When Kiruv Gets Too Close and Turns into Abuse

Some of the worst sex abuse scandals in the orthodox Jewish world involved rabbis in kiruv (outreach), gittin (religious divorce) and geirus (conversion). Think of Leib Tropper, Baruch Lanner, Barry Freundel, Nechemya Weberman, Ephraim Bryks, Mordechai Tendler, Shlomo Carlebach, Emanuel Yegutkin, and Moshe Eisemann. A number of others involved educational work with at-risk or special-ed kids. There are two common denominators that make this more likely.

The community is less likely to believe victims over the rabbi because of the lower status and respect accorded these groups. This makes it easier for the rabbi to parry the allegation by lying and defaming the complainant. Over and over we have heard stories of victims being taunted with “Who is going to believe you?” Additionally, these victims are very dependent on the very rabbi who abused them. That rabbi may be their only source of information about Judaism. Additionally, that rabbi often controls things they need. Tropper was caught on tape saying ‘you need a conversion and I am the one who can give it to you.’ In other cases, the rabbi is their gateway to admission into schools or financial support.

These patterns also appear with rabbis serving the populations of the former Soviet Union and former E. European communist countries. Eisemann and Bryks, among others, gravitated to work with this population after they lost more mainline positions. Similar issues are true for some of the rabbis who have gone to those countries to occupy various rabbinical positions. Most of those who succeed are good at raising funds in the US, Israel, and other countries to fund their work. This puts them in a position to have carrots to dangle along with their other sources of power over potential victims. These rabbis can also facilitate visas to the US or admission to Israel under the Law of Return by furnishing certificates of Jewishness.

The Torah continually reminds us of the particular obligations to the widow and orphan precisely because they were vulnerable to exploitation. In our days, those similarly vulnerable are kiruv, geirus and gittin candidates. If anything, those who work with these populations need to be of even higher ethical caliber to self control any potential abuses of power. Unfortunately, those primed to exploit the weak often gravitate to these roles. Until the system better vets and monitors such people, the best we can do is to expose the abusers and make them pay the consequences. Each of us also has to get better at listening to their complaints about abuse, or even their hesitant, subtle suggestions. If you hear anything, as it says in the Hagaddah, you have to help them open up. You should give their allegations the same hearing you would give to a high status community insider. Encourage them to contact the police or an anti-abuse advocate who can help them confront the problem. I will always respond to such private messages.

13 thoughts on “When Kiruv Gets Too Close and Turns into Abuse

  1. My story…Ohel Children’s home put my in Chaim Berlin…In Rabbi Brog’s class….Rabbi Brog set me up with Rabbi J Max to learn with…( I used to hang out in the dorm a lot to avoid going back to the group home…Rabbi Seigel didn’t like it. So , it was agreed that if I learn with Rabbi Max YEMACH SHMO, then the yeshiva will let me hang out in the dorm…My parents wete fighting to get back custody of me which scared me a lot…I cryed to Rabbi Max about it…Next thing I know , he is giving me a blowjob ….LONG STORY ..KEEP MINOR CHILDREN AWAY FROM RABBI JONATHAN MAX OF BROOKLY ,NY…
    ימח שמו וזכרו של רבּיַי מקס , ממש לעולם ועד..For more information , CALL ME (412)390-8369 Matthew ( Menachem) Karelefsky

    • Matthew,

      Now I understand why you HATE rabbi Max!!

      I am SO SORRY that this happened to you!! I had no idea!!

      Did Larry do the same thing to you?

      I have ALWAYS LOVED AND CARED ABOUT YOU!! I just want you to know that!!

      Did it ever occur to you that I have been through A LOT OF STUFF, too?

      If you ever need to talk, I’m here to listen!!

      ❤ Celia

      • Celia, get out of my life. Do NOT try to contact me again. I have not loved you in years and won’t start now or ever.

        • Have a great night! Sweet dreams!! I wouldn’t want anything to HAUNT YOU, because your such a GREAT PERSON WITH A GREAT CHARACTER!! Your ADORABLE!!

          NO NEED TO RESPOND!!

  2. I know Rabbi Bleich very well. He is the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine and an amazing person. In the last few years stolin Community and Rabbi bleich got in to a little conflict so now the stolin Community is trying to spread rumers about Rabbi Bleich… He is an amazing and respected man around the world that has helped thousands of jews get closer to God!!! DON’T LISTEN TO EVERY STORY YOU HEAR!!

    • For the umpteenth time, I repeat, the hell with Stolin. They knew of Bleich’s misconduct for decades.What I care about are survivors of Bleich with no connection to Stolin, whatsoever who have accounts of his misconduct.

      • Don’t say somthing that u can’t back it up and don’t know what u going in to by saying all this all this none sence pepole are just jealous from him and trying to take him down for his goodness and all the help he was here to help anybody and still here helping a lot of them so as long as u can’t show proof don’t talk Becuse soon Somone will make up somthing on u and then it will be to late !

    • Eli, I think I know you….Your father is Reb Dov , my 11th grade Rebbi…. “DON’T LISTEN TO EVERY STORY YOU HEAR!!” –The halachos of Loshan Harah say that it is important to be SUSPECT (not believe it 100 percent)..I have met Rabbi Bleich. He seemed very nice to me….But, I also know that Rabbi Max seems very nice to people…. The “bad guys” use their big beards and big hats to cover up their BIG SINS done in private…דער גלאָק קלינגט ווײַל ער איז פּוסט … Some people truly are “Wolves in Sheep’s clothing” ….Sadly, often (and even more so in the frum world bec people are דן each other לכף זכות ) foster parents and rabbis/ therapists are the biggest criminals

  3. I knew Rabbi Bleich since early 90s while being a teenager in Kyiv. I went to a summer camp, then to a school next to his shul, and even studied in his yeshiva. I have never ever ever seen anything that might even remotely suggest anything about Rabbi Bleich. He is very selfless, wonderful, and really cares about the Jewish people around him. If there is a living tzadik in Ukraine, it is him. Anyone who says anything about him is doing an assassination job for political purposes!

    • It is possible that you are telling the truth and you never witnessed misconduct by Bleich. But such misconduct is usually in private for most offenders. It is not possible for you to know that the negative things said about him are politically motivated. You don’t know me or my sources. I would add that blaming political motives is a typical pattern for abusers.

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