Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sex Abuse, Rabbis, and Tisha B’Av

Tisha B’Av is only one week away. We observe this day in a state of mourning - fasting and otherwise depriving ourselves of any forms of pleasure. We must sit on the floor (or on a low seat very near it) as do all who mourn the passing of a parent during the week of Shiva. We are not even permitted to learn Torah except for subjects dealing with that day or other tragic subjects. This is all because both the first and second Temples were destroyed on this day about 2000 years ago.

I am reminded of the reasons the two Temples were destroyed. The first Temple was destroyed because of the sin of Arayos – the prevalence of sexual promiscuity among the Jewish people. The second Temple was destroyed because of an apparent failing of the great rabbis of the day. They did not protest a wrong done to a fellow Jew.

The Gemarah in Gittin (56a) relates the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza - two people with a similar name. Kamtza was invited to a feast hosted by wealthy Jew and so were leading Torah personalities of that day. Bar Kamtza was not invited. He was an enemy of the host.

Bar Kamtza however mistakenly thought that it was he who was invited and showed up. When the host spotted him he threw him out - despite much pleading and offers of money by Bar Kamtza. The rabbis saw this and said nothing. He was publicly embarrassed and left.

Long story short this guest ended up ‘getting his revenge’ by going to the Roman government, initiating a series of events that led to the destruction of the second Temple.

I can’t help comparing this seminal event in Jewish history to current events.

The Jewish Star reports of yet another child sex abuse case. This time by a religious Jew to a neighborhood child. This situation of abuse is apparently far more common than abuse found in the schools and youth groups. And we know how common that is. Virtually every story of sex abuse in my memory was about a rabbi who taught children or by a youth counselor. But these situations are a small fraction of the total amount of abuse. From the Jewish Star:

Family members or friends are the perpetrators in 75-80 percent of all sexual abuse cases, according to Marci Hamilton, a Yeshiva University professor and author of Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect its Children.


“We’ve been more successful in publicizing cases against rabbis and teachers, but our community is no different from any others,” Rabbi Dratch said. “Sexual abuse is much more common against family members and neighbors than amongst teachers and rabbis. The case that you have here is the tip of the iceberg.”

Tip of the iceberg!!!

In the current case the accused 35 year old divorced father of four is a graduate of Yeshivas Torah Temimah. For those who don’t remember – this is the Yeshiva that for 20 years knowingly employed and protected a Rebbe who abused countless numbers of young boys during his tenure there. Was the currently accused one of his victims? Here is his response to that question:

“My therapist says it’s repressed, right now, but I don’t remember...”

Was he indeed one of the many victims? Did he become an abuser because of it? We know that many sexual abusers were themselves abused as children. The thought of the multiplier effect of a 20 year career of child sexual abuse is frightening. Who knows how many children were abused, have gone untreated - and are now sex abusers themselves cruising the streets of religious neighborhoods?!

The comparison between what is happening now and the reasons for destruction of both Temples is unavoidable.

Twenty years of abuse. And like the rabbis of the second Temple era there was no protest by the rabbis who knew about it. Not only that -it was covered up! Their intentions may have been good, but it is difficult if not impossible to not place at least some of the responsibility for the current level of abuse on them.

If there were a Beis Hamikdash today, I would fear its imminent destruction.