Abuse in the Jewish Community

By Michael J. Salamon, PhD

Urim Publications, 2011, 143 pages


The Catholic Church’s sex scandal involves some 3,000 priests. A 1998 study found that one in four Protestant clergy who don’t have the oath of celibacy had inappropriate sexual contacts with someone who was not their spouse. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2008 that one in four women and one in nine men are subjected to domestic violence. Sexual violence reported to police increased about thirty percent since 1990. The number of Jewish rabbis and teachers that abuse children is not known but, as Dr. Michael Salamon verifies in this important book, it is also high. And something must be done to stop it.


Salamon describes what constitutes abuse, mistreatment, neglect, violence, and trauma, and narrates many episodes of each in Jewish communities. There is abandonment, stalking, and physical, sexual, emotional, and substance abuse. The abusers are rabbis, teachers, coaches, family members, spouses, neighbors, and a wide variety of people who place themselves in positions of dominance, including social workers, bosses, and camp counselors. Too often people who are abused are not even aware that they are being exploited and mistreated. Salamon describes how abusers manipulate their victims.


Salamon points out that the divorce rate among shidduch weddings – a practice among ultra Orthodox Jews who shun dating and have arranged marriages – is very high because of domestic violence. In 2008, a senior police officer in the ultra-Orthodox community in Bnai Brak in Israel reported that the number of sexual offenses in this community is higher than any other city in Israel. A study showed that in 2007, 95 percent of sexual offenses in Jerusalem were committed by the ultra-Orthodox.


One of the main problems about this tragedy is that most incidences of cruelty are never reported, and many rabbis are to blame for this cover-up. Salamon tells the story of a New York judge who severely and openly scolded a Brooklyn Orthodox Jewish community for trying to hide and gloss over the clear, outrageous sexual acts of a Bar Mitzvah teacher. The bearded offender presented to the court over ninety letters of support from prominent community members, including rabbis, attesting to his outstanding character.


Why are rabbis concealing these scandals? First, unfortunately, many Jews, and rabbis themselves, view rabbis and teachers in an almost mystical manner, as holy supermen, who can do no wrong; therefore any charges against them must be lies, and if not, rabbis feel they must protect the aura of fellow religious leaders. Other say: We can’t publicize these scandals because they will create chillul hashem, they will bring shame to Judaism. Still others contend that it is forbidden to turn over a wrongdoer to a non-Jewish court, called mesirah. Others, in shrill pseudo-piety, say that this is tale bearing, called lashon horah. Salamon quotes Jewish legal sources and authorities to show that the application of these teachings to abusers is not only wrong but outrageous. Still others who want to silence the person who is abused argue that Jews need to remain silent about these behaviors to help assure the survival of Judaism. But is this, one should ask, the kind of Judaism that should survive?


In sum, this is an important book. It brings to light details about a horrendous problem that must be addressed and must be solved.