Originally posted on November 14, 2013
Christopher Ketcham wrote an article for VICE about sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community. The article sheds light on a problem that, much like the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse problems, has remained hidden as a result of protecting the offenders and punishing the victims:
In New York, and in the prominent Orthodox communities of Israel and London, allegations of child molestation and rape have been rampant. The alleged abusers are schoolteachers, rabbis, fathers, uncles—figures of male authority. The victims, like those of Catholic priests, are mostly boys. Rabbi Rosenberg believes around half of young males in Brooklyn’s Hasidic community—the largest in the United States and one of the largest in the world—have been victims of sexual assault perpetrated by their elders. Ben Hirsch, director of Survivors for Justice, a Brooklyn organization that advocates for Orthodox sex abuse victims, thinks the real number is higher. “From anecdotal evidence, we’re looking at over 50 percent. It has almost become a rite of passage.”
People who complain about the abuse are kicked out of the community. For example, Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg began blogging about the abuse in the community. He also set up a hotline for people to call. He made media tours and publicly denounced the abuse. The result: he is excluded from all activities in his community and receives death threats.
Much like the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Jewish community seems more concerned with protecting its image and power than addressing child rape:
“This isn’t a problem about a few aberrant cases or an old-fashioned community reluctant to talk to police about sexual matters,” said Michael Lesher, a practicing Jew who has investigated Orthodox sex abuse and represented abuse victims. “This is about a political economy that links Orthodox Judaism with other fundamentalist creeds and with aspects of right-wing ideologies generally. It’s an economy in which genuine religious values will never really rise to the top, so long as they’re tied to the poisonous priorities that elevate status and power over the basic human needs of the most vulnerable among us.”
Another issue that is similar to the problems within the LDS community is a lack of outside influences. According to the article, most men in the community receive little more than a third-grade education. They must take everything they want to do to their rabbi first to get his approval. This level of control keeps the men ignorant of what is actually going on and makes it much easier to control them should any of them complain.
The article makes a point about the people in power being male, but this situation has far less to do with the sex of powerful than the nature of the power itself. This is what happens when any group receives total control over other people. The potential for abuse is always there, and it is only a matter of time before some people exploit it.
I doubt that Rosenberg’s claim that half the men in the Orthodox community were molested. However, I do not doubt that a significant number of them were and that as a result of their indoctrination few of them will ever complain. What makes it particularly troubling is that few of them may have the strength of will to refuse to allow their brothers, sons, or nephews around the men who abused them.
That is the scary part about this level of abuse. It controls a person to the core.