Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Orthodox Jews spotlight sex abuse 

Two of America's leading Orthodox organisations will co-sponsor an event to highlight child sexual abuse in the US Jewish community.

National Jewish Child Abuse Prevention Week, which launches in Chicago on October 17, is backed by the highly influential Orthodox Union and by the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), the world's largest Orthodox rabbinical group.

Sexual abuse remains a highly controversial topic in the Orthodox world. But it is being more openly discussed following a string of convictions in the New York area and the suicide, last year, of Motty Borger, two days after his wedding and a confession to his new wife that a rabbi had abused him.

Next week, Yeshiva University (YU)will present the findings of a survey of abuse detection and reporting policies at 135 Jewish day and high schools. For now, YU is keeping its data confidential.

Rabbi Basil Herring, the RCA's executive vice president, said: "I think Brandeis said it best - the best antiseptic is sunlight. There is no question that being more transparent and more open and people having avenues by which such things can be talked about is a good thing."

The RCA passed a resolution earlier this year urging members to discuss abuse in at least one sermon, lecture or article. Similarly, during National Jewish Child Abuse Prevention Week, synagogues and schools will be urged to discuss abuse prevention and intervention.

Asher Lipner, one of the co-founders of the event, said the aim is to educate children, parents, teachers and rabbis.

A prominent advocate for survivors, Mr Lipner said he hopes the event will also increase empathy for those who have suffered abuse.

"There are many people out there who have suffered great emotional trauma," said Mr Lipner.

"The community's lack of support makes their struggles and suffering worse."

This problem was highlighted recently in Lakewood, New Jersey, where the father of an alleged victim was publicly scorned for going to the police rather than a beth din.

In some eyes, such action violates the law of mesirah - the prohibition against reporting a fellow Jew to the authorities.

In June, a flier was circulated in Lakewood accusing the victim's father of committing a "terrible deed".

Nine leading Lakewood rabbis signed a proclamation stating that victims should consult a beth din before going to the secular courts. And one man was charged with witness tampering for sending a text message urging people to pressure the father into not testifying in court.

Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, an expert on kashrut for the Orthodox Union, told The Asbury Park Press: "When your child tells you something, you don't go straight to a prosecutor, you go to a Bais Din and let them examine the [evidence]."

Such a view is not shared by Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, the executive vice president, emeritus, of the Orthodox Union.

"It is not mesirah to call police if someone is banging at your door trying to harm you," he said. "You call the authorities. The primary consideration has to be what can we do to protect the victim."


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