Right of Response - Defending David Morris
Jonathan Rosenblum's response ("Those primitive haredim- yet again," June 12) to the article about abuse cases in Ramat Beit Shemesh ("Haredi parents take on sexual abuse of children, June 3") contains several misleading statements.
Rosenblum mentions the work of Lema'an Achai only in connection with the Gush Katif refugees and those from the North. This gives the impression it is a narrowly National Religious organization. That is not true. Lema'an Achai is a tzedaka and hesed organization that serves the entire Ramat Beit Shemesh community (not only the refugees from Gush Katif and the North). Most of the families helped by Lema'an Achai are haredi (despite the fact that several leading haredi rabbis do not encourage supporting Lema'an Achai.) So its head, David Morris, certainly has no anti-haredi agenda. Most of the community - haredi and nonharedi - supports Morris's efforts.
Rosenblum refers to the case against the heder rebbe being closed (the police decided not to pursue further investigation), and that this was not the outcome Morris wanted. Rosenblum misses the point entirely. The case was closed due to lack of sufficient evidence to indict and prosecute, which often happens in cases in which the primary claimants are minors - as Rosenblum, a lawyer, should know. The facts in that particular case are very disturbing (there is more than one complaint against that particular rebbe), and yet he is presently teaching young children in the same position he held previously - with the agreement of some (not all) of the haredi rabbis in the neighborhood.
This is exactly the problem on which the original Jerusalem Post news story focused, and this is exactly the indifference that many haredi and non-haredi residents alike are concerned about.
Rosenblum highlights the fact that Morris is not professionally trained. Morris is not a professional, nor does he claim to be. However, his organization has many professionals on staff, and he consults them on all these issues. Rosenblum knows this, and it's very unclear why he chose to give a different impression.
ROSENBLUM IS CORRECT that the Ramat Beit Shemesh neighborhood is generally well educated, etc. However, many residents feel that the rabbis are "behind" the community on this issue. That was exactly the point of the original article. Rosenblum himself points out that the haredi community in general has begun to approach this issue more aggressively. That is particularly true in the US and to a lesser degree in Jerusalem. The Ramat Beit Shemesh haredi community lags behind in this area - though since the original article was published, public awareness has been raised.
Rosenblum writes: "These are not people with no knowledge of the outside world, who have never heard of sexual perversions, or whose every behavior is shaped by generations-old social mores. Few of them would silently endure the sexual abuse of their children, or tolerate rabbis they viewed as passive in the face of such abuse." Exactly! That is what is happening. The community members, both haredi and non-haredi, are not standing by and remaining silent. That is why there has been so much pressure put on rabbis in recent weeks, which was one point of the original article.
ROSENBLUM PITS Morris against the rabbis. Yet Morris consults with rabbinic leadership consistently, and several rabbis in the neighborhood fully support his efforts to raise awareness on this issue. Rosenblum could have easily checked this out. Why didn't he ask Morris for comment? Had he spoken to him, he would have realized that there is no antiharedi agenda coming from Morris. The agenda is to raise awareness and spark more action, and that is exactly what is happening. Rosenblum puts words in the mouth of Morris to paint him in a negative light. For example, Morris never used the word haredi or epidemic. Morris is out to raise awareness, do hesedand help protect our children. He has done, and in this case is doing, a great job. Most Ramat Beit Shemesh people think it's crazy that Rosenblum turned him into the "antiharedi" bad guy.
Lema'an Achai is not the antiharedi bad guy either. As mentioned above, most of the families Lema'an Achai has been helping (some for years) have been haredi. Furthermore, some (maybe many, I don't know the exact number) of its leading administrators, social workers, therapists and counselors are haredi themselves.
Unfortunately, this and the other examples show that Rosenblum was writing a knee-jerk bashing of a nonharedi person and organization who had the strength to point out a weakness in the Beit Shemesh community. Rosenblum owes Morris and Lema'an Achai a major apology.
ROSENBLUM WRITES, "In addition, publicity can lead to hysteria in which parents become convinced that their children are at great risk in school. (In fact, more abuse takes place within families or involves older children as perpetrators.)" This line completely baffles me. Is Rosenblum saying that since most abuse takes place at home, we should be less careful and less concerned about abuse in school? Is that how he would (not) react if he heard about abuse in his own child's school? When parents hear about abuse in their children's school, a certain amount of extra concern - yes, even a little hysteria - is warranted. And that is exactly what happened in this case. Since its publication, there has been a lot of discussion about the other case referred to in the article. Some parents, after consulting professionals, took their kids out of the nursery school; others, also after consulting professionals, left their kids there but became more aware and stayed in closer contact with the school. Many (I assume and hope all) have consulted professionals and their rabbis. That is what is supposed to happen in cases like this. The article, along with the accompanying publicity, have been a catalyst for better protection of our children. In both cases, the original article has had exactly the right effect in providing additional protection for our children.
IN GENERAL, Rosenblum misrepresents the Ramat Beit Shemesh scene. Many (I think most) English-speaking haredim support Morris's efforts. They feel that the rabbinic leadership has been slow to respond in cases like this. Since the article was published, awareness has been raised. The upcoming meetings on educating the public (which Rosenblum refers to) and the new focus on this issue are happening primarily due to the article and the efforts of Morris and Lema'an Achai. A local rabbi sent out a letter publicly supporting education in the area of abuse. Has that ever happened before? I think the answer is no.
Rosenblum quotes one leading local rabbi by name: So this leading rabbi is on record publicly supporting these lectures. That also hasn't happened before.
Rosenblum's own column closes with a call for more education and public lectures in the areas of parent/child communication and abuse. Awareness has been raised and people are asking good questions and encouraging more action. Even Rosenblum's way-off-the-mark piece is part of the solution. Thank you David Morris for being the catalyst.