Wishing Away Child Abuse in RBS...

Guest Writer: Michael Lesher (M.A., J.D.) writer, journalist and attorney specializing in Child Abuse Litigation. Lesher has represented child victims and their families in the Mondrowitz case (photo above) and more recently against Stefan Colmer.  

Jonathan Rosenblum’s recent attempt to wish away child sex abuse allegations in Ramat Beit Shemesh (“Think Again: Those Primitive Haredim – Yet Again,” Jerusalem Post, June 11, 2009  ) is so full of false assumptions and disingenuous gibes aimed at anyone audacious enough to challenge Orthodox rabbis on the issue (critics just don’t like the haredim, he suggests, even when the critics are themselves haredim) that no short response can do justice to them all.

But the greatest evil of his column lies less in what he says than in what he doesn’t say. For in Rosenblum’s head-in-the-sand world, when a fact reflects poorly on haredi rabbis, it doesn’t even get to see the light.

You’d never know, from Rosenblum’s writing, that anyone had made more than a few careless accusations about child sex abuse in Ramat Beit Shemesh. But of course they did: the complaints – all quoted in recent articles in The Jerusalem Post  and in Ha’aretz – were both specific and severe. A mother complained that when she reported her own child’s abuse (with “proof,” according to the article), the rabbis in Ramat Beit Shemesh “called me a liar and said that this kind of thing does not happen here.” Another parent, whose abuse allegation was supported by professional evaluators, spoke of “a combination of denial, protecting your good name and not involving the secular world” which, he said, characterizes his community’s rabbinic leadership. In fact, he told the reporter that “his family was threatened and pressured by community leaders not to pursue the matter with the police,” and even the abused child was “ostracized by most former classmates.”

How does Rosenblum deal with those charges? Simple: he doesn’t.

Nor does Rosenblum, who boasts of his acquaintance with Ramat Beit Shemesh’s “young, worldly and energetic” rabbis, ever tell the reader what those vigorous sages actually know about child sex abuse. One of them is quoted as prescribing “vigilance”; but all their energy and worldliness combined cannot give Rosenblum’s readers a single clue about what they look for in an alleged child sex abuse case, or how they look, or whom they consult, if anyone.

Rosenblum is even silent on what may be the most important question of all: whether these rabbis encourage their congregants to report to police without first seeking a rabbi’s specific approval. Rosenblum suggests vaguely that they must favor police reports on suspected offenders because a prominent haredi rabbi has authorized the practice. (He doesn’t name the rabbi, perhaps because – if Rabbi Elyashiv is the one he means – he misrepresents Elyashiv’s published view as more pro-reporting than it really is.) But if, in fact, the Ramat Beit Shemesh rabbis insist on being the ones who decide whether an allegation may move on to secular authorities, Rosenblum’s defense only means that the rabbis may support reporting a given case, assuming that they themselves are persuaded of the sufficiency of the evidence. How is that standard to be satisfied? Again, Rosenblum doesn’t say.

The disingenuousness of Rosenblum’s silence on these critical points is particularly offensive when juxtaposed with his sanctimonious outcry against the critics of Ramat Beit Shemesh’s rabbis. In attacking the parents, and David Morris, who has supported them, Rosenblum is uninhibitedly nasty: he accuses Morris, for instance, of making a “wild claim” and demanding that “a teacher should be automatically fired the first time any student complains of untoward behavior, and he and his family stigmatized for life.” Of course, Morris never demanded any such thing.

But more important, Rosenblum’s choice of targets – his selective invective – exposes the real point of his defense. It really doesn’t matter to Rosenblum, finally, whether the rabbis deny the reality of sex abuse charges, cover up for the guilty, and blame the victims. If they do all that, it’s simply proof to Rosenblum that blaming victims for telling the truth really can be better than taking action against those they accuse. The only thing certain is that one cannot criticize the rabbis.

Rosenblum even strengthens this bizarre implication with one of the strangest claims I have ever seen in print: that rabbis choose to stand between victims and law enforcement for the victims’ own good:

The rabbis’ preference for working behind the scenes derives . . . from a considered philosophy about what is best for victims, their families and the community. The knowledge that incidents will be publicized can keep victims or their parents from coming forward. In addition, publicity can lead to hysteria . . .

Well, there you have it, folks: the reporting of child sex abuse cases actually inhibits the reporting of child sex abuse cases. Even worse, it can cause “hysteria.” Wouldn’t want that, now, would we?

All in all, Rosenblum’s column – which claims to disprove the existence of child sex abuse cover-ups in Orthodox communities – is itself a kind of cover-up. Not only does Rosenblum refuse to discuss any of the key questions, he simply assumes they don’t exist.

As a contributor to the first book-length treatment of child sex abuse in Jewish communities (Tempest in the Temple: Jewish Communities & Child Sex Scandals, Brandeis University Press, 2009), I must add that Rosenblum’s denial is depressingly familiar. But if our communal spokesmen don’t start doing any better than this, we can only be headed for disaster in the long run. The political philosopher Leo Strauss once said of such empty theorizing that it amounted to “fiddling while Rome burns” – and he added these ominously relevant words: “It is excused by two facts: it does not know that it fiddles, and it does not know that Rome burns.”


  1. The rabbis’ preference for working behind the scenes derives . . . from a considered philosophy about what is best for victims, their families and the community. The knowledge that incidents will be publicized can keep victims or their parents from coming forward. In addition, publicity can lead to hysteria . . .

    Did Rosenblum used to work for the Catholic Church? That sounds exactly like what they used to say before, you know, all the lawsuits. And it worked so well for them, too.

  2. In any suspected case of abuse the place to turn immediately is מרכז להגנת הילד in Kiryat Yovel. They are not the police but work with them, but do a proper investigation. First consultation can even be anonymous. Their website is http://www.hagana.org.il/english.html

  3. Yasher koach David. May we soon merit the day when such posts are not needed.

  4. What a shame that you are so pure and naive, David. Haven't you ever heard of "omerta"?

    Our choshuva rabbonim have taken their rule book not from the Shulchan Aruch but rather from the annals of the great mafia bosses of the underworld.

    The tactics are quite similar.

    Keep everything "in house"
    Spread fear and terror among you "families"
    Build up your political and financial influence
    Quiet those who don't obey
    The omerta is sacred no matter what (even if innocent lives might be affected).

    The only difference is that our rabbonim are supposed to answer to a "Higher" authority.

    Sometimes,however, when i see how they conduct themselves I have to wonder if that "Higher Authority" even comes into their minds.

  5. My rav has told our kehilla repeatedly, if you suspect abuse go straight to the police and report it. If these monsters are put on trial and locked up there will be a collective sigh of relief from the community.

  6. See my review of an award-winning book on how to prevent and heal from sexual abuse: http://itsmycrisisandillcryifineedto.blogspot.com/2009/07/protection-and-healing-from-sexual.html

    This book should be required reading in smicha programs, seminaries, yeshivot and Batei Yakov. ZERO tolerance is key to ending the horror.

    Yocheved Golani http://www.linkedin.com/in/yochevedgolaniink
    www.yochevedgolani.com and

  7. Rosenblum's original article in the JPost claimed that the rabbonim refer all cases to social workers who automatically refer them to the police. This was, of course, false, and was the very crux of the dispute between David Morris and the Rabbonim. So when Rosenblum's article was reprinted in the charedi press, that line was quietly removed. Of course, there was no explicit retraction and admission that he had distorted things.

  8. Rosenblum tried to defend the rabbis - but in some cases, people do go to rabbis, and don't want to go to the police. I think the rabbis, even in those cases, have to send the people to the police for the following reason: they have no background in child psychology, abuse, etc. and can not judge the situation.
    However, what should a rabbi do if a report seems baseless? Encourage people to go to the police anyway?
    In my daughter's gan last year, in RBS A, a teacher was accused of sex abuse of a terrible kind. However, the report came from a child, age 5, who remembered that it had happened when she was 3. This information is clearly not credible (meaning, there is no way to know, without physical evidence, if it is or is not true), especially when coupled with the fact that the accused was a married mother accused of abusing unrelated female children (this fits less than 1% of abuse cases, as 96% are men and the women abusers either go after young teenage boys, their own kids, or abuse together with a male). But even if you want to say that the 5 year old recovered accurate memories in therapy, and the abuser was the less than 1% of abusers who are female and go after unrelated female children, according to the accusations, the head teacher left the accused assistant teacher alone with the child who was allegedly abused on multiple occasions when she took the other children to the park, and that is when the abuse occurred. I spoke to the main teacher, who said this never happened, she never left her assistant with one child and took all the other children to the park. (She laughed when I asked her - and said, Right, I would take 22 kids to the park and cross the street with them and let my assistant just stay here with one kid). So now in order to believe the allegation, I have to believe that the teacher is also part of a conspiracy, and she lied too, to protect her friend. But when I tried to tell people that while I thought the story should be investigated, there was certainly a question about the allegation being accurate, people accused me of being crazy, and an unfit mother for believing a teacher over a child, etc. The hysteria was unreal - parents wouldn't send their kids back to gan even after the school sent in a third teacher to watch the accused teacher. Did they really think all three women were in on it?
    I think by not admitting that there can be cases of false allegations and hysteria, the people trying to deal with real cases end up sounding like they are just fear-mongers. It is important for people like David Morris to say publicly that every case must be investigated, and most are true, but of course there may be a case or two where allegations are not true. We don't want any teacher or therapist to lose their jobs and reputations on the basis of one disgruntled parent's complaint. Rosenblum was able to mix in things that didn't belong because people refuse to see that this isn't an either/or issue - believe the child in every case, or give abusers a free pass.
    I think we need to make change sin society - as in, no rebbe alone with a child, ever. Also, we need to have a system for checking out potential teachers, a national database of abuse accusations, etc.

  9. Leah G: "However, what should a rabbi do if a report seems baseless? Encourage people to go to the police anyway?"

    YES, Leah. The only authorised and qualified address to investigate child abuse allegations are the Police and Social Services. That's it.

    If a rabbi were to receive a call saying "someone just stole my car!" or "there's a package which could be a bomb by the bus-stop" or "I'm sorry to disturb you Rabbi, at 3 o'clock in the morning, but I can hear someone breaking into my home" the Rabbi would say "what the H*^& are you call ME for - call the Police!"
    When someone says "I have reason to believe my child may have been sexually abused" the Rabbi should act the same way. "What the H^&* are you calling ME for, call the Police/Social Services!".
    For some reason, some rabbis nevetheless go into Hollywood Detective Mode mode, and begin "investigating" whether or not the accused is guilty or innocent.
    This is absolutely IRRESPONSIBLE, ILLEGAL and DANGEROUS.
    The rabbi's only role is to ASSUME RISK to the child and immediately refer to the appropriate authorities.
    As they would with any other criminal and safety situation.
    Regarding the specific case you refer to in RBS A, I was not closely involved, but I was shown the original child psychologist report. It would make your hair stand on end.
    Innocent or guilty, I (nor you, nor any rabbi I know) have no way of knowing. But an assumption of RISK to Children. Absolutely.

  10. Leah G: "However, what should a rabbi do if a report seems baseless? Encourage people to go to the police anyway?"

    They think all reports are baseless. They are not the ones to judge. They have zero training in these matters, and I mean ZERO.
    Go to the police immediately. Do not pass by the rabbis. Do not collect 200. THE POLICE. IMMEDIATELY. ALWAYS.
    Clear now?

  11. Omerta


  12. David,
    I agree with you completely - when there may be abuse, it is best to investigate, and find people who know what they are doing (professionals) to be involved, not rabbis!
    But I think the point leah g made was missed - it seems to me that it is just as extreme to pretend abuse doesn't happen, or rabbis are capable of handling abuse - as it is to say that there are never cases of false allegations. I am a social worker, and I do believe that in some cases, abused children are encouraged to name someone as the criminal by the real criminal. I've had a case where an abusive father got a child to tell other adults that the mother abused her, when he himself did it! In the case you mention, isn't it possible that the child WAS abused, but named the teacher because the parents wanted it to be a stranger rather than a family member? By never being willing to acknowledge that there are some cases in which even "experts" can not figure out the truth, and some cases where lies are involved, you are just as extreme as the people who want to sweep things under the rug...and this takes away from your thoughtful, reasoned approach.

  13. Dear Anonymous,
    You start by saying "I agree with you completely" but then list many items I do not hold by.
    1. I do NOT advocate finding professionals to investigate, as you seem to suggest. I advocate taking child abuse allegations to the legally authorised and qualified bodies - in Israel that's the Police or the Social Services (Child Portection Officer).
    2. I do absolutely respect and accept rabbinical authority (my Rabbi is Rav Chaim Soloveichik).
    3. Nowhere haver I stated anything as absurd as there are "never cases of false allegations". I have reported on this blog statistics which show false reports do exist, but are very infrequent (according to the Israeli Child Protection Association some 2% of cases they handle are 'false claims').

    A far more significant problem is kids NOT TELLING, and of perpetrators lying (of course, as they have every reason not to admit to such a crime).

    And in any case, I do not propose that me, you or any other citizen (or rabbi) even broaches the subject of guilty/not guilty.

    Our responsibility is solely to ASSUME RISK to children, and therefore refer immediately to the legally mandated authorities, and take all other reasonable steps to protect potential victims from harm.

  14. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  15. I, like many others, am glad to hear you agree that there can be cases of false allegations.
    I think the whole child abuse problem is made worse by the fact that we can't rely on children always. I have been surprised by people in RBS who see no difference in two 7 year old boys saying a rebbe abused them and a three year old reporting that she was abused by her gannenet. Both stories may be true, but I think it should be clear to anyone that when there are older victims, multiple victims, and an accused who fits a profile, it is easier for professionals, the police, etc. to prove the case.
    Unfortunately, children with disabilities are abused at higher rates than other children, because the abuser senses weakness, thinks nobody will believe the child who has problems, etc. A disabled child is also not always a reliable witness, depending on the disability.
    This is why there is abuse in the community, and it is hard to root it out - it happens behind closed doors, and can't always be proven. When there are allegations, we must act on them, but it seems to me that there is an impossibility here - when there is no physical evidence, no witness, no history by the abuser, nothing but a child's word, how can the abuser be jailed? If the law assumes innocence, how can someone prove the abuse happened? I suspect many abusers go free for this reason - they did it, but it can't be proven.
    What about school policies? Teacher background checks?
    (And please nobody come back with a stupid comment about how there is no profile. YES, there is a profile - and it is MALE. Again, this does not mean women don't abuse children - they do - but sex abuse, like porn addiction, like many other issues, is primarily practiced by males, not females.)

  16. At least Rabbi Horowitz and Elliot Pasik got it right in the Jewish Press op-ed a few months ago


    Let The System Work


    (Rabbi Horowitz's thoughts appear first, in regular font, and Mr. Pasik's follow in italics.)

    There is an important "take-away" lesson to be learned from the case of a frum storeowner in Queens who pleaded guilty in Criminal Court to molesting a young boy several years ago - namely, that the legal system works.

    My involvement began a few months ago, when a young man told me he'd been molested by the part-owner of a bakery in the Kew Gardens area. His story was credible and I introduced him and his parents to attorney Elliot Pasik. Together, we accompanied the victim and his parents to the police and the Queens DA's office.

    The system worked.

    The molester was arrested and retained counsel. Not long after, he admitted in open court to the crime of which he was accused. The Va'ad (Board of Rabbis) of Queens was magnificent, fully supporting the efforts of the victim and his parents - on many levels. They attended court when the molester pleaded guilty, and immediately acted thereafter to remove him from ownership and employment in the store.


  17. Lesher's quite unfair article misrepresents Rosenblum's article and then criticizes his new version of it.

    Rosenblum's column was nothing more than a defense of the Charedi community against an outrageous, biased, and unbased attack by the JP article. Rosenblum was never coming to hallow in detail the perfection of the system in Beit Shemesh, and he most likely believes it could be improved. He just didn't like seeing it get attacked so unfairly, and that is what he was talking about.

    Lesher cherry-picks quotes that were intended only to push off the JP smears--like Rosenblum's statement that Rabbis don't like to publicize attacks--and then made them into punching bags.

    In fact it's indeed much better, if possible, to solve these problems without making everything public. That was what Rosenblum meant, and it is what he said. It was Lesher alone who twisted these words into implied support for Catholic church style cover-ups.

    I'm sure Lesher practices law just the same way...pity his innocent victims...

  18. David, since discovering your blog I have sung your praises. But now let me add on, Kol Hakavod, Jonathan Rosenblum has trashed you. May I be zocheh to follow in your footsteps.

    As someone who specializes in writing history by deleting facts (He acknowledges that) he should have known better.

    He has given me a great idea. Now I am going to read him more regularly to find out who the good guys are by seeing who he trashes.

    Keep up the good work and the good writing and hatzlach for all your tzedakah projects in Israel.

  19. I want to add my voice to those who say Yasher Koach. This is a D'Reisa Mitzvah of Lo'Saamod al Dam l'Reicha. Don't stand by the blood of your brother. It is imperative not to stand by. It is imperative to act from a Torah perspective. To assume that the Gedolim or other leaders have got this all down is to act like lemmings and fools.
    I would like to be on your e-mail or regular mailing list.

    My name is Joel Berman in Valley Village, Ca. My e-mail address is jberman@taxcc.com. Thank you and please keep it up.


  20. Can anyone please direct me how to obtain a copy of the book they are giving to parents at Avi Ezri to teach kids how to respond when someone act inappropriately to them? Does anyone know what the book is called? I think everyone should read it to their kids. My kids are also in cheder in RBS and I am ashamed at how little attention has been given here. I had to hear about it from a friend who has a friend in the school. I have at least three neighbors with boys in the school as well and no one really wants to talk about it. I want to talk about it because I want to be aware. I want to know what the signs are!!!

  21. Hi Fiberartchic

    The books are available in English and Hebrew from Ella Bar Gai.

    Cell: 050 7283188; Tel: 02-9908475

    If you would like to become involved in educating more people in RBS about child abuse, feel free to call me: 02 9997206.

    Best regards

  22. There is a school in LA that uses cameras EVERYWHERE! That should help.


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