Monday, May 22, 2006

The Torah Response

Since everyone's been chiming in on the latest scandal in the frum community regarding the sexual abuse allegations, I figure I have to say something too, even if only to keep up (and also to clarify being quoted out of context). I have just a few thoughts on the subject, and nothing very innovative.

Firstly, despite my well known feelings of antagonism towards the frum world, I don't for a second think that this problem is something which any normal and decent frum person is not incredibly disturbed by. Any implication that decent frum people, regardless of their affiliation, don't consider such behavior troubling is such a gross distortion of the reality that it's not worth dwelling on. I'd also like to clearly state that I don't recall ever being sexually abused in any manner at any point in my life.

However, despite that acknowledgement, I think that this issue brings to light one more manifestation of the denial and coverup that is so rampant in the frum world. The fact is that there are sexual perverts in the frum community. Whether or not they are more or less common than in general society is uncertain, but I don't see why it really matters for the purpose of this discussion. They exist. But like every other aspect of reality that clashes with their perfect Torah World fantasy, the frum world is (or rather, has been up until recently) in denial about their existence and their effects.

Like spousal abuse. And alcoholism. And drug use. And disaffected youth. Until these problems hit so hard that they can no longer be denied, the frum community continues to react to such disturbing facts by either burying its collective head in the sand, downplaying the severity of the matter, or focusing its efforts on keeping the matter hushed up.

In my opinion, this recent scandal is not and should not be only about the actual abuse that was perpetrated against innocent people. That is a horrific tragedy which can not be minimized and should not be ignored, but there is another problem here, one which is far more prevalent than the aberrant perverts in the frum world.

I don't have any evidence to go on to conclude that abuse of any kind is common in the frum world. I would tend to think that it's quite rare, but I admit that that's probably just a result of my ignorance on the issue. However, aside from my possibly mistaken view about actual abuse, I am very confident that the coverup of such incidents is rife throughout the community. People don't want to hear about it. They deny it. They think it can't be true. They're ashamed about it. And they come up with every excuse in the book not to face the issue. They think it's a Chillul Hashem. They think it's all lies. They think it's lashon hara. They think it's inappropriate to speak of sexual matters. They think it'll ruin the shidduch prospects of their family. Of course, if no one is seriously acknowledging a problem, nothing real is ever going to be done about it. So the problem doesn't go away, and the criminals capitalize on that fact, continuing their atrocities unabated.

The characters in this recent incident have had allegations about them going back decades! I have no doubt that hundreds of students were affected by this person. Certainly, many were shamed into silence, but there were also some who spoke to people about the matter. Either rabbis, family members, therapists, whomever. And yet these people were never removed from their positions of power. How is it possible that so many people's complaints and accusations went unheard? We know how. It's because the frum world would rather bury its head in the sand than acknowledge that their precious Torah communities, their respected Torah rabbis, their prestigious Torah institutions, have such a serious blemish in their midst. Doesn't the Torah say, "U'biarta HaRA Mi'Kirbecha?" Expunge the evil in your midst! Don't cover it up!!!

Gil writes about how he knows of many schools and institutions which are making serious efforts to combat this problem, and I acknowledge that such efforts should be encouraged. But as far as I can tell these efforts are not widely publicized. They are deliberately kept under the radar. And until this attitude of keeping things hush-hush is changed, the problems will not be able to be addressed properly.

As long as the community continues to delude itself into believing that its society is such a wonderful and idyllic place which couldn't ever harbor such despicable monsters, these terrible atrocities will continue to occur, and of course, when inevitably the tragedy they were unwittingly complicit in is brought to light, they will shake their heads in shock and sorrow, asking how such a thing could ever have happened in their holy community.

How indeed?


Yeshiva grad said...

Claiming that the yeshivas are moving to fix it assumes that the yeshivas are capable of successfully executing a complex policy. That's a stretch, consider that they're basically babysitting services with gemaras--and they're barely competent at that. When was the last time the yeshivas successfully dealt with ANY challenge? 'Scuse me, there was that time they kicked Yankel out of the fifth grade. But other than that one time?

Anonymous said...

I don't think that the cover-up instinct is unique to the Orthodox. Just look at the Winiarz/Gafni affair and how the Jewish Renewal people were and still are in denial because "Rabbi Gafni is such a charismatic person, and brought so many people to Judaism." Look at all the supportive comments from Renewal people at,7340,L-3252738,00.html. Everey denomination has their gedolim, and every denomination has their blind followers who will support them no matter what.

Ezzie said...

Very good post. Though I've seen you on GH and mentioned elsewhere, I don't believe I've ever been here before... your post below this is also very well-written and interesting.

The Hedyot said...

> I don't think that the cover-up instinct is unique to the Orthodox.

Ah, yes. The requisite, "They do it too! We're not the only bad ones. Don't single us out!" comment.

Are you from Cross Currents?

The Hedyot said...

Ezzie - catch up on past posts. You might find something worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

Just because it's the requisite comment, doesn't mean it's not true.

What was done in all these cases is horrible. But to say that the cover-up instinct is uniquely Orthodox, is false. The cover-up is wrong, and those doing it are culpable whether they are Orthodox, Reform, secular, Gentile. If it makes you happy to think I'm from Cross Currents, go ahead.

The Hedyot said...

I didn't say it isn't true. It's just that that's always the response any time someone points out a flaw in the frum community: "But they do it too!"

And it's one of the most commonly heard defenses at CC.

Like I've often said, it's funny how the frum world loves to view itself as unique and special, better than other societies, but as soon as problems are shown in their world, then they claim to be just like everyone else!

Anonymous said...

Although I must admit that I do think the frum world is unique & special, I'm not so delusional to think that abuse doesn't exist, or isn't covered up. And I'd actually like to see more media coverage of the abuse in the frum world so that the frum world will be a safer place for my own children.

I just don't like the insinuation (on this & other blogs) that this is an inherent problem due to the nature of the Orthodox community. It's an inherent problem in every community, and no community should think it is immune.

Anonymous said...

I'll admit I view the frum world as unique & special, but I'm not so delusional as to think that abuse doesn't exist. I have a selfish interest in media focus on abuse cases in the Orthodox community - shining the light on it makes my world safer for my kids. What bugs me though, is when (on this & other blogs) people treat the cover-up (or even the perversity itself, which I know you did not do) as inherent to the unique aspects of the frum world.

Anonymous said...

Sorry about the double-post above. Us Orthos just can't get the hang of using the internet, you know.

The Hedyot said...

Did I say that it is unique to the frum world? I don't recall doing so. What I said is that it is prevalent and widespread. Sure, coverups happen all over, but IMHO, the degree and frequency to which they occur in frum commnunities is far worse. AFAIK, the factors that make it prevalent in the Orthodox world, such as chillul hashem, loshon hara, shidduch issues, shandeh stigma, fear of discussing sexual topics, are not common in general society, and contribute to the reaction being more common.

In any case, this side debate is irrelevant to the main important issue. Whether unique or not, more common or less, it is happening, and needs to be addresed. Can't we just stay focused on that?

SephardiLady said...

One of the best posts out there. I think you underscore the very important point that this problem is as much our problem as it is the problem of every other society since this type of mental perversion crosses all boundaries.

To the poster that pointed to the Jewish Renewal problem, I would just like to say that while misery loves company, I think it is wise to let the Renewal people and the Catholic Church and the xyz community and the abc community clean out their own closets while we worry about cleaning out our closet (the closet that our children are in!).

Let's not distract ourselves with the fact that others have problems too. I'm well aware that other communities have drug problems, but I'm concerned about the drug problems in my local community most. I realize other people have financial issues. But, I'm concerned about the financial issues in my community most. I realize other people have shalom bayit issues, but I'm concerned about the factors that contribute to shalom bayit issues in my community most. Distraction doesn't solve problems.

Ezzie said...

Heh - I barely have time to keep up with my own posts. But I will try to do so in the near future.

The Hedyot said...

SephardiLady - thanks for the compliment. Your post on the topic was one of the best.

Ezzie - no mention on your daily roundup? I hate that I'm sometimes such a self-promoter (around once a month), but my ego cries out for stroking!

Ezzie said...

How ironic! I wrote to someone this morning that I left a couple posts off the roundup (thinking of this and another). Got busy with Canonist and the life, forgot about it... then came back a minute ago to add this to what's going in tonight's. Finally, I figured I'll check out the comments, and... voila!

In the future, you can always e-mail me a link if you think it's worth sticking in. Sometimes I don't, usually I do. And it helps me, simply because I forget where I've gone and where I wanted to go...

The Jewish Freak said...

Thank you for writing a much-needed critique of the bad habits of the frum world. Well done.

simchi said...

I left the frum community two years ago - my father is an Orthodox rabbi - and had no idea there was such a plethora of ex-Orthodox bloggers out there. I'm a xanga, not blogspot, user myself ( and have been posting about my experiences leaving Orthodoxy and my estrangement in my family for years. Finding your blog, and others like it, has been really eye-opening to me. Thank you for writing. I wish I'd known about you sooner.

Anonymous said...

Your point reminds me of my own experience.
I know a (Chasidishe) Rosh Yeshiva who on the pretext of Mussar will have bocher tell him exactly all his sexual fantasies and will then spank him on his naked bottom.
He actually does that to married talmidim too.
No, I didn't learn in that Yeshiva but I spoke to a very Temmisdiger Yungerman who experienced it first hand, he wasn't at all convinced that there is anything wrong with it.
He also claimed that the Rosh Yeshiva will touch put his hands under his undergarments on the pretext that he can check if he has a passionate (sexual passion) nature so that he can give him guidance.

Another Talmid who was troubled by all this went to a different Rosh Yeshiva who is probably one of the most Frumie guy you can imagine, and he told him his stories. The Rosh Yeshiva simply told him not to be concerned about it, I dont remember the exact words but he very clearly implied that there is nothing to worry about and nothing need be done.

Now to be sure, at the time I got this firsthand information (which was the same time these events were taking place on a steady basis) these Talmidim were over 18 and not even living in the same town as this RY. (they were actually all married) but they told me that he did it to them as young bochurim too.

To my knowledge nothing was ever done to this RY.

Anonymous said...

After reading this posting and many of the replies one thing keeps hitting me smack in the face. There are so many stories about "a CERTAIN RY" or "this one rebbi". We all know that it is assur to go telling stories about people, but when there is a clear or maybe even implied danger to people (read: our children) why is there such an effort to keep names out of it? Isn't it a mitzvah to name names for the safety of others? Even Hedyot made reference to "U'biarta HaRA Mi'Kirbecha". How can that be done when most of us have no idea where that 'ra' is? If we are serious about getting this 'ra' out of our midst shouldn't the identities of the perps be known and screw their positions and mizrach vont seats?

The Hedyot said...

Thought it was obvious who we are referring to. See this article in case you don't know.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I realize whom this specific incident is about but it seemed that this blog post and many others also speak about the problem of abuse in general. And to that fact I am asking why more names are not publicized.