The child abuse assembly line in Haredi societies
The child sex abuse crisis in ultra-Orthodox Judaism, like that in the Catholic Church, has produced its share of shocking headlines in recent years. 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.”And all that under the shield of community leaders who often lead to situations where men and women alike are undereducated, making it difficult to manage in the outside world, using funds that clearly go to the goal of isolationism. I can see how all this came to be in eastern Europe, where they were obviously influenced by socialist structures, reaching a point where they're told their money isn't theirs, and they cannot make think for themselves on certain issues.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews who speak out about these abuses are ruined and condemned to exile by their own community. Dr. Amy Neustein, a nonfundamentalist Orthodox Jewish sociologist and editor of Tempest in the Temple: Jewish Communities and Child Sex Scandals, told me the story of a series of Hasidic mothers in Brooklyn she got to know who complained that their children were being preyed on by their husbands.
In these cases, the accused men “very quickly and effectively engage the rabbis, the Orthodox politicians, and powerful Orthodox rabbis who donate handsomely to political clubs.” The goal, she told me, is “to excise the mother from the child’s life.” Rabbinical courts cast the mothers aside, and the effects are permanent. The mother is “amputated.” One woman befriended by Dr. Neustein, a music student at a college outside New York, lost contact with all six of her children, including an infant she was breastfeeding at the time of their separation.
The powerful men—and it is worth noting that this community is regulated by men only—who govern the world of ultra-Orthodox Judaism would rather their adherents be blind in their faith, their eyes closed to the horrors Rabbi Rosenberg is exposing. Like the Catholic establishment, the rabbinate seeks to cover up the crimes, quiet the victims, protect the abusers, and deflect potential criticism of their institutional practices. Those who speak out are vilified, and the faithful learn to shut their mouths. When the father of the seven-year-old boy whom Rabbi Rosenberg rescued from the Jerusalem bathhouse showed up to collect his son, he couldn’t believe his son had been raped. Trembling, terrified, he whisked his son away to get medical help, but was still too scared to raise a formal complaint. According to Ben and Survivors for Justice, “The greatest sin is not the abuse, but talking about the abuse. Kids and parents who step forward to complain are crushed.”It's enough to vomit. While this is disturbing indeed, the article appears to veer into an awfully stupid swipe at the right:
As for Rabbi Rosenberg, when he voiced his concerns to the rabbinate in Israel, he was brought up on charges by the mishmeres hatznuis, the archconservative Orthodox “modesty squad,” which regulates, often through threats of violence, proper moral conduct and dress in the relations between men and women. The modesty squad is a sort of Jewish Taliban. According to Rabbi Rosenberg, the rapist he caught in the act was a member of the modesty squad, which charged him with the unconscionable offense of having previously been seen walking down a street in Jerusalem with a married woman. “But it’s OK to molest children,” he adds.
“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.”I could be wrong, but it sounds like he's trying to tie in Haredi visions with the right - literally. Must I be clear that those Haredi communities who cover up these crimes don't speak for me? Good grief, what is with these dummies?
According to Ben, the ultra-Orthodox community has never been as repressive as it is today. The repression, as he describes it, stems from the burden of having too many children. Huge families are encouraged: every child born to a Hasid is seen as “a finger in the eye of Hitler.” Ben also told me that the average family size among Williamsburg Hasidim is nine, and that some families include more than 15 children.While large families can be great to have and an ideal way to send a message to tyrants, it fails if they take the kind of mindset the Satmar and Neturei Karta go by. Their hostility to Israel is just what the Nazis would've wanted. Something the interviewee fails to mention here is that by not working, that's just what leads to the poverty situation and living on the welfare dole.
Families saddled with an increasing number of children soon enter into a cycle of poverty. There is simultaneously an extreme separation of the sexes, which is unprecedented in the history of the Hasidim. There is limited general education, to the point that most men in the community are educated only to the third grade, and receive absolutely no sexual education. No secular newspapers are allowed, and internet access is forbidden. “The men in the community are undereducated by design,” Ben said. “You have a community that has been infantilized. They have been trained not to think. It’s a sort of totalitarian control.”
Now, here's where the article is undermined politically again:
Michael told me that current Orthodox leadership, accruing wealth from the tithes of subservient followers, is “drifting to the right, politically as well as religiously.” Many rabbis in New York City have taken up the banner of neoliberalism. “Every English-language Orthodox publication I know embraced Romney during the 2012 elections, decried national health insurance, blamed liberals for bribing the lower classes,” he said. “In Orthodox society, just as in America at large, the financial mismatch between the elite and the rest of us is ominously large.”Oh for crying out loud! Here's where it really ends up becoming a joke. What about the Satmar? Just this past few weeks, they endorsed Bill de Blasio, the Democratic candidate. If they could do that, there's others who could also support left-wing politics. Yes, there are Haredi movements that do support right-wing politics, even ones who've allowed terrible things to happen in their midst, but their economic structure is still socialist. The Shas party is a perfect example of this straddling two ideologies, yet managing to be more left than right. The article does say however:
Michael also notes that the problem is not confined to the extremists. “The same patterns of victim-blaming, covering up, idealizing the rabbis so that cover-ups aren’t even acknowledged, are found all across the spectrum of Orthodoxy,” he told me. “The Orthodox left was shamefully slow to react to Rabbi Baruch Lanner’s abuse or to the similar case of Rabbi Mordechai Elon.” Rabbi Lanner, a former New Jersey yeshiva high school principal, was found guilty in 2000 of sexually abusing dozens of teenage students over the decades of his tenure. Rabbi Elon, who had publicly denounced homosexuality, was convicted last August on two counts of forcible sexual assault on a male minor, following several years of reports of his abuse of young boys.Okay, they admit that the Orthodox left they speak of is also guilty, but I still think they're being harsher on the right, without even recognizing the socialist, Orwellian structure many Haredi societies go by. Don't they at least think that's odd? Any society that embraces those kind of mentalities is not what I call right-wing/conservative.
At the end, they say:
Later Rabbi Rosenberg told me a story of being surrounded by young boys in Williamsburg. The boys cursed him, laughed at him, threatened him, and spat at him. He wondered how many of them would end up molested.Worse, how many of them could grow up to do the same? These were a bunch of hooligans he met, after all.
While the article has a lot to ponder, it's sad they let politics get the better of them, though I do realize some of them could technically support the right. But not Satmar, which has proven their capability of throwing weight behind Democrats for backing. Of course, the welfare issue is what they could've been clearer about, and how failure to work and study wider topics is just what's ruining many Haredis in communities like that. Maybe, in all their possible leftism, they just couldn't bring themselves to be more specific.