“Sex Abuse Is a Plague in the Ultra Orthodox Community” According to Author Judy Brown

Judy Brown 1Judy Brown (aka Eishes Chayil) had this to say about sex abuse when interviewed by Sara Scribner about her new book, This Is Not a Love Story: A Memoir.

Sexual abuse was a plague in the [ultra orthodox Jewish] community… because they denied its existence, allowing pedophiles full freedom to sexually molest children.

Before I ever wrote a word of “Hush,” I had written for years in the ultra-Orthodox world. My writings were taught in their schools. Being a writer brought me readers, and they would tell me their stories. And more and more of them were about sexual abuse…

You begin to hear a pattern. Something happened… but you can’t think about it in a world where it is denied. You deny it to yourself… You just think about it as an isolated event. You think this isn’t the community. It’s just me or her or him…

This isn’t some theoretical concept. It’s young adults committing suicide one after another. It’s people who go through hellish agony trying to untangle themselves and deal with the trauma. It’s knowing that as long as you are silent there’s another person you are literally killing. For me that book [Hush] was survival. So the ugliness that it unleashed was a nightmare to deal with. It’s something that still hurts me to think about. I guess it always will.

I never thought of it in terms of an artist. It was just something that was in existence in the most brutal way and the only thing I feared more than publishing it was not publishing it.

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2 thoughts on ““Sex Abuse Is a Plague in the Ultra Orthodox Community” According to Author Judy Brown

  1. Judy Brown is a gifted writer. She is also, perhaps even more importantly, a remarkably sensitive and honest woman. Speaking at a Nefesh conference in 2011, she stressed the importance of words — or the absence of words — in human suffering. In her Hasidic childhood, she said, “sexual abuse was not a word. If there was no such word, there were no such children…. They did not really dare exist.”

    That insight needs no elaboration here. But it’s worth noting that in the same interview, the writer stresses another word missing from her Orthodox childhood: love. That word, while applied to God and common enough in religious discourse, was seldom used by anyone she knew to describe intimate feelings between two people. I can’t help wondering how the two may intersect: how much doesn’t “really dare exist” in a society that avoids the use of the word “love” — and what the consequences can be for people who suffer as much, and as silently, for want of an unnameable thing as they suffer the victimization of another unnameable thing — the one often a monstrous caricature of the other?

    I don’t mean to offer any facile diagnosis here, and I realize (as Brown herself says) that there are reasons a religious society may be skittish around that loaded word. But I don’t think those of us who live in Orthodox society can afford to ignore the question. If, as Philip Larkin famously wrote, what survives us is love, we’d all better look very hard at anything aimed at confining or expelling the concept. Banning a word may not constrain behavior — but it can dehumanize it.

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