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A mikveh must contain a prescribed amount of spring or rainwater – water that is naturally gathered and never placed in a container. The purpose of this collection of water, which is the literal translation of mikveh, is not for physical cleansing and hygienic purity but for spiritual cleanliness.

Right now, in the wake of a scandal involving a prominent rabbinic leader involved in overseeing the conversion process who is accused of voyeurism in a mikveh, we need a great deal more sacred cleanliness.

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Spirituality is certainly lacking in this case, where women have made some serious and shocking accusations.

The rabbi under investigation had twice before come under scrutiny for alleged breaches of scruples and ethics.

The first time was in 2012, when some individuals undergoing conversion accused him of requiring them to perform clerical work and make donations.

In 2013 it was alleged that he was seen sharing a sleeping car on a train with a woman who was not his wife.

The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) handled these allegations internally and the accusations of the train trip were deemed to be “unsubstantiated innuendo.”

 

I cannot help but wonder if we would have arrived at the present horrific situation had this rabbi’s alleged prior misdeeds been properly handled and investigated by the appropriate secular authorities.

Once the police were informed about the mikveh allegations and performed a proper investigation, they reportedly found that the rabbi had violated criminal law. A statement released by the lay board of the rabbi’s synagogue indicates the board did the correct thing and assisted the police in the investigation.

If any more proof were needed that rabbis should not be allowed to investigate charges of abuse of any sort, here it is. Still, many rabbis are insistent that any case of abuse must first be reported to them rather than to the proper investigating authorities –and that only if the rabbis believe there was actually any abuse may a report then be made to secular investigators.

This attitude of “rabbi first” – of rabbis as the gatekeepers who will decide whether a report of abuse or any criminal act may be made to the police – raises a classic ethics question always posed to mental health care professionals and others: Who is the client?

The question really is one that gets to the heart of who is the one most in need of protection and care – and who is actually getting that protection and care. In short, the example usually takes the form of this supposition: If someone working for an agency jeopardizes the care of a particular patient, the needs of the patient must come ahead of the agency.

In this way, the patient is protected from further harm.

If we follow the edict of reporting to rabbis first and they do their own investigation, clear questions of ethics arise: Who is to be protected and cared for? Whose interests are being served?

Any individuals who may have been abused are the “clients” in need and should be receiving care and protection.

That, however, cannot happen if rabbinic boards, or even individual rabbis, decide for someone else whether a report may be made – or worse, conduct their own investigations.

As fallible human beings, they inevitably put their own needs ahead of the most vulnerable in these situations. They tend to be more interested in protecting their own and keeping negative situations under wraps than in clearly, deliberately, and publicly rooting out the problems.

It may have taken this major breach of ethics and improper oversight to have the RCA finally take decisive action.

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Dr. Michael J. Salamon is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and the author of numerous articles and books, most recently “Abuse in the Jewish Community” (Urim Publications).

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