By Jonah Lowenfeld (The Jewish Journal)
January 31, 2013
Rabbi Manis Friedman, a prominent rabbi from the Hasidic Chabad Lubavitch movement who appeared in a video recently posted on YouTube minimizing the harm caused by sexual molestation, has apologized for what he called his “completely inappropriate use of language.”
“I have always believed in the importance of empowering victims of all kinds to move forward in building their lives,” Friedman wrote in an email to The Journal. “In my zeal to reinforce that belief, I came across as being dismissive of one of the worst crimes imaginable.
The controversial video was first posted on YouTube on Jan. 29 and had been viewed over 4,500 times as of Jan. 31. In it, Friedman, the founder of an educational institute for Jewish women in Minnesota, appeared dismissive of victims of sexual abuse, at one point suggesting that the long-term effects of molestation were no worse than those of diarrhea.
“You’re not that damaged, cut it out,” Friedman said in the video, speaking of victims of sexual molestation.
“Zay a mensch,” the rabbi added, a Yiddish phrase that roughly translates to, “Act like a human being.”
At a time when some leaders in Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities are beginning to speak out against sexual abuse and the covering up of molestation by rabbis and authority figures, Friedman’s videotaped remarks drew fierce criticism from around the world.
“Rabbi Friedman's remarks in this instance betray a long-standing, serious problem within Orthodox communities, a minimization sexual abuse and insensitive, dismissive treatment of survivors,” wrote Chaim Levin, a gay Jewish activist, in the Huffington Post.
Friedman founded Bais Chana, a Lubavitch educational institute for Jewish women in Twin Cities, Minn., in 1971. According to its Web site, Friedman still serves as the lead teacher at Bais Chana, which offers programs for women of all ages, including a summertime program for girls aged 15-18.
At one point during the eight-minute video, a man off-screen asks Freidman about a situation faced by one of his own students. The student was dumped by a girl he was seeing after revealing that he had suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a family member for two years.
In his response, Friedman draws a parallel between having been molested and having diarrhea, suggesting that victims of sexual abuse would be better off if they kept quiet.
“What’s wrong with him is that he mentioned it,” Freidman said.
“Do you have to tell her that you once had diarrhea?” he added. “It’s embarrassing, but it’s nobody’s business.”
Manny Waks, an Australian Jewish survivor of abuse who founded a group for other Jewish survivors of abuse, also took offense at Friedman’s remarks, and has reportedly filed suits in rabbinic courts in New York and Sydney rabbinic court, aimed at removing Friedman from his leadership positions.
“He needs to be stripped of any leadership position he holds,” Waks told SBS, “he ultimately needs to apologi[z]e and retract those statements... and undertake some sort of educational session so he is aware of the impact of child sexual abuse.”
In the apology emailed to the Journal late on Jan. 31, Friedman said he was “deeply sorry,” and called molestation “a devastating crime.”
“Perpetrators of molestation should be reported to the police and prosecuted appropriately,” Friedman wrote. “Any person, organization or entity that stands by silently is abetting in the crime.”
Waks welcomed Friedman's apology, calling it a "positive first step" in an email.
"I hope Rabbi Friedman contacts me so we can have a discussion about the impact of abuse, and for him to hear first-hand of the damage that he has caused," Waks wrote on Jan. 31.
Waks said that in light of Friedman's apology, his organization would "reconsider [its] position" before pursuing legal action in rabbinic court.
The full text of Friedman’s apology is below:
I want to apologize for my completely inappropriate use of language when discussing sexual abuse. I have always believed in the importance of empowering victims of all kinds to move forward in building their lives. In my zeal to reinforce that belief, I came across as being dismissive of one of the worst crimes imaginable.
For that I am deeply sorry.
Molestation is a devastating crime, violating the intimacy and innocence of the pure and defenseless. The victim is left feeling that there is something wrong with the world in which they live. Perpetrators of molestation should be reported to the police and prosecuted appropriately. Any person, organization or entity that stands by silently is abetting in the crime.
From now on, I will make sure to make those points absolutely clear. This is about more than regret. The subject can't be neglected.
I hope over time to earn the forgiveness of those who were hurt by my words.