Thursday, May 10, 2012

Down with the Internet!

Here's another one of those terrible things your unsuspecting, innocent children might find online: a New York Times article describing the lengths Hasidim take to prevent abuse and molestation cases from going to trial. 

The story is long and the reporting is thorough. It describes intimidation, threats, and attempts to pay-off victims and witnesses to keep them from testifying.  Agudath Israel, and their dangerous, irresponsible policy on child abuse, also gets a mention:
"You can destroy a person's life with a false report," said Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel, the executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, a powerful ultra-Orthodox organization, which last year said that observant Jews should not report allegations to the police unless permitted to do so by a rabbi.

Rabbinic authorities "recommend you speak it over with a rabbi before coming to any definitive conclusion in your own mind," Rabbi Zweibel said.
Zweibel's policy is reprehensible, and part of the problem not the solution. He should be criticized from every pulpit and every blog by people who recognize his policy for what it is, namely, an attempt to protect rabbinic privileges and prerogatives at the expense of children. The Times' reporting makes it clear that Zweibel's approach is bankrupt by describing several cases in which the consulting Rabbi protected the perpetrator and by association his community's reputation at the victim's expense.

Though, I understand the traditional Jewish concerns about reputations and established Torah law, I'm nearing a breaking point. Every week, it seems, I hear a story about savage abuse in a cheder, some of it recent, some of it perpetrated years ago by people who are still teaching.

At what point do we concede that our deferential approach is not working? At what point do we say that our worrying about loshon hara is failing to keep children safe? When do we point at the rebbes and the mashgiachs and their gabbaim and say, you have failed to keep children safe? We need a Zola and a J'Accuse describing the widespread abuse in Hasidic schools and the indifference and hostility that victims suffer when they try to report it.  We need to drop the deference and the shuffling and the irrational fear of hereditary leaders and their imaginary magical powers and say the words that need to be said. We need to finally stand up, as a community, and say that we will no long allow children to be beaten in Hasidic schools

I'd write the call-to-arms myself, but my name carries no weight. I would be ignored like so many other wannabees have been ignored. This has to be written by someone who has the respect of the establishment, someone like Gil Student or Yaakov Horrowitz. And, as I've asked them both many times: What are you waiting for?

HT @marksofla and @krum

Search for more information about the scandal of child abuse in the UOJ community

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