As I've mentioned before both on this blog and in the public sphere, there are certain dangerous attitudes that exist within the ultra-orthodox community. One such attitude is that if a person criticizes orthodoxy or orthodox Jews, one is automatically labeled an "anti-Semite" or, if Jewish, a "self-hating Jew." People who have commented on this blog have called me a self-hating Jew for criticizing kiruv/Jewish outreach. I have read disparaging comments on other forums in which people have claimed that I hate orthodox Jews; and I have received email accusing me of all of the above. The reason I bring this up along with this article is not just to spread awareness of issues plaguing the ultra-orthodox community, but to point out that the ultra-orthodox community consistently paints themselves as victims when criticized. Rather than looking at themselves and their practices critically in order to make positive changes, they lash out at the person or people making the allegations.
Seven years ago, Rabbi Rosenberg started blogging about sex abuse in his community and opened a New York City hotline to field sex abuse complaints.... Today, he is the lone whistleblower among the Satmar. For this he is reviled, slandered, hated, feared. He receives death threats on a regular basis. In Yiddish and Hebrew newspapers, advertisements taken out by the self-described “great rabbis and rabbinical judges of the city of New York” have denounced him as “a stumbling block for the House of Israel,” “a public rebuker and preacher of ethics” who “persists in his rebelliousness” and whose “voice has been heard among many Jewish families, especially young people in their innocence… drawn to listen to his poisonous and revolting speeches.” Leaflets distributed in Williamsburg and Borough Park, the centers of ultra-Orthodoxy in Brooklyn, display his bearded face over the body of a writhing snake. "Corrupt Informer," reads one of the leaflets, followed by the declaration that Rabbi Rosenberg’s “name should rot in hell forever. They should cut him off from all four corners of the earth.”
...Like the Catholic establishment, the rabbinate seeks to cover up the crimes, quiet the victims, protect the abusers, and deflect potential criticism of their institutional practices. Those who speak out are vilified, and the faithful learn to shut their mouths.
...As for Rabbi Rosenberg, when he voiced his concerns to the rabbinate in Israel, he was brought up on charges by the mishmeres hatznuis, the archconservative Orthodox “modesty squad,” which regulates, often through threats of violence, proper moral conduct and dress in the relations between men and women. The modesty squad is a sort of Jewish Taliban. According to Rabbi Rosenberg, the rapist he caught in the act was a member of the modesty squad, which charged him with the unconscionable offense of having previously been seen walking down a street in Jerusalem with a married woman. “But it’s OK to molest children,” he adds....The abuse and its cover-up are symptoms of wider political dysfunction—or, more precisely, symptoms of socially disastrous political control by religious elites (Ketcham.)
But there are two issues at play here. The first, which I discussed above--in short, the playing of the anti-Semitism/self-hating Jew card, is something that I've noticed across the spectrum of the readers of this blog, and certainly in the orthodox world in general. The second issue is how perpetrators of sex crimes against children are protected in the ultra orthodox community--a community which many ba'al teshuvas (newly religious people) ultimately join. Ketcham reports what's obvious to those who've left the orthodox community, but what those who are new to the community often don't realize:
Of course there will be readers who say that this article is about the Satmar community, a community that doesn't try to make people religious, so therefore it shouldn't impact on those interested in becoming orthodox. But this is hardly restricted to the Satmar community. In repressive communities that rely on social pressure to make sure that women's skirts stay a certain length, the same social pressure is exerted to keep people from calling the police on abusers, and to keep people from testifying in court.Families saddled with an increasing number of children soon enter into a cycle of poverty. There is simultaneously an extreme separation of the sexes, which is unprecedented in the history of the Hasidim. There is limited general education, to the point that most men in the community are educated only to the third grade, and receive absolutely no sexual education. No secular newspapers are allowed, and internet access is forbidden. “The men in the community are undereducated by design,” Ben said. “You have a community that has been infantilized. They have been trained not to think. It’s a sort of totalitarian control.”The rabbis, dominating an ignorant and largely poverty-stricken flock, determine the fate of every individual in the community. Nothing is done without the consent of the rabbinical establishment. A man wants to buy a new car—he goes to the rabbi for counsel. A man wants to marry—the rabbi tells him whether or not he should marry a particular bride. As for the women, they don’t get to ask the rabbi anything. Their place is beneath contempt (Ketcham.)
So, how does any of this get resolved? Should people not criticize the ultra-orthodox community for fear of being labeled anti-Semitic? Should the ultra-orthodox community keep sweeping these heinous crimes against society's most vulnerable members under the rug? Maybe we should we educate people both inside and outside of these communities, so they are aware of what goes on and can protect themselves and others. Perhaps being honest with new recruits about what really goes on in some of these communities may take away the romanticized idealism that new recruits have towards ultra-orthodoxy, but isn't that a small price to pay in order to protect future children from such atrocities? I'd say it's worth the self-hating Jew label, without a doubt.
Ketcham, Christopher. "The Child-Rape Assembly Line
In Ritual Bathhouses of the Jewish Orthodoxy, Children Are Systematically Abused." Vice Media. 11/12/ 2012.