Agudah on Pedophilia: Too Little, Too Late!
This post first went up on Frum Follies after the Nov, 2010 Agudah Convention. Because some things don’t change, it is still pertinent to the Agudah Convention starting tonight. It seems they will once again focus on the evils of blogs and the internet instead of focusing on the real evils plaguing the community, including child abuse. They will probably kvetch about the evil mass media that made Satmar and by extension, other orthodox Jews look bad by their reporting of the Weberman trial. They will definitely not attack Satmar or AMI Magazine’s Frankfurter for causing the greatest chilul hashem of our generation by defending Weberman, a man, who I believe, violated hundreds of Jewish girls. Their program is here.
Also see my satirical “Moetzes Gedolim Speak about Znus Affecting Children.” It is the howler with which I started Frum Follies over 3 years ago.
I am a non-partisan critic of Jewish organizations. I will go after any group that enables child abuse. In my last post I revealed Satmar’s sad history in the case of Yisroel Moshe (Israel) Weingarten. Today I want to talk about Agudath Israel of America. They think of themselves as the voice of torah-true Jewry. Yet they are guilty of collusion with the ongoing epidemic of sexual abuse of children by frum Jews. They can hurl thunderbolts to confront a modern orthodox rabbi who ordains one woman. They can mobilize their masses for rachmonis on Martin Grossman, a vicious Jewish murderer. But suddenly they loose their oomph and speak bikol dmamah dakah when it comes to child molesting (unless of course the offender is a goy).
After being confronted by protesters two years ago at their convention they made noises about their willingness to confront the issue. A year ago, their lay leader, Rabbi Dovid Zweibel, Esq. used their convention to speak with passion about their dawning realization about the problem and their commitment to find a way to respond. This year they unveiled their response. It took the form of high profile speech by the head of their Moetzes, the Novominsker Rebbe (Rabbi Yaakov Perlow). At their annual convention over Thanksgiving weekend, Rabbi Perlow devoted over 12 minutes to the issue. Below are his words, followed by my reactions.
THE NOVOMINSKER REBBE’S SPEECH
Let me mention something else, another painful subject, which has arisen in our tzibbur, and it’s time that we recognize it, even in public (inaudible short Yiddish phrase). And sweep it out from under the carpet.
There’s a need, an obligation, particularly on parents, to inform and teach children to be careful and alert and safeguard their bodies, their Yiddishe gufim, and not allow potential predators to abuse them.
I’m sorry that I have to bring this up in public. But the olam doesn’t know. Very few people outside the halls of Agudas Yisroel and Torah U’Mesorah know, that the Vaad Roshei Yeshiva of Torah U’Mesorah, together with the Moetzes Gedolei Torah of Agudas Yisroel have held many joint meetings and spent many hours discussing all the aspects of this sensitive topic that has crept out of the woodworks in recent years.
Yes, there are molesters out there, tragically enough, in the yeshivishe and in the Chassidishe community, and our children have to be attuned to be nishmar nafshosaychem.
And let me mention that several years ago the Moetzes of Agudas Yisroel approved a statement sent out by the Director of Camp Aguda to all camp directors about behavioral standards of staff and campers, plus a letter to be sent to parents before camp begins.
Torah U’Mesorah likewise issued guidelines and standards for mechanchim sent to all principals suggesting they also communicate on this subject with their parent body.
The Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah discussed thoroughly all the legal questions, all the legal aspects of this tsurah. We came out publicly against the Markey Bill, in order to protect the integrity of our mosdos haTorah. But it did acknowledge the tsar and anguish of the victims of molestation.
A short while ago, a committee of the Moetzes met with some of these victims, and was shaken to hear first hand of the long term ruinous affects and the deep pain of these people. I’d like to acknowledge here publicly how many of these individuals who suffered severe trauma and carried this tsar all these years have, nonetheless, b’ezras Hashem, succeeded in rebuilding their lives, have raised families in the Torah true tradition and they deserve the chizuk and encouragement of the community at large.
There’s a lot more to say on this painful subject, but this is not the place.
The speech is something. But the question is why it happened and what will follow? Alas, Rabbi Perlow did not extend thanks to the advocates (including of course UOJ, Nuchem Rosenberg, SFJ, JBACC and many others) who held the feet of the Agudah to the fire. More importantly, he did not extend hakaros hatov to those who braved community disapproval to bring the issue to the courts, protective services and the media. Sadly, Agudah only seems to do the right thing when it has no choice. Even then it waits quite a while.
What is the tachlis (practical result) of the speech? He admitted the obvious while skirting the necessary next steps. Of course the first step is admitting there is a problem. Fine, he admitted that those who are molested suffer. Amazing. All this daas torah, meetings, brain power, and time to arrive at this conclusion. Better late than never, but stunningly late.
I suppose it could be an important element in the construction of the halachic rationale for going to the police. He could have shared with the audience the torah of leading poskim that pikuach nefesh and the impossibility of preventing recidivism among molesters renders them rodfim. Ergo, go to the police because communities have no way to control molesters. Yes there are a few exceptions to that rule and he could have also pointed them out. Many Yeshivish and chasidish poskim have established this position in recent years. But R. Perlow manages not to make any of those additional necessary statements. There is absolutely no indication that the Moetzes will use its influence to encourage victims and their guardians to report cases to the police. In contrast look at how a real gadol, ben gadol, Rav Moshe Soloveichik, talks tachlis in just twelve minutes.
Another piece of tachlis is talking about necessary policy changes in schools. Again he hovers over the surface of the shmutzig yeshiva carpet and says we have to get out the dirt. But he gives no hint of how. Rabbi Perlow has a Phi Beta Kappa degree in math from Brooklyn College. He must know something about the arithmetic: so many molesters x so many years x so many folks involved in cover-ups. He must know that that a bedikas chometz feather or even a 99 cent broom will not be enough to clean out the mess unless he is content to wait a whole generation.
He talks about Torah U Mesorah guidelines for schools. But how serious can Torah Umesorah be when they will not publicly distribute the guidelines to parents. They are especially suspect because of their collusion in the Kolko cover up.
He talks about the program for camps several years ago. No, it was only about six months ago. It was really a lawyer’s shtick. Most of their handout consisted of legal documents camps should use not to be sued. They had a letter for parents laying on them the responsibility for orienting their kids. They are sending the message that preventing molesting is the job of the parents. The camp and the school’s job is to avoid legal liability. They don’t even talk about the achrayis of institutions. Instead they use vague language about following the law as mandated reporters. But the law is vague at times. They do not seem to be aiming for maximum eradication of molesting. Agudah is full of leaders who promote chumras. Yet they are more meikil than the most modern orthodox rabbi when it comes to pikuach nefesh, lo taamod al dam reyechah and giluy arayos.
Rabbi Perlow tries to convey his sincere engagement with the issue. But his track record is abysmal. He had multiple meetings about Kolko and refused to get involved because it was a Flatbush issue. He could have at least declared Chatasi, I made serious mistakes. He believes he embodies daas torah and he will be harming it if he admits mistakes. He seems to have forgotten the parts in our tanach where our our ancestors, kings and our prophets admitted mistakes. Instead, the tachlis in the speech is “parents, talk to your kids.”
Now what is the parent supposed to say?
Don’t let anyone touch you inappropriately but if they do, don’t count on your community or yeshiva to support us in reporting the menuval to the police.
Not once did R. Perlow commend those true Jewish parents who went to the police. Some of them are being forced out of homes, shuls, schools, shidduchim and communities by the protectors of molesters. Rabbi Perlow could have extended words of chizuk in their direction such as the brave family of one of the victims of Meir Dascalowitz. Instead he abandons them to their continued harassment. If Rabbi Perlow is a real manhig he would criticize those shuls and schools that throw out the parents of victims who bring charges of molesting to the police, including Yeshiva Torah Temimah, the Beis Medrish of the Munkatcher Rebbe, the Bobov Beis Medrish in Williamsburg and many others.
The Moetzes is trying to take tiny steps because they cannot muster the determination to fight for children rather than just saying some sympathetic things.
The one tachlis thing he talked about is the Markey Child Victims Act. Now that is tachlis. If it passes, it will flush out dozens or even perhaps more of the habitual molesters that have been protected by mosdos. That will be shock therapy. Yes it will be expensive for some yeshivas. But what of the expense that survivors have carried all these years? What of the geneivah of charging tuition to thousands of kids who were abused instead of being educated? What of the fact that in halachah there is no statute of limitations on damages?
There has to be a reckoning with the past. We have a whole masechta Harayot about a nasi who sins. Rabbi Perlow, the nasi of Agudah should think about it seriously and act accordingly. Otherwise it is hard to take him seriously as a nasi and it is hard to take Agudah seriously as the voice of torah true Jews.
Agudah has flunked the leadership test at three successive conventions. I hope they will do better next year. But until then they do not have a chezkas kashrus when it comes to molesting.
Also of Interest:
I opened my blog with a satirical version of Moetzes Speech on Molesting. Alas, the latest speech does not render my earlier version irrelevant.