Do the Orthodox protect child abusers?…asks David Werdiger

June 3, 2014 by David Werdiger
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The ongoing revelations of child sex abuse cases in Orthodox communities continue to send out shock waves, especially through the online world, challenge our attitudes and self-perception, and test our resolve.

David Werdiger

David Werdiger

As cases come before the justice system, we are forced to confront the evil within our own communities, come to grips with the impact their crimes have had on our own, and work out how the justice system and Jewish communities can work more effectively together. These cases change the way we look at both perpetrators and victims in our community, and therefore the way we look out ourselves.

And time and again, the question comes up: “are we protecting child sex abusers?”

For this bold question, there are actually four answers:

  1.  Victims, advocacy groups and whistleblowing web sites tell us time and again “YES!” as they bring example after example of actual cases where Rabbis and community leaders have either protected abusers, advised against reporting, or continued to allow access to children despite knowing of investigations and even court proceedings in progress. They produce a damning litany of our sins, exposed to all, and in doing so often point a very broad finger at a collective.
  2.  Rabbis, community leaders and roof bodies make formal statements from time to time declaring the official policy or halacha regarding reporting of sex abuse crimes. They want to set the record straight and say that “NO!” – they do not protect child sex abusers.

Should you believe either answer 1 or 2? Well, both answers come with an obvious bias and agenda, so perhaps a more correct answer is

  1.  It’s a stupid question, because implicit in the question is a generalisation – that these attitudes are consistent within the Orthodox community we speak of. The Jewish world is so fragmented that there is a distinct lack of representative voices. If anything, there is constant bickering over who really is representative (at all levels). Attitudes to issues like child sex abuse cases are not even consistent within cities, let alone entire affiliations of Jews. Which leads to perhaps the correct answer …

4. We don’t know. People who answer 1 or 2 purport to know the answer or seek to advance a particular view that is their own. Anyone who really wanted to know would not rely on biased views or those that pick out specific examples that support their own viewpoint. If anyone does want to know, then the thing to do is conduct some genuine research into opinions and attitudes. That would be a genuinely useful tool to determine what prevalent attitudes are within Orthodox communities. With time, the research can be repeated to determine if attitudes have changed as a result of education and advocacy.

I’m not aware of any research on this issue. It’s up to a special interest group (typically those who answer 1 or 2) to decide whether it’s worth doing, the scope, and how it can be funded. It would be a big risk for either group to conduct such research, as it may come up with answers they don’t want to hear. On the other hand, this may be exactly what we need to bring some common sense back to this important issue.

David Werdiger is a technology entrepreneur, writer, and public speaker. He’s involved in several not-for-profits at director and committee level, and has an interest in Jewish community, education, and continuity. You can connect with David on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or Google+


11 Responses to “Do the Orthodox protect child abusers?…asks David Werdiger”
  1. Liat Nagar says:

    Otto, I appreciate your efforts to ‘redirect’ me, however, must inform you that religion, and the spiritual, are part of a person’s being, not the whole. Nobody is entirely ‘free’, governed as we are by genetics, environment, teachings and experiences, however, we must do everything we can to stand apart and inculcate some freedom within if we are to enable our potential and allow space for continued growth. For me personally my own survival has necessitated an inviolate sense of ‘self’ in non-egoistic terms and resistance to subservience to anything at all. We each have a unique identity as it were, and it is given to us to protect that as well as we might.
    I have not said that there cannot be creative thinking from religious leaders – I was careful about that. However, not all religious leaders are capable of it.
    If you really believe that the soul ‘is an empty vessel’ if not endowed with the wisdom of the ‘cheder of life’, as you put it, then I am sorry for your limited view of soul. Personal morality does not depend on religious guidance or codes of ethics (some religious people mouth all the prayers quickly and unthinkingly, make judgements in the wake of the rules of Ethics, and afterwards act in such a way that countermands all of it in human terms). Although the influence of these can engender a certain refinement of being, albeit can also engender brutality in the name of G-d. For you ‘soul’ is abstract, for me it is not. Emotions are tangible and very much connected with the physical and bodily health as such. You can see them in the eyes, in musculature, in posture; their very being informs us in every way, whether expressed or repressed. There exists not only rationality and spirituality, but also emotional intelligence. I am not romantic about emotions, or much else besides, although I am a poet.
    I am glad you are pleased and happy, and understand why you are. Always good to converse with you, Otto.

  2. Liat says:

    I would like to respond to Otto’s posting of June 26, however my earlier posting that he is responding to has disappeared from site, and I need it for co-relation. ??

  3. ows views says:

    Dear Liat

    I can only blame Henry for my delay and the new “design”
    Your last reply requires a few comments, once again of the “redirectional” kind.

    When adopting that brave stance of the right to individual choices, one is actually denying the tenets of the category , in our case religion. In strict pedagogical terms, I would have to conclude that only lack of assistance in the necessary introspection of a complex domain would allow for the departure one would proudly claim as one’s own , exercised “freedom”. I happen to feel a greater sense of freedom the more I invest in the understanding cum acceptance of MY religion.

    Trust and belief in The Supreme Being are not exclusive of the function of the State. We can see that function as we develop the ethical exercise in “coagulating” a FUNCTIONAL society.

    Subservience to the religious tenets by their leaders does NOT preclude CREATIVE participation, contribution of the leaders. In fact, creative leadership of the spiritual kind has been a precondition in the function of Jewish religious leaders. Temporal spiritual adjustments have been the “engine” of our religious survival, continuity.

    The “inbuilt code of personal morality” does not exist outside the acquired notions. I happen to believe that even our neshama is but an empty vessel if not endowed with the wisdom of those in charge of that cheder of life, our families and our spiritual tutors, those melameds so brilliantly versed in the knowledge of Torah.

    The “Code of Ethics” is not the opposite to the beauty of human nature. The Codes guide and shape that splendour of harmonious life. The Code germinates and blossoms the finest feelings and the highest thoughts.

    Spirituality and the soul are as abstract as abstract comes. We may delve into Cartesian dualism if you want, but we shall, inevitably, conclude that the romantic notion of “tangible” emotions are but a very enjoyable licence to …existential poetry.

    Otherwise I fully agree with everything else ( just in case I did not object to some other musing ).

    Pleased and happy Otto

  4. Liat Nagar says:

    Dear Otto,
    I do care to tell you that religion operates outside the State, or, indeed, that it should, in that the practice of it or belief in it is a personal choice (at least in a democracy), and the theology associated with it need not, and should not, become entangled in Governmental laws of the land that societies are bound by, or for that matter in the personal living habits of people in that society.
    Most certainly religious leaders should not take it upon themselves to be ‘a law unto themselves’; they may attempt to guide people in directions they deem fit according to their interpretations of religion, however everyone should be easy with the fact that those interpretations are open for acceptance or not.
    Fundamentalist ultra-orthodox Judaism, whilst a minority in Israel, is a worrying threat. If it were ever to become more prevalent and more powerful, life would soon be no different to that of Arab countries governed by Islam. Thoughtlessly protecting the practice of Judaism where mistakes are made and people suffer as a consequence invites religious power as governance. Religion and Government must always be kept distinctly apart and operate in their own domains within a ‘jurisdiction’.

    I didn’t see Jeanette Friedman’s attack on Judaism as being comprehensively expansive, rather, I saw assertions of personal negative experience and knowledge that made perfect sense to articulate. In the main Judaism is a patriarchal structure, so it makes sense that your views and that of a woman’s might differ, and that you might view a woman’s criticism or bitterness in regard to her experience as peripheral and not be prepared to take it seriously. (Would you rather repeat the story of the Emperor with No Clothes, where everybody pretends something that one person knows differently and is courageous enough to expose? It can only strengthen a situation to be honest about it. To do otherwise is to invite deterioration in the very thing you wish to unthinkingly revere.)

    When we speak of Jewish communal situations being bound by their rules, we get caught up in generalities that can’t be pinned down. The issue/s becomes inaccessible due to lack of specificity, and implicit in this generality is some idea of perfection and good order. The truth is any governing body, religious or otherwise, is only as good as the fallible humans who administer it. Hence at some time or another a fallible human will let it down. When that happens one must be able to speak, accuse, complain, without fear of being ostracised by their community in the name of ‘untouchable’ Judaic practice and perceived norms within that practice. One of the things I love about Judaism is its element of the concrete, its lack of ethereal, abstractness. Let’s get back to that offering, Otto.

    It’s rare that any one person is incredibly wrong or incredibly right. What we have to be prepared to do is listen to one another and respect differences in what we have to say.

    Lovely to be in touch with you again.

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      Dear Liat

      More than just a pleasure and let me start from your final thoughts.
      I do not refuse to listen to someone whose views are wrong compared to mine, I will, however, necessarily refute that person’s views.

      Further, still going….backwards (!!), by opposing the “abstract” to the “concrete” as you posit, one simply makes an attempt at the SPIRIT , that universal human coagulant.

      There is no conflict between the “general” ad the “specific”, consistent specifics constitute, DEFINE the general.

      Patriarchal as a mode of …spiritual operative cannot function as a conflictual approach, otherwise I would be compelled to class Ms Friedman and your good and splendid self as “matriarchal” thinker, in the absence of a third, neutral gender.

      Now we are back at the notions of “religion” and “State”.
      I feel sure that, once you have read your answer ( after posting it, irretrievably !!!) you realised that, in spite of an impeccable syntax, you have entrapped yourself notionally.
      Here we go: once you have decided at the top of a sentence that religion pertains to the “individual” choice you may not conclude – as you do, indeed – that the same category, “religion” may “not become entangled in the personal habits of people in that society “….I am sure that you can see the irregularity here.
      In reality, let’s take a State which proclaims that ” In God we trust”. This being essentially and exclusively a THEOLOGICAL statement, we Do have religion as such GOVERNING the …function of the State and one may NOT regard it as the starting point of farcical sophism, just in case !!!!

      Then again: religious leaders MAY not be a “law onto themselves”. Here’s why: A religious leader IN PARTICULAR, is accepted ( and selected ) as such on account of the leader being a secure observant of the religion of which that person is a LEADER. Once individuality takes the place of the self efacement as the primordial precondition and permanent observance, that particular “leader” ceases to function as such.The “leader” of a religion, as distinct from a political leader is subservient totally to THE religion.

      But the main thrust of your Freudian slip is that you accept that “religion” should function as a separate entity within the State. This paradigm had to be arrived at once you accepted to operate objectively with known realities.
      THE most difficult contradiction is found precisely in the other , intimately related, statement that religion is the province of the “individual choice” . In a democracy, what defines free choice, the individual determines the function of the state as he/she deems it fit. Religion being integral in the individual’s constitution, it implicitly , INEXORABLY acts as a deciding factor. By far, the most important FACT is that “religion” must be seen as a code of ethics, same as the function of the State in all its , comprehensive undertakings. The more accentuated spiritual “method”, if you want, used by the institution of religion in conveying its code, does not detract from its clear function. The only operative distinction , in democratic societies, of course, is that one may state and give the impression that he or she has the “choice” of opting out of a certain, any religious denomination and its delineating specifics. One is allowed to state that one is an atheist etc. One may not be allowed to state and act outside the laws of the …State. In a funny way – and farcically – this is called “freedom of choice” versus responsible behaviour. I offer here that the abandonment of one code of ethics is accepted while the obligation to accept practically the SAME code of ethics is mandatory.
      Thus we conclude the circumambulation of out musings in beautiful harmony, acceptable logic.
      I was right again, a rare pleasure exchanging views with you….

  5. Liat Nagar says:

    I did not read Jeanette Friedman’s words as ‘blindly biassed’. I perceived willingness to call a spade a spade, passion and specificity, all components that contribute well to the written word.

    No person involved in sexual predatory behaviour involving children should be dealt with by the Orthodox Jewish establishment, in fact no criminal behaviour of any kind is appropriately placed with religious authorities. This is nothing to do with religion, culture or ethnicity, it’s to do with a criminal act that goes straight to the domain of police and courts of the land. There is, and should be, a clear distinction between religion and State. It’s as simple as that.

    Nobody is ‘blaming’ Judaism for what might take place in the first place as an aberrant, abhorant act. Blame only attaches if those Orthodox Jews who know of it do not immediately place it in the hands of the State where it belongs. We are not so special as Jewish people that we are above the law of the land in which we live, and that applies to Israel too. We have among us the same human problems and deviations that exist universally. It’s innocent victims of abuse that need protection (and full transparency of acts against them reported to the appropriate authorities), not Judaism.

    Let’s stop turning a blind eye to what we don’t wish to see.

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      Well, Liat, let me tell you that, if you really, really read Jeanette Friedman’s comment you ran into an agenda bigger than a ganze megilleh, the type of comprehensive kvetching which goes well beyond the horrible stuff about child molestation.
      My position has been from the start that , starting with the legitimate concerns about child protection, the expansion of the “complaint” into an wholesale attack on Judaism as such, denotes serious digression incredibly akin to unfair dismissal of fundamentals in Judaism. I welcome your specific addition to MY ( Otto’s ) argument that Jewish communal institutions are bound BY THEIR OWN RULES to refer criminal acts to the instances OUTSIDE the chalachic space. This is a well established practice, organically initiated by the same Jewish ethical structures. This, at the same time, addresses the other issue you approached, the separation between State and religion. The notion is relatively new and, in most cases, it is used without consideration to the categories in question. Between us, the State includes, per force, everything that moves within its “jurisdiction”,RELIGION included. Simply put, are you going to tell me that religion functions OUTSIDE the State !!!???
      Care to make it interesting, dear Liat !!!
      Ahhh, before I forget, Jeanette Friedman is incredibly wrong and I am incredibly right , so there…..

  6. Otto Waldmann says:

    In perusing Jeanette Friedman’s catalogue of seemingly comprehensive and, must add, merciless state of broyges over Jewish practices, the selective, extrapolated incidence of transgressions, I feel even more assured that limited , therefore tendentious attitudes require even more effort in persuasion. This is necessary, but only possible if calm as the say in Latin “sine ira et studio”, without preconceived disposition, is found in the seriously digressing “subject” ( i.e. herself, Ms J F ).
    One must start from the already mentioned proviso that the regrettable occurrences, indeed all those mentioned by Ms Friedman, do not define Judaism, otherwise her own claim to being part of the fold would have to be dismissed.
    To be fair, I would much rather dismiss Ms Friedman than Judaism, considering the blind bias with which she approaches the subject matter.
    To be sure, all I said (!!) was that, responsible observance of Judaism, cannot possibly be conducive to any of the possible and imaginary breaches listed by a visibly unhappy Ms Friedman.

  7. Otto Waldman is wrong. In a world that despises the idea of Muslims living by Sharia law in a democracy, it is just as abhorrent to others that the Jewish people insists on sending people to the Vaad or other rabbinical bunch of idiots who have always equated calling the cops on REAL CRIMES–whether sexual abuse of children, smuggling drugs or other items like watches, diamonds, etc, rape of women, beatings of wives–as MOSERING, as if they were traitors to the Jewish people. Instead, these batei din and rabbanim whitewash criminals, the whistleblowers are put in Cherem, and the leadership thinks their flocks are idiot morons who are blind to their corruption and disgusting behavior. In cases of felonies committed by my fellow Jews, all I can say is obey the Torah…Dina de Malchutei Dina. If a child molestor puts his hands on my child or grandchild, if there is domestic violence, I don’t care a hoot if the perpetrator is frum or not. I am not waiting for a siruv from the Novominsker (don’t call 911, call me) or any other Rov. I am dialing the police and will stand in the faces of the people, who for all of my lifetime (I am now a senior citizen), have been protecting the men who abused my classmates in Beis Yaakov, who abused kids in Bobov and Telz, and have encouraged wife-beating. We are not even going to touch on the issue of agunot…another issue that should be settled by Dina de Malchutei Dina. But then, what are all those corrupt batei din going to do for $$ !! ????? Oh I know, they will beat up the recalcitrant husbands who refuse to give gets for $100K a pop. Waldman’s attitude is beneath contempt. It empowers criminals and abusers.

  8. Otto Waldmann says:

    The issue needs to be approached on a “in principle” basis, considering the tenets of Judaism and accepting that Orthodox Judaism is bound to stay loyal to the governing principles therein. As such, I trust David to be well aware of the respective notions and agree that there is no tolerance for any kind of abuse, including, of course child abuse in Judaism.
    Counterintuitively, the nexus in the current debates is on the apparent contradictions emerging from “parallel” judicial processes, the Chalachic and the non-Judaic instances.
    The most important factor to be included is the traditional reluctance of the Chalachic process to allow kehilat events to transgress its jurisdiction. This is perceived by some, obviously the uninformed, as a process of obfuscation, escalating in prejudicial terminology to “cover-up” and even the condoning of a practice rejected by Judaism and its genuine institutions.
    Ethical self-sufficiency within Judaism is an organic construct and those Orthodox members of our community are RIGHT in relying on ALL formal media of manifestation. This is to say that all genuine Orthodox Jews ought to abhor child abuse. Transgressions DO exist and they pertain to individual failure caused by a number of factors. They DO NOT define Orthodox practice or any other form of Judaic manifestations !!!

    A lot more should be said, but in good conscience, Judaism and all those respecting it cannot be blamed for any unwanted , unethical behaviour.

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