JTA Special Feature on Jewish Clergy Abuse
The JTA has just released a special feature entitled “Reining in Abuse” which focuses on sexual abuse scandals in the Jewish community.
- The Challenge: The major movements’ response to clergy sexual misconduct is well-intentioned yet sporadically flawed — the product of an ethical balancing act. The tradeoff: Protecting the community from potential predators vs. preserving privacy rights and avoiding lawsuits.
- The Numbers: Is the problem of wayward clergymen an epidemic or an aberration?
- The System: American Judaism is decentralized and largely autonomous, which could have a bearing on the fight against clergy sex abuse — a battle that is sometimes bogged down by procedural delays.
- The Orthodox: Much of the focus on predatory Jewish clergymen has centered on the fervently religious Orthodox community. The problem there was highlighted by two recent episodes — the arrest of one rabbi and an uproar triggered by the ambiguous remarks of another.
- The Watchdog: The Baltimore-based Awareness Center is devoted to protecting the public from sexually predatory rabbis and others. For its efforts, the 5-year-old organization has earned both praise and criticism.
- The Ordeal: Attorney Mark Itzkowitz had a unique perspective on his congregation’s harrowing ordeal. The shul became embroiled in a sex abuse scandal — and managed to survive. Itzkowitz had seen it all before — elsewhere.
You can read everything online or download a PDF of the whole package.
The articles are jbloggerific, in that they demonstrate just how important a role Jewish bloggers have played in putting this issue on the communal agenda:
The Awareness Center’s outing of alleged and confirmed abusers has inspired an army of Jewish bloggers eager to discuss the topic. Their anonymous postings appear on Web sites such as the Unorthodox Jew, the Canonist, Jewishwhistleblower.blogspot.com and Lukeford.net.
“In the Orthodox community it is much harder to be heard, so people go online instead of going to police and the rabbi,” said a woman now living in Israel who reported being abused as a child by her father, an American rabbi who is principal of an Orthodox school on the Eastern seaboard. “The blogs are safe for survivors.”
The Awareness Center and the bloggers not only have brought this sensitive subject to the attention of a wide audience, they have also stirred up considerable controversy over issues of fairness, attribution and transparency.
“The blogorai, as I call it, is the new way of making irresponsible accusations,” charged Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesman for the fervently Orthodox advocacy organization Agudath Israel. “Using a blog is a very easy and effective way of casting aspersions on people.”
Blau said blogs are a mixed blessing.
“Since they are anonymous, they can say almost anything,” he said. “On the other hand, until the community is more willing to deal with issues, I can understand why writers won’t reveal their identity.”