Monday, July 24, 2017

Moshiach Running Late!

When asked about the timing of the Messiah’s arrival, Rabbi Kanievsky answered, “At the end of the Sabbatical year.” Several people have asked the Rabbi to verify this and he has given the same answer each time. This year is the Sabbatical year and it will be ending on the 29th day of Elul, which, by the Gregorian calendar falls on Saturday, September 12, 2015.

Leading Israeli Rabbi Says the Arrival of the Messiah is Imminent

“I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out.” (Ezekiel 20:34 )

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, a leading authority in mainstream Ultra-Orthodox Judaism, has been giving clear and unequivocal messages recently that the coming of the Messiah is imminent. He is urging Jews to make Aliyah as soon as possible. Aliyah, the Hebrew verb for “going up”, refers to immigrating to Israel, which is seen as higher spiritual action that can help herald in the coming of the Messiah.

It was reported that the Rabbi Kanievsky was presented with a pamphlet, written by Rabbi Yitzchak Ben Tzvi from the city of Bnei Brak, dealing with the End of Days and many other related prophecies. Rabbi Kanievsky, who is a pillar of the Jewish community and known for his authoritative books on Torah law, read the pamphlet carefully.  After a short consideration, he told those around him that the pamphlet needed to be distributed and that Jews living outside Israel should return to their ancestral land.

In yet another instance of Rabbi Kanievsky’s call for aliyah, author Rabbi Yekutiel Fisch revealed advice that was given to his cousin, a teacher at a prominent Lakewood Yeshiva who visited Israel recently and went to Rabbi Kanievsky to receive a blessing at the end of his visit.

The Rabbi told him that he should not leave Israel because the Messiah would be arriving very soon. The teacher responded that he had 700 students waiting for him in Lakewood. Rabbi Kanievsky told him that he must bring all of the students to Israel. Upon his arrival in Lakewood, the story spread quickly, creating quite an impression on the students who all revere Rabbi Kanievsky.

After a lifetime of immersing himself in classical Jewish texts, Rabbi Kanievsky’s study partner informed various media sites that the Rabbi is talking about the messiah “all the time.” Since last summer’s war in Gaza, the Rabbi has been spreading this message of imminent return. In one instance, Rabbi Kanievsky instructed a Jew from Argentina who asked for a blessing that he should “gather your family and come to Israel.  Otherwise, there won’t be enough room for you on the airplanes.”

When asked about the timing of the Messiah’s arrival, Rabbi Kanievsky answered, “At the end of the Sabbatical year.” Several people have asked the Rabbi to verify this and he has given the same answer each time. This year is the Sabbatical year and it will be ending on the 29th day of Elul, which, by the Gregorian calendar falls on Saturday, September 12, 2015.

In answer to Rabbi Kanievsky’s call, the Jews of France have begun to arrive in Israel in blessed droves. The impetus is certainly a reaction to increasing anti-Semitic and Islamic fueled violence across Europe.

After the horrific terror attack at a Kosher market in Paris six months ago, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu urged French Jews to come home to Israel. His remarks drew criticism from some, however last week, in the wake of Ramadan violence in several countries including France, Zeev Elkin, the Israeli Minister of Immigration and Absorption, called on French Jews to make Aliyah, echoing his leader’s words.

“Come home! Anti-Semitism is growing, terrorism is on the rise and the sickly ISIS activists carry out murders in the light of day. We are prepared to accept the Jews of France with open arms,” he said.

Last year, 7,000 French Jews made aliyah to Israel, making it the number one country of origin for new immigrants. The Jewish Agency and the Ministry for Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption are expecting more than 3,000 French Jews to immigrate to Israel this summer alone, many of them families with children who want to arrive and integrate before the beginning of the school year.

It should be noted that it is considered a positive trait to always be anticipating the Messiah. The Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, a great Torah sage, is  told to have said that any time he heard a loud noise, he would say, “Perhaps the Messiah has arrived?” Similar stories have also been told of the leading Moroccan Kabbalist, the Baba Sali, Rabbi Israel Abuhaseira.



Sunday, July 23, 2017

Just A Bunch Of Good Guys Doing God's Work ---- Epstein had told the undercover agents that he would need $10,000 to approve the coercion at the Beth Din, and $60,000 for a team of "tough guys" - one of whom was Epstein's son David, who would ensure the victim’s cooperation...

Rabbis who conspired to torture men with cattle prods lose their appeal against sentence


Defence invoked authority of Maimonides to no avail

Rabbi Mendel Epstein
Rabbi Mendel Epstein (Today's Rambam)


An appeal by three New York rabbis convicted in 2015 of violently kidnapping men who refused to give their wives a get has been dismissed.

Rabbis Mendel Epstein, Jay Goldstein and Binyamin Stimler were among ten people convicted in April 2015 for conspiracy to commit kidnapping. They sought to reduce their sentences on the grounds that their acts – which included the application of cattle prods to victims' genitals - could not be considered criminal because they were essentially religious in nature.

Today their appeals were rejected by the three-strong panel of judges, who rejected the rabbis’ assertion that their acts could not be considered criminal because they were essentially religious in nature.

U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson sentenced Epstein to 10 years (120 months), Stimler to 3 years (39 months) and Goldstein to 8 years (96 months.)

Six other co-defendants also pleaded guilty before trial and were sentenced to up to 48 months.
The rabbis believed that they had extracted $10,000 from a desperate woman who wanted them to coerce her husband into granting a divorce. They were in fact ensnared in a sting operation by federal agents.

Epstein had told the undercover agents that he would need $10,000 to approve the coercion at the Beth Din, and $60,000 for a team of  "tough guys" - one of whom was Epstein's son David, who would ensure the victim’s cooperation.

According to evidence given at his original trial, Epstein told the agent posing as a  would-be divorcee: “What we are going to be doing is kidnapping a guy for a couple of hours and beating him up and torturing him and then getting him to give you the get.”

“We take an electric cattle prod.  If it can get a bull that weighs five tons to move … You put it on certain parts of his body and in one minute the guy will know.”

The federal agents were investigating Goldstein and his co-defendants after a string of kidnappings, thought to be as many as 20. In one of the cases, a husband agreed to meet the defendants regarding an apparent job offer only to be “tied up, beaten and shocked with a stun-gun until he agreed to give his wife a get.”

On October 9, 2013, 8 of the conspirators, wearing Halloween masks, ski masks, and bandanas were arrested at a  warehouse in New Jersey where they were expecting to ambush their victim.

When he was sentenced, Epstein told the court: “Over the years, I guess, I got caught up in my tough guy image. Truthfully, it helped me - the reputation - convince many of these reprobates to do the right thing.”

Wolfson said during the trial that "no one is permitted to commit acts of violence against another," and that the harsh sentences were intended as a deterrent to prevent others in the Orthodox Jewish community from engaging in similar acts.

Almost immediately after the trial, reports the Washington Post, the rabbis’ defence team lodged an appeal. One of the key planks of the defence case was the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

They maintained that the crime was an essentially religious act, citing a 2015 statement by Rabbi Yitzchok Breitowitz in support of the defendants.

The statement cites Maimonides, who wrote: “When a man whom the law requires to be compelled to divorce his wife does not, the court should have him beaten until he consents, at which time they should have a get written.”

This argument was rejected by the appeals panel: “The defendants fail to cite, nor can we identify, any cases in which any court has allowed RFRA to shield individuals in the commission of violent crimes…Respect for religious beliefs cannot … trump all other legitimate, and sometimes competing, government objectives. This appeal asks us to clarify the balance between religious freedom and public safety. The balance here clearly lies on the side of public safety.”


Friday, July 21, 2017

From The Mouths Of UK "Gedoilim"? In the UK, sexually abused children are being denied compensation because they allegedly “consented.”

Numerous charities have come together to pressure David Lidington, the justice secretary, to review and fix the laws regarding children and consent (pictured above).

Numerous charities have come together to pressure David Lidington, the Justice Secretary, to review and fix the laws regarding children and consent (pictured above).

In the UK, sexually abused children are being denied compensation because they allegedly “consented.” By refusing to give them money, the government is essentially saying that if the child was not completely traumatized by the abuse, then nothing wrong happened, which is completely absurd and must be changed.

According to reports, since 2012, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority in Great Britain has refused to give over 700 sexual abuse victim’s under the age of 18 anywhere between £1,000-£44,000 in restitution. Of the 700 children, 30 of them were denied money because they somehow “consented” to their abuse.  

For example, in one case, the court refused to give a 14-year-old girl who was raped and sexually abused by a gang of older men any money because they claimed that “she had not been the victim of non-consensual sexual acts.” They ruled that, as a 14-year-old minor, it was possible for her to consent to sex with several men over the age of 30. Unsurprisingly, their decision devastated the victim and left her feeling like she was responsible for the abuse she suffered.

A child in the UK was denied compensation because she allegedly "consented" to her abuse.

A 14-year-old girl in the UK is left devastated after being denied compensation because she allegedly “consented” to her abuse.

In another case, a 12-year-old girl who was raped by a 21-year-old man in the woods was denied money, even though her abuser pled guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 13, because she went into the woods “voluntarily,” had not been a victim of violence, emerged “happily” from the woods, and had recently had sexual relations with another child around her own age.

But clearly, their reasoning is absolutely ridiculous. First, “volunteering” to do something and getting abused in the process does not mean the victim shouldn’t be compensated. That would be like claiming a child who was kidnapped and abused “volunteered” to get in the back of a van, and therefore, wasn’t really harmed. Doing so would wrongly blame the victim for the actions of the perpetrator.

Second, not being a victim of violence does not mean that she wasn’t abused. It’s possible to sexually abuse people without resorting to violence. It just happens to be more subtle. 

Second, not being a victim of violence does not mean that she wasn’t abused. It’s possible to sexually abuse people without resorting to violence. It just happens to be more subtle. Claiming that violence wasn’t used overlooks this fact.  

Third, a victim’s emotional state afterward is also largely irrelevant to whether or not they were abused. People cope with trauma in different ways. Some become completely depressed, others try to laugh and smile and act like it didn’t affect them. Emerging “happily” from the woods does not mean she wasn’t abused.

And fourth, having sexual relations after being abused does not mean the abuse didn’t happen or that the person wasn’t harmed by the abuse. Some abuse victim’s stop having sex, others don’t let it affect their sex lives. Since both outcomes are possible, a victim’s sex life is mostly irrelevant.

Fortunately, several charities in the UK understand this. Outraged by the obvious injustice, they are currently working together to change the law so that the courts cannot rule that a child consented to their abuse. One of the main things they’ve done so far is write a letter to David Lidington, the Justice Secretary, demanding that he fix the law regarding children and consent.

Martha Spurrier, the Director of Liberty, a nonprofit group dedicated to protecting human rights and one of the charities pushing Lidington to reform the law, claimed it was a “disgrace” to deny compensation to minors on the grounds that they consented to their abuse.

“For a state agency to tell children who have survived these horrific crimes that they did consent – and deny them compensation – is a disgrace. The Government must urgently change these guidelines,” claimed Spurrier, adding, “grooming is brainwashing – perpetrators manipulate children into situations that look like consent. No child can consent to abuse, which is why the criminal law rightly says they are simply unable to do so.”

Martha Spurrier, the Director of Liberty, a nonprofit group dedicated to protecting human rights.
Martha Spurrier, the Director of Liberty, a nonprofit group dedicated to protecting human rights.

In response to the outrage, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) launched an investigation. “The issue of compensation for victims is currently being examined by the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, and the Ministry of Justice is contributing to its important work,” explained an MOJ spokesman, adding, “child sexual abuse is abhorrent and this government is committed to doing everything possible to support victims. We will look closely at the concerns raised by these charities that some victims are not getting the compensation they deserve.”

Although the law in the UK was designed to protect children, in reality, it is actually harming them. The government must change the law so that children who were sexually abused get the compensation they deserve. Until they do, it’s likely that victims of abuse will continue to be denied compensation.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

This article examines specific factors that contribute to the underreporting of child sexual abuse within Orthodox Jewish communities.

Journal of Child Sexual Abuse

Latest Articles

Twice Silenced: The Underreporting of Child Sexual Abuse in Orthodox Jewish Communities

Pages 1-16 | Received 28 Mar 2017, Accepted 22 May 2017, Published online: 17 Jul 2017

Child sexual abuse remains an underreported crime throughout the world, despite extensive research and resources dedicated both to improving investigative techniques and helping children disclose their experiences.

 The discovery of rampant cover-ups within the Catholic Church has exposed some of the ways religious and cultural issues can impede reporting to authorities. This article examines specific factors that contribute to the underreporting of child sexual abuse within Orthodox Jewish communities. 

It also explores ways in which these communities have handled child sexual abuse reporting in the past and describes recent progress. Implications are offered for CSA prevention, detection, and recovery in Orthodox Jewish communities as well as other minority religious groups.

Author information

David Katzenstein

David Katzenstein, LCSW-R, is the clinical coordinator of the Department of Behavioral Health at Premium Health Center. He has served as an adjunct faculty member at Touro College, Wurzweiler, and NYU Schools of Social Work and is currently a doctoral candidate at NYU- Silver School of Social Work.

Lisa Aronson Fontes

Lisa Aronson Fontes, PhD, is a senior lecturer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and author of the book Interviewing Clients Across Cultures as well as numerous publications related to cultural issues in child abuse and violence against women.

In the three years since the indictment was filed, the family members were humiliated, ostracized and boycotted by their community. Rabbis choose to protect the teacher at the expense of the children with some even accompanying him to court.

Ahron Shlomo Lyson Sentenced to 7 Years for Sexually Abusing Three Brothers

Ahron Shlomo Lyson (Lisson), 34, from Beitar Illit, was sentenced Wednesday to seven years in prison and two years’ probation for sexually assaulting his students. Lyson was a teacher in Ohalei Menachem in Beitar Illit, and was convicted last December of sexually assaulting three brothers, aged 13-15.
According to the indictment, in the years 2009-2014 Lyson invited the boys to his home, where he sexually abused them. In addition, he abused one of the boys twice in the mikvah. The court also ruled that Lyson must compensate the brothers in various amounts ranging from NIS 150,000 to NIS 80,000.

In an interview with YNet, the mother of the boys said, “I thank the Creator and thank the court and the system that justice has been served and (the abuser) was punished. We are very moved and hope that this will give every other child the strength to report abuse and know that there is someone who protects them, believes them and hears them. Thank you to the judge who believed the children, and I hope that tonight they will be able to sleep better than they have for the past few years.”

In the three years since the indictment was filed, the family members were humiliated, ostracized and boycotted by their community. Rabbis choose to protect the teacher at the expense of the children with some even accompanying him to court. But the family’s determination, and the determination of others like them have led to the fact that it is slowly becoming clear in the haredi community that it is impossible to continue silencing the victims and protecting the abusers.

Shana Aaronson and JCW's amazing team in Israel has been in close contact with the survivors and their parents for two years now.

“The punishment he received will never bring back to my children the years of childhood that they lost and the social life that was cut off,” added the mother. “I stand behind my decision to report (the abuse) and embark on this justice crusade, even though it was not easy, I participated in 59 hearings throughout the trial just to give my children the strength to know that Mother is always behind them.”

Click Here to read the full article.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

“We’re not at a level of communal discussion, response and resource provision that indicates this issue is being taken seriously.”

Study Finds ‘Glaring Gaps’ In Abuse Prevention

First-of-its-kind study finds that Jewish schools and camps lack best practices when it comes to combating child sexual abuse.


A new study, the first of its kind in the Jewish community to chart how prepared schools and camps are to prevent child sexual abuse, reveals that protections are not uniformly understood or implemented.

The study — conducted by Jumpstart, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that funds and supports Jewish innovation, and being reported on here for the first time — found that only 58 percent of the 68 Jewish day schools surveyed reported having a written policy to deal with child sexual abuse.

While 95 percent of the 90 Jewish overnight camps surveyed had a written policy to deal with child sexual abuse, the detail, breadth and application of those policies remained lacking, according to project director and CEO of Jumpstart, Joshua Avedon. (Two hundred Jewish overnight camps and 140 Jewish day schools were contacted for the study.)

Jumpstart CEO Joshua Avedon

“The most important finding is that there’s a lack of understanding about what best practices are to create a safety framework,” said Avedon. “Even organizations that are attempting to do this work and putting into place some measures and controls don’t fully understand what needs to get done.”

The study, conducted by sociologist Steven M. Cohen and abuse expert Shira Berkovits in consultation with the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) and the RAVSAK network of community Jewish day schools, found that despite broad adoption of written child sexual abuse policies, the content of those policies are not always consistent with best practices. For example, only 26 percent of day schools indicated they had a policy in place that prohibited staff from being alone with a child unless visible to others.

In addition, a substantial number of both camps and schools did not prohibit typical “grooming” behaviors — a set of seemingly innocent behaviors that a child abuser might use to gain the trust of a child — such as giving gifts to an individual child, contacting a child for non-camp/school related issues and transporting a child alone in a vehicle.

“[Organizations] can have a heightened level of confidence, which may not actually be warranted by what their actions are,” said Avedon. “They didn’t know what they didn’t know.”
One particularly glaring example: Though 100 percent of camps and 95 percent of schools reported “always” or “usually” screening adult hires who will come in contact with minors, 12 percent of camps and 22 percent of schools do not or are not sure if they perform screenings for volunteers.
“A predator looking for an opportunity to abuse a child would seek the easiest point of entry,” said Avedon.

“A predator looking for an opportunity to abuse a child would seek the easiest point of entry,” said Avedon. “A volunteer position provides exactly that — access to children but limits on anti-abuse safeguards.”

Currently, all 50 states require that professionals working with children report reasonable suspicions of abuse to a government child protection agency. In 18 states (including New Jersey, though not New York), any adult with reasonable suspicion is legally required to report it. Still, 15 percent of camp directors and 10 percent of school directors did not or were unsure about whether they understood these laws. Camp response procedures tended to emphasize reporting internally within the organization, rather than externally to authorities, leading to “inadvertent cover-ups,” said Avedon.

“There is sometimes a gap between what [staff] think they’re supposed to be doing and what actually is the law,” he said, regarding the tendency to report internally. “Good-intentioned people can actually aid the quashing of an investigation.” While institutions are tempted to “wait until they have proof,” that means “waiting until a child is abused.”
While institutions are tempted to “wait until they have proof,” that means “waiting until a child is abused.”
Cohen, research professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College, said that while “everyone wants to protect the children under their care,” limited familiarity with the specifics of how to achieve that objective leads to a “glaring gap between commitment and performance.”

Indeed, the study found that Jewish camps and day schools report greater levels of preparedness in handling child sexual abuse than their current policies indicate is warranted. While 95 percent of Jewish overnight camps and 90 percent of Jewish day schools believe that they are greatly or somewhat prepared to deal with child sexual abuse, 13 percent of camps and nearly 30 percent of schools scored poorly in adherence to best practices of prevention, detection and response.

While most respondents indicated that their organization provide some training to staff on how to identify, prevent and respond to child sexual abuse, only 17 percent of schools and 57 percent of camps felt their staff was trained to a “great extent.”

 Nearly 40 percent of respondents indicated that their organizations did not provide any education to children about what was considered inappropriate touching or behaviors by adults.

“I think it’s pretty clear that the Jewish world is lagging behind,” said Avedon, citing groups in the Christian world like GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse In Christian Environments), a Lynchburg, Va.-based nonprofit founded in 2003 to assist evangelical groups confront child sexual abuse. “We’re not at a level of communal discussion, response and resource provision that indicates this issue is being taken seriously.”
“I think it’s pretty clear that the Jewish world is lagging behind,” said Avedon.
Jeremy Fingerman, the CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, an umbrella organization that supports 160 Jewish overnight camps, said that hard data is “how to build real support.”

“We salute this effort to make camps more safe,” said Fingerman, who helped circulate the survey among FJC-affiliated camps. “Now that we have data, camps can begin to design training programs.”
He compared the Jumpstart study to a 2012-13 study conducted by FJC which found that children with disabilities are significantly underserved by Jewish camps. The data drove an inclusion initiative that enabled more disabled campers to attend Jewish camps.

Fingerman said that the Jumpstart study’s finding that Jewish overnight camps are more confident about their child sexual abuse policies than is seemingly warranted did not concern him.

“The study is intended to raise awareness and enforce best practices,” he said. “The high response rate from the camps surveyed show they are prepared to do the work.”
“We’re not at a level of communal discussion, response and resource provision that indicates this issue is being taken seriously.”
The one thing that does influence every Jewish organization: the funders. “That’s the great equalizer,” said Avedon. Last year, Jumpstart pioneered a Funders Pledge strategy that commits at least a dozen influential philanthropists — including Lynn Schusterman of the Schusterman Family Foundation, Jay Ruderman of the Ruderman Family Foundation and Felicia Herman, executive director of the Natan Fund — to support only those Jewish schools, camps and other groups working with children that take specific steps to “prevent, report and investigate sexual abuse of minors.” Today, the pledge has 18 signatories.

Though some results of the survey were “disturbing” for Avedon — particularly that 40 percent of the day schools surveyed had no policy on child sexual abuse whatsoever — he believes the Jewish community is approaching a “tipping point” about this issue.

“There is a sense that the Jewish community is finally ready to grapple with this problem,” he said.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

At the time I was confused about my place in the Jewish faith. I’d been raised solidly Charedi in Boro Park, taught from a young age to keep shabbos and kashrus, to daven three times a day, to value torah, and to respect gedolim. Gedolim were the closest thing we had to prophets...

How The Gedolim Lost My Faith


Author’s Note: Here’s the link to the Facebook event for this Sunday’s protest of the Novominsker Rebbe’s, and by extension Agudah’s, rape-enabling policies: https://www.facebook.com/events/261681534310970/

I started off in activism, much in the same way every other activist starts, with a young, optimistic, incredibly naïve idea of what I could accomplish if I tried hard enough. The problem: children were being abused, suffering horribly at the hands of people who violated them in ways that would viscerally incense anyone possessed of a conscience. Surely the problem was one of ignorance. It seemed to me, as it seems to many young, upstart activists, that when apprised of the horrifying reality and pervasiveness of child sexual abuse, people of conscience, people who are otherwise God-fearing fellow Orthodox Jews, could possibly stand idly by and allow such injustices to continue. No, it must be ignorance, I figured, and ignorance can be educated.

At the time I was confused about my place in the Jewish faith. I’d been raised solidly Charedi in Boro Park, taught from a young age to keep shabbos and kashrus, to daven three times a day, to value torah, and to respect gedolim. Gedolim were the closest thing we had to prophets. They didn’t talk to God, but after a lifetime of devotion to God, the study of Torah, and living piously, living as an example for the rest of us to follow, surely they were the most qualified to tell us what God wanted of us.

But that sort of devotion surely must come at a price, a certain detachment from the mundane, from the day-to-day of our lay-lives. It’s no wonder they didn’t care for anything about the rampant sexual abuse in their communities, no wonder that when they were handed a case to adjudicate they made the incorrect choice. It wasn’t their fault, they simply didn’t understand the exactly nature of the problem they were adjudication. They simply didn’t understand what it means for a victim to feel so abandoned, betrayed, and violated by their friends, family, and community that the only apparent way out is suicide. They’d surely they’d never experienced being in such a mental space.

Surely they’d never been in so much pain that the only way to numb it, to make it somewhat bearable, survivable, was to stay drunk or high for long enough to function. Surely they’d never felt so out of control that were compelled to stuff themselves to make themselves feel full of something other than pain only to empty themselves out again with a well placed finger down their throats; surely they’d never felt the need to exert a similar control over something – anything – in their lives by not eating.

No, they couldn’t possibly be very experienced these things. And why would they? They were holy, as close to perfect as a human being could be, and God rewards those who follow God’s law so devotedly. It wasn’t their fault that they’d never experienced such pain. They’d worked hard for their rewards. Their lack of perspective wasn’t a flaw, but a testament to their righteousness. Their detachment was both a byproduct and a reward of the lives they’d led.

But surely these paragons, once informed of the pain we were experiencing, once confronted, not adversarially but respectfully, unlike those other activists who were just out to shame them, mock their torah, they’re communities, and their devotion to both, activists who were simply self-interested, ridiculing people who by contrast made them look like the pleasure-seeking self-justifying sinners they surely were – if they were approached by someone who walked in both sets of shoes, a survivor and a devoted member of their community – surely they’d have to take notice and act to help us.

I started to talk to people about getting me some meetings with the men I’d grown up revering. At the time I’d started writing, but still didn’t have my own blog, so I’d hand my articles to other blogs for publication. In Novemeber of 2012, Avi Shafran wrong an article for Cross Currents titled The Evil Eleventh, in which he responded to a 2006 New York Magazine article by Robert Kolker, which speculated that abuse in the Orthodox Jewish world might be more prevalent than it is elsewhere. Shafran, in his response, contended that since there are no statistics, Kolker’s speculative assertions were an “unmitigated insult to the Judaism,” and likened it, due to his reliance on information obtained by a handful of advocates and survivors, to “visiting Sloan Kettering and concluding that there is a national cancer epidemic raging.”

The rest of his response was a classic example of deflecting by focusing attention on the Jimmy Savile case in England, and engaging in No True Scotsmanism, declaring anyone who would do such a thing ipso facto not a religious Jew, thereby – somehow – making it not our problem.

Respectful as I was of gedolim at the time – many of whom Shafran represented as spokesman for Agudath Israel, and by extension the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah, and distrustful to the point of disdain, at times, of the advocates and activists involved in the issue of child sexual abuse, I nevertheless wrote a response which I intended to publish on a friend’s blog. I figured, however, that it was only fair to send an advance copy to Shafran for comment before publishing.

After emailing back and forth about the article, it seemed that he agreed with my main points, and that my article, as I had intended to publish it, was unfair. He seemed like someone I could talk to, a reasonable person who genuinely cared about the issue, and, given half a chance, would do what he could to help. I told him I would not publish my response, and we set up a time to talk on the phone.

We ended up talking for four nights over the next two weeks, each conversation lasting a couple of hours. I had prepared notes. I knew I wouldn’t get anywhere on many of the topics I raised, but I figured I’d raise them anyway.

Issues like sex education in yeshivos, acknowledging the harm done – whether anything could be done about it or not – in segregating the sexes until marriage, acknowledging – whether anything could be done about it or not – the problems caused by our general reticence to use proper terminology when discussing physical anatomy or sexuality, refusing to discuss sexuality as a topic, and how much harder it makes discussing non-consensual sexual encounters when even consensual encounters are considered taboo. Then there was the fact that teachers, and yeshiva administrations in general are unwilling to allow students to discuss issues they’re having in their personal lives with faith, with the opposite sex, drugs, depression, etc, without fear of expulsion, and that by the time they reach a yeshiva that does allow such discussion between students and faculty, it’s too late.

Then we moved on to the problems caused by sexual abuse, and the terrible suffering it causes to its victims. I ran him through all the problems, both mental and physical, caused by sexual abuse, some which I’d developed having been abused myself for years.

Throughout all of it, he listened sympathetically, sometimes even empathetically. He acknowledged all of my concerns. He admitted that there were issues with the way our communities raise children, and he acknowledged the damage caused by all of these concerns. I thought I was getting somewhere. I thought, finally someone who’s on my side, who has access to gedolim, who can actually help me change things for the better.

And then we got to the psak.

Shortly following the 2011 Agudah Convention, Shafran posted the following psak on Cross Currents, which operates as Agudah’s de facto blog. The psak was posted by Shafran as an official Agudah statement:
  1. Where there is “raglayim la’davar” (roughly, reason to believe) that a child has been abused or molested, the matter should be reported to the authorities. In such situations, considerations of “tikun ha’olam” (the halachic authority to take steps necessary to “repair the world”), as well as other halachic concepts, override all other considerations.
  2. This halachic obligation to report where there is raglayim la’davar is not dependent upon any secular legal mandate to report. Thus, it is not limited to a designated class of “mandated reporters,” as is the law in many states (including New York); it is binding upon anyone and everyone. In this respect, the halachic mandate to report is more stringent than secular law.
  3. However, where the circumstances of the case do not rise to the threshold level of raglayim la’davar, the matter should not be reported to the authorities. In the words of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, perhaps the most widely respected senior halachic authority in the world today, “I see no basis to permit” reporting “where there is no raglayim la’davar, but rather only ‘eizeh dimyon’ (roughly, some mere conjecture); if we were to permit it, not only would that not result in ‘tikun ha’olam’, it could lead to ‘heres haolam’ (destruction of the world).” [Yeshurun, Volume 7, page 641.]
  4. Thus, the question of whether the threshold standard of raglayim la’davar has been met so as to justify (indeed, to require) reporting is critical for halachic purposes. (The secular law also typically establishes a threshold for mandated reporters; in New York, it is “reasonable cause to suspect.”) The issue is obviously fact sensitive and must be determined on a case-by-case basis.
  5. There may be times when an individual may feel that a report or evidence he has seen rises to the level of raglayim la’davar; and times when he may feel otherwise. Because the question of reporting has serious implications for all parties, and raises sensitive halachic issues, the individual should not rely exclusively on his own judgment to determine the presence or absence of raglayim la’davar. Rather, he should present the facts of the case to a rabbi who is expert in halacha and who also has experience in the area of abuse and molestation – someone who is fully sensitive both to the gravity of the halachic considerations and the urgent need to protect children. (In addition, as Rabbi Yehuda Silman states in one of his responsa [Yeshurun, Volume 15, page 589], “of course it is assumed that the rabbi will seek the advice of professionals in the field as may be necessary.”) It is not necessary to convene a formal bais din (rabbinic tribunal) for this purpose, and the matter should be resolved as expeditiously as possible to minimize any chance of the suspect continuing his abusive conduct while the matter is being considered.

While the first four clauses of the psak may not seem all that objectionable, despite the comparison of “reasonable causes to suspect” determined by mental health and law enforcement professionals to raglayim ledavar determined by average, untrained community rabbis, the fifth clause is what’s truly problematic about the psak.

The fifth clause seems to indicate that since the average person is not an expert in what constitutes raglayim ledavar, a rabbi should be consulted in every case, either to establish the presence of raglayim ledavar, or to affirm it. What that essentially means, to most people, is that regardless of whether or not your own common sense tells you that there’s clearly raglayim ledavar, you should consult your rabbi anyway just to make sure.

By then I’d been active long enough in survivor communities to have heard countless stories of survivors who had been browbeaten into silence by rabbis who were either ignorant of the damage caused by sexual abused and therefore felt more sympathy either for the abuser who could potentially face serious prison time, or the abuser’s family who would suffer if their loved one was arrested and publicly charged, or who simply persuaded and pressured survivors into silence because they had a vested interest in protecting the abuser. I’d seen the damage caused by this psak, and I wanted Shafran to address my concerns. Surely we could work something out.

I told him my concerns, and he told me that I had gotten the psak all wrong. That it didn’t actually mandate consulting rabbis in every case. That surprised me, so I asked him for specific examples of cases that would or wouldn’t require consulting a rabbi prior to reporting.

According to Shafran, if someone is the victim of abuse, they obviously have raglayim ledavar, and can report without consulting a rabbi. If someone is the parent or guardian of a child who clearly seems like they were abused, or clearly says that they were abused, then you have raglayim ledavar, and can report without consulting a rabbi. The only situation under the psak, according to Shafran, in which you’d actually have to consult a rabbi, is if a child tells you that something happened, but can’t or won’t elaborate, and you’re not sure what they mean.

While the proper protocol for such a situation is to take the child to a mental health professional for evaluation, this interpretation of the psak as laid out by Shafran seemed damned near reasonable. I was stunned. It actually seemed like a decent compromise, a promising starting point. The psak actually was progress. The advocates were wrong. But why did they have this misconception, and why didn’t Agudah do anything to remedy it?

I asked Shafran, still stunned by what he’d told me, why this psak wasn’t more widely publicized, more publicly explained? Why was this psak, as he’d explained it, published in mainstream Charedi newspapers, like Yated and Hamodia? Why was Agudah not taking out two-page spreads to both defend themselves against the baseless accusations of angry bloggers, and to make sure that children in the community were protected under this new, progressive psak?

Because we don’t want the laypeople interpreting the psak on their own and misapplying it.

That was the response I got.

But why do community rabbis not know about this psak? How are they expected to make the proper decisions if they don’t even know the framework in which they’re expected to operate? I didn’t get a good answer for this.

Alright, but what about having a dedicated panel that’s publicly known to adjudicate sexual abuse cases, and evaluate whether or not they meet the criteria of raglayim ledavar, a panel that would be accountable for the rulings they’d render?

Well, Shafran explained, firstly such a thing wouldn’t be legal. Secondly, no rabbi would want to be the one to step forward and take the lead on such a thing. It would earn them criticism, and cause conflicts with the institutions they lead or represent, jeopardize their positions, or the financial futures of their yeshivos, and no one would want to accept that kind of responsibility.

What if the gedolim came out publicly and did more to raise awareness? Surely, if they took leadership on this, if they all made the issue front and center as a problem that the frum community needs to tackle head-on, rabbis who wanted to become more proactive in fighting against child sexual abuse would feel more comfortable making themselves available.

It was then that Shafran managed my expectations of gedolim.

They have the same problem. They don’t feel they can take that risk, because they still have to worry about their communities, institutions, and positions.

And right there, at that moment, is when the gedolim lost my faith.

“I don’t understand,” I exclaimed bitterly, “Is the dog wagging its tail, or is the tail wagging the dog?”

After I’d calmed down a little bit, apologized for my outburst, and assimilated this world-shattering piece of information, I got back down to business.

Ok, well, if the gedolim aren’t going to help, what can I do to raise awareness in the community? Could Shafran help me get a foot in the door with some of the frum newspapers and magazines so I could publish articles about abuse, and raise community awareness?

Yated, Hamodia, Mishpacha, Ami, and Zman would never take them, he said.

Not even if they were told to?


So what do I do?

Start at the bottom. Go to the Flatbush Jewish Journal. They’ll be more likely to publish something about sexual abuse, provided its written respectfully, in a way that doesn’t accuse the whole community of complicity. Start there. Work your way up.

Can you call the editor in chief and tell him that you’re sending me along?


Can I tell him you sent me?


Can I drop your name when I talk to him?


So after four days of talking, after all the things we’ve agreed upon, after all the concern you showed, you can’t help me with anything? Even this? What have I gotten from this?

תפסת מרובה לא תפסת

I’ve since been disabused of all the misconceptions I’ve had regarding gedolim. I should have known, but all the gedolim I’d tried to get meetings with had already met with survivors, had already heard everything I’d wanted to say to them, and their paid had similarly fallen on deaf ears.

I’ve since lost the illusion I had of gedolim as saintly beings with a holy disconnection from mundane reality. They know. But they’re people. They have self-interest. They have ambition. They like power, and money. They’re the same as everyone else. Nothing greater or lesser. Just regular people in charge of regular institutions. They don’t know God any better than the rest of us do. They don’t have any special insight that we don’t. Their ability to use their sechel isn’t any different from ours. There’s nothing innately special about any of them.

They’re gedolim because they have power. They run powerful institutions. They control powerful amounts of money. They have powerful amounts of influence. That’s it. Nothing special.

I lost a fair chunk of my innocence when I realized this. I no longer had heroes to look up to. I no longer had any paragons of virtue after which to model my life. But I’ve met some. There are people I consider tzaddikim. People who have literally stood between a gun and its intended target. People whose careers and public profiles have suffered tremendously because they refused to budge on their principles. People who have publicly acknowledged their complicity in protecting abusers in the past, but have since publicly taken accountability, apologized unreservedly, educated themselves about the issue, and have become some of the leaders in our cause.

Those are people worthy of respect.

And the key difference between them? They are respected but don’t demand respect. They are beloved but don’t demand love. They don’t command awe. They don’t command worship. They’re not the kind of people who would make you walk backwards out of a room they’re occupying so you don’t turn your back on them. They’re always willing to offer advice if asked, but would never demand that you seek their counsel.

They’re the real gedolim, but they would bristle at the title.

I only came to this realization about gedolim because I came close enough to see their weaknesses. Most people in their communities are too blinded by the mirages they see to recognize these weaknesses. That’s why we’re bringing the issue to the frum community. That’s why ZA’AKAH is protesting outside of the Novominsker Rebbe’s shul. To show the community that we’re not ignoring the issue just because the gedolim tell us to, that the gedolim are not operating in the best interests of our children, but the best interests of the institutions they lead, that there are people out there who see their pain, and care enough to do something about it, and that if they should choose to speak up, we’ll proudly give them a voice.

Join us this Sunday at 3 PM, in front of the Novominsker Shul at 1644 48th street, to protest agudah’s rape enabling policies. Because that’s all their psak does. That’s all Yaakov Perlow accomplished in issuing that psak. By requiring victims to consult a rabbi before reporting child sexual abuse to the authorities, all that’s accomplished is the enabling of coverups by community rabbis either too ignorant, or too biased to make the right decisions.

The only proper response to abuse is reporting to the authorities. And let no gadol tell you otherwise.


Monday, July 17, 2017

“The fact is that institutional abuse, sexual abuse, abuses of power, they are not (only) Orthodox problems, or even Jewish problems; they are human problems impacting every community. According to a new exclusive study, 40 percent of Jewish day school have no policies to prevent child sexual abuse.

Camp, Child 





Startup Org Shines New Light On Abuse Policies

Sacred Spaces expands focus from helping abuse victims and exposing offenders to reshaping institutions.

In his first summer as director of Camp Ramah Berkshires, a large Conservative sleepaway camp in the rolling hills of upstate New York, Rabbi Ethan Linden is intent on ensuring that all the camp’s policies and procedures are up to code.

That includes, among medical policies, security policies and fire safety procedures, measures to prevent child sexual abuse.

“The core mission of the camp is to care for children,” said Linden, who will have 750 campers under his supervision over the course of the summer. “Coming in new, it was a good opportunity to work with someone who has expertise in preventing the sorts of nightmare scenarios that keep camp directors up at night.”**
“People are not thinking through these issues in advance,” said Berkovits.
Shira Berkovits, founder and executive director of Sacred Spaces, a nonprofit launched a year ago that aims to help Jewish communal institutions develop policies and training to prevent and respond to abuse, is that someone.

“People are not thinking through these issues in advance,” said Berkovits, a lawyer, psychologist, consultant and Jewish educator. “When an issue comes up, people are scrambling to come up with fixes. If we had a code — just like a fire safety code — our community could start to think about the issue of abuse in a different way.”

Shira Berkovits, founder and executive director of Sacred Spaces, a new non-profit that aims to help institutions develop policies to prevent abuse. 

The presence of Sacred Spaces, which is now working with 10 institutions, mostly in the New York area, is being bolstered by a just-released study by the innovative nonprofit support group Jumpstart that documents “critical gaps” in schools’ and camps’ anti-child sexual abuse policies. (See exclusive story.)

Taken together, the study and Berkovits’ work appear to be signaling a shift from what has heretofore been a focus on helping abuse victims and exposing offenders to reshaping institutions. Though Sacred Spaces’ first cohort of institutions is focused on preventing child abuse, Berkovits hopes future initiatives will tackle a wider range of abuse issues, including sexual harassment and elder abuse.

Today, Berkovits wants camps, schools, and synagogues to be less “reactive” and more “preventative” by putting in place policies based on best practices. She envisions, in the not-too-distant future, an accreditation system for communal institutions.

Though the Jumpstart study did not focus on synagogues, a 2013 study conducted by Berkovits found that 67 percent of 112 synagogues had no policies on child sexual abuse prevention at all; 82 percent of youth directors had never been offered training.

Her results focused on the three largest denominations (Orthodox, Conservative and Reform). Though Orthodox synagogues had the highest percentages of an absence of policies and training — 91 percent of Orthodox youth directors had no training on child-abuse prevention, and 75 percent of Orthodox synagogues had no policies on the matter — Conservative and Reform synagogues also proved sorely lacking.
91 percent of Orthodox youth directors had no training on child-abuse prevention, and 75 percent of Orthodox synagogues had no policies on the matter.
Sacred Spaces’ guide for synagogues suggests some of the training Berkovits’ research recommends. One such hands-on example, a bystander intervention workshop intended for synagogue congregants, details a scenario: At a kiddush lunch, you notice a congregant help a child to reach a cookie. As the congregant gives the child the cookie, the congregant strokes the child’s bare arm and kisses the child’s head. The child squirms and looks uncomfortable.

The question: How does one effectively intervene? Congregants will conduct a role play, discuss what might hold someone back from intervening and discuss the most effective way to get involved.
The workshop, and others like it, is part of a process that includes a review of current policies and procedures, interviews with staff, parents and children, a building and grounds assessment, the development of new policies and ongoing evaluation.

The chair of the child protection committee at a medium-sized New York synagogue that is working with Sacred Spaces said that he was “surprised” by the lack of knowledge among his fellow synagogue leaders on the topic.

“The stigma around sexual abuse is a huge challenge,” he said. (He, like several institutional officials contacted by The Jewish Week for this article, requested to remain anonymous to shield the synagogue’s identity; they did not want their cooperation to imply that their institutions had an issue with child sexual abuse.) “Educated, well-meaning individuals were dubious. They think this [sexual abuse] is something that happens over there, not over here.”
“The stigma around sexual abuse is a huge challenge.”
The committee chair — himself a practicing pediatrician who has worked on matters of child protection for years — said the process of instituting policies to protect children from abuse was “eye-opening.”

I can barely imagine how challenging it might be for someone not initiated to the topic,” he said. The synagogue — which he described as “very proactive about inclusion and protection” — began taking the abuse issue more seriously after Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt, former rabbi of Riverdale Jewish Center, became embroiled in controversy over his habit of inviting young men to go with him to the sauna.

“We realized the importance of establishing red lines,” he said.

After nearly two years of consulting with Berkovits, working through policies with the board of trustees, and introducing the initiative to the community though small discussion groups, the synagogue in nearing the implementation stage. Policies are set to take effect in September.
Berkovits hopes to use the synagogue’s policies as a model for other synagogues.
“The issue is very charged. People have put up all kinds of defense mechanisms to believe it couldn’t happen in their community,” the chair said. “The truth is, it can and it does. But changing a culture takes a lot of time.”

Not (only) An ‘Orthodox Problem’ 

Though the charedi community has shouldered the brunt of negative publicity on the issue of abuse, Berkovits said that she has been “surprised” at how receptive Orthodox communities are to initiating the conversation — often more so than “more liberal communities.”

Abuse, she stressed, is not an “Orthodox problem.”

“The fact is that institutional abuse, sexual abuse, abuses of power, they are not (only) Orthodox problems, or even Jewish problems; they are human problems impacting every community. Unless a community has invested significant time and resources to address this issue, they will not be prepared to responsibly handle abuses of power when they occur — and they will occur.”

Support for Berkovits’ project spans the denominational spectrum. Rabbi David Ingber, the senior rabbi at Romemu, a Renewal-inspired congregation on the Upper West Side, plans to work with Sacred Spaces to evaluate his own synagogue; he also hopes to serve on the advisory board of the organization.
“The Jewish community is radically unprepared to deal with this issue,” said Rabbi Ingber. “I’m galvanized by what Shira is doing — people need to know that her work can help avert so many future disasters.” He referred to the work as pikuach nefesh — saving a life. “If you can save one child, you can save a whole world … we can no longer stand idly by.”
“I’m galvanized by what Shira is doing — people need to know that her work can help avert so many future disasters.”
Rabbi Judah Isaacs, director of community engagement at the Orthodox Union (OU), the largest Orthodox umbrella organization, said Berkovits’ work is critical to help congregations navigate tricky situations, like how to respond to someone convicted of child abuse if/when they want to rejoin the congregation. The OU has worked with her on a case-by-case basis over the last five years.
“Shira has helped our synagogues navigate that difficult space,” he said. “It is critical that our synagogues have professional help, and don’t try and navigate these situations themselves.”

Changing the Culture

Guila Benchimol, a consultant for Sacred Spaces with a master’s degree in criminology and criminal justice policy, is working with a large Orthodox day school in Toronto to establish abuse-prevention policies. This month, it will be piloting a detailed list of policies and protocols developed with help from Sacred Spaces. They include: limitations on students riding in cars with staff members; limitations on students being alone in the building with staff members; methods of communicating with parents about concerns; and involving government agencies to work with school on reporting abuse. (The problem of self-policing — reporting abuse to rabbis rather than law enforcement — has been particularly troublesome in the Orthodox community, though there are indications that this is changing, Benchimol said.)
“When we started this work a few years back, people warned us, ‘You’re going to make enemies.’”

“When we started this work a few years back, people warned us, ‘You’re going to make enemies,’” said Benchimol, who is writing her doctoral dissertation about sexual abuse in tight-knit communities, including the Orthodox community. “Then, people really weren’t open to talking about it.”
Today, that’s changed, she said. “Now, people want to know more. When you talk about what needs to happen, that’s when resistance starts.”

According to a new exclusive study, 
40 percent of Jewish day school 
have no policies to prevent child sexual abuse. 

Still, it is the responsibility of leadership and staff at Jewish institutions to start “changing the culture.”

“In the community, abuse is still a difficult story to tell,” she said. “But it should not be the responsibility of abuse survivors to force us to change. Their stories should not have to shock us into action. The onus is on us — to take initiative, to change our institutions, so there doesn’t have to be another story.”

Sacred Spaces received start-up grants from several organizations, including the Natan Fund, a giving circle of young Jewish professionals, which gave the organization its first foundation grant, and the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York (JWFNY) which provided a $15,000 general operating support grant.

“We hoped that this grant would not just provide financial support as Sacred Spaces got off the ground, but also serve as a statement about the importance of this issue and the great promise of this particular approach, envisioned and executed by these excellent leaders,” said Felicia Herman, Natan’s executive director.

JWFNY’s executive director Jamie Allen Black said she is “proud to partner with [Berkovits] on this important work.”
Berkovits, 33, began thinking about ways to keep children safe as a youth director for the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in 2005, and later as a consultant for the OU.
“In the Jewish community, the anti-abuse organizations that exist rarely speak about God or reference Judaic texts in their work,” said Berkovits.

“In the Jewish community, the anti-abuse organizations that exist rarely speak about God or reference Judaic texts in their work,” said Berkovits, noting that Vieth consistently framed his work as a religious imperative — part of leading a “Godly life.”

“At Sacred Spaces,” Berkovits said, “we see our mission of creating healthy Jewish organizations as a positive commandment that goes to the core of our Jewish values and tradition. … One cannot claim to be religious and turn a blind eye to abuse.”

“In the Jewish community, the anti-abuse organizations that exist rarely speak about God or reference Judaic texts in their work,” said Berkovits.
Berkovits was prompted to write a book after being “inundated with phone calls” following a 2013 resolution put out by the Rabbinical Council of America — the largest body of Orthodox rabbis — calling upon all synagogues and schools to adopt policies geared towards preventing sexual abuse.
Even as organizations understand that the work has to happen, there is still a long way to go “in our communal conversations and awareness,” said Berkovits.

“Part of our work with organizations is helping them to shift their assumptions and approach to prevention, so that they take pride in their efforts,” she said.

“Organizations worry that by taking preventative steps they might somehow be perceived as having ‘an issue with abuse,’” she continued. “What everyone should understand is that taking steps to prevent abuse is not something that should be reserved for those who have had incidents of abuse.
“By then,” she concluded, “it is too late.”

**In 2016, a former camper at Camp Ramah Berkshires (identified by the pseudonym John Doe in legal papers) filed a lawsuit against the Jewish Theological Seminary and the National Ramah Commission alleging that a counselor forced him to perform a sex act in the woods one summer as a young boy. The suit accuses camp officials of aiding in a coverup and allowing alleged abuser Harvey Erlich to sexually abuse four other boys during the 1970s and 1980s. The plaintiff is seeking $20 million in damages. 

JTS told the Jewish Week that they filed a motion to dismiss the case late last year and are still awaiting a decision.