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.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Women Assault Rabbis with Sights and Smells (And Other Interesting Tales from Lakewood)

     One of the reasons that this blog is called "Jewish Outreach: What Your Rabbi Isn't Telling You" is due to the inaccurate picture of ultra-orthodox life often painted by Jewish outreach/kiruv workers.  Once one leaves the idyllic realm of kiruv experiences, there is a very real world that exists on the other side of a few semesters or years at yeshiva or seminary that most people people don't know about, or even understand until moving into such a community. The following excerpts from screenshots were recently taken from the publication "The Voice of Lakewood," published for the orthodox community in Lakewood, New Jersey.
     In the first excerpt, notice that  a woman is complaining that young girls (second grade, to be exact,) in a summer camp setting (in someone's home) have exposed skin between their high socks and their skirts. Notice the level of concern of the writer.
Picture 1. Click to enlarge.

Picture 2. Click to enlarge.
     Notice the second picture in which women and girls are told to cut their hair or sheitels (wigs) to an "acceptable length." This advertisement is endorsed by Lakewood rabbonim (rabbis) and roshei yeshiva (heads of yeshivas.) 

     The third picture, a letter to the Voice of Lakewood, signed "Appalled in Lakewood," is from a father who is appalled that his daughter's teacher wears a wig that is longer than her shoulders. This is apparently in direct conflict with the family's values which stress that a married woman's wig must not go past her shoulders. Rather than complain to the community, perhaps he could have explained to his daughter that different people hold by different beliefs, even within the realm of orthodox Judaism. Kiruv is often  guilty of the same thing, teaching that orthodox Judaism, and Judaism in general, can only be practiced one way--the way of the kiruv worker.

Picture 3. Click to enlarge.

     Picture four provides further understanding of the status of women in the Lakewood orthodox community. Mothers of cheder (school-age) boys are urged by "a Lakewood Rebbi" "not [to] dress up excessively ... and definitely do not wear perfume" for parent-teacher conferences with the rebbi (a male teacher.) This "Lakewood Rebbi" then asks "why can't we trust the child's father to go alone and bring home a report? ...Perhaps the mothers could set up a phone meeting with the rebbi. He would be thrilled to do so instead of being assaulted by all types of sights and smells two evenings a year." It seems that "a Lakewood Rebbi" is trying very hard to be labeled a misogynist, proclaiming in print his disgust for women and belief that women really don't need to have any part in their male children's education.

Picture 4. Click to enlarge.

If you weren't already sure as to why the Lakewood orthodox community feels that women's modesty, or tznius, is important, the following letter to the Voice of Lakewood should clarify their perspective. You see, when one is first learning from his/her kiruv/outreach rabbi, one isn't told that the reason ultra-orthodox women are pressured to dress a certain way  is because of the belief that a woman's hemline directly affects whether or not Jews get hurt or die. (This isn't an isolated incident. Signage to this effect was found in Brooklyn, where women learned that they'd be "severely punished" for not following the laws of modesty. You can also read about how the ultra orthodox community consistently obscures the faces of females in their publications.) The author of this letter, who signs off as "Someone Who's Embarrassed of the Image of Lakewood," offers readers what should be understood as concern: "What are you doing to yourself and others? That person that got hurt or died--it might have been because of you." She further states that her husband "refuses to go to the grocery store because he feels like it's a junkyard looking at all that garbage that people are wearing." I'd like to think that perhaps this is just her husband's excuse to get his wife to go shopping so that he doesn't have to, but alas, the prevalent feeling is that the women must help protect their husbands from impure thoughts. To do so, they use community pressure to push their beliefs on others within the community--even those who might not be observing at the same level.

Picture 5. Click to enlarge.

Picture 6. Click to enlarge.

     The question is, why is  what goes on in Lakewood, New Jersey, relevant to this blog? After all, Lakewood isn't the be all and end all of campus (or other) kiruv practice. But that's just my point. Lakewood is an ultra-orthodox community. Like other ultra-orthodox communities, there are people in and from Lakewood who work or volunteer with kiruv organizations. These letters are in their community's magazine and are representative of issues that are grappled with by those in the community. These letters are indicative of the archaic lens through which community leaders view and control  women and their bodies in the name of Judaism. When whole communities buy into the belief that the length of a woman's skirt is responsible for "116 accidents this past week," it creates a danger for the rights of all people--those already in, and those first coming into, these communities. When kiruv professionals push their beliefs on people who have little or no experience with ultra-orthodox Judaism, they leave out the part about how they believe a too-short hemline or the exposed skin of an 8 year-old's leg has caused death and destruction to Jews; and how guilt, fear, intimidation, and community pressure will keep women behaving to whatever tznius (modesty) standard has been deemed socially acceptable. 

Update: For more on this topic, read "Shmiras Einayim --Try it, You'll Like it!"over at Kol B'Isha Erva.