Photo Credit:
Rabbi Yaakov Perlow

{Originally posted to the author’s website, Emes Ve-Emunah}

Something remarkable happened at the recent Torah U’Mesorah convention.

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I have always had tremendous respect for my 12th grade Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, who now heads the Agudah Moetzes. I have never doubted Rabbi Perlow’s concern for every Jew – including those that have been victims of sex abuse.  Those that have accused him of not caring – have never met him. And they have drawn unfair conclusions about his motives and those of his colleagues. Which are completely false. While I have disagreed with some of their decisions in the past, I have never questioned their intent.

What Rabbi Perlow said at the recent convention is a sea change in how the Charedi world dealt with sex abuse in the past. From the Yated, here is part of it:

Torah Umesorah is preparing to train hundreds of principals, rabbeim and mechanchos across the country. This training will provide them with tools not only to prevent instances of child abuse and molestation from occurring within their schools, but also to recognize symptoms among students indicating that they may have been molested outside the school setting. (Statistics show that perpetrators are rarely strangers; generally, they are people the child knows and trusts.) The training program is slated to begin this fall.

In addition, a training program for thousands of summer-camp counselors is now being rolled out… The counselor training program, endorsed also by Dr. David Pelcowitz and Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, will make summer camp the special, cherished experience that it should be. As Rabbi Perlow stated at the convention, “We must ensure that predators are not able to disturb our children; we have no sympathy for the perpetrators.”

These and other initiatives will generate increased awareness of the problem and greater sensitivity to warning symptoms, and will likely result in more people contacting trusted community organizations that specialize in addressing child abuse and molestation. “We are deeply sympathetic to the victims,” Rabbi Perlow said at the convention. Gedolei Yisroel are making this issue the highest priority…

The days of looking away, pretending that these problems don’t exist, or pushing them to the side, are behind us; we have to take a strong, positive stance to protect and empower our children.” To assist victims of abuse and molestation, a group of concerned donors established a fund to subsidize trauma therapy. The fund, named ASAP, is currently assisting 250 victims, with new applications arriving daily.

With one out of every five children in our community likely to be victimized, this serious threat to our families has the potential to destroy generations. More initiatives are on the way, as the Torah community unites to combat this intolerable situation.

I am very happy to see this. I believe that this new attitude and the programs generated by it will make a difference.

There are certainly issues that are yet to be resolved. Like the idea of reporting abuse immediately to the police instead of going to rabbis first.  Rabbi Perlow touched on this subject. He clearly stated that if there is  Raglayim L’davar (legitimate suspicions of sex abuse) one should report it to the police. But he hedged on it indicating that it is rabbis that should be the ones to determine whether such evidence rises to the level of Reglayim L’Davar.

I still believe that going to rabbis first is at best an unnecessary step that will delay – if not deny justice to be served. But at least rabbis will now be better trained to determine what is and isn’t legitimate suspicion – if I understand this program correctly.

I am nevertheless still strongly opposed to having rabbis vet suspicions since there will be an inherent if unintentional bias that might favor an accused abuser. Especially if he is otherwise a respected upstanding member of the community. Which is often the case.  They fear that an unjust accusation will ruin the man’s life as well as that of his family. But that fear is outweighed by the statistical rarity that a child would accuse someone of sexually abusing him that didn’t actually do so.

The police have no such bias and should be trusted to do their job. That an innocent person might be falsely accused and suffer is indeed unfair. But statistically we have no choice but to err on the side of our children who will suffer even more if a delay will enable an abuser to continue his abusive behavior on more victims.

Another issue is about whether to extend the statue of limitations on lawsuits filed by victims against their abusers and enablers that Rabbi Perlow alluded to. There too I disagree with him. A survivor has a right to justice and time should not be a factor.

But to castigate an opposing view that seeks to protect institutions from lawsuits flied after the original faculty and administration has left and the new people having had no clue about any abuse that ever took place there – is unfair. I understand Rabbi Perlow’s fear. He worries about the entire educational system collapsing by lawsuits filed decades after the abuse happened. That is a fair concern. Even if we don’t agree with him, to attribute nefarious motives is just plain wrong.

I don’t believe that removing the statute of limitation will destroy Jewish education. Because where it has been implemented (I believe in California) the system was not hurt. Precedent tells me that we have little to fear in that department. Justice will be better served if victims are not denied the ability to sue because of time restraints

So we have a serious difference of opinion. But in no way do I attribute nefarious motives to the members of the Agudah Moetzes.

Bottom line here is that this is a huge – if belated – step in the right direction. It follows a declaration made not long ago by a different group of respected Charedi Rabbis who came out with an independent public statement about the obligation to report sex abuse directly to the police. When I encountered one of the signatories and complimented him on his courage in doing so he said, ‘We were living the dark ages’.  I think Rabbi Perlow may have said the same thing in his own way. Paraphrasing him slightly, we have come a long way from the days of sweeping sex abuse under the rug. That’s quite a mea culpa if you think about it.

In the video below he is strongly critical of bloggers that have accused him and his colleagues of not caring sex abuse or about survivors  and attributing all kinds of nefarious motives to them.  He calls them the Letzonei HaDor – the scoffers of our generation. I don’t know about that.

But he is right about how these bloggers have been treating them. Even if their motivation is sincere and just, it was wrong to castigate so severely good people whose motivations have always been to do what they perceived to be in the best interests of Klal Yisroel.

I am 100% convinced that the motivation of the Agudah Moetzes was always L’Shem Shamayim even as I sometimes strongly disagreed with them. And that their original approach to sex abuse was based on a view that did indeed belong in the dark ages. But I have never ridiculed them with extremely disparaging remarks. Those that do so are frankly quite disgusting in my eyes.  And I protest it.

 

At the same time I have to believe that they played  a positive role in bringing this issue to the attention of the Orthodox world and contributed to putting it in on the front burner. Had they not made such loud and constant noise about it, who knows where we would be.  For that we should thank them even while condemning – as I do – their way of doing it.

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Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.