Is a Smokescreen Hiding the Issue of Abuse?

By Sergey Kadinsky (The Jewish Star)
November 23, 2011

Hewlett-based psychologist Dr. Michael Salomon is an expert in treating victims of sexual abuse. He literally wrote the book — Abuse in the Jewish Community — and he's worried that too many incidents are being swept under the rug.

"If you speak to people who work in the field, there's a smokescreen," he said.

But Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter, the editor of the haredi-oriented Ami Magazine, couldn't disagree more.

He's concerned that recent sensational stories about child abuse in the Orthodox community are unfair attacks by "self-hating Jews."

The two were among lively debaters on the Zev Brenner show that aired on Saturday night, Nov. 19.

The professionals are being "stonewalled because of the issue of going to the police." Dr. Salomon said.

His view that there is not enough reporting being done in the community was disputed by Rabbi Frankfurter and by Pinny Taub, who was abused at age 15 at his Borough Park yeshiva.

"Abuse is not an Orthodox problem, but a global human problem," Rabbi Frankfurter said. "Penn State, which had a serious problem, is neither religious nor Orthodox. This issue has been used against us by self-hating Jews."

Listening to the heated exchange, abuse survivor Ben Hirsch, who runs Survivors for Justice, agreed that the bloggers who brought the abuse stories to attention are often combative, but this should not distract from the story at hand.

"It was the admittedly sometimes obnoxious and offensive publicity by bloggers that forced this issue into the limelight," Hirsch said. "They reported on this problem well before the print media would and served an important function."

Rabbi Frankfurter stood his ground, arguing that anti-religious agitators have accused the entire haredi sector of sheltering abusers.

"No one would dare indict the Catholic community for the sins of its church hierarchy or individual priests," he said, "but tarring the entire Orthodox Jewish world seems not to violate the standards of political correctness."

Rabbi Frankfurter called Pinny Taub his hero for sticking by the haredi community. "You can become prejudicial against your own kind if you are molested. There are those who are using the abuse issue to bring down the community, but my policy is that my enemy's enemy is not my friend."

Rabbi Frankfurter conceded that he had not read Salomon's book, which devotes a chapter to the apparent failings of Daat Torah, the concept of seeking advice from rabbinic leaders on non-religious questions.

"When taken to an extreme, it perpetuates an adoration of individuals that places them above secular law," Salomon writes.

In addition to criticizing Daat Torah, Salomon points to mesira — the traditional prohibition against reporting a fellow Jew to secular authorities — as an excuse for abuse cover-ups.

He points to the March 2009 case of Rabbi Israel Weingarten, who was convicted of abusing his wife and daughter. When the wife testified against Rabbi Weingarten in court, the defendant and his supporters accused her of a mesira violation.

Rabbi Yosef Blau, who heads the rabbinic seminary at Yeshiva University, backs up Salomon's criticism of the misuse of Daat Torah and mesira.

"Despite the fact that it is unpleasant to hand matters over to secular authorities, I have realized that our community is simply not equipped well enough to deal with issues of abuse," Rabbi Blau said in a 2009 interview with the student publication Yeshiva University Observer. "We cannot investigate properly, and we cannot take measures strong enough to protect children from potential abuse."

As an alternative to outside reporting, Rabbi Frankfurter made an on-air promise to meet with advocates and survivors of abuse, but he added that those with "an agenda" would not be considered.

Echoing Salamon's invitation, Hirsch also expressed willingness to discuss abuse with Rabbi Frankfurter, but without preconditions. "In order to address this issue with journalistic integrity [Ami Magazine] must be willing to reach out to all who were sexually abused within our community," Hirsch said. "Whether or not they're currently observant is not the issue, that they were abused is."