Jewish clannishness


‘Standing Silent’ follows uncovering of sexual abuse
in Baltimore’s Orthodox Jewish community

By Emily Wax
Washington Post, 2012-02-28


There are also cultural reasons for silence,
stemming at least in part from a Jewish law known as “mesirah,”
which forbids informing on a fellow Jew to secular authorities.
The law is integral to a culture of self-protection
rooted in centuries of anti-Semitism,
according to Rabbi Yosef Blau,
spiritual adviser of Yeshiva University in New York.

Reporting sexual abuse first to a rabbi is the recommended protocol of Agudath Israel of America, a national Orthodox umbrella group with an affiliated synagogue in Pikesville.
The organization — whose influence in some Orthodox communities is similar to that of the Vatican among some Catholics, Blau says —
issues opinions on policy matters.

Blau, whose efforts to hold the community accountable for sexual abuse are highlighted in the documentary, says the protocol endangers children. He draws a parallel with the Roman Catholic Church, where a pervasive culture of silence and denial made clergy unlikely to pass abuse accusations along to police.

“Why go to a rabbi? Are these rabbis qualified?
Do you call the police if you want to find out if food is kosher?”
said Blau.
“The problem is
the community doesn’t want to bring a shame on Orthodox Judaism
if these crimes get reported.
But I would argue that we have an obligation to protect our children first.”

The documentary’s release comes as elected officials across the country are pushing for tougher reporting laws, partly in response to allegations of abuse in another tight-knit community — the football program at Penn State.


Criticism of Jacobs intensified when he began writing stories about three men who said they had been sexually abused by a religious figure, a deceased member of Baltimore’s Orthodox Jewish community.

“The Orthodox community was thunderstruck by the suggestion that people who we entrust in such religious bastions could do this,” said Rabbi Emeritus Chaim Landau, with the Ner Tamid Congregation in Pikesville. “People felt the [Jewish Times] was exposing dirty laundry.”

Calls and e-mails from victims kept coming, and Jacobs felt compelled to keep investigating reports of abuse. “I didn’t go looking for them,” he said. “They kept coming to me.”

Many people accused him of lashon hora (cf. Rabbi Fortythe, Google),
the Hebrew term for negative speech that harms another,
and that is considered a sin.
He was criticized on Web sites and received hate mail,
with one blogger even writing that he hoped Jacobs’s two daughters would be barren.
Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, head of Star-K, a Baltimore kosher certifying agency,
who also works with the Agudath Israel of Baltimore,
called for a ban on the Baltimore Jewish Times,
posting a letter in his synagogue that read,
“It is totally inappropriate for this publication to be found in any Jewish home.”
Heinemann could not be reached for comment but earlier defended his letter in interviews with victims’ groups, saying he felt the paper was “orthodox bashing.”

“So it was ‘Kill the messenger.’ I know Phil’s is a lonely voice at times, which makes it all the more important that it be heard,” said former Baltimore Jewish Times editor Gary Rosenblatt, now editor and publisher of the New York Jewish Week.


Ultra-Orthodox Shun Their Own for Reporting Child Sexual Abuse
New York Times, 2012-05-10


The New York City area is home to an estimated 250,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews —
the largest such community outside of Israel,
and one that is growing rapidly because of its high birthrate.
The community is concentrated in Brooklyn,
where many of the ultra-Orthodox are Hasidim,
followers of a fervent spiritual movement that began in 18th-century Europe
and applies Jewish law to every aspect of life.

Their communities, headed by dynastic leaders called rebbes,
strive to preserve their centuries-old customs
by resisting the contaminating influences of the outside world.
While some ultra-Orthodox rabbis now argue that
a child molester should be reported to the police,
others strictly adhere to an ancient prohibition against mesirah,
the turning in of a Jew to non-Jewish authorities,
and consider publicly airing allegations against fellow Jews
to be chillul Hashem, a desecration of God’s name.

There are more mundane factors, too.
Some ultra-Orthodox Jews want to keep abuse allegations quiet
to protect the reputation of the community, and the family of the accused.
And rabbinical authorities, eager to maintain control,
worry that inviting outside scrutiny could erode their power,
said Samuel Heilman, a professor of Jewish studies at Queens College.

“They are more afraid of the outside world
than the deviants within their own community,”
Dr. Heilman said.
“The deviants threaten individuals here or there,
but the outside world threatens everyone
and the entire structure of their world.”

Scholars believe that abuse rates in the ultra-Orthodox world
are roughly the same as those in the general population,
but for generations,
most ultra-Orthodox abuse victims kept silent,
fearful of being stigmatized
in a culture where the genders are strictly separated
and discussion of sex is taboo.
When a victim did come forward,
it was generally to rabbis and rabbinical courts,
which would sometimes investigate the allegations,
pledge to monitor the accused, or order payment to a victim,
but not refer the matter to the police.

“You can destroy a person’s life with a false report,”
said Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel,
the executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America,
a powerful ultra-Orthodox organization,
which last year said that
observant Jews should not report allegations to the police
unless permitted to do so by a rabbi.


For Ultra-Orthodox in Abuse Cases,
Prosecutor Has Different Rules

New York Times, 2012-05-11

An influential rabbi came last summer
to the Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes,
with a message:
his ultra-Orthodox advocacy group was instructing adherent Jews that
they could report allegations of child sexual abuse
to district attorneys or the police
only if
a rabbi first determined that the suspicions were credible.

The pronouncement was a blunt challenge to Mr. Hynes’s authority.
But the district attorney “expressed no opposition or objection,”
the rabbi, Chaim Dovid Zweibel, recalled.

In fact, when Mr. Hynes held a Hanukkah party at his office in December,
he invited many ultra-Orthodox rabbis affiliated with
the advocacy group, Agudath Israel of America.
He even chose Rabbi Zweibel, the group’s executive vice president,
as keynote speaker at the party.

Mr. Hynes has won election six times as district attorney
thanks in part to support from ultra-Orthodox rabbis,
who lead growing communities in neighborhoods like Borough Park and Crown Heights.
But in recent years,
as allegations of child sexual abuse
have shaken the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn,
victims’ rights groups have expressed concern that
he is not vigorously pursuing these cases
because of his deep ties to the rabbis.

Many of the rabbis consider sexual abuse accusations to be
community matters best handled by rabbinical authorities,
who often do not report their conclusions to the police.


Bloomberg Among Critics of Prosecutor in Brooklyn
New York Times, 2012-05-12


Mr. Hynes has also adopted a policy of
not publicizing accusations of child sexual abuse
involving ultra-Orthodox Jews,
even as he has continued to publicize the names of
other defendants accused of sex crimes.

Mr. Hynes’s aides said
Mr. Hynes was not publicizing the accusations
to avoid revealing the identities of victims in the highly insular community.


Brooklyn Prosecutor Defends Record on Sex Abuse Cases
New York Times, 2012-05-17


Mr. Hynes:
“Mayor, I am really disappointed that you didn’t ask me to explain
my decision to withhold the names of Orthodox Jewish men I have prosecuted
over the last three years.
The decision was a change of policy
and was directly related to our investigations and arrests
of many Orthodox Jewish men in Brooklyn over several years.
In virtually every case, after the name of the defendant was made public,
it was followed by a relentless pursuit by members of the Orthodox Jewish Community
for the name of the victim.”


Mr. Hynes:
“I don’t know what else to say, Mayor.
Before Kol Tzedek, when we published the names of the defendants,
our victims were regularly harassed,
and most of our cases fell apart.
Since Kol Tzedek and the policy of nondisclosure of defendants’ names,
dozen of victims have come forward”
and “were confident that we were protecting their identity.
That is the paramount reason how we have successfully prosecuted
most of the 95 Orthodox Jewish cases we’ve brought over the last three years.


Ultra-Orthodox Men Charged With Trying to Silence Accuser
New York Times, 2012-06-22


The charges are the first time in at least two decades
that Mr. Hynes has charged Hasidic Jews with intimidation of a witness
in a sexual abuse case,

even though victims, their advocates and prosecutors say
intimidation has long been a major obstacle
to prosecution of abuse among the ultra-Orthodox.
In recent weeks, Mr. Hynes has been saying that
the intimidation of witnesses in the ultra-Orthodox community
is worse than in the world of organized crime.


“Speak up!” [Hershy Deutsch] wrote.
“Face the facts,
our community has been covering up these stories for way too long.
We have to put an end to this!”


Joel Engelman, the founder of the Jewish Survivors Network,
also praised Mr. Hynes for bringing the intimidation case,
because, he said,
“in the Williamsburg Hasidic community, intimidation is rampant.”