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May 14 2012

Sexual abuse and cover up in the Orthodox Jewish community

The New York Times has a horrible story about sexual abuse of children in the Orthodox Jewish communities. Rather than bringing the perpetrators to justice, the members of the community turn against the accusers. It is depressingly similar to the way that the Catholic church responded to sexual abuse allegations against its leaders.

The first shock came when Mordechai Jungreis learned that his mentally disabled teenage son was being molested in a Jewish ritual bathhouse in Brooklyn. The second came after Mr. Jungreis complained, and the man accused of the abuse was arrested.

Old friends started walking stonily past him and his family on the streets of Williamsburg. Their landlord kicked them out of their apartment. Anonymous messages filled their answering machine, cursing Mr. Jungreis for turning in a fellow Jew.

Abuse victims and their families have been expelled from religious schools and synagogues, shunned by fellow ultra-Orthodox Jews and targeted for harassment intended to destroy their businesses.

A few blocks away, Pearl Engelman, a 64-year-old great-grandmother, said her community had failed her too. In 2008, her son, Joel, told rabbinical authorities that he had been repeatedly groped as a child by a school official at the United Talmudical Academy in Williamsburg. The school briefly removed the official but denied the accusation. And when Joel turned 23, too old to file charges under the state’s statute of limitations, they returned the man to teaching.

“There is no nice way of saying it,” Mrs. Engelman said. “Our community protects molesters. Other than that, we are wonderful.”

“They had small children coming to my house and spitting on me and on my children and wife,” Rabbi Rosenberg, 61, said in an interview.

“If a guy in our community gets diagnosed with cancer, the whole community will come running to help them,” he said. “But if someone comes out and says they were a victim of abuse, as a whole, the community looks at them and says, ‘Go jump in a lake.’ “

There is something about authoritarian and dogmatic religious communities that seems to breed this kind of behavior.

5 comments

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  1. 1
    Sunny

    One can almost use these stories as templates. Simply insert the name of the religious organization as needed.

    In all such stories, it is remarkable how little concern is shown for the children involved. It always seems to be about protecting the community/ institution and the power of the (self-appointed) elders.

    Perhaps you have also seen the follow-up article to the above story: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/11/nyregion/for-ultra-orthodox-in-child-sex-abuse-cases-prosecutor-has-different-rules.html?_r=1&ref=nyregion

    Apparently the DA is more concerned about his voting base.

  2. 2
    Peter

    One of the more troubling aspects of these investigations is that the DA is making exceptions to the standards of treatment for sexual offenders out of respect for the tightknit religious community.

    Another example of unequal treatment before the law.

    The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC had a really informative segment on this story this morning:
    http://www.wnyc.org/shows/bl/2012/may/14/da-hynes-and-orthodox-community/

    As a resident of NYC it makes me angry that some sexual predators are not being treated the same as others. The merits of publicly disclosing their residences is another debate, but in this case most of the convicted predators aren’t listed in the database. Charming.

  3. 3
    Steve LaBonne

    If one did not already realize that electing prosecutors (or judges) is crazy, a story like this ought to do the trick.

  4. 4
    Jeff Hess

    Shalom Mano,

    What is at work here is the Jewish (but this really works for all religions) equivalent of “snitches get stitches and end up in ditches” known as a shanda fur die goy a to do something embarrassing to Jews where non-Jews can observe it.

    B’shalom,

    Jeff

  5. 5
    pipenta

    Growing up Catholic, I remember such a sense of unease when I was very young and still very much a believer (I was quite young and I also still believed in Santa Claus at the time.) The whole system made me feel like I was under some kind of creepy surveillance. I spent some years trying to accommodate what I was taught with what I understood was good before rejecting religion. But, every time I set foot in a church or spoke with the devote, I definitely got a feeling that we, kids, had no rights and were considered property.

    How can a religion that repeats the story of Abraham and Isaac be anything but abusive to children? Of course they don’t care what the kids think. That’s part of the teaching, an important part. We heard the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son over and over. We felt the terror, the horror, and were told it was LOVE. And never, at any point, did I ever hear a single fucking priest who read us that splatterflick nightmare EVER EVER EVER address the pain and suffering of Isaac and what certainly would have been a pivotal moment in his ability to trust his father, assuming Abraham was remotely human instead of the toxic personality-disordered freak that the story indicates.

    You take that, you throw in the weird obsession with sexual control and shame that these religions have, and the abusive that follows is a given.

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