January 11, 2007
Is molestation being swept underneath the Eruv?
Hidden horrors in the haredi community
(Page 3 - Previous Page)Mesirah has been blamed for the reticence of some Orthodox sex abuse victims to go public with their complaints. In a spring 2004 article in the anti-abuse publication, Working Together, Dratch said that in cases of child sex abuse, "the consensus of contemporary Jewish religious authorities is that such reporting is religiously mandatory."
Three years ago, several safeguards were adopted by Torah Umesorah-The National Society for Hebrew Day Schools, a service organization -- the largest of its kind in the United States -- that provides religious educational materials for nearly 200,000 Orthodox students spanning that denomination's ideological spectrum.
The Torah Umesorah guidelines, which were presented to school principals, warn teachers and other staffers to refrain from sexually immodest behavior or speech and from inappropriate touching. They also prohibit school personnel from being secluded with students.
But the guidelines are nonbinding, because each of the hundreds of schools served by Torah Umesorah are self-governing.
"We're a service agency, not a governing agency," said Rabbi Joshua Fishman, the organization's executive vice president.
Elliot Pasik, a New York attorney and children's rights advocate, said the way in which the guidelines were distributed calls into question Torah Umesorah's commitment to protecting students from sexually predatory teachers and other staffers.
The guidelines were accompanied by a Sept. 24, 2003, cover letter signed by Fishman that said in part: "This document should be maintained with a sense of confidentiality. It should only be shared with your educational administrative and teaching staff."
Perhaps as a result of that directive, Pasik said few, if any, parents he knows with children attending schools serviced by Torah Umesorah were told about the rules, unless they called the national office in Manhattan. Pasik's children have attended yeshivas affiliated with Torah Umesorah. Furthermore, he added, "I have personally spoken with several teachers, and they knew nothing about these guidelines."
Asked to respond, Fishman declined comment, except to say, "We believe that molesters should be reported."
Pasik said the situation shows the need for a centralized governing body -- perhaps a state or federal agency -- that can hold schools accountable for the safety of students.
"It's hard for people in any organization to govern themselves," he said. "We're not being patrolled or governed by anybody."
Pasik lobbied for passage of legislation in New York that authorizes nonpublic schools to require fingerprinting and FBI background checks for prospective employees. The measure was enacted Aug. 16.
The larger issue of child molestation in the Orthodox community was addressed in a one-page statement accompanying the Torah Umesorah guidelines. Issued by the organization's rabbinical board, the statement says in part that "a small number of individuals have caused untold pain to many children. In addition to the sins which they have committed, they have created painful memories in the minds of their victims, memories which can have a devastating lifetime impact."
The statement urges "everyone to use every means to stop these violations of children, including, at times, exposing the identities of the abusers and even their incarceration. At times, our primary intent may not be to punish the perpetrators, but rather to help them. Therefore, it is preferable, wherever appropriate, to force them to undergo appropriate professional therapy."