Sunday, August 28, 2016

Where Are You, Agudah?

Picture from VIN for illustrative purposes only
Another step in the right direction was taken recently by a group of 300 rabbis. All from a diverse cross section of Orthodoxy. They signed a proclamation. From JTA: (A slightly longer version of this story in can be found at VIN): 
“We condemn attempts to ignore allegations of child sexual abuse. These efforts are harmful, contrary to Jewish law, and immoral,” it said. “The reporting of reasonable suspicions of all forms of child abuse and neglect directly and promptly to the civil authorities is a requirement of Jewish law.”
The letter strongly condemns ostracizing victims of sexual abuse and calls upon synagogues and schools to set up policies to prevent sex abuse, including carefully screening new employees, raising awareness of the issue, and teaching children about sexual development and safety.
The proclamation draws upon the biblical precept not to “stand by while your fellow’s blood is being spilled” (Leviticus 19:16).  One of the signatories likened sexual abuse to murder.
The signatories include members of the Orthodox Union, Rabbinical Council of America and Yeshiva University. 
I reported about a similar letter signed by 100 Charedi rabbis last year. 

As I said, this is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately proclamations don’t go far enough. Statements like these need to be followed up with action by the communities they address. Although I am aware of progress in this area, I’m not sure how many schools have heeded the call and implemented the suggestions of these proclamations.

That sad fact of life is that pedophilia is a mental illness that will not soon disappear. To the best of my knowledge pedophiles cannot be cured of their prediction of being attracted sexually to children. And since there is no way to satisfy their lust legally or morally, they do so illegally and immorally. That is how we get the serial sex abusers like Avreimel Mondrowitz.

The only way to combat this is by doing whatever we can to protect our young. They need to be educated about it, and perhaps more-so parents that tend to shrug these things off… until it happens to one of their children.

We need to make sure that sex offenders are reported to the police, are publicly identified and registered as sex abusers - and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And to make certain that those that tried to cover it up - thereby enabling further abuse be made to pay a very high price for their complicity in it.

So we now have virtually the entire Orthodox world on the same page. Both the Charedi world and the MO world have made strong public statements about it. But I have to ask, ‘Where is Agudah? There is not a single member of the Moetzes that signed onto either document. They are famous for saying that before accused sex abuser is reported to the police, they must first consult with a Rabbi who will decide whether to go ahead and report him to the police. 

We know from experience that when the accused is someone that is part of their community, they tend to avoid reporting it. As was the case in Lakewood when the son of one of their biggest Talmidei Chachamim was sexually abused by his Mechench. 

The father followed protocol and reported it to the Rabbonim. Who promptly told him that he should not report it. And that they would see to it that that the abuser/Mechanech would get therapy. Not unexpectedly that Mechanech did not continue his therapy for more than one or two sessions and then stopped. When that Talmid Chacahm found out, he went straight to the police. Which caused him to become an outcast in Lakewood. Where he eventually was hounded out of town.

Although there was some regret expressed  later on by some of his critics, the damage was done. And there was never any apology made to this Mechanech by the rabbinic leaders that handled the issue at first.

Is this still the position of Agudah? Do they still prefer handling sex abuse in-house when someone from their own community is accused? I hope not. But I have yet to see any change in their views as evidenced by the absence by any member of the Moetzes as a signatory to those proclamations. 

Will they respond publicly to this question? Who knows? (I’m glad to see Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, the brother of Agudah Moetzes member, Rabbi Aharon Feldman’s sign on to this. Are the two brothers in disagreement?)

At this point I would like to note the very positive article in the Forward about Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, one of my truly great heroes. Himself a Charedi Mechanech, he is running a one man crusade from that community against sex abusers. He has done more than most of the rest of us that just talk the talk. He walks the walk and has paid a price for that… having been recently sued by a convicted sex abuser now living in Israel for defamation of character.

Rabbi Horowitz has published widely used materials on how to deal with sex abuse – and how to help prevent it. Those materials have been translated into Hebrew and Yiddish so that Israelis and Chasidm that have difficulty with the English language can benefit from those materials.

What is also quite sad is that there are some advocates that have strongly criticized him (and in some cases vilified him!) for not supporting legislation they felt was important to their cause. So too has he been criticized by some (mostly Chasidic) members of his own Charedi world for not toeing their line on how to deal with the accused.

If anyone deserves a medal for trying to change the culture of sex abuse in the world of observant Jewry it is Rabbi Horowitz. He deserves our gratitude and recognition for all he has done and continues to do for our young people and for Klal Yisroel.