January 11, 2007
Is molestation being swept underneath the Eruv?
Hidden horrors in the haredi community
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Shafran said he doubts that clergy sex abuse is more prevalent in the ultra-Orthodox world than elsewhere. Asked whether victims there are afraid to report abuse, he said, "I hope it's not true. But it's easy to see how someone would be reluctant to publicly report such an issue."
He said modesty, which is prized by many haredim, might preclude the open discussion of matters "that are part of the average radio talk show agenda."
In fact, Shafran acknowledged that "for a person whose whole life revolves around the community," the ostracism that results from publicly confronting a leader of that community "can be worse than death." Others believe that underreporting of clergy sexual misconduct may in fact facilitate abuse.
"Offenders have learned to hide behind" the reluctance of victims to speak out, said Brian Leggiere, an Orthodox Jew and a psychiatrist in Manhattan who has treated both perpetrators and victims of sexual abuse. He added, though, "The situation is changing for the better, but very slowly. Each community is different, so it's hard to generalize."
In some neighborhoods, Leggiere pointed out, public safety is beginning to gain traction as an ideal worth defending, as is the notion that professional therapy or other forms of treatment for sex abuse victims, as well as for perpetrators, should not be stigmatized.
Judging the Judges
Among many Orthodox Jews, the preferred forum for adjudicating communal disputes is a beit din, a rabbinic court. But critics say such panels often try to dissuade sex abuse victims from pursuing their complaints, a charge vigorously denied by Shafran. However, he added, "In cases where there is some degree of doubt, the beit din has a responsibility to counsel against going to authorities until there is proven criminal activity."
"The problem in the ultra-Orthodox community is people go to the beit din and not to civil authorities," said Mark Dratch, a Modern Orthodox rabbi who chairs the Rabbinical Council of America's Task Force on Rabbinic Improprieties.
"There is a very complicated relationship between rabbis and civil authorities," he said. "It doesn't always work appropriately."
Agudath Israel has not promulgated anti-abuse policies for its affiliated congregations, Shafran conceded, "nor have there been complaints" of sexual misconduct at Agudath Israel-affiliated congregations. However, he added, "I wouldn't rule out that one day there would be such guidelines. The Talmud teaches us that we should stay away from even the appearance of impropriety."
Agudath Israel does have binding behavioral guidelines that apply to its youth groups and its five summer camps, which serve about 2,000 youngsters, according to Shafran. Kolko worked at one of those camps, Camp Agudah in Ferndale, N.Y., decades ago, according to Shafran, apparently long before the behavioral guidelines existed.
The federal lawsuit filed in May states that while Kolko was at Camp Agudah, he repeatedly molested Framowitz, who was a camper there in the summers following his seventh- and eighth-grade years at Torah Temimah.
Framowitz's co-plaintiff -- "John Doe No. 2," an adult male living in the United States -- alleged that he also was abused by Kolko, but only at Torah Temimah. The lawsuit contends that the administrations at both the camp and the school knew Kolko was a pedophile and did nothing about it.
Shafran declined comment on the litigation, which is being divided into two complaints, one for each plaintiff, according to attorney Herman. The complaint initiated by Framowitz has been dismissed on the plaintiffs' initiative but will be re-filed, Framowitz and Herman said.
An attorney representing Kolko in the federal litigation declined comment on behalf of his client.
Elsewhere in Orthodoxy
Both the Orthodox Union (OU) and the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) have upgraded behavioral guidelines and enhanced anti-abuse training programs, according to officials at both organizations. The NCSY policies, which covers 17 pages and were revised most recently in October, are binding on at least 25,000 individuals, including NCSY professionals, volunteers and program participants. The guidelines spell out prohibited conduct in detail, and include step-by-step instructions for filing an abuse complaint.
Both OU and NCSY officials said they are not aware of any complaints of sexual misconduct toward youths since the NCSY guidelines were upgraded a few years ago. The Chabad-Lubavitch movement has no written conduct guidelines applying specifically to its estimated 4,000 global emissaries, known as shluchim, or its approximately 3,000 multiuse facilities that double as synagogues and are usually referred to as Chabad houses. However, many Chabad houses have adopted behavioral policies originally formulated for the movement's schools, according to movement spokesman Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin.
In addition, Shmotkin said, shluchim must strictly abide by the Shulchan Aruch, the 16th century code of Jewish law that prohibits nonmarried or unrelated adults of the opposite sex from being secluded with each other.
On the School Front
Some of the denominational policies are designed to guard against situations that could result in inappropriate contact with minors, regardless of their sex. They mandate, for example, that at least two adults be present when a child is receiving private religious instruction.
A nonseclusion requirement is among many anti-abuse provisions included in mandatory school behavioral policies adopted by Chabad about five years ago. The policies cover approximately 2,000 personnel at some 350 Chabad schools attended by about 24,000 students.
The policies also instruct school officials to consult two recognized rabbinic authorities -- one Chabad-affiliated and one not -- regarding the centuries-old Jewish legal injunction known as mesirah, which in some instances prohibits Jews from reporting Jewish perpetrators to non-Jewish authorities.