Rabbi Shraga Feivel Zimmerman, the community-wide rabbi of Gateshead, UK, an important ultra orthodox Jewish community, recently delivered a stinging rebuke to the community for its past handling of child sex abuse. Rabbi Zimmerman, broke with past community patterns in testifying for the prosecution in the recent trial in Manchester of Rabbi Todros Grynhaus on child sex abuse charges. Grynhaus, who was a student in Gateshead, was convicted and sentenced to thirteen years. Notes of Zimmerman’s weekly (7-11-15) Sabbath sermon were posted on the FaceBook page of Migdal Emunah, a British anti-abuse organization. (See image of full sermon below.) Rabbi Zimmerman’s rebuke included these words (emphasis added):
This week a judge passed sentence over a frum looking individual and sent him to jail for over 13 years for molesting children. … How did our society allow such a person to be in contact with children for so many years? How was such an individual allowed to coast from institution to institution despite his known background? His behaviour wasn’t a secret?!
Was he allowed to continue in his job because he came from a respected family? …
Reb Moshe Sternbuch said …”he’s more sick than wicked”. Yet that doesn’t vindicate the silence of the community and that is why we ask, “How were our children left for hefker” (abandoned)
We have to wonder, how it is that there are those who err so much to provide unlimited support to child molesters and won’t instead help the victims. How is it that there are unlimited funds to aid the perpetrator and yet the victims struggle to get help for expensive therapy?
Not only that, but the victims suffer twice as the offender tries to bully them into silence. How have we stood by and watched this double whammy? These are broken souls which have been hit twice.
You should know that if a Rov is attacked in such a way, it may hurt him and his family, it may harm a community, but a Rov is a healthy individual living with a lot of self-confidence, yet these children are broken people. How has it been okay for us to ignore their plight? Is this the behaviour of people who are supposed to beרחמנים ביישנים וגומלי חסדים (merciful, modest and kind)?
This is a question directed to the public; to the whole community – how is it that we have neglected, how is it that we have kept quiet for something that has been known for so long?
It is most probably because we have no idea what damage is done when children are abused. We have to educate ourselves to understand the pain of these children. The abuse that they have suffered gnaws at them from every direction. Many times these children harm themselves or take their own lives. It can affect their mental state or their married lives even after many years. And of course it affects their spiritual lives too, especially if the molester is in the guise of a frum (ritually observant) person.
A recent study in the USA placed child abuse as the single biggest cause for people going “off-the-derech” (off the path) and despite all of this, over the past few months I have received many letters from victims who all seem to have a similar refrain: “Granted the molester is sick, but what about the community? Do those in charge not care?”
Moirai Veraboisai, it’s time that we say “Enough!” It’s time to end the silence. It is time that we said that no longer will we leave the next generation for hefker, for the sake of misguided values……
We have to learn וכשאני לעצמי מה אני- if we keep information to ourselves – what do we gain? We must learn how to handle and transfer information.
It is noteworthy that he publicly acknowledged that many in the community knew about his history of abuse and allowed him to move from job to job. Equally important, he broke the loshon horah (gossip) taboo, albeit in the veiled call to “learn how to handle and transfer information” instead of keeping “the information to ourselves.”
Rabbi Zimmerman’s position stands in sharp contrast to Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon, the mashgiach (spiritual advisor) at the Gateshead Yeshiva for over thirty years until he took on a similar position at Beth Medrash Govohah (Lakewood, NJ). Salomon, who retains influence in Gateshead, opposed cooperating with the prosecution throughout the trial according to British sources close to the case. In all likelihood, Salomon knew of the allegations against Grynhaus molesting boys when he was a student in Gateshead Yeshiva and probably colluded in the cover up way back then. In his role as spiritual advisor he has become the go-to-man for sex abuse cases in the American orthodox community for many laity and rabbis far beyond those directly involved in his own institution. He has never once publicly supported the prosecution of a sex offender. See also: Matisyahu Salomon Subpoenaed: Accused of Manipulating a Child in a Custody Case British Judge Explains 13-Year Sentence for Todros Grynhaus