Friday, November 15, 2013

Self-Hating Jews, Child Abuse, and New Recruits

     I rarely post more than once a week, but I think that it's important to share this article: "The Child-Rape Assembly Line; In Ritual Bathhouses of the Jewish Orthodoxy, Children Are Systematically Abused" by Christopher Ketcham
 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:
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.)
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.
     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.

6 comments:

  1. And to make it even worse, by the time BT's have children their relationships with their secular families who were left in the dust when they found God, is probably so damaged that they cannot even go to them for help and support.

    ReplyDelete
  2. From a kiruv POV - I'd tell anyone involved in kiruv and on the path to becoming a BT to ask some very specific questions. Are they considering any organization affiliated with Agudas Israel? If so, are they aware of that organization's position on reporting sexual abuse? Read a summary of their position and what is wrong with it here:

    http://jrkmommy-personalandpolitical.blogspot.ca/2012/06/more-problems-with-agudath-position-on.html

    http://jrkmommy-personalandpolitical.blogspot.ca/2011/07/problems-in-agudath-position-on-abuse.html

    Abusers exist in every religion and community. Certain things, though, combine to make children in some of these communities more vulnerable.

    1. Culture of extreme respect for rabbis, teachers and community leaders.
    2. No public school or exposure to popular media, where children are taught to say no and report any abuse.
    3. Ban against "mesirah" (informing on another Jew to secular authorities)
    4. Ban on loshon hara (saying anything bad about someone else)
    5. Culture of all decisions, big and small, going through rabbis.
    6. Extremely insular communities where parents may live in fear of going against the grain or being shunned.
    7. Schools, camps, etc. being run by religious organizations that may not comply with mandated reporting laws.
    8. Communities that tend to react to any criticism or arrest by circling the wagons.

    In terms of improving from within - articles written by outsiders probably won't help, but I do see some hope with the women of these communities. Women are typically somewhat removed from the power structures, but closer to the children in these communities. Many women may put up with a lot themselves - but the last straw will be someone hurting their children. Women are also freer in some ways - they are more trusted when it comes to using the internet (less fear that they will use online porn), and they are often engaged in slightly more secular work. I've noticed over the years a definite trend on websites like imamother.com. Yes, you need to have internet access in order to get on the website, but they do have members from ultra-Orthodox communities, including a few Satmar women. There's been a shift toward more discussion of abuse issues, and since there are a mix on the board of Orthodox women from across the spectrum, attitudes that blame the victim get challenged.

    Here's was the imamother.com discussion of the Weberman verdict:

    http://www.imamother.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=201413&postdays=0&postorder=asc&&start=0

    On page 23 of the thread, the poster Mama Bear says straight out that one of her relatives was also molested by Weberman. This is a poster who is a member of the Satmar community, who has been posting on imamother forever. I found it both shocking and fascinating to see how the discussion among the Satmar women swung from "sad day for our community, being dragged through the mud" to "you know, I also know someone that was harmed by this guy".

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is a really good read for me, Must admit that you are one of the best bloggers I ever saw.Thanks for posting this informative article.

    Kippahs for sale

    ReplyDelete
  4. How doese this fit the mandate of your blog? Satmar does no kiruv. In fact, they pretty much do the opposite of it as much as they can. What purpose does your pointing out their many deficiencies serve?
    Can we expect a post on abuse and misogyny in the Muslim community? Will you work to expose similar faults amongst the polygamists in Bountiful, British Columbia? Or will it always be some Jewish group?
    Perhaps that's why you're getting labelled?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good point. I am quoting myself here:
      "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. "

      Delete
    2. Bec-just to clarify, by repressive, you mean repressive relative to what American society considers freedom. However, to a nudist community, then American society's requirement of wearing clothes would be repressive. I think you would agree there is a difference between what the Satmar community allows vs with mainstream orthodoxy allows. So where does the line get drawn from being repressive? It seems like a slippery slope.

      Delete

Your respectful comments are welcome.