How much child abuse justifies ‘hysterical’?

When police investigators say concerned parents are overreacting, it says a lot about their failures.

Anti-pervert signs in Nahlaot 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Anti-pervert signs in Nahlaot 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Our Jerusalem neighborhood of Nahlaot made the news over the past week, with a flurry of reports that police have busted a horrifying pedophilia ring. Initial arrests were made Sunday, with more expected in the coming weeks. The story is a horrific tale of sexual and physical violence against children.
But none of this was news to those of us who live in the area. Since last summer we have been hearing about pedophiles living among us. One social services worker told me that over 100 names of abused children have been mentioned in official interviews with children who have been victimized. Worse, he also told me that there are many suspects still at large, including several individuals they “know” are guilty but do not have sufficient admissible evidence to prosecute.
The official also told me that sexual assaults against Nahlaot children continues to this day.
The first complaints of rape and molestation of children, some as young as one year old, were reported to police in 2010. Investigators have also stated unequivocally that the families of the victims are fully cooperating. Considering these facts, how can it be that children are still being harmed?
IN MY role as a community rabbi, families have told me that while the police and state prosecutor’s office admit that this is a story involving many victims and many pedophiles, they claim the community has overstated the problem and that we are reacting hysterically. Their crass dealing with the issue begs the question: How many children have to be raped and endure horrific physical and emotional abuse in order to justify so-called “hysteria”?
As a parent and member of the community I can confirm that parents as a whole are angry and scared. My phone rings a few times a day with people begging for names and pictures so they can protect their children. Others call because, if the police cannot or will not protect our children, they want to take care of the problem themselves once and for all.
How many more times will I have to instruct people in the laws of slander, reminding them that while we need to take care around those accused, and at times even warn others, we are also called upon to suspend judgment until proven guilty.
Even more serious, I am fearful that someone might take the law into his own hands, given our growing frustration with law enforcement bodies and authorities. I have not heard explicit talk of that kind, but it is a natural concern in the current situation. How long will scared, frustrated parents allow the safety of their children to remain at risk?
So we continue to raise our children in the neighborhood we love with an abiding sense of panic. We can no longer allow them out of our sight, and we instinctively look askance at the people we encounter, wondering which innocent face on the street is really a monster in disguise.
Police and the state prosecutor say they are doing everything they can, but their dismissive attitude toward our concerns suggests they have not taken this case all that seriously.
It is the job of the police and the courts to protect our children from known predators who prey on innocent children. If that is the litmus test for success, then they have failed miserably so far. Their pathetic attempt to defend themselves by accusing victimized families of overreacting is beyond infuriating. It is the height of chutzpah.

The writer is a rabbi and dean of HaOhel Institutions in Jerusalem. His new venture, Threshold (, fostering Jewish educational entrepreneurship.