Thursday, May 18, 2006

Rabbinic Accountability

Orthomom, Ezzie, Chana, Dov Bear, Olah Chadasha and Renegade Rebbitzen are only a handful of the bloggers who tackled this awful story.

It does not matter whether the story is true or not - the ideas behind it are abhorrent. "Let's wait to see if it's true" is the wrong approach -- not to the case, but to the ideas behind it.

In cases such as this, action must be taken first - careful action that does not give a presumption of guilt, but action that protects those affected in case there IS guilt.

The big question being asked is "Where was our leadership -- how did they allow this to happen?"

And the answer is painfully simple.

Orthodoxy instills within us that our Jewish leadership comes from the rabbinate. Our rebbeim in yeshiva, our community rabbis in our shuls, our talmedei chachamim -- they are our role models for how a Jew should act.

Yet depressingly, very few rise to the challenge of personally demonstrating how to act when the challenge arises. Instead, cases of abuse are covered up -- with apathy even reaching to the highest levels of rabbinical structure.

The past two decades have amply shown us that the message of standing up for what is right and morally correct -- is usually not demonstrated by our leaders. A clear and effectively broadcast message of zero tolerance towards abuse has not been heard from the vast majority of our rabbinical leadership.

Why is it that the lay-people of the community and the simple (and often anonymous) voices of the JBlogosphere are the only ones expressing today loud and clear on the internet what needs to be said?

Every Community Rav needs to clearly say to his community that this behaviour, and worse, the covering up of this behaviour, is abhorrent and the antithesis of Judaism.

Any Rabbi that doesn't is not worthy of the title, Rav.

He is not worthy of the respect of the children and adults of his community.

And he is not worthy of his semicha, the unbroken chain of rabbinic mesorah from Moshe Rabbeinu.

These harsh words are being painfully written -- not out of rebellion, G-d forbid, but out of a sense of worry that an entire generation is off the derech of how to act properly, and how to protect our future generations from predators within.


Ezzie said...

Brilliant, important post.

The back of the hill said...

Part of the problem is the acceptance of infallibility by the kehal.

We have gotten used to the idea that famous people are fallible, but we are still in denial about people we are accustomed to respecting.

The Catholic church did not deal well with the issue. And the reaction from the Europeans to the scandal in the American Catholic church was to think of it as a peculiar American problem - until it hit them too.

It isn't a matter of that perversion being more common than we think - it's a matter of that perversion being such an anomaly that most people will automatically go into denial mode.

Yet there have been many examples of leaders who were in other ways flawed - smicha in some communities is taken as proof of leadership quality and capability to handle responsibility - much like a business degree. And much like a business degree, if all it is is a key to the executive office, it means little.

The community must learn to demand more from those in positions worthy of respect. Leaders should be held to a higher standard.

Anonymous said...

Muqata and Ezzie, I think the problem is cultural and harder to deal with than simply pressuring our Rabbis. Please read my post.

I think I want to send my post (revised and cleaned-up) to a few of the major publications. Any you suggest?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

The problem may be even worse here in Israel.With a reluctance to go to the mishtara.The TzitzEliezer-chelek19 has a teshuvah stating these perpetrators are ,rodfim and you are required to report them.

Jack Steiner said...

Well said.

DAG said...

Zero tolerance should be the STARTING point.......

respondingtojblogs said...

And he is not worthy of his semicha, the unbroken chain of rabbinic mesorah from Moshe Rabbeinu.

You may want to check into the history od semikha.

But that's just a quibble. I think the most important thing to monitor is not so much how this partiular case proceeds (although Lord knows that's important), but how the schools react and take preventative steps for the future.

Will they establish (and publicize) a Bes Din specifically charged with investigating claims of abuse? Will set up mechanisms in the school for reporting and preventing abuse? Will they involve parents in all this? Will they train school personnel in spotting abuse?

My gut tells me not. I predict the cult of personality will remain the touchstone of charedi'ism, and after the all the handwringing is done, life will go on as normal.

socialworker/frustrated mom said...

Good point but nothing much to do.

Ezzie said...

Good point but nothing much to do.

But there is. Putting pressure on rabbonim to address issues is one. Getting rabbonim who *are* yashar and honest to speak out and explain that rabbonim are not infallible, that everyone must be subject to scrutiny, would be even better. Both are possible, and both are feasible. R' Yakov Horowitz spoke out about the riots, followed by a few others; more people like them speaking out properly against corruption among other Rabbonim is key.

JJ said...

This whole issue is so infuriating. The fact that there are pedophiles in these schools abusing children is bad enough- but you know these guys are sick, twisted, etc.- you don't expect anything different from a pedophile. You wouldn't expect anything good from a #$^% like that.

But you DO expect more from other rabbis, school officials, etc.- and for them to actively and knowingly sweep this under the rug, time and time again, RESULTING IN FURTHER ABUSE OF CHILDREN, turns my stomach.

The recent incident here re. the baby-killer is another case in point- that the higher-ups in the community were more concerned about the community's image and taking on the "evil Zionist" police than about the fact that a baby was abused to death is just incomprehensible to me.

Sorry to get off track, but it seems that there is a very worrisome trend here of covering up rather than facing up (to what's wrong)- something must be done, but I'm not very hopeful.

westbankmama said...

I think that the Rabbonim need to know that there is a blogosphere - and a relatively easy way for people to report things annonymously, and that we won't just forget about the issue in a few days or weeks. We who have blogs have a resonsibility to keep writing about the subject, even when it is not "hot".We also need to let the school administrators know that covering up abuse will be worse for them than reporting it - and it is up to the parents to make this known. I personally did not even think of sending my son to Netiv Meir, not because of the abuse that went on there in the past, but because of the cover-up that was done. The people who cover these things up are afraid for their parnassa; they should be made to understand that they have more to lose by covering up than reporting and dealing with the abuser in the first place.

Oleh Yahshan said...

I couldn't agree with you more.
the problem is not this case, it's the mindset. and until that mind set is changed in the community these things will continue to happen.

The Baby-killer incedent actually horrified me more than the other story to a certain extent. not because of the case itself but because of the reactions - such as "well he doesn't need to be in jail becuase there is no danger of him killing another baby in his house". How twisted have we gotten that these people went out to protest in DEFENCE of the baby-killer!?

It is time someone relized that if this kind of thinking doesn't stop we will find ourselves in a crises that will not end well for any of us at all - we need to throw out the Evil from with in us.

Shabbat Shalom

YMedad said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Olah Chadasha said...

westbankmama, I'm afraid notifying these Rabbis and making them aware of the blogosphere wouldn't do much good. They do not believe in the internet. They think it's evil. Hence, the people on it are evil. It's incredibly sad for me to say, but I compare the Rabbis' silence to the head Imams of Islam around the world who won't stand up and officially condemn terrorism. Like there, if Rabbis don't stand up and in a unified fashion condemn sexual abuse then they are basically saying that they condone it and perhaps even, G-d forbig, approve of it or don't think it's wrong.

A Simple Jew said...

Well put, Jameel.

Charlie Hall said...

'higher-ups in the community were more concerned about the community's image and taking on the "evil Zionist" police than about the fact that a baby was abused to death'

I said something like this, only less mild, and was publicly accused by a Rabbi of slandering rabbonim.

Charlie Hall said...

'only less mild'

Actually I meant to say "only more mild".

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

charlie: I guess my posting here will get me put in cheirem then.

Almost shabbat here - will reply next week.

Shabbat shalom.

JJ said...

I don't want to commandeer Jameel's blog, but I'd like to respond to a few comments:

"How twisted have we gotten that these people went out to protest in DEFENCE of the baby-killer!?"

I was dumbstruck by that as well, Oleh Yashan. It doesn't get much worse than abusing and killing a baby- you have to wonder what crime would be heinous enough for a community NOT to automatically "stand behind their man." And those remarks- "the biting didn't kill him", "set him free, there aren't any other kids at home for him to hurt," etc- I'm just speechless. How do you respond to such stupidity?

Charlie Hall said, in response to something I wrote:

"I said something like this, only less mild, and was publicly accused by a Rabbi of slandering rabbonim."

Well, Charlie, I guess I'm in the club, too. Are rabbonim above any and all suspicion? It seems from some of the comments I've read on various blogs on this subject that any questioning of their actions = slander.

Scraps said...

It makes me sick when I see or hear of things like this happening in the frum community--the abuse itself makes me sick, but the covering up makes me sick AND furious. Not only is it a chillul Hashem l'gamrei, but it's doing untold damage to the future of the Jewish people by harming our children and demonstrating that people in positions of power don't care if kids get hurt as long as THEIR paychecks aren't on the line. Grrrr....

Kid Sister said...

The fact that we even have to THINK about this breaks my heart in pieces.

Sarah Likes Green said...

I agree with you on this.

I've read so many posts, I'm not really sure what to say, what to comment other than how sad, how awful it all is that situations come to the surface in such an ugly manner.

But, am I surprised that such a thing has occurred?
Unfortunately, no.
Because, sadly enough, it is not the first time I've heard of a case like this. Which was covered up by the community. Pushed aside, sent away. I don't understand the community leaders who knew about it not getting help, dealing with the source of the problem. I just don't understand.

What I do know is what you have said. That something needs to be done to protect future generations and those with problems so that these things do not happen.

Joclyn said...

What's that thing a bunch of Jewish guys are supposed to do if a guy won't give his wife a get? Why wasn't that done here, at least? The ridiculous belief that Jews are incapable of doing anything wrong probably has a lot to do with it. Reminds me of when a guy with a Jewish sounding name would get in trouble. Watching it on the news with my grandmother, she'd say (non-jokingly) "For a Jewish man to be accused of such a thing..."

Well, guess what. Now everyone's to blame. And the whole world is watching. Good job, guys!

Aliza said...

When I was in 11th grade, a sexual abuse scandal broke in my former NCSY chapter, and what frightened so many of us was how long it had gone on before enough people were believed. Every year of high school (in Jerusalem) I remember hearing about a scandal in one of the boy's schools. It still is so upsetting how there is a wall of silence and protection against rabbinic figures. While there are false claims made ( a friend of mine was falsely accused and then cleared of molestation in a summer camp, by a female camper who had a crush on him) it is important to give each claim validation and properly investigate instead of brushing it off because of the figure in question.

Anonymous said...

Rumor has it that Kolko is making plans to relocate to Israel. If this occurs, young boys in Israel will be exposed to this very sick and untreated molester. What can we do to prevent this pedophile from moving to Israel?

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Anonymous: Well, if rabbanim here were accountable, they would make a big deal out of it. If they don't then Yated/HaModia certainly won't...and it will be very difficult.

Pashkevilm might help...we'll see how this goes.

Anonymous said...

Ask Mondrowitz if the rabbanim make a big deal out of this. Perhaps we can reach out to the authorities?

tafka PP said...

Hi- I can't talk abour the US, but in Israel, there is what to do: The Crisis Center for Religious Women (link below, sorry I can't do hyperlinks) is working to bridge the gaps between Rabbonim and Rights, educate the yeshivas and sems, and also obviously provide support for victims.

They've been going for over a decade and have made significant inroads. Check them out.

have popcorn will lurk said...

If Kolko moves to Israel, then there won't be the issue of handing him over to non-Jewish authorities, and we in the blogosphere scream like hell so that Israel hears, if they haven't already.

I wonder if Israeli prisoners do to pedophiles what American prisoners do to pedophiles?

Anonymous said...

I remember that Rav Shach held that if someone had performed these disgusting acts he should be put into Cherem and Rav Shach put at least one guy in Cherem for this very act.

FrumGirl said...

This is terrible and it is quite clear and yet these teachers seem to get away with it.

How about something not as clear but comes under the veil of "done for chinuch purposes" and so therefor seems untouchable... like... unecessarily embarrassing students, stealing from students, etc.

And with regards to this post... its sad when it starts becoming a joke but I was at a freinds where people were saying stuff like ... "Be careful you dont want him to "kolko" you..." yep this is the world we live in.

Anonymous said...

Good post but you are too soft. The Rabbonim need to also come out and say enough of the "all boys club" that is the rabbinate as we know it. Enough of protecting our own simply because they bear the title of Rav. Once these monsters undertand that they wont get the protection theyve also counted on, then the siutation can begin to improve.

BTW, how's that little boy you posted about a while back?

Orthonomics said...

Great post Jameel also.
Those of us who work in the professional work know about protecting ourselves, and in turn our children, because of the safeguards that nearly every workplace has enacted.

I think we all need to insist on professional guidelines and safeguards to the administrations of evey school and camp. We cannot expect self policing. It has worked ever and it won't now.

On my blog I have some facts about abuse that are good to know (usually committed by a person who has a relationship with the child and is of the same race, e.g.) and some guidelines that would be smart to enact.

If enough parents insist (and even insist that if nothing is done, their kids will not be re-enrolled) there will be change. But, if we sit silent, don't count on it.

Anonymous said...

Torah Umesorah Convention Has Great Timing

This past weekend was the Annual Torah Umesorah Convention, a star-studded event to celebrate the heights and successes of Orthodox Jewish education.

Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz founded Torah Umesorah in the 1940s. An astoundingly prescient individual, Rabbi Mendelowitz had the foresight to recognize that the future of Torah Judaism was in the United States. As the first reports of the true depth of Nazi horrors and the destruction of European Jewry began filtering across the ocean, Rabbi Mendelowitz made the bold declaration in newspaper ads that “Torah-true” Judaism would survive, and it would have to take place in America. Alas, he believed, American Jewry must quickly step over the graves and smoking embers of European Jewry to begin spreading the concept of full-day, hence ‘Day School,’ Orthodox education to the four corners of the United States.

Rabbi Mendelowitz (who actually insisted he be called "Mr.," and NOT "Rabbi," though he was certainly deserving of the honorific) founded an organization called Torah Umesorah, which dedicated itself to establishing Day Schools across the length and breadth of the United States. The idea was to establish a Day School in every American city and town with over 500 Jewish families. Several indefatigable individuals, who long after Rabbi Mendelowitz’s death devoted their own lives to carrying out his dream, assisted Rabbi Mendelowitz. Today, over 50 years later since its establishment, it is clear that Rabbi Mendelowitz's vision was correct and his idea lives on.

To celebrate this success over impossible odds, each year at the Torah Umesorah convention, the best and brightest of Orthodoxy's pedagogic circles meet, mingle, and celebrate their achievements with an eye toward a future. This year was no different. However, as some of the highlights of this event filter across airwaves and email, it seems clear that if he could have been there for the weekend, Rabbi Mendelowitz, the one man who foresaw the Yeshiva as the redemptive force of Torah Judaism, would likely have been very uncomfortable.

In fact, this was not a particularly comfortable week for Yeshivas in general; having been in the cross-hairs of thinking Jews and the secular media after a bombshell revelation surfaced last Monday in a New York Magazine article. The article revealed sexual atrocities committed by a yeshiva rebbe against his students and the sheer evil of a yeshiva administrator intent on hiding the perversion.

And yet, with all this swirling about, not a word of this was uttered by any one presenter throughout the weekend. Not an official statement of shame, complicity, regret, or even vague acknowledgment for having harbored and abetted a wanton child molester and his protector for a quarter century. Not a mention about the untold psychological damage, damaged faith, and damaged trust of countless Jewish boys and their subsequent generations.

Not a word of displeasure was hurled or even lobbed toward those who make a mockery of Torah, of Torah learning, and of Orthodox Jewry. Not a sound about the cynicism and disregard demonstrated by who blatantly defiled the very concept of a Yeshiva -- a sanctuary of purity, intellectual honesty, and the core ideal of Rabbi Mendelowitz and Torah Umesorah -- by violating and tearing down the very youths who Yeshivas were created to protect and build up. Not a blessed word.

Rather, the participants in this annual farce spent their weekend in the comforting embrace of gratuitous grandstanding by overwrought, under-informed rabbinic “leaders,” and reveling in undeserved backslapping and self-serving congratulatory huzzahs from empty black hats crowing about their victory over the Nazis when, in fact, the storm-troopers of willful neglect, mindless faith, and callous disregard for the lives and futures of Jewish youth who teeter on the edge of self-destruction march along the ostentatiously appointed homes of our communities and cold, uninviting shuls and schools of our neighborhoods.

Instead, a so-called godol had the audacity to insist that Rebbeim should not stoop to the level of their students by playing ball with them; a bizayon for those who teach Torah is Pasht Nisht, he feels. Trips are bittul Torah, he, too, feels…maybe once a year, but just to be yoitze.

And for a mindless mouthpiece of small-minded chinuch and divisiveness, an irritating midget of a mind who nevertheless had the gall to lambaste his handlers’ dissenters in a crowd of 100,000, happily endorses this bandwagon of insanity and unrealistic expectations for our youths.

Ironically, this weekend of mass delusion coincided with a tragic moment of massive disillusion, when a 16-year-old Jewish boy, long ago labeled a miserable failure by the yeshiva system, but actually a simple Jewish child miserably failed by the yeshiva system, jumped to his death. He leapt to escape the depression he suffered, to elude the misery and emptiness of a system that worshiped rigidity, conformity, and distance from anyone different. In actuality, long before he jumped, he had been spit out and left for dead.

No ball with students? No trips? No truth? No self-examination? No desire to consider possible culpability? Expect no less during these last days of the bloated Roman empire of the Mainstream Yeshiva movement. In the throes of psychotic self-deception and unvarnished self-interest, the very ones who pervert the sacred duty of Jewish education, instead turning it into a sacred cow never to be objectively viewed and constructively improved, will suffer their own painful slaughter on an alter of their making.

The day is coming when no one will trust or believe a word uttered by those charged with educating our youth. They are digging their graves and crafting their day of irrelevance. Unsustainable tuition, ungodly student expectations, and merciless retribution meted on regular parents who cannot keep up with tuition payments and on regular students who cannot keep up with so-called spiritual standards will lead the call to disassemble the system.

Willfully ignoring sexual abuse is the first nail. Long-neglected, willfully ignored youths who jump to their deaths is the second. It won’t take many more. Change is coming, less because it is wanted, rather as it is needed.

The inopportune timing of this year’s Torah Umesorah convention, with its shocking displays of pomposity and cluelessness, is no coincidence. Rather, it is amusingly reminiscent of God's heavenly sense of humor and the cycle of revolt against systemic rot that has recurred over and again since the beginning of time.

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