I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about the latest pronouncements about child sex abuse by Agudath Israel of America’s lead figure, the Novominsker Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, on Sunday, May 26th at the Annual Convention of Torah Umesorah, the national umbrella organization for ultra orthodox Jewish schools. Below is a full transcript of the videotaped talk with translations in parentheses and my annotations below each section.
One of the problems that we are facing, more today, that we weren’t aware of, and it has to be mentioned, for a number of reasons, is the abuse of young people, b’oifen gufni (physical abuse) and molestation, al d’avoinoseinu harabim (which because of our many sins), have gotten into our tzibur (community).
Rabbi Yaakov Perlow (RYP) is dishonest in claiming they were not aware if the problem for decades. In fact he participated in the cover-up of the sex abuse of Yehuda Kolko among many other cases where molesting teachers were allowed to keep their jobs.
It is convenient for him to claim the problems have “gotten into our community” as if the problem wasn’t festering inside.
And the litzonei hador (mockers of this generation) feel that we don’t care about it. The bloggers feel that the Haredi world dismisses the problem and a. they are not sufficiently sympathetic to the victims and b. they don’t do, they don’t care; they are interested in protecting the perpetrators.
There is an interesting verbal stumble when he starts by saying the “The bloggers feel that the Haredi world… don’t do, they don’t care.” He got it right the first time; we accuse them of not doing. Caring is not enough.
I think they care, but not enough to threaten insiders, not enough to allow scandals to go public, not enough to pay proper compensation that victims need for healing and recovery, not enough to sack the officials who enabled abuse all these years. I am not sure why he thinks emoting is a substitute for action.
I consider it good news that he actually uses that dread word, “bloggers.” In the past we were not given official recognition. I am guessing it means he knows enough of his audience reads us and at least contemplates the possibility that we are on to something. But he does confuse criticism with gratuitous mocking. He is taking himself and the Haredi establishment too seriously if he thinks any serious evaluation of its failings should leave it immune to ridicule.
Muz ich eich zugen dus iz sheker vikozev (I have to tell you this is a lie and a falsehood). The rabbonim (rabbis) sitting here, knowing perhaps better than I do, how many hours and hours and dozens of hours throughout these last years we’ve sat and deliberated and talked about every single aspect of this problem.
He is repeating a line from his 2010 speech where meetings are considered proof of seriousness. Tachlis (real outcomes), not talk, are the measure of seriousness.
And how we have to see to it that the predators are not there to disturb our children.
The tried and proven solution is reporting sex offenders to the police, something which Agudah almost never supports (except in theory, for some very select cases).
How parents have to be sensitive and conscious as to how to talk to their children, and how to sensitize them in an intelligent way against people who chulilah vechas (G-d forbid) are in sakanah (danger) of molesting them [when they go to camp and when they go elsewhere.
The bulk of the official Haredi response has been shifting the burden of preventing abuse to parents and kids through child safety education which avoids discussing police reporting and in some cases still emphasizes stranger danger when most abuse comes from within the community. I have never seen any materials that say, “even a rabbi or yeshiva teacher can be a molester.” Moreover, I see little indication of adopting best practices (e.g., Paul Shaviv) for institutional policies developed and implemented by some modern orthodox schools.
To this day, there is an excess of sympathy for molesters struggling to control their impulses. This shows up when he inadvertently speaks of “people who… are in danger of molesting [children].” No! It is the kids who are in danger.
He is speaking to a convention of a day school organization and he manages not to mention schools as a place of danger, just camps and “elsewhere.”
And how when there is raglayim lidavor ven men meg yeh redden tzu (substance to the abuse allegation when you can talk to) the authorities un ven men meg nisht redden (and when you can’t talk). I won’t go into the details.
Darn right he won’t go into details. Using mostly Yiddish and Hebrew he just dog whistled the Agudah position: rabbis get to decide if you can report. In practice that means that most victims are advised not to report abusers to the police or protective services agencies.
But I feel I have to say it because I’ve heard and other rabbonim (rabbis) have heard that we are being accused of not being sufficiently sympathetic or sensitive to this issue. Und ich zug az iz sheker vikozov (I say that it is a lie and and a falsehood).
Yet again he channels Bill Clinton intoning “I feel your pain.” But he ups the ante to accuse bloggers of being liars. This stemwinder leads straight into the meat of the issue about which he is defensive, quite rightly, the matter of pending legislation to reform NYS Statutes of Limitation (SOL) for child sex abuse. He is on the defensive because any sentient New Yorker knows there is a major push and the only important opponents are the Catholic Church and Agudath Israel of America.
Yes, we want to protect our mosdos (organizations). We want to be able to prevent somebody who wakes up 40 years later and he sues a yeshiva for something that happened who knows how many years ago.
Rabbi I-feel-your-pain, Perlow, just pivoted into patronizing survivors who have financial claims as greedy inventors of fiction.
But at the same time we have no sympathy for perpetrators.
Irrelevant. No one accused you of liking molesting. We are just accusing you of nevertheless protecting them.
Und min darf zey mitapel zein, rachmonis oif em und helfen (We have to take care of them, have mercy on them and help), the victims.
Yes, the thrust of the Agudah policy is pity for survivors and providing some direct help with therapy costs, but not empowering them to seek justice through either criminal prosecution or civil lawsuits.
I say this as a maimad hamuskar (parenthetical statement), in order to speak birabim (in public) about one little aspect, as to what our community faces from the litzonai hador (mockers of this generation). Halevai (If only) if they would only be litzonim (mockers).
Now the bloggers are deemed the great danger, not the molesters and their protectors. Notice the gap in rhetorical passion and anger between his treatment of molesters and bloggers. Molesters are a sad reality that has crept into the community. But bloggers are liars, mockers, and wreckers by motive and effect.
They are mazikim (wreckers) as well, those who are always ready to accuse us, to criticize us, out of a disrespect for Torah, for its values, for its principles, and as to how questions are decided- al pi daas Torah (according to the opinion of the leading ultra orthodox rabbis).
As always, it boils down to rabbinical authority, and the untrue claim that they embody true Torah values. In fact greater Torah sages (like Maran Yosef Sholom Elyashiv) have already declared that molesters should be reported to the police. Agudah resists it because it is more concerned with reputation and financial interests than with pure Torah and Halacha.
I laughed at this diatribe because I sensed the defensive desperation. At last, R. Perlow admitted that the blogger message is reaching his audience. Otherwise he would not have deigned to acknowledge our existence let alone go into full attack mode. His need to defend the leadership as caring means he knows more and more of his audience doubts the good faith of leadership as well they should.
I feel like crying because virtually nothing has changed in the rhetoric or policies of Agudah since they followed the Catholic Church’s lead and made a great show of expressing their sorrow and regret in 2010.
The timing is also striking. The last major Agudah statement of abuse was delivered when the Markey Bill to reform SOLs was gaining traction. Then too he mentioned his opposition to the bill.
Rabbi Perlow is an outstanding Rabbinic scholar who must surely know the saying scattered repeatedly through the Talmud: Where G-d’s name is desecrated we don’t accord respect to the rabbi (BT Shavuot 30b).