake. But that does not mean that we should disregard the rights of an established Rav based on flimsy evidence? No.
What to do in such situations? I don’t really know. But whatever side we err on there is potentially great harm for the other. It is best not to err at all. And the way to do that is through prevention.
We need to devise a procedure for preventing sexual predators from getting teaching jobs at our religious schools. Much has been done by private individuals to forward this idea and in New York, where legislation has been passed mandating background checks of all applicants for teaching positions even in religious schools. But I don’t think that other major metropolitan areas containing large populations of Jews and religious schools have such laws on the books yet.
It would behoove the rabbinic leadership of cities like Chicago, Detroit, and Los Angeles to consider lobbying their elected political leadership for passing legislation like that of New York.
But that is not enough. There needs to be a mechanism for protecting our children as well as the Mechanchim who can al too often be frivolously accused, whether because of personal vendettas or simple misunderstandings about perfectly innocuous behavior.
Here is at a minimum what should be done. Anyone applying for a teaching job should be given psychological testing to see if he has a predilection for sexual abuse. Applicants should supply references and those references should be thoroughly checked. Police records should be checked to see if an applicant has ever been charged with a sexual crime… and how many times he has been so charged. Why? Well, if for instance he (or she) was charged only once in a long career, it should be evaluated for possible a vendetta type false accusation.
There should be a zero tolerance policy for any sexual abusive behavior. Anyone caught doing so, even once, should be immediately fired and automatically barred from any teaching job anywhere in the world and the name of the perpetrator should be spread throughout the Torah world to all schools. Anyone caught trying to cover up for a known abuser should get the same treatment as the abuser and never be permitted to work in Chinuch again.
These are just some steps that come to mind. I’m sure that there are other good suggestions about how to proceed in this area that don’t come to mind at the moment. But even though the situation now extant deserves this kind of scrutiny and it is long over-due (far too many victims over far too many decades)… it is equally important to protect innocent educators from frivolous accusations as well.
How to do this is beyond the scope of this essay. But No less important because if we lose sight of the innocent Mechanech’s rights to protect himself from false accusations of a disgruntled student, we have not gained. We have lost… because if too many innocent Mechanchim get hurt, Chinuch will never be able to attract good Mechanchim again.