Rabbi Kamenetsky's Unfortunate Comments

By Phil Jacobs (Washington Jewish Week)
July 21, 2011

Several years ago, over 500 people jammed into an Orthodox synagogue to hear the wisdom of "experts" on the topics of sexual abuse, spousal abuse and trauma.

The dynamic in the sanctuary created an energy of tension that could be cut with a knife. Many of us in the room looked around to see who else was there. Many familiar faces, neighbors, people from all over the Orthodox community, that's who.

We were told to write down any questions we might have for the Q&A session that would follow. First, however, came a time consuming speech from the rabbinic head of the va'ad. It was 15 minutes of wasted time.

Then came a very meaningful speech from Dr. David Pelcovitz, a specialist in the area of trauma therapy.

In that speech, he stated one fact that still pulsates in my mind every time I hear someone doubt the word of a victim. He told the packed shul that victims don't make their abuse up. He said that 99 percent of the time they (even young children) are telling the truth (that was his number).

Then came the kick in the head: David Mandel, the CEO of Ohel, a social services organization that is supposed to help these victims, got behind the microphone and told us all that if we knew of an abuse, the first action we should take was to tell our rabbi.

Upon hearing that, my head snapped to left, where I knew three of my social worker friends who specialized in this area were seated. All three held their mouths agape. One even started to cry. I was just plain enraged.

And, like lemmings, the people in the audience -- many of them victims who had come to the talk with a hurt and knowledge that they never thought would impact their families -- were stuck in the quick-drying cement of rabbinic folly. These are people who go to their rabbi for every important decision in their lives -- and the rabbis are very aware of that. So now, in addition to the knowledge they carried with them, they were being denied the freedom to get help from the local police, Jewish social service agencies or other qualified therapists.

Like the Catholic priests, there are times when Jewish pedophiles are simply moved out of the community or given menial jobs so they can be "watched" by the community. Seldom are charges brought. You think that is by accident?

I can remember the silence among the therapeutic professionals as they left the synagogue. Their faces, normally reassuring, were ready to explode in disappointment.

Today, I felt that frustration return.

I don't know any longer why I expect anything different, something better, something with total thought behind it.

It was reported by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, who is a leader to many Orthodox people, said that child abuse should be reported to the rabbis before the police.
Kamenetsky is the vice president of Agudath Israel of American's Supreme Council of Rabbinic Sages. His premise is that you should first report the abuse to your rabbi, and he'll then decide if you should call 911.

JTA reported that Kamenetsky made this speech last week, while the search was on for Leiby Kletzky, an 8-year-old boy whose body was dismembered and found the next day in a dumpster and in the apartment of suspect Levi Aron. Kamenetsky, in his unfortunate speech, was simply repeating Agudath Israel's official policy banning Jews from reporting child sexual abuse to the police.

Meanwhile, in the time before 911 was called and an amber alert-like search by police officials could have been made, a young life was lost. Additionally, The New York Jewish Week reported that it was possible Aron may have been known to some in the hareidi Orthodox community, but nobody reported him to the police.

Many know the story of Rabbi Jacob Max, a popular figure in Baltimore who, in plain view, flirted with uncountable numbers of young Jewish women. Yet, nobody ever held him accountable during his career. Many, including his rabbinic peers, thought it was cute, that it was just "Max being Max." One woman, who was allegedly molested by Max when she was just 15 years old, now lives in New England. She converted to Christianity because of the experience.

It wasn't until Max put his hand on the wrong woman that all of this came to an end, and, to his shame, landed him in a courtroom. The victim was not a member of the Jewish community. She had no family to worry about, no ties that would be damaged by his actions.

It goes on and on. And the pious are drowning in the waters of their own hypocrisy.

By the way, the next time you have a question about what's bothering Rashi, go ahead and call a cop.
He'll know the answer. Just like Rabbi Kamenetsky.