Evaluating the Novominsker Rebbe’s Call to Action on Molestation

Novominsker Rebbe

Novominsker Rebbe – Yaakov Perlow

An unsigned article in Yated Ne’eman (6/22/16), A Call to Action, claims fantastic things were initiated by the Novominsker Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, head of the Moetzet (Council of Torah Sages of Agudath Israel of America). The naïve can be forgiven for believing they live in Moshiach times. The article starts:

The Novominsker Rebbe, Rav Yaakov Perlow, issued a call for action in response to the festering scourge of child abuse and molestation. As a result of his seminal address at the recent Torah Umesorah convention, several groundbreaking initiatives have been launched to ensure that our children are safe at all times.

Unfortunately, they leave out most of the words spoken by R. Perlow at Torah Umesorah (5/26/16) and instead imply he has said all sorts of things which he did not .

I transcribed and posted his Torah Umesorah speech where he complained about bloggers on abuse, opposed extending the statute of limitations for child sex abuse, and insisted rabbis should decide whether to report abuse to the police. Most of all, he got all defensive and lashed out at  bloggers as liars. He got in a lather about how much rabbonim care. But, as I pointed out, the real issue is not caring but tachlis, action.

Rabbi Perlow also said some good things but he also said them six years ago, that we need to feel sympathy for the victims, we need to recognize the problems, and we need programs of education to prevent abuse. When someone delivers the same promises of action six years later, one is entitled to ask, why the same speech and why the slow progress?.

The clever trick of the unnamed ploni who wrote the Yated article was to imply that Rav Perlow said all sorts of other things. For example, the article admits the truth, “one out of every five children in our community [is] likely to be victimized [sexually].” I wish R. Perlow would say that, but he didn’t.

The article claims “As a result of his…address… groundbreaking initiatives have been launched” and then speaks of programs to train staff, programs to educate children, and the ASAP program to fund therapy for adult survivors of childhood abuse. It was not as a result of the address. Nothing happens in a few weeks; nothing happens presto because of a speech. If it did, talking in shul during davening would have stopped decades ago, weddings would be less ostentatious, and nobody would be reading Vos Iz Neias on the internet, let alone through IPhones.

The ASAP program is a good start but it was several years in the works and is the initiative of Toronto’s Friedberg Foundation with additional funding by the Wolfson Foundation and Mr. Mendy Klein of Cleveland. Millions of dollars are being spent, but they cover only a fraction of the need for the twenty percent of the population affected by child abuse. Shamefully, I would estimate the community spends more each year on criminal defense lawyers for offenders and for their bail. To my knowledge, no Haredi sex offender was ever short of bail money or properly funded criminal defense attorneys, even when everyone involved was convinced of his guilt. And as Satmar showed in the Weberman case, there was plenty of money for Abraham Rubin to offer bribes to witnesses.

Child safety education is a good thing, but there is too much responsibility placed on children and parents. What happens when a child says “Rabbi x touched me?” Most of the time, even if Rabbi x is removed from work with children, he does not get sent to jail, he does not get publicly denounced, he does not lose his status in the community. He goes right on getting his aliyot and other honors. This is demoralizing for victims. Worse, it leaves offenders with the respectability which gives them easy access to additional victims.

At the end of the day, it is good that bloggers and others have raised awareness of the scope of the abuse problem. It is good that there is more education and some more support for therapy for victims. But the credit does not go to the Moetzes and we still have a long way to go to rid the community of identified sex offenders. I am sorry to say that progress will happen in spite of the leadership failures of Agudah’s Moetzes, not because of them.

UPDATE 7/4/16- Vivien Resofsky documents eerie parallels between the promises in the Yated article and similar promises several years earlier in Australia. As subsequently exposed by the Royal Commission, these initiatives had little real effect in getting a proper communal response to sex abuse. See her Web posting: http://users.tpg.com.au/rberger/10Vivien%27sPresentation10-2.7.16.pdf

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13 thoughts on “Evaluating the Novominsker Rebbe’s Call to Action on Molestation

  1. So can the novominsker please put out a letter on Efraim Becker who continues to see women although he signed that he won’t. The novominsker has a daughter in Har Nof that knows exactly about the terrible mind control and abuse of Becker. He is very charismatic and manipulative. Very dangerous and very conceited and self righteous.

  2. Every time I wonder if I might have been too harsh in my book’s assessment of the Agudah and its rabbis on sex abuse issues in 2014, they come along and prove me right. And as I wrote back then, the juxtaposition of their ambiguous, half-hearted position on reporting sex abuse to police with their full-throated denunciations of bloggers for circulating accurate criticisms pretty much gives away the game.

  3. Michael, right with you. Except that I am considered too extreme by some mutual friends because I no longer “wonder if”.

    • Thanks — and some people think I’m pretty extreme, too. I suppose questioning myself is part of an ingrained habit of open-mindedness.

      What makes me howl inside is that these people know how bad things are; they know the extent of their own complicity in a long history of crimes; they know their motives were largely cynical, concerned more with protecting institutions and rabbinic public images than with justice; they know how little it would take to placate, if not ultimately satisfy, the most badly wounded; and they know how deeply, hopefully, needfully many of those wounded are waiting for some small sign from them that they — at least — understand the extent of the victims’ wrongs and their suffering. And yet, with all that knowledge, they still go on playing the same cynical, self-righteous, paltering, hypocritical games. At the end of my book I borrowed a line from Leo Strauss, who said of a style of intellectualizing (by certain political philosophers, in his context) that “fiddles while Rome burns” that “it is excused by two facts: it does not know that it fiddles; and it does not know that Rome burns.” You have to ask yourself whether either “excuse,” even if true, could mean anything except a confession of utter uselessness on the part of the rabbinate that needs it and the religious culture it claims to represent.

  4. I think a fund for abuse victims is missing the point of abuse. It is like saying “The bad news is you will be terribly, terribly hurt. The good news is we will help you become only terribly hurt.” Being reactive doesn’t hold a candle to being proactive.
    Aside from the fact that they set the Rebbe up – telling him that he should speak about molestation – and when he didn’t used it anyways – (photo op, anyone?) the mere fact that they are doing nothing to prevent abuse – bec. they are still protecting molesters is shameful, disgraceful and painful.
    Of course we should spread awareness to our children, and we do. But when a child is now aware that they were molested – then what? Isn’t that even more hurtful – the kid does what he is supposed to do, only to have them throw it back in his face?
    And on a separate note – do they also decide how long the process of therapy ‘should take’, and thereby fund what ‘they think is necessary’? Are there certified trauma therapists making those decisions, or just ‘askanim’? It is victimizing all over again, having a ‘trusted adult’ making decisions for this child and now ‘deciding’ how to heal.
    I would think this fund nears the description frivolous waste of money under the guise of ‘Tzedakah’.
    DISCLAIMER – I do not know anything about this fund, and I am judging it unfavorably. I admit that. I would love to be proven wrong but thus far not one part of the process made sense, or was fair, and I can’t see any part that will.

  5. One more thing, until that day comes that Rabbonim, askonim, and the Frum community will stop protecting molesters we need to blog, blog and blog.
    There was a time when African Americans had to sit in the back of the bus, a time when handicapped people were considered partial humans, a time when woman couldn’t vote, but there were people that provided a voice for these causes. Change can happen – not sure if in our lifetime – but let’s give a voice to the victims, LET’S LET THEM BE HEARD.
    I was only able to listen to the Rebbe’s speech once – it hurt too much – but I can sometimes procure a smile when I think that he accomplished a tad more towards our goal – against his wishes.
    Raise your voice!!! Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof!

    • If any victims were abused by Becker or anyone knows anything please post it that is how pagrow got taken care of. לא תעמד על גם רעיך.

  6. Reblogged this on LOSTMESSIAH and commented:

    Quoting from the blog post: “Millions of dollars are being spent, but they cover only a fraction of the need for the twenty percent of the population affected by child abuse. Shamefully, I would estimate the community spends more each year on criminal defense lawyers for offenders and for their bail. To my knowledge, no Haredi sex offender was ever short of bail money or properly funded criminal defense attorneys, even when everyone involved was convinced of his guilt. And as Satmar showed in the Weberman case, there was plenty of money for Abraham Rubin to offer bribes to witnesses.”

  7. As a recipient of ASAP funding I want to make a couple of points. Firstly, if they are paying for therapy (an astronomical sum) they have a right to make sure its being used in a way they think is appropriate, just like anyone donating money wants to know that they’re donation is being used in a way that they agree with. Also I was seeing a therapist for a few years without much success and I welcomed an objective opinion on what could be changed, whether it was the therapist or the mode of therapy. I don’t see why their giving an opinion should be the cause of contention.

    • I consider ASAP’s attempt to evaluate a very good thing.

      It should also be noted that ASAP is confined to adult survivors. Funding therapy for child survivors is an adhoc affair. In spite of ASAP’s initial plans to limit their services to young adults they subsequently expanded out to older survivors. According to what they told me a while ago, they do not seem to have an upper age limit.

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