Is Orthodox Judaism as Bad as the Catholic Church?


Christopher Ketcham has an alarming and disturbing article in Vice arguing that there is a “child-rape assembly line” in Orthodox Jewish communities. And the accusation is coming from an Orthodox rabbi from the Satmar community, which has earned him attacks and abuse.

Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg—who is 63 with a long, graying beard—recently sat down with me to explain what he described as a “child-rape assembly line” among sects of fundamentalist Jews. He cleared his throat. “I’m going to be graphic,” he said.

A member of Brooklyn’s Satmar Hasidim fundamentalist branch of Orthodox Judaism, Nuchem designs and repairs mikvahs in compliance with Torah Law. The mikvah is a ritual Jewish bathhouse used for purification…

The child sex abuse crisis in ultra-Orthodox Judaism, like that in the Catholic Church, has produced its share of shocking headlines in recent years. In New York, and in the prominent Orthodox communities of Israel and London, allegations of child molestation and rape have been rampant. The alleged abusers are schoolteachers, rabbis, fathers, uncles—figures of male authority. The victims, like those of Catholic priests, are mostly boys. Rabbi Rosenberg believes around half of young males in Brooklyn’s Hasidic community—the largest in the United States and one of the largest in the world—have been victims of sexual assault perpetrated by their elders. Ben Hirsch, director of Survivors for Justice, a Brooklyn organization that advocates for Orthodox sex abuse victims, thinks the real number is higher. “From anecdotal evidence, we’re looking at over 50 percent. It has almost become a rite of passage.”

Ultra-Orthodox Jews who speak out about these abuses are ruined and condemned to exile by their own community. Dr. Amy Neustein, a nonfundamentalist Orthodox Jewish sociologist and editor of Tempest in the Temple: Jewish Communities and Child Sex Scandals, told me the story of a series of Hasidic mothers in Brooklyn she got to know who complained that their children were being preyed on by their husbands.

In these cases, the accused men “very quickly and effectively engage the rabbis, the Orthodox politicians, and powerful Orthodox rabbis who donate handsomely to political clubs.” The goal, she told me, is “to excise the mother from the child’s life.” Rabbinical courts cast the mothers aside, and the effects are permanent. The mother is “amputated.” One woman befriended by Dr. Neustein, a music student at a college outside New York, lost contact with all six of her children, including an infant she was breastfeeding at the time of their separation.

Seven years ago, Rabbi Rosenberg started blogging about sex abuse in his community and opened a New York City hotline to field sex abuse complaints. He has posted appeals on YouTube, appeared on CNN, and given speeches across the US, Canada, Israel, and Australia. Today, he is the lone whistleblower among the Satmar. For this he is reviled, slandered, hated, feared. He receives death threats on a regular basis. In Yiddish and Hebrew newspapers, advertisements taken out by the self-described “great rabbis and rabbinical judges of the city of New York” have denounced him as “a stumbling block for the House of Israel,” “a public rebuker and preacher of ethics” who “persists in his rebelliousness” and whose “voice has been heard among many Jewish families, especially young people in their innocence… drawn to listen to his poisonous and revolting speeches.” Leaflets distributed in Williamsburg and Borough Park, the centers of ultra-Orthodoxy in Brooklyn, display his bearded face over the body of a writhing snake. “Corrupt Informer,” reads one of the leaflets, followed by the declaration that Rabbi Rosenberg’s “name should rot in hell forever. They should cut him off from all four corners of the earth.”

There’s a lot more in the article. So much has come out about the rampant misogyny, abuse and cult-like secrecy of these ultra-Orthodox communities in New York over the last few years that I think it’s time for the FBI and the DOJ to mount a serious investigation and clean up the mess.

Comments

  1. raven says

    Child sexual abuse is a problem in any church that has an authoritarian top down governing system, patriarchial dictatorships.

    That includes the RCC, the Mormons, the JW’s, and others.

  2. colnago80 says

    So much has come out about the rampant misogyny, abuse and cult-like secrecy of these ultra-Orthodox communities in New York over the last few years that I think it’s time for the FBI and the DOJ to mount a serious investigation and clean up the mess.

    Since it appears that the NYPD ain’t doing shit about this problem it is long past time for the FBI and the DOJ to intervene and put these miscreants in a good federal slammer.

  3. colnago80 says

    It should be noted that most of this crap is occurring in ultra-orthodox Heredi Jewish communities in New York and Israel.

  4. matty1 says

    The victims, like those of Catholic priests, are mostly boys.

    Does anyone have a source for the claim most victims of Catholic priests are boys? Only I’ve also seen the opposite, that most victims are girls claimed.

  5. says

    The problem with cracking down in groups like this is that they’re so insular. Outsiders asking questions are seen as a threat which causes the entire community to circle the wagons. Also, as we seen in this article, anyone from the community who speaks of this to outsiders is instantly shunned, losing all contact with their community, including their own children.

  6. says

    Most ultra-Orthodox communities still engage in the practice of metztizah b’peh: after an infant boy is circumcised, the mohel places the boy’s penis in his mouth and sucks briefly. The idea is to encourage blood flow, thereby cleaning the wound and (hopefully) preventing infection. Regular Orthodox rabbis use a plastic tube to avoid direct contact; the practice has been abandoned by the Conservative and Reform schools. So there is already an ancient tradition of homoerotic contact in these ultra-Orthodox sects, even without later sexual abuse.

  7. tbp1 says

    #1:

    Child sexual abuse is a problem in any church that has an authoritarian top down governing system, patriarchial dictatorships.

    Not actually disagreeing with you, but I would amplify to say that any institution that has such a structure is likely to have such problems. This can include Boy Scouts, summer camps, sports teams, boarding schools (not that there are a lot of those left), and others.

  8. cptdoom says

    Does anyone have a source for the claim most victims of Catholic priests are boys? Only I’ve also seen the opposite, that most victims are girls claimed.

    Although I don’t have specific sources, from what I’ve read over the years, the confusion over the gender of the victims in the Catholic church conspiracy springs from the different data sets used to estimate cases. The church, in its “official” reporting, had something like 80% of victims as boys. However a group like SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is nearly half female. It may simply be that adult men are less likely to join a group like SNAP, so women are over-represented in that group, or it may be true, as has been alleged, that the Church was more likely to successfully stop a girl from officially reporting abuse because her priest could blame her for “leading the priest on.”

  9. says

    The problem with cracking down in groups like this is that they’re so insular…

    Agreed. That’s why we’re going to need a lot more than cops and investigations; we’re going to need a long-term multigenerational public-information campaign encouraging people to (among other things) question and resist the influence of self-isolating religious and other communities, and to be willing to report abuses inside such communities to outside authorities.

  10. says

    Re: #1 & #7
    Is patriarchal a necessary condition?
    I’m inclined to suspect that authoritarian = evil, & some authoritarian system with women at the top or roughly equal numbers of males & females at the top would be equally prone to abuses (sexual & otherwise). I’m just not aware of a track record for any such organizations. How do authoritarian female only organizations like convents do? Girl Scouts vs. Boy Scouts?

  11. typecaster says

    It should be noted that most of this crap is occurring being reported about in ultra-orthodox Heredi Jewish communities in New York and Israel.

    We know that this community has people who are speaking up about the problem. We have no idea if other communities have this problem, only without anyone willing to talk about it.

  12. says

    Having worked with both priest abusers and victims of priest abuse, my take is that the opportunities for abuse were much greater with boys. First there were the altar boys who worked closely with priests. Also, parents would allow their sons to travel with priests, have sleepovers and the like. And the high schools where priests taught were traditionally all boys high schools. Few parents would have ever thought it okay for a priest to have their daughter go for a sleepover at the rectory or allow trips with a priest, not to mention, they’d have probably looked with deep suspicion at a priest who spent a lot of time hanging out with their daughters, going out for dinner and movies. On the other hand, many parents thought it was wonderful that their male child had this positive male influence in his life.

    It isn’t that abuse of girls didn’t happen, but the numbers I encountered were lopsided toward abuse of boys.

  13. Pierce R. Butler says

    Gotta worry about the accuracy of an article which starts by describing its subject as “…63 with a long, graying beard” – right under the photo of a man, identified as the same, with a beard less than two inches long at the chin (maybe a little more at the back jaws).

  14. colnago80 says

    Re #11

    See comment #2. Just in case you were late to the party, colnago80 is the moniker I now use instead of slc1. Due to a change in email addresses. I take a very hard line on the issue of sexual abuse of children. I care not at all if the miscreant is Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Shinto, Taoist, wiccan, or atheist. They belong in the slammer.

  15. corporal klinger says

    Maybe I’am too idealistic and too naive, but I don’t get it. What is it, that in every report of child rape and abuse of the last years there is always this closing the barricades mentality by far too many people? Whatever the community, there are always good, decent people, but when it comes to child rape they seem to vanish or worse, loose their decency in order to protect their religion, ideology, community…… . Shame on you people if protecting what you believe is more important to you than protecting your children.

  16. steve oberski says

    I’m beginning to think that the sexual abuse of children, besides being a symptom of fundamentalist religions in general, is also a necessary part of the propagation of those religions.

    What better way to inculcate the dogma of your particular repulsive sect than by so thoroughly damaging the the psyches of powerless children that accepting the ridiculous tenets of your sect is seen as the easy way out.

    I’m not implying any sort of direct causal effect, and I’m certainly not saying that this is what the perpetrators have in mind when they rape their children, like many other human attributes like love, curiosity and wonder, in a non teleological evolutionary manner, religion has parasitized them for its own purposes.

    Like the ant infected by the Dicrocoelium dendriticum parasite which subverts its nervous system and impels it to climb a blade of grass to be subsequently eaten by a grazing animal so it is with the male power figures in organized religion.

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