By Ari Weisbrot
December 13, 2012
My childhood Rabbi stands accused of sexual abuse. As fun as that may sound, in the two hours since the news broke, it has spread like wildfire over the internet. Phone lines are blowing up. I heard about it while in court, so it took a few hours for me to actually read the story. And, here it is: over a 40 year career in education, and 20 years as a pulpit Rabbi, one former student accuses the Rabbi of checking out his “physical development” during a one-time dorm-room visit over 30 years ago, and then sodomizing him with a toothbrush. If guilty of the accusations, he should be jailed for the rest of his life, where he can look forward to many years of ironic retribution. I am not soft on this issue. I was outspoken ten years ago against a second Rabbi who physically and sexually abused scores of children over his career. There was no doubt of his guilt. I witnessed it first-hand, and many of my friends were victims. He spent 7 years in jail for his crimes but my calls for a more appropriate punishment were ignored. After all, he is still very much alive and enjoying retirement in Florida.
But, there is one thing I have learned in my years as a prosecutor, lawyer, and advocate. Sexual predators do not commit just one single crime in 40 years. Nor, do they typically victimize a vulnerable child on only one occasion. I do not know if the exposure of this story will call forth more victims, more evidence, and more proof. Frankly, I do not know if the Rabbi is innocent or guilty. He never abused me or, to my knowledge, any of the many children in our community. But, predators never seemed particularly attracted to me. I’m sure it was nothing personal.
But, anyone who sexually or emotionally abuses a child should be locked away in a tiny cell, with only bread, water, a long rope, and some sort of ceiling pipe. I hope I am making my feelings clear because of what I am compelled to say next. Here is what no one will ever dare say publicly. Not everyone who cries abuse was, in fact, abused. Not everyone accused of heinous crimes is guilty. Anyone who responds to this truism with outrage is fooling themselves. Gasp. Children (or otherwise screwed up grownups) might actually lie or exaggerate a claim of childhood abuse? Of course. And, here is a theory why: it is much easier to blame a lifetime of failure on some ambiguous childhood “trauma” than to face the reality of one’s own limitations.
None of this suggests that every allegation of abuse should not be taken seriously and investigated without reservation or unturned stone. Nor, do I suggest that a single allegation of abuse should be discredited for lack of evidence. And, any tie goes to the accuser, at least when it comes to allegations of child abuse. Better to part ways with an unproven, unsubstantiated abuser than to risk future harm to others.
But, really? One victim, one incident, over 40 years of daily interactions with thousands of students? I want to know more. Everyone should want to know more. Before we stone him. And, dare I say, before we convict him on Facebook.
There is a current faculty member of a local Yeshiva high school who should be in jail. He is not permitted near my children because I know what he has done, and I know what he is capable of. I cannot say, for certain, that he has committed any crime and, therefore, turning him in or outing his misconduct is not viable or appropriate. People with more credibility than me have tried, unsuccessfully, to do something about it. But, I often wonder how similar attitudes have led to graver consequences. And, it raises the following conundrum: By the time we have sufficient evidence to convict, the damage to our children has been done. If we act prematurely, we will face certain censure for slanderous persecution. There needs to be a balance and a process to protect children, detect evil-doers, but respect and defend the rights (and reputation) of the accused, until we are certain of the steadiness of our hands.
For now, I pray that the accusations are false – - although that will not fix the damage already inflicted. On the other hand, if the allegations are true, there is simply no damage sufficiently inflicted.