Rabbinic journal devotes issue to sexual abuse in Orthodox community

Rabbinical Council of America journal tackles issues often addressed in private.

By
October 28, 2017 19:39
4 minute read.
Orthodox

Orthodox. (photo credit: ILLUSTRATIVE: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

NEW YORK – “Ashamnu,” we are to blame.

Thus opens Rabbi Yitzchak Blau, the guest editor, his introduction to the new and unusual issue of Tradition, the journal published by the biggest Orthodox rabbinical organization in America.

Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.


This is probably the first time an Orthodox rabbinic journal has dedicated an entire issue to sexual abuse in the religious community.

And Blau continues: “The discussion should begin with a frank admission.

Orthodoxy has not responded well to the problem of rabbinic sexual abusers and there have been far too many cases of abuse in our community. We have unsuccessfully tried to handle the problem internally without going to authorities.

We have refused to accept the guilt of significant rabbinic figures and have not offered victims the support and trust they desperately need. We have found it easier to stand on the side and not speak out to prevent future harm.

“Of course, we are not alone in this predicament. Parallel stories exist in the Catholic Church, more liberal Jewish circles, fancy private schools, youth sports leagues, and more. Sexual harassment and the abusive use of power have been prevalent in the news media and in Hollywood.

Apparently, these problems reflect challenges inherent in the human condition.

“Yet this conclusion offers meager comfort.It is far more productive to ask how we can improve and which hurdles are specific to our religious community rather than to engage in comparative moral mathematics. The Talmudic idea that a person should focus on his own flaws before those of others (Bava Batra 60b) applies on a communal level as well,” Blau writes.

Tradition’s summer 2017 issue was published a few days ago in New York. It is the official journal of the Rabbinical Council of America. In an unusual step, it is available for free reading on its website, “because of the high significance of the topic,” as sources in the RCA explained to The Jerusalem Post.

The issue includes articles such as “an analysis of the roots of the failure to effectively respond to the crisis,” by Rabbi Yosef Blau; and “Discussing and reporting abuse – a halachic perspective,” by David Brofsky.

There is also an article by Prof. Yedidya Stern, vice president of the Israel Democracy Institute and a member of religious Zionist Takana Forum in Israel, who is involved in a communal investigating and even punishing in cases of complains against people of authority in the Orthodox community. A few years ago the forum was a key player in a case that evoked public criticism but eventually led to the conviction of prominent Rabbi Motti Elon of sexual abuse. The forum is a private body, composed of some 30 members, all of them individuals well-known in the National Religious community.

Dr. Erica Brown, a professor at the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at George Washington University and the director of its Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership, wrote in her article, “Standing idly by: when leaders enable sexual abuse”: “Most of us can name a rabbi who just got out of jail or is in jail for sexual abuse without thinking too hard.”

“... from a spiritual standpoint, I believe Orthodox organizations have to take larger and bolder steps to ameliorate the chances of sexual abuse happening in their ranks.

Often the steps they do take are small and paradoxically celebrated, offering the moral permission of license not to do more.”

Rabbi Mark Dratch, the executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, wrote an article titled “What to do with abusive rabbis: halachic considerations.”

“The Code of Jewish Law,” Dratch wrote, “records that a scholar, who is rumored to be involved in heresy or immoral behavior, such that he causes a desecration of God’s Name, is to be excommunicated. Such a person certainly is no longer considered a rabbi.”

Dr. Erica Brown, a professor at the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at George Washington University and the director of its Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership, wrote in her article, “Standing idly by: when leaders enable sexual abuse”: “Most of us can name a rabbi who just got out of jail or is in jail for sexual abuse without thinking too hard.”

“... from a spiritual standpoint, I believe Orthodox organizations have to take larger and bolder steps to ameliorate the chances of sexual abuse happening in their ranks. Often the steps they do take are small and paradoxically celebrated, offering the moral permission of license not to do more.”

Rabbi Mark Dratch, the executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, wrote an article titled “What to do with abusive rabbis: halachic considerations.”

“The Code of Jewish Law,” Dratch wrote, “records that a scholar, who is rumored to be involved in heresy or immoral behavior, such that he causes a desecration of God’s Name, is to be excommunicated. Such a person certainly is no longer considered a rabbi.”


Related Content

Bennett and Shaked
April 24, 2018
Ministers Bennett, Shaked issue ultimatum to Netanyahu over Supreme Court override bill

By SHOSHANA KRANISH

Israel Weather
  • 16 - 31
    Beer Sheva
    17 - 25
    Tel Aviv - Yafo
  • 15 - 27
    Jerusalem
    16 - 27
    Haifa
  • 19 - 32
    Elat
    18 - 32
    Tiberias