Tuesday, August 31, 2021

A Huge Change for the Better

Recent photo of  R' Chaim Kanievsky (Jerusalem Post)
There is a plague among us. No… I’m not talking about COVID. Although that plague is surely still with us. I am talking about sexual abuse. 

It seems like we can’t get away from it. No matter how much we try. Almost every day another horrible story of sex abuse shows up in the media. It’s gotten to the point where it almost isn’t news anymore! That does not however change the devastating effect is has on the many victims. Especially if they are children.

It’s not that things have not changed for the better. They have. Victim advocacy groups have done a great job in bringing that change about. Mechanisms have been put in place to better educate parents how to protect their children. Laws have been enacted that mandate doctors, teachers, and clergy to report any such incidents to the police -  with penalties for not doing so. The public has been educated to believe accusations of abuse, which are rarely made up - and report it to the police.  Police have been better trained to deal with victims and mental health experts have been better trained to provide therapy to victims. 

And yet as I indicated, there seems to be a never ending parade of sexual abuse stories in the media. Why is that?

I think that part of the problem is that sexual predators have been around since the beginning of time. A sexual aberration like pedophilia is a sickness that apparently has no cure. Unfortunately it almost always involves a sexual predator grooming a child and subtly involving them in their sexually aberrant behavior. 

To the best of my knowledge therapy does not work with pedophiles. No matter how much we try, their sexual appetite does not change or disappear. Their sexual urges can only be satisfied by abusing children 

So no matter what protections we put in place, to the predator: ‘Where there is a will, there is a way’.

The best we can do to prevent it is through vigilance and education combined with severe punitive measures for predators, their enablers, and for non compliance with the law.  (Such as mandated reporters suspecting abuse and failing to report it.)  

There has been much criticism in how the Charedi world has handled sex abuse. One of the most serious accusations is that for years, when it happened it was swept under the rug. Covered up. This was true of many other segments of society. Most notably the Catholic church.  And  the Modern Orthodox world was just as guilty of that. Victims were pretty much ignored and left to their own devices. Causing s lot of them to go OTD, suffer serious depression; in some cases attempting suicide! And succeeding in more than a few of those attempts.

But it was the Charedi world that was the most determined to keep things 'in house'. And not report abuse directly to the police. Instead instructing people to first report those suspicions to their rabbis and let them decide whether or not to report it. When those rabbis decided not to report it, the abuse continued. In some cases (mostly in the Chasidic world) predators were believed and victims were accused of lying. Even after the predators were convicted and sentenced to long prison terms.  

But something happened last week that might finally change that approach. From the Jerusalem Post

A special rabbinical court convened by five prominent haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbis has ruled that two brothers who are deans of a prominent yeshiva in Jerusalem sexually abused their students for years, and have forbidden parents from sending their sons to the institution. 

The court said that “severe and obscene transgressions” had been committed by Rabbi Yitzhak Tufik, dean of the Be’er Yehudah Yeshiva in the Sanhedria neighborhood of Jerusalem, and his brother, Rabbi Moshe Tufik, dean of the Be’er Yehudah “yeshiva ketana” for high-school pupils. 

I’m happy to see the severity of this court’s decision. This is the first time in my memory that I have ever seen a Charedi religious court come out so strongly against sexual abusers in their own community -  as well as the institution that enabled them. But perhaps more significantly is what else just happened. From the Jerusalem Post

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the leading rabbi of the Ashkenazi non-hassidic ultra-Orthodox community, has stated that complaints over sexual abuse should be made to the police, in comments which have been released to the public by the rabbi’s advisors.

The comments were made three years ago but have only now been publicly disclosed in a video seen by The Jerusalem Post of the meeting in which the rabbi stated his position. Kanievsky previously stated in 2015 regarding a specific case that a victim could report his abuse to the police, but the new comments refer in general to all incidents of sexual abuse and the video of his ruling was officially approved for release by the rabbi’s advisers…

 Asked if it was possible to ignore legal obligations to report criminal sexual abuse, the rabbi said, “No.”

That is great news. I don’t know why it took 3 years to release that statement. But perhaps it finally registered that reticence in such matters can lead to that happened in Be’er Yehudah. Perhaps it was the recent revelation about ZAKA founder and erstwhile hero, Yehuda Meshi-Zahav. Who was exposed as a serial sex abuser; that it was rather well known; and yet went unreported. 

Whatever the reason, it’s about time. Better late than never.