Monday, May 15, 2006

Sexual Abuse in the Torah World

I am loath to write about his subject. And perhaps this attitude is in part why there continues to be a problem in our community. The subject is so loathsome and most of us are so repelled by it, that the mere mention of it elicits a gag response. Unless it happens to a child or spouse most of us would rather stick our heads in the sand than speak about it. And that is I suppose why there is a tendency to cover these things up when they rear their ugly heads. No yeshiva wants to have that kind of stain on their record. So they deny, deny, deny... and cover up using Hilchos Lashan Hara and Motzi Shem Ra as their shield. But the shame this institution faces upon exposure is far worse than if they had dealt with the problem immediately and there would have been far fewer victims . But... they always seem to act in the hope that it will go away. But it doesn’t. It never does. It just festers and gets worse.

When a story like the one in New York Magazine comes up it is a reminder that the problem not only exists in the Torah world but that it has existed for quite some time as the story of that Chasidic "psychologist" shows. That fellow (unfortunately someone I know) is the son of a major Talmud Chacham (a Gerrer Chasid, whose S’forim have Haskamos from the Brisker Rav and many other Gedolim from that era). He (the "psychologist" son) sexually molested his patients. This happened about 25 years ago and remains unresolved.

And the problem is not limited to one segment of Orthodoxy. Prominent Rabbanim in virtually all segments of Orthodoxy have been accused and in many cases convicted of sexual misconduct. There was the famous case of the NCSY leader a few years ago... as there was the case of the scion of a revered Rosh HaYeshiva in Baltimore. There is the ongoing case of the grandson of one of the biggest Gedolei HaDor of the last generation... all accused of sexual misconduct and/or abuse. And now we have a story of an individual who for decades abused children sexually with complete impunity.

What is really troubling about this lengthy article is the way certain types of abuse are treated by leaders in the Torah world. The article in New York Magazine relates the story of a teacher in a RW Yeshiva who has for years been molesting children. The acts described in the article are quite disgusting, but a revered elderly sage, when asked, said that such acts are not actionable in Halacha, this fellow gets a pass. Instead of getting fired, he continued to teach and victimize young people at will.

The question is not so much on this sick individual who passes for a Mechanech. He is sick and needs help. The question is why he gets a pass. Why did a respected Rosh Yeshiva continue to allow this fellow to teach? Why continue to defend him? Why did the Rosh Yeshiva continually brush off accuser students as not reliable witnesses? And why wasn’t this Rosh Yeshiva’s Gadol outraged by the accusation? According to the article it seems that instead of outrage he said that as a matter of Jewish law, he would have had to do more than what he did for the acts to qualify as sexual abuse.

Is that the standard of acceptability for Mechnchim... as long as one’s acts are not Halachicly actionable, they are acceptable teachers? Does an act that elicits revulsion by any civilized standard of behavior not mean anything? At the very least this “Rebbi” is a Naval BeReshus HaTorah. But I suspect he is actually guilty of more than that.

Now that one of his early victims has decided to sue the Rebbi and the Yeshiva, the Rebbi has finally been put on leave. But did it have to take decades and a lawsuit? Hasn’t anything been learned from the cover-up by NCSY of a popular executive a few years ago?

NCSY paid a high price for their reticence. The abuser was eventually sent to prison after decades of abuse and heads rolled at NCSY.

Didn’t this Rosh Yeshiva pay any attention to that?