Title: Tempest In the Temple – Jewish Communities & Child Sex Scandals

Brandeis University Press; Edited by Amy Neustein



“I couldn’t put it down”, “reads like a Dan Brown novel ” etc, hardly sound like descriptions of a Brandeis University Publication, an academic analysis of Jewish Communities & Child Sex Scandals.


Tempest in the Temple is the first-ever comprehensive book on this painful & controversial subject, and as such is important in every sense.


The most immediate factor I found with Tempest in the Temple was how very readable (user friendly) it is, even to a layman such as myself. With each chapter by a different expert contributor, and written from a different professional angle, on this pretty hair-raising subject, the book itself was compelling to read.


Each of the nine chapters addresses a different “angle” on the topic. Some are direct stories, narratives, such as Loel Weiss and Mark Itzkovitz’s “Unholy Waters”. This chapter tells the story of how a temple’s beloved and veteran chazzan/cantor is accused of repeatedly raping a mentally handicapped girl – and the dramatic stage-by-stage response of the temple as an organization, and its key officers. To me, the most impressive detail is the responsible steps taken – including by the rabbi who did not personally believe the accusations were even true, until the chazzan himself confessed in court; their immediately reporting the suspicions to the police and working closely to support the whole community through the trauma, whilst dealing with the long legal battles which ensued


Another powerful narrative is “The Fugitive and the Forgotten” by Michael Lesher, an attorney specializing in child protection, in which he describes his role in the case of alleged multiple child attacker, Rabbi Avrohom Mondrowitz. Mondrowitz was indicted by a Brooklyn grand jury on child sex charges in 1985 and fled from the US to Israel. In spite of some 25 years of stalling by various authorities in the US and Israel, and many genuine legal obstacles, Mondrowitz was finally arrested in Israel in 2007 and is now in custody pending extradition to the US.


I found one of the most striking details in the account to be that only non-Jewish victims had come forward to testify against Mondrowitz in the 1980’s, whereas today Jewish victims (who were allegedly by far the majority) are coming forward, some quarter-century later, in order that Mondrowitz finally face justice.


Rabbi Mark Dratch, founder of JSAFE, writes “A Community of Co-Enablers” – a halachic treatise addressing the response of many orthodox communities – “Why Are Jews Ignoring Traditional Jewish Law by Protecting the Abuser?” For example, Rabbi Dratch addresses the topics of lashon hara (derogatory/slanderous speech), mesirah (betrayal of Jews to non-Jewish authorities) and hillul Hashem (the desecration of G-d’s name) – as being the three main halachic justifications used to cover-up, deny or evade mandatory reporting of child abuse cases in orthodox communities. I found his conclusions about practical, positive steps communities should take to better protect their children, to be particularly constructive and helpful.


            Amy Neustein showed editorial flair, by inviting Barbara Blaine, founder of SNAP (Survivor Networks of those Abused by Priests) to tell her personal story of “How I Challenged the Catholic Church Hierarchy to Atone for their Sins against Me and Other Abuse Victims”. The story starts with one victim of rape, the author, at the hands of a Catholic Priest who initiated a survivors support group.  The group would grow to 9000 members, in over 60 cities, and culminate in the exposure and arrest of dozens of molesting priests in Boston in 2002 – and legal proceedings against hundreds of Catholic clerics throughout the US. Civil damages cases have cost the Catholic Church over $1,000,000,000.


The exposure of the systemic protection and enablement of pedophile Catholic Clerics by the Church, generated an awareness which has begun the process of examining some parallel policies within Jewish communities – and, incidentally, has led to the writing of Tempest in the Temple.


Psychiatrist, Michelle Friedman, delves into the unique factors of a rabbi’s role, and asks “What Makes A Rabbi Violate Sexual Boundaries And What Can Be Done About It?” Although the focus is upon rabbis, and indeed Friedman is director of pastoral counseling at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinic School in New York, the observations about blurring and then progressing to abusing professional boundaries is also applicable in many other spheres of life – the manager and his secretary, the professor and his students, the sports coach and the kids .


Robert Weiss, a clinical social worker and the executive director of the Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles, explains more about the criminology of sex abusers in general, including a helpful explanation of commonly used terminology (e.g. what is the difference between a pedophile and a child molester?). Weiss categorizes sexual offenders in three groups: The Dedicated or Fixated Child Offender (adult loner who hangs out with kids and transitions the kids from social to sexual relationships – although Weiss doesn’t mention him as an example, from biographical reports, I observe that Michael Jackson seems to have fitted this category); The Situational or Regressed Child Offender (a “normal guy” who redirects his adult sexual frustrations onto children); and The Sexually Addicted Offender (who exhibits compulsive, addictive sexual behavior which can include illegal and abusive sexual activities). Weiss highlights the first category as being the least likely to respond positively to available therapy – and holds out positive hopes for enabling the second two categories of offenders to lead offense-free lives.


Dr Joyanna Silberg and Stephanie Dallam, both of the Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence in Baltimore, in their joint article “Out of the Jewish Closet” examine the scope and nature of child abuse in orthodox communities, particularly drawing on their experience in Baltimore. For generations, sex abuse was treated as a taboo subject or concern in these communities.  However, in the past few years significant progress has been made in removing the taboo status and honestly assessing and addressing the issue. The first formal study of the extent of child sex abuse in Jewish orthodox communities was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, in 2007, which surveyed orthodox women, and reports that around one-in-four of the orthodox women who responded to the survey said they had suffered sex abuse as a child. This mirrors similar studies in the general population. The Baltimore Jewish Times has also taken a leading role in bringing awareness of the scale and gravity of the problem (“murder of the soul”) to the general public.  The authors also describe the process of increasing awareness in the non-Jewish world, over the past century, and the various backlash movements, which includes moves to discredit the testimony of abuse survivors. The differentials of the orthodox community to the general population are also highlighted. The chapter concludes on a forward looking, positive note, highlighting programs in Baltimore and in Los Angeles that are uniting communities in a shared objective of “promoting healing and prevention”.


The two chapters “Straying the Course” by Erica Brown and “Justice Interrupted” by Amy Neustein and Michael Lesher describe, document and assess some of the past failings of Jewish communities in appropriately handling and preventing child abuse, and propose some practical steps for detecting and responding to such cases.


Brown focuses on abuse by rabbis or other authoritative moral figures, observing that, whereas there can be distinctions drawn between private morality and public functionality, a rabbi (or priest) has elected to pursue a career which set him up as a specifically moral role model. Therefore standards are set higher, and private failings become a betrayal of the professional persona. Brown suggests therefore that regular assessments/evaluations of the rabbi by the lay leadership should be standard procedure in communities (as is standard in many workplaces).


Neustein and Lesher’s “Justice Interrupted” reviews the case of Rabbi Solomon Hafner who was “cleared” of abuse charges by the Bobov Bet Din (religious court) while the alleged victim was chased out of town.  They also explore the Mondrowitz case and that of Rabbi Yehuda Kolko. In all three cases, the DA, Charles “Joe” Hynes seems to have participated in whitewashing, or obfuscating, due apparently to political considerations. Neustein and Lesher examine the legalities of Hynes behavior and that of the rabbinical courts, and bring federal civil law to challenge the legitimacy of these policies.


Conclusion: Tempest in the Temple is a pioneering book, offering a broad range of highly readable, thorough, balanced, professional studies and first hand accounts concerning the chosen subject matter of Jewish Communities and Child Sex Scandals. It is my recommendation that Tempest in the Temple should be read particularly by those involved in Jewish community life, including those in Jewish social services, education, congregational management and rabbinical training.  


(Tempest in the Temple can be ordered on-line directly from Brandeis University Press)    


David Morris is founder of the “SafeKids” Child Protection Project, and Chairman & Founder of Lema’an Achai, the Community Social Services Charity of Ramat Bet Shemesh, Israel. www.SmartChesed.org. david@lemaanachai.org
David blogs at:  www.tzedek-tzedek.blogspot.com

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David Morris is a child protection activist, founder of the SafeKids program, and founder and volunteer chairman of Lema'an Achai, the community social services charity, in Ramat Bet Shemesh, Israel. He writes at tzedek-tzedek.blogspot.com.