To The Victims of Orthodox Jewish Child Molestation - Your Pain Is Our Pain

To The Victims of Orthodox Jewish Child Molestation – Your Pain Is Our Pain

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Two weeks ago, I got an email from a man (let’s call him B) who explained that he is  frei” (no longer observant) because he was molested by an “Orthodox Jew” and because his molestation (and other molestations he knew of) were covered up by other “Orthodox Jews.”  (The quotations serve as a way of my distancing what Orthodox Jews are actually meant to be doing from what these individuals are doing.) B was troubled that I only present Orthodox Jews in a positive light and insisted that I be honest about the situation.

The truth was (as I told him) I had been working on a post about pedophilia in the Orthodox Jewish world already. More and more stories had been coming out about abuse, cover ups, and intimidation. There was even news coverage of a group of Hasidim raising money for a legal defense fund for an alleged child molester. I was more nauseous with every article I read. This is NOT what Torah Judaism is supposed to be about. It wasn’t a topic I could ignore.

I have no interest in whitewashing the shortcomings of certain people within the Orthodox world. Our Torah is perfect, our people are not. There are still many wonderful religious Jews out there, doing private acts of kindness every single day, but there are bad apples in the bunch. Very bad apples. And there are out of whack priorities which have created misguided policies which have been put in place by leaders in the Orthodox Jewish world. And children have suffered – unnecessarily suffered – because of these policies.

I have now exchanged dozens of emails with B and another person working to make changes in the system. I have called and emailed basically every rabbi I know over these last two weeks, trying to understand why these problems have occurred and what we can do to make things better. I plan to write a post on this issue as I get more information, but in the meantime, I realized that there’s something else that needs to be done.

B described to me how his pain has been two fold – the abuse itself, but also how people either looked the other way or actively protected the molesters. I wrote to him, “I’m so sorry! My heart is breaking over your situation. I don’t understand what’s wrong – why are they not *getting* it? Where is the compassion and love? Where are the “paths of pleasantness” and the “ways of peace??”

B responded, “Thank you for your kind words. One doesn’t hear them very often.”

How can that be, I wondered? Religious Jews are supposed to be ALL about compassion. As our sages teach, “Kol yisrael areivim ze l’ze” – “every Jew is responsible for one another.” As far as B is concerned the system failed him, the rabbis failed him, his people failed him, and ultimately God failed him.

B has obviously endured a tremendous amount of sorrow and while I can’t fix all of his problems I realized that there is one thing that I can do for him and every other survivor of sexual abuse in our community with your help. I can ask you to let him (and them) know that you care. That their pain is your pain. That you’re heartbroken over this information as it comes out.

There are too many wrongs that have been committed which have put innocent children into nightmarish scenarios. Let’s come together now and do something right. Please take a moment to leave a comment below, and if you’re so inclined, say where you live, what Jewish community you’re apart of (in terms of where you fall out in the spectrum of Orthodoxy).

All comments are welcome, but I’m particularly interested in hearing from Orthodox Jews – especially rabbis – this time. Please share, tweet, and email this post to as many people as you can, so that we can show both B and the world that there ARE many Orthodox Jews who are sharing in the pain of survivors, who demand that the victims be protected, not the pedophiles. And then please reach out to your local Orthodox rabbi and find out what you can do to help make our children safer, because actions speak louder than words.

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  1. I am a simple Jew currently attending yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael, and seriously contemplating starting a family of my own.

    It’s nice to see so much sympathy for victims, but I want to enable my future child to protect him/herself from becoming a victim.

    What advice do you have for parents to protect their children, or to enable their children to defend themselves long enough to call for help to arrive?

    • Thanks for your comment, Adam. I’m not an expert in this area, but look up rabbihorowitz.com – he handles these issues in the frum community. From what I’ve learned, I’d say the number one thing is communication. Talking to your kids at a young age about people who could hurt them, God forbid, and always keeping the lines of communication open so they feel comfortable coming to you if there ever is an issue. But definitely check out Rabbi Horowitz’s site!

  2. nechama robinson : September 27, 2012 at 12:16 am

    A courageous article. I would add the observation that it is all too common for members of any religious community to implicitly exempt themselves from responsibilities related to honoring of one’s fellow human. All too often, laws of ritual observance (Mitzvot Bein Adam LaMakom) are allowed to replace (instead of support) laws pertaining to treatment of others (Mitzvot Bein Adam LaChavero). There is a sense of entitlement that is commonly fostered in religiously focused environments. This sense of entitlement becomes the gateway to the kind of self-righteous indignation that becomes the fortress of the criminal and his protectors.

  3. I don’t really fit any one category. I am an American Sephardic Jewish BT who is most comfortable in charedi society but believes in Torah U’mada.

    B, I can’t imagine the depths of your pain but admire your courage for speaking out. Abusers of innocent children are the lowest of the low no matter what community they are from, Jewish or not.

    Many thoughtful posts here, but none reiterate Allison’s disclaimer in the very first paragraph regarding “Orthodox Jews”:
    “The quotations serve as a way of my distancing what Orthodox Jews are actually meant to be doing from what these individuals are doing”.

    Any Jew who commits any act that is against Torah principles is not a religious Jew. Period. It doesn’t matter what community they belong to or what they wear. Anyone who defends such a person is an accomplice, plain & simple. Some people in the Orthodox world are insulated and misconstrue the meaning of “dan l’kaf zechut”. There is no excuse for not learning the warning signs of abuse. It’s on the rise in the Orthodox world because it’s on the rise in general. Society has become hyper-sexualized–it’s everywhere. Anyone who thinks that their kids are safe b/c they don’t have a TV or Internet is a fool. I have to be careful what streets I drive on because the billboards here in LA are so explicit.

    Please realize that perpetrators of abuse are not models of Orthodox Judaism or Torah. They are sick INDIVIDUALS.

    B, There is so much value in Torah learning & living that you should not deprive yourself of because of the “bad apples” you have encountered. There are probably more abusers proportionally in the secular world. It may seem more rampant because we Orthodox Jews live in a community; we interface with many more people than the average secular American. The danger is what I call the “Facebook Effect”, i.e., we think that anyone we know (or have a mutual acquaintance with) is a “friend”. Familiarity breeds trust but we still have to be careful. When the abuser is a person of authority, it’s even worse.

    I highly recommend “The Shame Borne in Silence” by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski. This book brings the issue to the forefront and is a great educational tool. You can see it here:

    There are several Orthodox professionals who are working to promote safety from predators. I champion their work.

    Thank you for this post.

  4. This week, I attended a program by a new organization called Magenu (Magenu.org) which is training all the schools in Brooklyn (Parents/ teachers/kids) about safety.
    It was so wonderful and educational.
    The children at the yeshivas who are implementing their program will 100% be much safer from these terrible people.

  5. Hello,
    Good post. I’m disturbed that you wrote that “God failed him.” God never fails.

    • Thanks for your comment, Rachel. Let me clarify something: *I* don’t believe God failed him – *he* believes God failed him. I was simply trying to show how broken this formerly religious man was from this, not describe my feelings.

  6. We just found out that my sister was molested by what was a young bochur in yeshiva. She was only in preschool at the time and told my mother that a man was coming into the class bathrooms – which were open and unsupervised while the kids were outside during recess. It wasn’t uncommon for bochurim to come into the classrooms and borrow supplies and etc. When the teachers were told they brushed it off and claimed that it wasn’t true. Having been a teacher in that school previously, I remember how open it was and how many of the teachers sat outside and shmoozed and allowed kids to run in and out of the classrooms to use the bathrooms.
    The fallout from being hurt by that man leads to PTSD and our efforts should be on strongly helping these adults and preteens heal. So they can possibly learn to get on with their lives.
    The pain and destruction abusers cause to their victims and their victims families can never be erased or forgiven.
    Why someone would want to steal a childs faith and trust and childhood is beyond belief and understanding.
    It’s criminal.
    How are they supposed to go on and grow up and have a normal relationship and family?
    A ganif- thief steals money or an item from another- a value can be put on it.
    But how do replace peace of mind, self respect, faith and trust in humanity and in ones self – how do you replace a life that no longer includes the possibility of a spouse and children and a family life…. this is way worse!

    My heart is broken for my parents and their grief and for my sister- who is suffering terribly, she is a loving giving and gentle person who no longer wants anything to do with being Jewish.
    Bigger pictures no longer comfort me. I see such suffering and pain and If G-d wants us to love Him and be compassionate, He should truly watch over people with better care. And not sit quiet while innocent people are suffering and being hurt.

  7. Thank you for writing this. I just want to know if the victim’s should forgive their molestor’s? Or is this against our views as Torah observant Jews?

  8. There’s one place child molesters belong, and that’s six feet under.

  9. Hi Allison,

    It’s a scary world we live in, having to deal with such atrocities as molestation, but I must applaud you for writing such an eloquent article on the subject. I am an Orthodox Jew, and every time I hear about these perverted and subhuman attacks, it makes me sick. I feel the world of that poor victim, shattering to pieces, from one cruel, selfish act. I feel the confusion when the people who are supposed to love him/her viciously turn their backs, in favor of ignorance and denial- of dodging conflict, and social acceptance- of radically mutated and misguided ‘rules’, and following the flock- over comforting a pained soul. I feel the depression, the anger, the hopelessness when that poor sad victim realizes he/she is all alone in the fight to remain sane. I feel the faith in community, in loved ones, in Hashem begin to ebb away. But most of all, I feel the tremendous blow being dealt to each and every single Jew in the world, when some lowlife is allowed to get away with such depravity- when everything is v’nahapoch hu, the victim being shunned and humiliated, while the perpetrator is lauded as a saint- all in the name of religion. That sickens me. To see my G-d being falsely portrayed as someone who demands sanctuary for a child molester, and banishment for a victim?? That fills me with rage. I have an unwavering belief in Hashem and the Torah, and I know that the G-d I base my life around is the essence of Goodness. So to see His laws become so distorted and twisted, so EVIL, yes PURE EVIL, fills me with a fiery indignation, to say the least.

    My favorite line of yours is definitely: “Our Torah is perfect, our people are not.” Such a profound statement. Our Torah contains no flaws. We do. We were entrusted with the power to be a light unto the nations. Many of us are beacons in a world of darkness. Some of us squander this gift for a false sense of righteousness, snuffing out the candles the rest of us have worked so hard to light. It’s your standard, garden variety radicalism- twisting and skewing the halacha to such extreme levels as to be colossally destructive; Levels that only hurt our brothers, our sisters, and ourselves, both on an individual and global scale. By protecting molesters, the Chillul Hashem is amplified, spreading false views of our G-d to the world at large.

    May we be zocheh to see only light, to see our victims healed and cared for, our perpetrators locked away, our radicalism wiped out, our devotion to following in the TRUE derech of Hashem restored unanimously, and ultimately the speedy rebuilding of the beis Hamikdash.

    Thanks again, Allison, for not being afraid to let your voice be heard! And to all those victims out there, there are plenty of people who care. Kol tuv!


  10. I’m former Orthodox, now secular, and I’m shocked that no one saw this coming, or that anyone could think their community would do things differently than what B’s community did to him. How can you be surprised when there are still Catholics who will swear that all those kids raped by their priests are exaggerating, or are out for a buck? How many times do we have to hear their laity, or especially the various priests and bishops, publicly blaming something–anything–to take the stench of the corruption and immorality in their religion?

    You’d be fooling yourselves if you think the Catholics were unique in that, though. It’s true of every religious group. There will always be people who will take the side of abusers.

    It would help if religious people, of all stripes, would accept a few hard facts.

    1. Religion doesn’t make anyone moral. Really. It does a whole lot to make them bad, though. To quote physicist Stephen Weinburg: “With or without [religion] you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

    2. Being clergy does not make someone moral, but every religion is full of people who think that their clergy can do no wrong. Even the less gullible followers will AUTOMATICALLY believe their clergy is good before they will everyone else, 99% of the time..

    3. The very nature of religion, with its built in us-vs-them mentality (ALL of them have this feature–think about it), makes sure that followers close ranks when a threat arises. Especially when that threat comes from within their own ranks. Feature. Not a bug.

    Add all that up, and you get a community turning on someone who dares to imply that their holy man isn’t moral.

    For so long, every victim who came forward heard, “How dare you say that about Child Rapist clergyman! He’s a good man–our rabbi/priest/minister!! He’s a man of gawd!” The people who said that didn’t just decide on their own that their clergy was moral. They were carefully cultivated to think it, because religion can’t continue to exist without instilling obedience and deference to authority in its followers.

    Until you address this problem of unearned authority and the foolish idea that your religion makes people moral (it doesn’t), then some new horror will arise from within your ranks again. And again. And again.

    It’s inevitable.

    And quit grafting your religion onto the real morality that has given us better understanding of the evil of child abuse of all kinds, and taught us true compassion for the victims. That wasn’t religion, and certainly not ay of the book religions. Far from it. In fact, religion only had MILLENNIA to get a grip on the problem, and was a decided and miserable failure at it. The Buddhists sort of came close…but didn’t quite make it. The book religions? Oh dear. Wayyyyyyy behind the curve.

    Everything we think now about child sexual abuse is thanks to feminism and secular humanism. Sure, people sort of know it was wrong, but they were the ones who got us not to bury our heads in the sand anymore about child abuse–of any kind, They’re why we’re aware of this problem and talking about it, and why we’re no longer blaming, shaming and shunning the victims, unlike religion which spent millennia ignoring the problem. When it wasn’t covering it up.

  11. Rabbi Jack Abramowitz : May 27, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    You make some great points with which I agree, though you have some other points with which I strongly differ. The one point I’d like to address, however, is the assertion that religion has no track record in instilling morality. Anecdotally, I know that not to be the case.

    I know many people who eschew gossip in all its forms because of what they learned from religion. I know people who are scrupulously honest in business based on what they learned from religion. I know people who are charitable to a fault because of their religious values. The real acid test? I have known countless high school and college students who were chaste because of their religious beliefs. So it’s inconceivable to think that absolutely no one ever refrained from robbery, rape, assault or murders that they otherwise would have committed if not for their religious education.

    I agree that all people are human and therefore flawed, so it should by no means be inconceivable that a religious person – even a clergyman – could be guilty of such a thing. But in your zeal to counterbalance the naiveté of those on one extreme, you seem to take things a little too far in the opposite direction. Religion’s track record may not be perfect, but I think it’s still pretty respectable. Abuses? Sure. One can easily point at all the child molesters and the Westboro Baptist Church and the Crusades and decry religion. But remember that the majority of religious people are keeping quietly to themselves and living moral lives, not making headlines or history books. “Rabbi Embezzler” is what makes the news. “Religious Man Tithes Income” doesn’t.

  12. All those guilty of the abominable crime of paedophilia should face exposure, condemnation and punishment. May the Almighty deal with them harshly.

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Allison Josephs

Allison is the Founder and Director of Jew in the City. Please find her full bio here.