NGO decries ‘cover-up culture’ in sex abuse cases
Head of Beit Shemesh group: Case of UK rabbi recorded discouraging reporting on molestation not uncommon.
David Morris Photo: Courtesy
High-profile cover-ups of sexual abuse and molestation by communal rabbis and
activists have not been limited to England and the US, but take place frequently
in Israel, alleged David Morris, director of Magen, a Beit Shemesh-based
community child protection organization.
Magen, which works to encourage
parents of sexually abused children to file reports with social services and the
police, has been banned in some synagogues due to what Morris believes to be “a
deepset culture of non-reporting and cover-up.”
The way that many Israeli
religious communities prefer to handle such issues, he claims, is instead
“dealing with child abuse within the community,” via “parents, professionals and
Morris’s comments come on the heels of an
announcement by England’s Channel 4 that the station will be airing an
investigative special entitled “Britain’s Hidden Child Abuse” on Wednesday,
featuring an audio recording of prominent local Rabbi Ephraim Padwa telling a
community member wearing a wire that he should not report being abused to law
Padwa, the rabbinic chief of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew
Congregations, told the man that reporting abuse to the police is mesira, a
Talmudic term for passing information on to authorities that has extremely
negative connotations amongst the Orthodox.
Despite admitting that the
issue under discussion was serious, the rabbi told the questioner that “people
mustn’t tell tales” and that “the police is not the solution.”
spokesman for Channel 4 noted that their investigation uncovered “19 different
alleged cases of child sex abuse across the UK. Yet not one was reported to the
police because alleged victims feared reprisals from within the
In a statement, Padwa noted that “the union has a special
committee to deal with cases of abuse amongst our children.”
are “certain times when it is correct and necessary to call the social services
and police,” Padwa wrote, the proper course of action in each case is to be
decided in consultation with rabbis.
This, explains Morris, is a trend
that exists in Israel as well and has been observed by members of his staff
operating in Beit Shemesh.
“Some community leaders implicitly discouraged
victims and their families from reporting child abuse allegations to the police
and social services.
In some cases, this was enforced by harassment of
victims who did report, extending to physical threats and violence.
victim was offered a large cash bribe by a community organization to withdraw
their complaints against a rapist,” he claimed.
Referring to the
intimidation of the victim in the recent trial of Rabbi Nechemya Weberman by
members of the local Satmar community, Morris asserted that “the national-level
scandals in the USA and England...
most recently in the Jewish
communities of Williamsburg, New York, and Stamford Hill, London, are exposing
similar patterns of communal response to child sexual abuse allegations – where
mandated reporters and others knowing of the abuse ignore it or conceal
Weberman, an unlicensed therapist, was sentenced to 103 years in
jail by a Brooklyn court last week for sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl under
his care, throwing the New York Satmar hassidic community, of which he is a
member, into turmoil.
Several community members were charged with
attempting to both bribe and intimidate the victim into withdrawing her
The tendency among members of the ultra-Orthodox community to
go to rabbis first, he believes, can lead to further abuses of
“If victims are disbelieved or intimidated by their community,
this creates a secondary trauma, which can be even worse for the victim than the
direct effects of the abuse itself,” said Morris.
The policy in some
communities of actively dissuading victims of sex crimes from bringing their
allegations to the state authorities is “often expressed and promoted using the
vocabulary and concepts of Jewish religious law and jurisprudence,” he said.
Among the concepts used to suppress reports of abuse are the biblical
prohibitions against lashon Hara or gossiping, and chillul Hashem or causing a
desecration of God’s name.
In Beit Shemesh alone, Morris said that an
increase in reports from the haredi sector to social services is now up an
astonishing 125 percent in just two years due to the efforts of organizations
“These cases must be presented in the context of the rampant
abuse of children and cover-up by officials in the secular community as well,”
said Dr. Harold Goldmeier, former executive director of the Massachusetts
Committee for Children and Youth and a member of Magen’s board.
stating that there is a problem within the Orthodox community, Goldmeier
explained that “without placing child abuse in the context of the other cases,
the press appears anti-Semitic, picking on and singling out the Jewish
community. Just reporting on child abuse in the Jewish community will add
credence to their fears, and will further encourage victims not to report the
crimes to authorities. But it is not a crime unique to the Jewish community.”