Wishing Away Child Abuse: Jonathan Rosenblum Responds

(Note from David Morris of Tzedek-Tzedek: I published an article written by Michael Lesher ("Wishing Away Child Abuse in RBS") which took Jonathan Rosenblum to task for an article Rosenblum wrote in the Jerusalem Post. Rosenblum contacted me today, and asked me to publish his response. I do absolutely respect Rosenblum's right of response - even though I disagree with some of Rosenblum's opinions here.) 

By Guest Writer, Jonathan Rosenblum - Journalist & Author

I have no reason to doubt that Michael Lesher has done valuable work in the area of child abuse and will continue to do so in the future. His attempt to refute by ridicule my piece in the Jerusalem Post of three months ago, however, neither contributes to an informed discussion of the scourge of child abuse nor to civility in general.

Lesher accuses me of attempting to “wish away” child sex abuse allegations in Ramat Beit Shemesh. But I neither denied those allegations nor the existence of child abuse in the Orthodox/chareidi world in Ramat Beit Shemesh or anywhere else. I know very well from my wife’s experience as a psychotherapist within the chareidi community how serious the problem is, though, interestingly the perpetrators are much more likely to be family members, neighbors, and older children than teachers or rebbes. 

Far from denying the problem, my piece began with a discussion of its seriousness and the long-term, often irreversible, scars left by abuse. And I specifically said that the chareidi world is just beginning to awaken to the gravity of the issue.

What I did critique in the Jerusalem Post news story to which I was responding was the implication that the leading chareidi rabbis of Ramat Beit Shemesh are either indifferent to the issue of child abuse or that they routinely believe the alleged perpetrator over the child accuser. (Not everyone who calls himself rabbi is a rabbinical leader or even a moreh hora'a.)

But I did not say or suggest that the author of the Jerusalem Post article or those quoted in the piece were motivated by anti-chareidi bias. Rather, I pointed out that no chareidi rabbis were quoted or had even been contacted by the author, and that the picture that emerged from the article conformed a bit too neatly to stereotypes of the backwardness of chareidim.

Mr. Lesher takes me to task for not dealing with the two serious allegations in the Jerusalem Post piece. There is a rather simple and, I would have thought, obvious answer. The two allegations are both made anonymously. I have no way of even knowing which rabbis were supposed to be involved or who made the charges, much less whether they are accurate. Like Mr. Lesher, my background is as a litigator. One of the first lessons I learned practicing law is that there are usually at least two points of view to every story -- not one honest person and one liar, but two different views of the same encounter or transaction. That lesson has served me well in life as well. For good reason does the Torah prohibit judges from hearing the testimony of one side alone, without the other party being able to respond. That is no less true of anonymous accusations made against unknown rabbis in newspapers.

Next Lesher mocks the qualifications of the chareidi rabbis to deal with allegations of child abuse at all. One is quoted as having prescribed “vigilance,” as if that were all he had to say on the issue. What he actually said – and I quoted in my column – was that extra vigilance is needed in Ramat Beit Shemesh because it is a new community, where people do not really know one another or their backgrounds. Something quite different.

Because I do not list the names of the experts with whom the rabbis I spoke to consult, Lesher implies that they do not exist. But I specifically wrote that Rabbi Kornfeld had given me a list of those experts with whom he consults and that we had discussed the different ways he had handled a number of cases. I did not think the names of those experts were of interest to the readers of the Jerusalem Post. (I also mentioned Rabbi Chaim Malinowitz’s invitation to Dr. Susan Shulman, a Boro Park pediatrician with expertise in child abuse, to address his congregation on preventing and recognizing child abuse.)

Rabbi Kornfeld told me that when parents come to him his first step is to suggest a therapist to evaluate their child – both with respect to the allegations and to the proper course of therapy. (I presume that Mr. Lesher has read Dorothy Rabinowitz’s work on the lives destroyed by the past-memory-recovered movement, and knows that not every child has correctly interpreted his or her experience or reported it accurately.)

According to Lesher, the only relevant issue is whether the rabbis tell parents to go immediately to the police. Why is that so? In at least one of the cases discussed in the Jerusalem Post article, we are told that the police did not prosecute. And, according to David Morris, who is one of the main sources for the article, only one of ten complaints brought to the police results in prosecution. When the police receive a complaint about a teacher, for instance, they do not even routinely inform the school that there might be cause for concern. So why are the police the only or even the best remedy?

Lesher labels my explanation of why turning the police into the sole remedy might deter children or parents from coming forward with complaints “one of the strangest I have ever seen in print.” Actually, I don’t think it’s that complicated. But I’ll try to make it simple for him. Where cases go to the police, and especially if they go to trial, there is a great likelihood that the name of the victim will become public. Parents will worry – and not without reason – that the knowledge that a child was a rape victim or the victim of abuse will scare other families away in the shidduchim process. Not because the victim is guilty of anything, but because of the deep scars left by abuse.  

That said, I believe in cases of serious abuse parents should be encouraged to go to the police to prevent the perpetrator from harming new victims and to validate the seriousness of the wrong done to the child. When someone put his hand on the leg of one of my sons on a bus, his older brothers went back to the same bus stop the next week, photographed the perpetrator, and when he broke their camera, held him captive until the police arrived. He spent seven months in jail. 

Finally, Lesher accuses me of “selective invective” and of “being uninhibitedly nasty.” To which I would say, “Kol hamumo b’mumo posel.” I am said to have accused David Morris of making a “wild claim’’ and demanding that “a teacher should be automatically fired the first time any student complains of untoward behavior.” I never attributed such a demand to Morris, with whom I have not discussed the issue.

 The “wild claim,” which appeared seven paragraphs earlier in my piece, was Morris’s statement that only one out of ten abused children ever tell their parents, and only one out of ten parents ever go to the police, and of those who go to the police, only one out of ten is ever prosecuted. In other words, for every case brought to the police, there are a hundred others never reported, and for every case prosecuted, another thousand actual cases of abuse. Yes, I do think that’s a wild claim, at least absent some compelling evidence in support. And it is one that is likely to fan hysteria.

Finally, Lesher characterizes me – whom he has never met -- as believing that the most important principle of all is that one may never criticize any rabbi, even if it means denying reality, blaming the victim, and covering up for the guilty – in short, fiddling while Rome burns. I guess he was being nice.

Anyone interested in reading what I actually wrote can find it at www.jewishmediaresources.com under  weekly columns/"Those Primitive Haredim Again," Jerusalem Post, June 12 2009.

(Note from David Morris: the article Rosenblum links to here is based upon that published in the Jerusalem Post, but it is significantly different from the original published article)


  1. Mr.Rosenblum,

    If you are reading these comments - we are parents of one of the several children victimized by a cheder rebbe last year. We went to Rav Malinowitz and followed his instructions. Rav Kornfeld strongly urged us to use one of his "charedi"(only) therapists. It was their mishandling of the case, I understand, that caused the prosecutor to eventually drop the cases. It is akin to evidence tampering. So now although there were multiple complaints against this man the expert involvement of these rabbonim allowed him to get off, remain in a classroom while the victims languish.
    So yes, Jonathan, while you might defend these rabbonim as young and energetic" my family and those of the other children have a much different opinion.
    And the worst part..we have spoken with some of the other families.
    Not once has either of these rabbonim, who were so concerned about the welfare of our children, called to ask how they are doing.

  2. Jonathan, in your original article you claimed that the rabbis automatically notify social workers who are required by law to notify the police. Rav Malinowitz has specifically said that he is opposed to that and you withdrew that statement, without comment, from the articles' appearance elsewhere. Would you care to comment?

  3. Jonathan, you complained that the Jerusalem Post article did not interview the charedi rabbonim for their article to hear their side of the story. Yet you did not interview David Morris for your article to hear his side of the story!

  4. Jonathan Rosenblum25 September 2009 at 11:38

    I want to thank David Morris for posting my response. He is correct that the version posted on my website, sent to my mailing list, and posted on www.cross-currents.com differs from that published in the Jerusalem Post, though I did not remember that until David pointed it out. Therefore, I would like to apologize to Mr.Lasher for any inferences drawn from his failure to relate to paragraphs that he did not see.

    On my website, I'm not subject to the same word limitations as in print, and so occasionally add things I had to cut in print. And sometimes, I combine two articles on related topics written for different publications. One or the other apparently happened here.

    The issue of child abuse is a major one in the Orthodox community, and one that requires a major investment of communal resources. First, in preventive education for both parents and children, and education for parents to recognize the signs of abuse. Second, in making sure that educational institutions have safeguards in place and teachers are given detailed instructions on permissible contact with students. Third, in validating the victim's suffering by vigorously pursuing action against perpetrators. There is an increasing understanding that pedophiles can rarely, if ever, do teshuva and learn to restrain themselves, no matter how much they wish to do so. (Many were themselves the victims of childhood abuse.)

    But it is important to remember that our educational institutions are not the sole, or even primary, source of abuse. Tragically, more and more cases of fathers, uncles, olders siblings and cousins abusing younger girls are coming to light. Babysitters or those who go to help out in homes whether the mother is incapicitated or absent can be vulnerable, and there has been more than one case of a girl being raped by Egged bus drivers. Older boys and neighbors preying on young boys is a major problem.

    Finally, with respect to Anonymous's post, I cannot know with certainty what case is being discussed, but I have enough reasons to think I know to respond in part. A parent contacted Rabbi Kornfeld to complain of a rebbe in a particular cheder. Rabbi Kornfeld recommended a certain PhD. therapist in Jerusalem. The family elected not to go to that therapist, and pursued other avenues. Rabbi Kornfeld's direct involvement with the family ended there. Subsequently, the cheder closed down and was merged with a cheder for whom Rabbi Malinowitz and Rabbi Kornfeld serve as advisors. They told the rebbe in question that they could not take him on as long as there was a cloud of suspicion over him. Subsequently, another cheder hired him, without consulting either Rabbi Malinowitz or Rabbi Kornfeld.

    With respect to the failure of the police to prosecute, "I understand" is simply too weasily. The police will not pursue any case where they are not fairly certain of obtaining a conviction, which usually requires some corroborating testimony. That is why the police are not a panacea. Rabbi Kornfeld told me of one case where there were a number of accusations against a couple where the wife ran a gan. The police did not prosecute. Yet he, working together with Mizrachi rabbonim in the neighborhood, felt that the accusations were too numerous and creditable to allow the gan to remain open.

  5. "Subsequently, another cheder hired him, without consulting either Rabbi Malinowitz or Rabbi Kornfeld."

    It's admirable how "circumstances" are to blame and not the rabbis.

    Wasn't this a Midat S'dom? Everyone does a little bit of harm, but in the end, no-one is to blame...

  6. Mr. Rosenblum,

    How can you defend Rabbi Malinowitz's approach, when you state that when your child was abused the perpetrator was directly turned in to the police?

  7. Jonathan,

    I am surprised that you can answer in part to anon's post.
    It is obvious that your facts in that case come only from Rav Kornfeld and Rav Malinowitz.
    I know that there were parents who contacted Rav Kornfeld and asked him what to do. he did recommend a therapist to them and they preferred an Anglo.
    What you don't know is that we didn't call Rav Kornfeld. He called us.Unsolicited.
    He demanded that we use only a charedi therapist although the therapist we chose is nationally recognized and religious, albeit not "charedi.
    It is funny to me that Rav Kornfeld knew our number when he wanted to contain this mess and inflict his agenda but has since to call us to see how are son and family are doing after living through such a nightmare. Rav Malinowtz was also heavily involved and until this day has not asked, emailed or called as to our welfare.
    One word from Rav Kornfeld or Malinowitz, both of whom have many congregants, and the new school that hired this rebbe would have been frightened to keep him.
    Yes, Jonathan, I am sorry to tell you that the original article was correct. Sometimes rabbinic authorities do believe the perp over the child and put their welfare over the child.

  8. Mr. Rosenblum - let me first start out by saying that I know it is not your job to defend anyone in particular, you are probably not aware of too many details of the various cases that have been mentioned and discussed in the various articles in the papers and blogs. And I do not expect you to feel the need to defend them or justify any actions taken.

    But you have put yourself in the position where you have taken the onus of explaining the derech, perhaps, of the rabbonim, and at least presenting them to the public in a different light that that portrayed in the original articles.

    That being said, the way you describe the case of the cheder rebbe is extremely oversimplified. The way you describe it makes it seem as though the rabbonim were hardly involved in how things went down: they called for advice, the rabbonim recommended a therapist, the family didnt go, the cheder closed, and the next school hired the rebbe without consulting the rabbonim.

    The truth is that the rabbonim were far more involved than that. They ran an investigation, bringing in a haredi "investigator" from mishmeres hatzniyus of Bnei Brak and they ran the whole thing until the accused rebbe refused to cooperate, the point at which the investigator gave up, the whole investigation was shut down and everyone went on with their lives as if nothing happened (except for the victim and his family).

    Now, I don't deny their right to have their own methods for dealing with these things. Just because David Morris and Lemaan Achai have their method of dealing with it does not mean the rabbonim cannot have a different method. They can. So I see no problem with them following their own way and not Morris' way.

    But when you present to the public that the rabbonim were hardly involved in a case in which they were very directly involved, makes it look like you are either covering something up (perhaps the actions they chose to follow) or just simply obfuscating so people will have no idea what is going on.

    I don't know if they should have done things differently or not. I am in no position to know that.

    But it would benefit everybody if the methods of the rabbonim, if they are the ones being followed predominantly, were made known to the public and not obscured. What should we do if we suspect something happened in our cheder?

    I don't think the rabbonim have developed their method in order to protect the accused. I don't think they developed it that way out of ambivalence towards the kids who make the accusations. But I don't really know why they do it their way - especially when the investigator brought has no real power to investigate anyway. Are the rabbonim trained somehow in evaluating such things? What gives them the ability to run such an investigation?

    What would help is not a defense of the rabbonim, but an explanation of the rabbonim and their ways.

    And one more thing - you said a prominent haredi rav (I think both Rav Shterbnbuch or Rav Elyashiv have been quoted on this) do say parents should go to police in such cases. You mention it in order to show that the haredim are not against going to the police. but then you defend and explain not going to the police but letting the local rabbonim take care of it.

    So you have your cake (by showing rabbonim say to go to police), and eat it too (by saying we should let the rabbonim run it and not the police.

    When do the statements made by Rav Elyashiv/Shternbuch come into play? When can I follow their words and go to the police? And when should I not, and stick with an investigation run by local rabbonim?

  9. With the greatest respect to the Rabbonim - My personal opinion is that the Rabbonim should not be the ones dealing with these cases. Unfortunately, many Rabbonim don't have the qualifications nor experience to be able to deal with these cases. Although they are suited to many other personal and communal issues - dealing with abuse is not their specialty. In addition there is a clear feeling 'on the street' that previous cases handled by Rabbi's have not been dealt with appropriately. Just look at the results. If you need confirmation read the many blogs and see the anger of the victims, their families and the public. We have a problem no smaller than the catholic church and their abuse cases. Abuse in our communities has been handled incorrectly for so long and has also been dealt with inappropriately and unprofessionally. This has resulted in more than one death, tzaros, pain and massive chillul Hashem. Too many cases were swept under the carpet and victims were told not to report cases by well meaning Rabbis and community askanim. We should heed the words of Rav Avigdor Miller who was uncompromising in his outspoken attitude towards dealing with abusers. There should be no compromises Continuing with the same old methods will only bring disaster and more chillul Hashem. We don't need Tznius Patrols and their ilk dealing with these issues. All abusers should be removed from the community - there are too many of them being allowed to live in peace in our neighborhoods. They are a danger and they themselves need treatment that cannot be given in the community. There cannot be compromises.

    We need to institute a new protocol - we should get together the best in the field and have them come up with a protocol of how to deal with every scenario. The Rabbonim should advise the group on communal needs and halocho but should not be involved in drawing up the protocol. Then all community headmasters and Rabbonim should follow this protocol. I see that as the only way forward.

    Unless we take drastic action now, I forsee terrible chillul Hashem and the destruction of children and communities, chas vesholom. This cannot be swept under the carpet any longer - we need full transparency and uncompromising action.

    May Hashem grant us all a yeshuah and a chatima tova.

  10. Jonathan, are you claiming that it was of no significance that the original article claimed that the Rabbonim automatically report it to the police, and the second version did not? It was just the editor, and it had nothing to do with you? Okay then, maybe you can set the record straight. Do the rabbonim automatically refer all allegations to social workers that automatically refer to the police/ social services? (I know that the answer is no. I want you to admit it, and explain why your original article indicated otherwise. Most importantly, I want to know why you consistently avoid addressing this issue, which is the single most important issue and the one on which LeMaan Achai and the Rabbonim you defend are divided.)

  11. It is so clear that the rabbis, while opposed to child abuse, do not see it as a serious offense. How many more examples do we need to prove this.

  12. Why has Reb M. Lesher's name been rutinely misspelled in the Rosenblum response as Lasher? Other then the first mention it is misspelled. Is this to infer a sinister implication? It is clearly prohibited to do such a thing and the gemorah deals with those who mispronounce ones name very harshly.

  13. Anonymous: "Reb M. Lesher's name been routinely misspelled"

    Thank you for pointing this out. I will fix the typo in Mr Rosenblum's text.

  14. I don't think it's a typo, David. Don't change it.

  15. Kol Hacavod to David who is such a mentch, for giving Mr Rosneblum room to respond on his blog. Though he disagrees with what Jonathan has to say, he is 'man' enough to give the right of reply and allow the 'other side' to tell their side of the story. Compare and contrast with the reaction of local Rabbonim, who when faced with criticism, have a knee-jerk response to put both David and Lemaan Achai in 'herem'. They should be made to meet and explain to local poor families why they will be hungry this year because money wasn't donated to Lemaan Achai as a result of their 'proclamations' just because they can't take criticism. Shame on them.

  16. "We went to Rav Malinowitz and followed his instructions. Rav Kornfeld strongly urged us to use one of his "charedi"(only) therapists."

    What were R. Malinowitz's instructions?

  17. Yet he, working together with Mizrachi rabbonim in the neighborhood, felt that the accusations were too numerous and creditable to allow the gan to remain open.

    I guess you mean Dati Leumi. Mizrachi also could mean Edut hamizrach

    Oh and by the way, if the alleged abuse would have been committed by a religious zionist or non-religious teacher (instead of by a charedei/agudah artscroll connected black hat rabbi) would you have treated it differently ??

    Of course you would have. In a new york minute.

  18. Anonymous: "What were R. Malinowitz's instructions?"

    Rav Malinowitz instructed the family, instead of reporting to the authorities (as required by Israel's Child Protection Laws - "Chok Hadivuach") to take the case for "investigation" by the Modesty Patrol ("Vaad Hatznius") of Meah Shearim, Jerusalem.

    For those unacquainted with the Modesty Patrol, these are broadly the equivalent to the Inquisition. They use a semblance of methodology for investigation, and a hit squad of thugs.

    See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modesty_patrol

    Rabbi Malinowitz has never explained why he believes the Modesty Patrol is the preferred channel for dealing with allegations of criminal child abuse in Ramat Bet Shemesh.

    Perhaps someone could invite Rabbi Malinowitz to explain this in public? David - how about inviting Rav Malinowitz to join the discussion here?

  19. I am really interested in hearing Jonathan's response to many of the issues here. I just worry that the discussions heating up the way they are will prevent that. Obviously there are deep emotions at play here, and rightfully so, but I was enjoying the "debate" and would love to see it remain civil.

  20. Anonymous: "would love to see it remain civil."

    I think the tone is civil here.

    However, maybe someone out there could (at least pretend to) agree with Jonathan and those rabbonim whose behavior he defends - for the sake of retaining a balanced "debate"?!

  21. Why are the rabbonim here remaining silent? They had no difficulty of stating their words in the Jerusalem Post so why won't they issue something here?


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