Sunday, May 16, 2010

We urge the N.Y. Legislature to rise above lobbying by the Catholics - Orthodox Jewish officials - pass The Childs Victims Act!


Justice for Child Abuse Victims
Published: May 14, 2010

The Catholic Church is working against the interests of child abuse victims in state legislatures around the country. In recent weeks, lobbying by the church has blocked measures in Wisconsin, Arizona and Connecticut intended to widen the legal window for victims to file lawsuits against hidden predators.

We urge the New York State Legislature to rise above intense lobbying by the New York State Catholic Conference and Orthodox Jewish officials and pass the overdue Child Victims Act. Like a similar measure enacted in 2003 by California, it would create a one-time, one-year suspension of the statute of limitations for bringing civil lawsuits over the sexual abuse of children.

Once that window closes, people alleging abuse would have until age 28 to bring a claim. Current law sets the limit at 23 in most circumstances.

The measure recognizes that it typically takes many years before victims are ready to come forward. The measure also recognizes the Catholic Church’s history of intimidating victims and burying abuses in church files, creating a shroud of secrecy that extended in many cases until victims were in their 30s or older, well beyond existing time limits for prosecutions or civil lawsuits.

An earlier version of the bill passed the Assembly in 2006, 2007 and 2008, but the Senate, then under Republican control, refused to consider it. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver expresses strong support for the latest bill, amended to cover abuses by both religious and non- religious entities. But he is insistent that the Senate act first before requiring his members to cast another politically sensitive vote on the issue.

The Senate Codes Committee is set to consider the measure by mid-June. The committee’s chairman, Eric Schneiderman, Democrat of Manhattan, should work to ensure passage of the bill, which has safeguards against the filing of bogus claims.

The Catholic Church fears a wave of costly settlements and damage awards like those that followed California’s temporary lifting of the statute of limitations several years ago. Those concerns, and the difficulty of trying to judge decades-old accusations, are outweighed by the need to afford victims a measure of justice, the demands of public safety, and the injustice of rewarding any group for covering up sexual abuse of children.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Agudath Israel to UOJ: Welcome Back!


Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Agudah to UOJ: Welcome Back

It appears that the Agudah, with their pathetic grasping at straws of controversy to appear relevant, has resurrected UOJ -- the Patron Saint of Children Who are Sexually Abused by Religious Figures and Those Who Harbor Them. UOJ, after being 'outed' this spring by some self-appointed thugs who believe themselves to be defenders of Torah and Gedolim, slipped into the background with a farewell post just before Rosh Hashanah. Sadly, it appeared as though UOJ would relegated to asterisk status in Jewish history, despite his valiant and timely attacks on a viciously apathetic status quo that preferred the spiritual murder of Jewish children over decisive action.

And all was quiet as Rosh Yeshivas, executive directors, and some yeshivishe egomaniacs in the sleepy slum of Waterbury, CT. rejoiced at the miraculous bullet dodging they had just witnessed. Evidently, the 'humiliation' weapon -- a thin reference to ruined shidduchim and tainted yichus -- had succeeded in preserving the perversity of ultra-orthodox apathy.

But something was afoot. Deep within the bowels of 42 Broadway, across some shiny overpriced conference table, the Wizards of Was realized that their destiny lay in murdering the mandate bearer: blogs. Ironically, if they would actually read the blogs instead of dismissing them as the tools of Satan, they would have been able to resurrect themselves and actively contribute to the betterment and solidification of American Orthodoxy. Instead, they took the short way out.

"Let's bash blogs," the Daas Torahniks declared. "We must create a new enemy, now that the Nazis are gone, Jewish busdrivers can wear yarmulkes to work without fear, we've given up on "at-risk" kids (poorly trained mentors are the answer....right?), and we've selected our guest of honor for this year's dinner..." The obvious answer was blogs.

The dispensers of Daas Torah, concerned with the impact blogs were having on their destructive hegemony and possible ramifications that would have on future fundraising seconded the motion. "Blogs are bad," they bellowed. "We must rid our homes and neighborhoods of blogs." Then they returned to worrying about why the frummest girls schools produce graduates who ignore tznius, despite 14 years of subversive inculcation, and how to close the Pandora's box of frummer-than-though kashrus which has inexplicably led to America's most religious neighborhood to eat traif meat for half a decade.

Blogs are bad. Blogs are bad. Yeah, let's stick it to that UnOrthodox fellow. Who is he anyway to blame us for child molestation? We TOLD people that separate seating weddings would solve everything. And as long as they don't listen in the Five Towns, we can't be held responsible for what happens to little boys in Brooklyn."

So the convention program, with a half dozen cutsie teaser ads were drafted and everyone was happy. "Blogs are bad!," said the Agudah big shots. "When we're done with them, we'll be able to ridicule molestation victims with impunity in the Jewish Week." The Daas Torah dispensers cried, "Blogs are Bad. And now, we can get back to banning intangible objects, like books and sheitels, which we can burn, and actual people whom we can besmirch, excommunicate and threaten. It was so much easier in the old days."

But they didn't count on themselves making the same mistake as they have made time and time again: life moves fast. People forget. They are busy. If things go away, they are forgotten. It's the same reason why sexual molestation victims fade away. If people forget, their pain is buried, for they themselves to choke on, alone. But when old news gets dredged up. When books that appear objectionable are given attention, or banned, they take on a life of their own. When forgotten blogs are given main stage forums at major fundraising events....they return to life.

And so, UOJ, in all his glory has been vindicated and resurrected, unlike the Agudah, which is as pathetic and irrelevant as it has been for the past decade, UOJ has attracted a well written,logical counterpart:


which features a several thousand word letter detailing the vast and grievous gaps in communal leadership and compassion by our so-called gedolim.

The progeny of UOJ also provides an lucid timeline of events that led up to UOJ and more importantly the serious lack of judgment, compasison, and leadership of the dispensers of Daas Torah. And, incidentally, offers a nod to the one straight shooter of our generation, Rabbi Avigdor Miller, who told certain askanim, to, so to speak -- damn the torpedoes and blow this mother sky high. (I paraphrased a bit).

So, to the chagrin of every frummie on the dark hatted side of the color spectrum, UOJ is back. Ironically, the very intention of the Agudah, to declare their moral victory over bloggers and reclaim their relevance has instead tossed the moral imperative to bloggers such as UOJ. Blogs are more relevant and necessary than ever before.

As for UOJ, he sounds more mature, and as always -- is dead on correct about the travesty that has been perpetrated over 40 years of inaction, intimidation, and malicious ineptitude.

Welcome back UOJ. Klal Yisroel needs you!

posted by Still Wonderin'


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

"Like the Catholic Church, Orthodox Jews have beliefs that create a separate world from which child sex abuse victims cannot escape".

http://writ. news.findlaw. com/hamilton/ 20100429. html

"The recent scandals (and convictions) involving Rabbi Yehuda Kolko and Rabbi Baruch Lebovits were a result of the victims bravely coming forward even despite community pressure, and they are surely an indication that the tide has been turning".

How Other Religious Organizations Echo the Roman Catholic Church's Rule Against Scandal, A Precept that Entrenches and Perpetuates Cycles of Child Sex Abuse: Orthodox Judaism, Part Two in a Two-Part Series

Thursday, April 29, 2010

This is Part Two in a two-part series of columns on religions, other than the Catholic Church, that possess precepts that have the effect of leaving clergy child sex abuse unpunished. Part One can be found here. – Ed.

In the past two weeks, there have been yet more revelations about the Catholic Church's mishandling of child sex abuse, with, for example, European bishops forced to resign. In my last column, I described, based on church documents and case law, some of the pitfalls in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints' approach to child sex abuse within the organization. In this column, I will address the struggles of institutions within the Orthodox Jewish community on these issues.

Like Other Faiths, Orthodox Judaism Is Wary of Secular Authority – But There Are Exceptions

Like the Catholic Church, Orthodox Jews have certain beliefs that tend to create a separate world from which child sex abuse victims cannot escape. The key question with respect to every religious organization that is dealing with hidden, ongoing, or persistent child sex abuse is this one: What will it take to liberate the victims? External pressures from sources such as the media and the legal system can make a difference, but it may also take some re-examination and soul-searching with respect to some of the institution's religiously motivated practices. The Orthodox Jews are making steady and promising progress in this arena. The ultra-Orthodox Jews, unfortunately, are not.

The Jewish law of "Chilul HaShem," which means literally "a desecration of God's name," warns believers not to bring shame on the community. This is the closest analogue in the Jewish tradition to the Catholic rule against scandal. And, there is the Jewish law against "mesira," or informing on another Jew to the authorities. Roughly translated, according to Rabbi Yosef Blau of Yeshiva University (my home institution) , it means "Don't go to secular authorities," and thus can be used as a reason not to report child sex abuse to police or civil authorities. The law against arka'ot, or proceeding in secular courts, also has presented barriers.

As with all important Jewish concepts, the meaning of each these precepts lies in particular interpretations. According to Rabbi Blau, the prohibition against mesira, though widely honored, may not be relevant in democratic societies. The purpose of the law was to protect Jews from tyrannical governments, such as Nazi Germany's. Thus, the prohibition was created to protect Jews from the government. The same reasoning does not apply in a legitimate democracy.

Moreover, there are exceptions to mesira – for instance, when circumstances are such that the religion's internal mechanisms cannot deal with an internal problem. And a perfect example, according to Blau, is child sex abuse. But observant Jews may not be willing to act in contravention of a law like the prohibition against mesira without first consulting a rabbi on whether the exception actually holds in the particular case, which can delay, if not forestall, reporting.

Yet, the Rabbinical Council of America at its Convention this week issued a resolution that would seem to open the door to reporting abuse:

•[The RCA] reaffirms its unqualified condemnation of all forms of child abuse.
•It reaffirms its halakhic position that the prohibitions of mesirah and arka'ot do not apply in cases of abuse.
•It will regularly issue on its website and to the media appropriate statements of condemnation when public attention is drawn to a case in which Jews are either victims or perpetrators of abuse.
•It will regularly evaluate the competence of its members in understanding and responding to issues of child abuse and initiate training and continuing educational opportunities for all of its members in this area every year.
•The members of the RCA address the issues of child abuse in their communities in at least one sermon, lecture or article within the next twelve months, and that contact information for local abuse services be displayed in a public place in all synagogues, schools, and Jewish community institutions serviced by its members.

Other Aspects of Jewish Law May Also Make It More Difficult for Child Sex Abuse Victims to Find Justice

Unfortunately, the prohibition against mesira is not the only precept of Jewish law that has made it difficult for child sex abuse victims to get help. There is also the prohibition of "lashon hara," which means "evil tongue," and forbids speaking badly of others. It creates an impediment to survivors even telling members of their own communities about the abuse, let alone the civil authorities. Some supporters of adults who have been accused of abuse also have invoked lashon hara to prohibit others from telling outsiders.

There are also cultural elements at play. "Shidduch" means "finding a spouse," and in some circles, the drive to find a marriage partner is a very powerful force. For the most part, religious Jews enter into arranged marriages in which one's lineage and family reputation determine desirability on the marriage market. Making a good match, or "Shidduch," is of paramount importance within these communities. The stigma of being a victim of abuse can deter marriage partners. Therefore, there is strong incentive for the entire family to stay mum about the issue, and for the victim himself, or herself, never to mention it.

In addition, there has been strong communal pressure in Orthodox communities to keep the problem internal. This element has decreased in the Orthodox community, which is divided among diverse synagogues and congregations, but it remains a force in the ultra-Orthodox community, as I will discuss below.

Finally, there has been the problem of denial. Of course, we see denial in many child sex abuse situations, whether the context is religious or secular. The difference here is that, in the Jewish community, denial regarding clergy child sex abuse has been worsened by the belief that one should keep the halakh (Jewish law), which plays an important role in creating a self-identity for the Jewish communities. Living an observant life is transformative. An Orthodox Jew believes he or she will become a better person by keeping the laws, and that belief can translate, for some, into a decision generally to ignore modern studies or media on any issue, because the modern information could have the capacity to call into question their entire lifestyle. When the issue is child abuse, the consequences of that belief can be tragic.

In sum, within Orthodox Judaism, some adhere to a set of internal rules the effect of which is to prevent child sex abuse victims from speaking about their abuse, getting help, or filing criminal charges against perpetrators. Fortunately, however, secular law has provided some of the pressure that is needed to establish a pathway out for the victims. The recent scandals (and convictions) involving Rabbi Yehuda Kolko and Rabbi Baruch Lebovits were a result of the victims bravely coming forward even despite community pressure, and they are surely an indication that the tide has been turning.

Orthodox Jews Should Be Praised for Openly Debating What Should Be Done About Clergy Child Sex Abuse – and Acknowledging that It Occurs.

Moreover, there has been a healthy and open debate among Orthodox Jews regarding what to do about this very serious problem. The Flatbush Shomrim announced this last week that child sex abusers should be prosecuted, and advised fellow Jews to report sex abuse directly to the authorities. Ben Hirsch, the President of Survivors for Justice – the first organization of its kind in the Jewish community – praised this move in an op-ed for the Jewish Star.

As with the Catholic survivors' movement, Hirsch explained that secrecy has been in the leaders' interest, not the children's:

"[O]ne does not have to be a cynic to conclude that the rabbinic establishment has a vested interest in keeping reports of abuse within the community. For leaders who could be facing criminal and civil liability, invoking concepts like mesira and chilul Hashem to stop people from reporting is little more than a form of self-protection. Self-protection that, as the past 40 years have shown, has come at the expense of the protection of our community's children."

Hirsch then likened the Jewish situation to that of the Catholics:

"[T]he cover-ups have resulted in hundreds of victims whose abuse could have been prevented. Dealing with reports of sexual abuse internally covers-up the crime, usually with catastrophic results when the pedophile strikes again–something we are hearing about daily in reports about the Catholic Church and frighteningly in our own community as well.

The Torah teaches us to avoid offering counsel in situations where we may be a nogea b'dovor (an interested party). This applies equally to rabbis, whom the Torah nowhere exempts from this rule. As such, because of their inherent conflicts of interest in this issue, I respectfully suggest that rabbis be precluded from being involved in this issue except in very limited ways–namely, encouraging people publicly and in private to go directly to the authorities and supporting them practically, emotionally and socially in that process."

Hirsch offers persuasive arguments, and remarkable conclusions, that bode well for child sex abuse victims in the Orthodox Jewish community.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the ultra-Orthodox, or Chasidic, Jewish community, which as of now is far from being able to aid the victims within the community. A recent announcement in New Square reiterated the principle that abuse should not be reported to the authorities, although it did at least establish a path for reporting the abuse to an internal committee.

As we know from the other universes within which child sex abuse has been a problem, keeping the issue internal is never the best – or even a good, or acceptable – path for the victims. In addition, there is another impediment to justice in this community: Rabbi Blau noted that Chasidic community members defer to the Jewish Laws of Tzniut, which command modesty in both dress and speech and in turn forestall discussion regarding private body parts and improper touch. Victims therefore may lack even the basic vocabulary to report the abuse. And the community is so closed off that communal pressure to keep the issue secret is extraordinary, with few, if any, openings for outside forces such as police, prosecutors, or the media to bring the victims some relief.

Still, there are glimmers of hope from within even the ultra-Orthodox community. Rabbi Shalom Yosef Elyashiv has ruled that the Jewish law not only does not bar reporting, but rather "one should report (an abuser) to the secular government authorities [police, etc.]; and in this there is benefit to society . . ." Thus, the exception to the law against reporting is actually quite strong. That means the barriers to reporting in the ultra-Orthodox universe are more cultural than legal.

Of all of the religious organizations facing these issues, the Orthodox Jews appear to be moving most quickly to the position that the child victim's needs must trump the organization's preferences, even when it means re-examining common interpretations of certain religious prohibitions. For that, the community deserves praise.


Marci Hamilton, a FindLaw columnist, is the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and author of Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children (Cambridge 2008). A review of Justice Denied appeared on this site on June 25, 2008. Her previous book is God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law (Cambridge University Press 2005), now available in paperback. Her email is hamilton02@aol. com.