Rabbi Yosef Blau on Sexual Abuse of Children

By Rabbi Yosef Blau, Mashgiah Ruchani (Spiritual Adviser) at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) of Yeshiva University

(reproduced with permission of Rabbi Blau and  David Morris from a 2009 posting on the blog, Tzedek-Tzedek (Beith Shemesh, Israel).

My experience is with the Orthodox community in America but from what I have heard the situation in Israel is similar. As in many other personal areas, Orthodox Jews, when they are informed about abuse, instinctively turn to their rabbis. Unfortunately the rabbis (with the exception of young rabbis recently trained in modern Orthodox rabbinical schools) have no training and are not equipped to evaluate the accusations. When the accusations are about other Orthodox rabbis they assume that such behavior is impossible. While it is true that most abuse takes place within families, teachers have access to many potential victims and even a small number guilty can molest hundreds of children.
Our assumption that observance creates better people makes it difficult to believe that the abuse has happened, and if it did, then the abuser was someone not religious and certainly not a Torah teacher. Halakhic standards of proof are essentially impossible to achieve, as the victims are children and women who are ineligible to be witnesses. The shame associated with being violated in the Orthodox world also promotes the notion that people should not go public. Rabbis, even when suspicious that molestation has occurred, will usually advise silence to protect the family’s good name.

Batei Din in our times are not effective in dealing with criminal behavior. Lacking the investigative arm of the police and having restrictive standards of testimony they can not establish guilt. When the culprit is charismatic, he can often get protégés who feel indebted to him to lie to the Beis Din. It takes years before those who have been abused as youngsters to openly face their abuser.

The desire to protect the image of the community from an outside seen as basically hostile, both prevents going to authorities or media and turns the whistleblowers into the perpetrators. There is a perverted sense of Chillul Hashem that places the blame, not on those whose behavior mocks their external look of piety, but places it instead on those who unmask them.

When the issue becomes protecting the role of the rabbinate rather then stopping abuse, defensive articles are written, but children are not protected. In America, there is a growing awareness that no community is spared from having abusers in its midst. Orthodox mental health professionals have prepared materials to help children and their parents recognize signs of abuse which are being used. The taboo of calling the police (mesira) is slowly being replaced by following the pesak of almost all the gedolim that abusers are ongoing dangers and that secular authorities must be informed.


2 thoughts on “Rabbi Yosef Blau on Sexual Abuse of Children

  1. I have been following this story since it became public. I worked in Lakewood where this allegedly took place. As a non jew/ gentile I am saddened to see that the young boy has and continues to be victimized by his abuser. This now young man must learn to heal and live with this tragedy. I pray for him and his family for GOD’s strength & peace for them.

  2. “This young man must learn to heal and live with this tragedy”. yes, indeed, easier said than done. . The overwhelming likelihood is that he will live and never get professional help to heal, he will repress, he may live years without thinking about it. but, it is more likely than not, that it will always be with him to a certain extent, the toxic pedophiles usually leave permanent damage, even if only to a minimal extent. And any future traumas will reactivate the old one, even if the nature of the new trauma is very different. Very very very few therapists are competent to deal with this, no matter how many areas of expertise they check off for insurance coverage et al, yeah, gay, lesbians transsexuals , ptsd, child abuse, on and on, they all check them off in the correct boxes. get online on oxford health, emblem and see how many ‘experts’ there are. most haven’t a clue, not a clue. do not even know what questions to ask, a waste of therapeutic money. so how will this young man heal? I do not know. but , unfortunately his chances are not very great for anything even approximating full recovery.. That is not to say that he cannot live out his life to the end, have a family et al, but it will always be there, the exceptions are few, some have come to light recently. those who are able to go public have dealt with the trauma,. i do not know if fully, but sufficiently to be able to reveal traumas of 30 years ago, this is becoming more and more common. a pattern,. one who goes public, perhaps encourages a few others. going public is , i think ,, a sign of recovery. Going public is freeing and empowering

    the rabbinic pedophiles, many may have damaged dozens or more boys (mostly boys). This goes on in families also, of course, , where, the pedophile may be AC/DC and abuse his 12 or 13 kids and his wife, or in smaller families, maybe just the females????. Bu not necessarily. The orthodox world is clearly now dealing with what it must, what it can control slowly through the secular criminal system, and when they are finished, they can get around to the toxic families, which may constitute fewer victims depending on whether we are talking about the litters of 13 kids or more natural smaller families, we have a long way to go. that stuff is just submerged at the moment, due to the nature of the family, reported rabbinic abuses. and then the 13 kid families with the mother and 13 kids, ALL subjected to abuse for years and years, even if there are extended families, respectable rabbinic lines all of whom are pushing it under the rug for a myriad of reasons including shidduching, but not limited to that motivation. and when we are finished with them , acharei messiach, maybe the smaller ortho or non ortho families with only 2 or 3 or 4 victims, none of whom have ever told a soul, not even each other. (male and female alike). many pedophiles are equal opportunity abusers. AC/DC. It will take a very long time to purge them all. \\\ Is it in the DNA?
    I have a tiny handful of acquaintances in the field who, i believe, MAY be competent to deal with the long term affects of childhood sexual abuse. there are not many. prognosis is poor, simply given the very few professionals who really can deal with the problems effectively.
    Perhaps it is easier with young chldren who have not dealt with the long term effects, the tentacles which they extend into all areas of their lives. B”H may we be freed of this scourge in our midst, bimhera b’yameinu.

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