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Thursday, November 13, 2014 

Why the Haredi world holds such a weak view of child sex abuse

A rabbi writing in the Jerusalem Post who was born in the Satmar community explains why they have such a poor approach to topics like sex abuse. He talks about a victim of homosexual child rape who recently committed suicide, and a delivery man who'd been a pedophile and raped several boys over many years, one that the community leadership otherwise refused to ensure was punished properly:
Ultimately, however, the community leaders decided to do nothing, turning a blind eye to this violent criminal. They are a prominent and wealthy Jewish family in an insular hasidic group; the community’s leadership was too afraid to antagonize them. The perpetrator was consequently not taken to task for his crimes.

Such outrageous behavior begs explanation.

In order to make some sense of this community’s abhorrent and cavalier attitude toward sexual violence it is important to emphasize a basic distinction: the difference between sex, something physical which we do instinctively, and eros, an emotion which has to be learned.

Having sex is innate. Cats, bees and even flowers do it. Sexuality and sensuality, on the other hand, is not. Animals, bugs and flowers do not feel sexual nor do they experience sensuousness. Developing a sexual persona is a learned skill; sensuality is an acquired emotion.

Nobody is born feeling sensuous or having a sexual identity. The adults in our lives help us develop those identities and cultivate those emotions.

Recognizing the distinction between sex and sensuality should make us appreciate the futility of trying to address the seriously flawed sexual mores of Satmar and other ultra-Orthodox communities.

Like all human beings, haredim, too, have sex. Fornication is an instinctive human behavior. Emotionally, however, they are different.

Their value system largely prevents them from experiencing eros

The haredi sexual ethos is that the only purpose for having sex is procreation; sensuousness is frowned upon and sexual awareness condemned. A haredi man or woman is, therefore, not encouraged to feel sensuous, nor do parents or educators teach children how to develop a “sexual identity.” They mostly view sex as a necessary evil whose sole purpose is the propagation of the species. He/she merely performs this human (and according to some “beastly”) activity so that the couple involved in the act can procreate.

Their apparently cavalier attitude toward child molestation is likely informed by this minimalist understanding of sexuality. In their mind, sexual abuse of a minor is merely an inappropriate act; the perpetrator is simply acting immodestly. For them, sex is just sex.

They do not appreciate the larger implications it has on our psyche and identity. Accordingly they do not share the outrage we intuitively feel toward such dastardly behavior. They do not see the abuse as having broader psychological implications for the victim because sex for them is a physical act which is psychologically inconsequential.
So I see. Their view of sex and how to perform it has shades of Orwellianism, taking all true love and happiness out of sexual relations, and might be vaguely similar to Islam's own views of sex, when women are seen only as a means of reproducing offspring for possible jihad in the future.

Only when the Haredis come to appreciate eros, emotion and love will it finally be possible to change their attitude towards sexual abuse properly.

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  • I'm Avi Green
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