Tuesday, May 24, 2016

How Many More Are There Like Him?

Accused Mashgiach arriving in a Jerusalem court (Arutz Sheva)
This is one subject I hate writing about. That’s because the subject matter is so disgusting. Not that I haven’t dealt with it. I have. Many times. But sexual abuse is something that is just plain difficult to discuss… for a variety of reasons. Which of course begs the rhetorical question, if it is so difficult to discuss it, what it must be like to experience it?

That’s why I have discussed it in the past. My goal on this issue was (and still is) to exhort the Orthodox rabbinic leadership to do better. Victims of abuse (or survivors as they prefer to be called) have lives that have been changed forever. They will always be haunted by those memories. Even in cases where they have overcome them and lead relatively normal lives. But as has been demonstrated many times - getting over it is not always the result. I don’t know what the percentages are but there are a great number of survivors that do not get over it. They will often reject the Judaism they were raised with as a bunch of lies because of what they have experienced.

What’s worse many of them fall into a state of depression – unable to function or cope with the real world. They will often drop out of school and ‘self medicate’ with alcohol and/or illicit drugs to try and drown out the pain.  Attempts at suicide is unfortunately all too common among survivors and in some tragic cases, they succeed!

The way Orthodox rabbinic leaders in the past have dealt with these issues was clearly misguided - usually based on the presumption that an accused sex abuser is the victim of a false charge. Especially if they are prominent people that would never be suspected of abuse.  

Adding to the belief that accusations by survivors were false was the fact that many of them stopped being observant precisely because of it. They were thus seen in a negative light and their stories seen as unreliable. Rabbis then saw someone that went OTD accusing an innocent ‘local hero’ of an unspeakable crime. They were highly skeptical of the accusation and often treated survivors like pariahs.

In some cases where rabbinic leaders believed  a survivor - they merely chased the abuser  ‘out of town’  – without warning other communities about him.

That has changed somewhat. There is still a lot of work to do. But as one prominent Charedi Rav told me a few months ago in response to my praise of his (and a group of fellow Charedi rabbis) heroic call to report sex abuse directly to the police, ‘We were living in the dark ages’. I only wish all Charedi Rabbis would be on board with this view. Unfortunately this is not yet the case.

I bring this subject up  again now because of yet another respected Charedi Rav, Naftali Maklev, who was exposed as a sex abuser. From Arutz Sheva:
Jerusalem prosecutors filed an indictment against a rabbi who served as a mashgiach at a yeshiva in the city, for a series of rapes carried against a number of female relatives over the course of several years. 
Jerusalem prosecutors filed an indictment against a rabbi who served as a mashgiach at a yeshiva in the city, for a series of rapes carried against a number of female relatives over the course of several years.
He had attempted to justify his actions by perversely claiming they were not only permitted under Jewish law, but mandated. In some cases he even went as far as to claim his acts of abuse served to "purify" his victims spiritually and atone for sins their souls committed in "past lives", or to cure them of physical ailments.
In one particularly extreme incident relayed in the indictment, the accused secretly recorded leading haredi Rabbi Chaim Kaniyevsky issuing a halakhic ruling on a totally unrelated subject, then played it back to the accused and claimed the rabbi was in fact endorsing the abuser's actions, in order to persuade her against speaking out.
This is just the latest in a series of reports over the last few years about sex abuse in Orthodox community. I believe the problem is a lot worse than we realize. If I had to guess I would say that as a percentage of the whole - the incidence of abuse in the Orthodox world is probably about the same as it is in the non Orthodox world. There are a lot of sick people out there with sexual perversions. And they find ways to act upon. And do so in secret for many years until they get caught - as was the case here. 

Being a Mashgiach at a Yeshiva is not just a job in Chinuch. It is a highly respected position in a Yeshiva second only to being Rosh HaYeshiva. In some cases a Mashgiach is more respected that the Rosh HaYeshiva is. Rav Matisyahu Salomon, the Mashgiach of Lakewood is a case in point.

The Yeshiva this rapist was involved with was founded and endorsed by a who’s who of Charedi rabbinic leaders. None of them suspected him of this kind of behavior. I am certain they believed him to be a Tahor V’Kadosh - a true role model for students. Someone students could go to for advice in life – as is often the case  with a Yeshiva Mashgiach. But they know th truth now, since he admitted it in a Beis Din.

In this case the Yeshiva did the right thing. They reported the abuse to the police who arrested him.

Despite all the improvements in how abuse is now handled, we still need to do better. Who knows how many more ‘rabbinic role models’ like this are around, influencing young minds while satisfying themselves at the expense of others when no one is looking. And doing so for years! 

I am not calling for a witch hunt. That would be just as wrong as ignoring the problem. But there has to be a way to better vet our Mechanchim to see if they are fit to be around our children. Perhaps its time to implement a psychological test administered by experts on sex abuse for every Mechanech applying for a job - to see whether he has aberrant sexual desires and whether he might act on them. This may seem harsh or overkill. But better overkill than allow for the possibility of ruining so many lives.

Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman has the right idea which he expressed on his website The Short Vort . My thoughts echo his. If only every rabbinic leader in Orthodoxy had his attitude.