Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg is a refreshingly bold advocate against child sexual abuse which occurs in the ultra-Orthodox world. He works within his own Satmar Hasidic and other communities across the ultra-Orthodox spectrum, publicizing claims of sexual abuse and providing victims with the strength and support to speak out about what was done to them. This brave and courageous man was recently a victim himself – of an attack in which chemicals were thrown in his face with the intent to harm or kill him. Thankfully, Rabbi Rosenberg survived the attack, and he is in recovery in the hospital.
It seems highly unlikely that it was just a coincidence that this attack occurred in the same week as the conviction of Nechemya Weberman. Mr. Weberman is, or perhaps was, a leading Satmar community member and unlicensed therapist who was “found guilty of repeatedly sexually abusing a girl who came to him for counseling.”
Sadly, when it comes to sexual abuse, many insular communities, such as the ultra-Orthodox, prefer to cover up such heinous crimes, shielding the perpetrators and attempting to silence the victims. Of course, this is exactly the opposite of how such situations should be handled; those who are guilty of such abuses should be exposed and condemned, and their victims should receive the unconditional support of their communities.
If a religious community prefers to knowingly hide sex offenders in its midst, and suppress efforts by victims and their advocates to come forward with the truth, then the secular authorities becomes the best hope of dealing with this grave problem. There have long been attempts within ultra-Orthodoxy to cover up incidences and perpetrators of abuse, and it is past time for justice to fully be done. Unfortunately, sexual abuse can be found in every type of community in the world, but responsible communities are outspoken and active in punishing those guilty and supporting those wronged. These are the types of behavior only too rarely exhibited in the ultra-Orthodox world today by brave people like Rabbi Rosenberg, who has learned the hard way what can happen when a person confronts powerful forces aligned against justice.
It is bad enough when one of the three cardinal sins of Judaism, sexual immorality (the other two being murder and idol worship), is so flagrantly violated. Now, rather than being applauded for their efforts, those who fight against this abuse find themselves being victimized in different ways. Sadly, the Talmud teaches that there is only one thing equal to these three cardinal sins, and that is “sinat chinam”—warrantless hatred— which, when it occurred between Jews in ancient times, is seen in Yoma 9b as one of the main reasons for the destruction of the Second Temple
This is not the first case of this kind to come to light in an ultra-Orthodox community. On July 11, 2011, in a separate Hasidic community in Brooklyn, 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky was abducted, drugged, and suffocated to death by Levi Aron, another member of the same community; pieces of Kletzky’s dismembered body were found by the police in Aron’s freezer and a nearby trash bin. In spite of their having been “all sorts of rumors about” Aron, the community was in shock that “one of their own” had committed the murder. Poor Leiby paid the price for his community members’ failure to act on their suspicions.
Whereas rumors about Aron had floated about for years, the New York Police Department acted with considerably greater speed: Within 36 hours of Kletzky’s disappearance, Aron was identified as the kidnapper, tracked down, and arrested; he confessed on the spot to Kletzky’s murder. There have been times in Jewish history when Jews had good reason to distrust, or even fear, secular legal, judicial, and police authorities. But this is America in the year 2012; there are no Cossacks coming to attack us, or KGB agents coming to arrest us. We can trust in, and should cooperate with, the police and local authorities. Indeed, when there is greater cooperation between police forces and various communities, the more trust they build between each other, and the effectiveness of policing increases as well.
The recent allegations of past sexual abuse against Yeshiva University (confirmed by the university’s chancellor and former president) serve as yet another example of an individual religious community’s, this time among the Modern Orthodox, inability to police itself effectively. The statement by Yeshiva’s current president, and the spirit behind it, is impressive and important, but it is only the beginning of the sea change we must see in our communities.
May we, as American Jews, do all we can to eradicate abuse in our communities, and may we make clear to all that Judaism is against all abuse, is in favor of attacking this ill with all fervor; and sees those who commit or cover up such as crimes as going against the laws and spirit of the Torah. May Rabbi Rosenberg be speedily and completely healed and continue his fight for justice with success and in peace; and may he find many to join him in his holy quest.
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Founder and President of Uri L'Tzedek, the Senior Rabbi at Kehilath Israel, and is the author of "Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century." Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America!"