Thursday, September 17, 2015

Children at Risk

Professor Marci A. Hamilton (Wikipedia)
It’s really hard to argue with her. Marci Hamilton is the ‘Chair in Public Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University’. She has published an article that will no doubt be viewed with great concern if not outright anger by many in the Charedi world. I would not be surprised if the attacks come fast and furiously. She will be called a Charedi basher whose only interest is to undermine the Charedi world. No doubt - so will I.

‘If she were saying this about Jews and not Charedim it would be considered antisemitic hate speech!’  ‘She hates religion!’ ‘No one in America will ever get a fair shake if they have a beard and Peyos!’ These and similar comments from indignant Charedi publishers and columnists have all been heard before. Always in response to legitimate criticism which they don’t like. They immediately label it anti religious. I’m sure we will see it again here.  I am equally sure I will be getting the same criticism since I actually agree with her.

Hamilton tackles 3 problematic issues facing the Charedi world. Issues they deny having. Or in some cases are actually proud of. Issues that I have discussed here in the past individually – expressing the same attitude.

The issues are Metzitza B’Peh (MbP), educational neglect, and sex abuse. All of which see sees as harmful to the innocent children of that community.

MbP (oral suction on an open circumcision wound) is once again freely exercised in the Charedi world without the slightest warning about the possibility of a baby being infected by a Mohel with a live but not yet symptomatic herpes virus. The New York City Health department repealed a requirement that parents be warned in writing of the danger before the procedure is done. That was because of a successful appeal to The Second Circuit (brought by Agudah and Satmar that ruled in their favor on church state separation issues).

Educational neglect is yet another issue that she is right about. In Chasidic circles (and even in some Yeshiva circles) secular education is all but ignored. (For example - see video at Lohud - or listen to this report on WNYC.) All while government officials turn a blind eye to their failure to implement the educational requirements set forth by them. The result is that as adults they are ‘deeply disabled’ from functioning outside of their own insular environment. Thanks to Yaffed they are about to be investigated and hopefully the educational mandate they are supposed to be following will be enforced.

Sex abuse is still under-reported in some Charedi circles as rabbinic organizations like Agudah continue to insist that sex abuse be first reported to a rabbi who will judge if those  suspicions merit going to the police. When someone does decide to report abuse to the police without the permission of a rabbi - all hell breaks loose as the wrath of the community descends on them and considers them guilty of Mesirah (reporting a Jew to the secular authorities).

As Ms. Hamilton notes (and as reported here) there are some prominent and courageous Charedi rabbis that have signed and made public a document urging that suspicions of sex abuse should be reported directly to the police. But as she also noted Agudah has not signed on to this.

She blames inaction on the political pandering by politicians seeking the bloc votes (mostly in Chasidic enclaves that usually vote the way they are told to by their Chasidic Rebbes). These votes will be delivered to them if they ‘play ball’ and ‘see things their way’. But that hurts infants medically, children educationally; and victims of abuse and their families emotionally – sometimes in life threatening ways.

Her clarion call is the following:
The time has come to rip off the rose-colored glasses and to treat children in every setting as humans with rights—even if religion is in the picture. Their suffering and disabilities are our problem.
I think she’s right. There is no greater merit for a Jew than to protect the innocent. I think we are falling well short of that goal in some circles. There is no better time than the Aseres Yemei Teshuva to rectify these wrongs.