Friday, May 11, 2012


An article in the Wall Street Journal reports that the upcoming Asifah on safe internet use has already been sold out. The capacity of Citi Field Stadium - which they have rented for this event is 42,000. This should not surprise anyone who has been paying attention. The organizers have been pushing this event hard! So hard in fact that in one reported case, a relatively moderate Charedi school has required all fathers and their sons to pay the ten dollar per seat admission charge to attend.  I have no doubt that other schools have done the same.

I say fathers and sons because women have been barred for modesty reasons. Charedim tend to have separate seating for men and women at their large public events. Chasidim have an added requirement of a Mechitza. Without it they will not attend such an event.

Building one for this event would be cost prohibitive. I can understand this since the upcoming Agudah Siyum HaShas has spent about a half million dollars to construct one for their event.  Were women allowed to attend, the potential attendance would be at least double that number. I guess 2 million dollars is their limit. Internet porn is a serious problem but not THAT serious! Women can watch in on the internet via a live stream.  But I digress.

But there is something else happening that day. From the Journal:

A counterprotest—dubbed "The Internet Is Not the Problem" and expected to draw hundreds—is scheduled for across the street from the stadium event. It accuses Jewish leadership of scapegoating the Internet while avoiding a more pressing problem: child abuse. 

In my view the attendance numbers ought to be reversed. I know about the dangers of the internet. I know all the pluses of proper use and minuses of misuse. I even applaud the new Charedi approach that realizes bans don’t work. They now want to educate people on how to use it safely - even though I still disagree with their characterization of it as an evil medium that one would be better off without. But that is not the subject of this post.

I am once again thoroughly disgusted by how certain Chasidim - like Satmar - deal with sex abuse. It is out of the dark ages. I am not only disgusted but angry. I am angry at a culture that is described in detail in a lengthy front page article in the New York Times. What has evolved is a culture of pouring salt on an open wound – in the name of Torah.

When abuse happens in this community the operative word is “Hush”. This article validates every word of Judy Brown’s book of the same name. Every effort is made to bury an abuse form the public consciousness. Anyone who makes an abuse accusation against a fellow Chasid is told to keep it quiet for their own good and the good of the community.  

If an accusation is made public by a victim or his family, he is shunned. If it is reported to a secular authority it is considered Mesirah - informing on a Jew to evil secular authorities. This is a sin that in theory is punishable by death. Although no one is physically harmed by exposing an abuser there is a spiritual death imposed. If one becomes a victim’s advocate or active in trying to stop abuse in any public way - like encouraging victims to come forward and report abuse - they are put in Cherem! Being a Moser (an informant) is a far worse crime than being a sex abuser. From the Times:

By cooperating with the police, and speaking out about his son’s abuse, Mr. Jungreis, 38, found himself at the painful forefront of an issue roiling his insular Hasidic community. There have been glimmers of change as a small number of ultra-Orthodox Jews, taking on longstanding religious and cultural norms, have begun to report child sexual abuse accusations against members of their own communities. But those who come forward often encounter intense intimidation from their neighbors and from rabbinical authorities, aimed at pressuring them to drop their cases.

Abuse victims and their families have been expelled from religious schools and synagogues, shunned by fellow ultra-Orthodox Jews and targeted for harassment intended to destroy their businesses.

As the 64 year old mother of a man abused as a child in a Satmar school said:

“There is no nice way of saying it… Our community protects molesters. Other than that, we are wonderful.”  

Can anyone say, Hush? This is exactly the way the book Hush described the situation in the Chasidic community in which she was raised. (Not Satmar.)

What is the most important value in this community? Reputation. That supersedes all else with respect to abuse. The spiritual murder of one of their own does not merit the ruining of their reputation.  They either still do not understand the consequences of sweeping allegations under the rug, or they do but think that ruining the life of a victim by their silence is a price worth paying. This way they keep up their image of a pure and pristine example of Judaism that does not have these kinds of problems.

What about the victim? Well, they will take care of him or her. Often it will be in the form of being told to just get over it and get on with their lives.

And then they offer their daughters’ hands in marriage to these victims. And I have a bridge to sell you.

The fault lies in the Rebbe – the spiritual head of their Chasidic sect. These larger than life icons are so venerated that no amount of evidence or logic will counter their opinions. Chasidic Rebbes are treated like virtual royalty – kings in fact. One need not go very far to see just how loyal Chasidim are to their Rebbe. Go to any wedding of Chasidic Rebbe’s child. An event with 20,000 Chasidic attendees is not that uncommon for larger sects like Satmar.  One can find videos of these events online. It is a sight to behold.

It is the Rebbe that controls the culture by dictating its rules. If he says that reporting a molester is Mesirah, end of conversation. If a Chasidic school is told by thir Rebbe to retain a teacher who was accused by a victim of abuse… he must know what he is doing since he is God’s true spokesman here on earth. The Rebbe said let him continue to teach. He teaches. What about future victims? There will be no future victims because the Rebbe knows what he is doing. How dare anyone say otherwise?

One can speculate as to why they cast someone who has reported an abuser to the authorities as a Moser. Some of it is an irrational fear of secular authorities. Their parents and grandparents brought such fears with them from Europe when they immigrated here. There - the fear was legitimate. But conditions here are so radically different that most non Chasidic Poskim do not see reporting a molester to the authorities as Mesirah. Chasidic communities are so insular, they have no other frame of reference but what their parents and grandparents told them about secular authorities. Chasidic Rebbes  perpetuate that fear applying it to secular authorities here. It then becomes  part of the very essence of their beliefs.

Some might cynically say it is about Rebbes retaining power and control. Many of them do after all preside over millions of dollars of assets in cash and property. I can certainly understand the desire to remain king. It’s good to be king.

But I would not go that far. I’m sure that most of these Rebbes are good people who want to do good things for their people. And in most cases they do. But it is no less a fact that power is retained this way.

I feel sorry for a community that has been so thoroughly brainwashed that they actually believe that the greater good is served by protecting molesters rather than healing their victims. It prevents them from doing the kinds of things that would protect their children.

One of the fringe benefits of extreme insularity is that it keeps them loyal to their “king”. It keeps them all on the same page of irrational thought. And it encourages practices that are harmful to sex abuse victims and their families. They are therefore never confused by the facts. Because they cannot possibly know them unless they break the rules.

The result of all that is the sickening state of affairs described in the Times!