Monday, February 21, 2011



What I write below will likely not be news to any of the intelligent people who read this blog and support UOJ but may be news to some people on the fringe.

The most upsetting part of the whitewash meeting held at YTT in June in which David Mandel and Aron Twerski spoke – besides Rabbi Twerski’s undeserved, premature, ill-timed and ill-advised “haskamah” of Margo as “a man of great honor” - is this part of the story as reported by Jennifer Friedlin in the Jewish Week:

“[W]hen an audience member asked whether sex education could help to strengthen children’s knowledge of inappropriate behavior and empower them to come forward if someone violated them, Mandel responded that sex education was ‘not something realistic’ in a community that stresses modesty.”

There is so much wrong with that sentence, that it sends shivers up my spine.

1. Sexual abuse has about as much to do with sex and sex education, as rape has to do with making love.

What we have learned over the past thirty years is that rape is not a sex act but an act of violence and violation, of dominance, control and power. Many rapists, although clearly not all, have difficulty finding voluntary sexual partners. While they do achieve their own sexual gratification during the rape, it is through fear, power, intimidation, (and not through the intimacy shared between lovers) that is the tool to their climax. It is sick, perverse, criminal and traumatizing.

Similarly, sexual abuse of minors is not an act of love. It is a sick, perverse act of seduction of the helpless, of taking advantage by wielding power, intimidation, humiliation and violence. It is no less traumatizing than rape – for in its essence, it is rape.

2. Although sex education should be taught in all yeshivas, one can teach about sexual abuse without even using the term “sex” – and without getting into the mechanics of sex and sexual education.

We have really great educators who have spent decades testing age appropriate sexual education from very young ages (e.g., 4-6-year-olds and up), and every study shows that it does not cause an increase in teenage sexual activity – despite our primitives beliefs in the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox community to the contrary.

But lets say we’re right. Let’s say that Mandel is right – that sex education in a community that stresses modesty is not realistic. Teaching about abuse and about unwanted touching of a child’s private parts, and what is inappropriate behavior on the part of parents, teachers, Rabbis, and camp counselors, has nothing to do with sex! It can be taught without causing nightmares, without causing trauma, without talking about the mechanics of sex, etc.

There are well-trained, frum professionals: social workers, psychologists, doctors and nurses who are ready to come into our schools and inform our kids in a way that will make them feel less traumatized and less stigmatized about what has happened to them and about coming forward. It can be discussed by these professionals in a frum and tzne’usdikeh way.

But we refuse to do it. Why??? Because we are our own kids worst enemy! We are led by small-minded naysayers, by the “sha-shtill” crowd – the Margulies, the Twerskis, the Mandels, the Shafrans, the Schicks of our world - who believe that if we don’t talk about it, if we hush it up, it is a smaller problem that it really is, it will go away or it won’t even exist.


Not too long ago, I remember when the more modern yeshivas were faced with the following dilemma: They became fully aware of the fact that there are anorexics and bulimics in the girls’ schools. They knew there are drug experimenters among the boys and the girls. But if we teach them about the evils of these practices, aren’t we admitting to the world that THE KIDS IN OUR SCHOOL ARE BAD KIDS? Won’t the schools NOT tackling these problems point at those who do and say “They have that problem; not us.” And won’t that cause parents to enroll their kids elsewhere?

To an extent, the yeshivas were right. Small-minded people sometimes do think that way. But to their credit they came up with a solution. The modern day schools all banded together and decided to introduce those topics into their schools AT THE SAME TIME. They said, “We don’t know if it’s a problem here, but we do know it exists and we want to help our kids avoid it. So we’re not going to stick our heads in the sand ever again.” And besides the education they offered to their high school students, they made parents attend sessions at night on these topics. I attended them more than once. They had yeshiva kids who had been through drug rehab come and tell their first hand stories and talk about how wasted they were and how they almost lost their lives. Let me tell you, there is nothing more disturbing and nothing leaves a greater impression on you, than seeing a boy in a yarmulke or a girl in a long black skirt tell you about how they woke up after a three-day drug binge and didn’t know what day or time it was, where they were, or in whose bed they had slept – and what they had done there.

I thank God that those yeshivas had the courage to institute this education.

We need the same courage to introduce the subject of sexual abuse. And it cannot be limited to the modern yeshivos. It has to be across the board, in every one of them, including the chasidishe ones.

3. We have to teach all our children in school about inappropriate touching. We have to teach them about child abuse and the difference between a “potch” and a beating. We have to talk to our children about spousal abuse. And who to talk to if they witness it and how to report it.

And it can’t be reported to our existing ill-equipped rebbeim and principals. It has to be appropriately trained counselors, ombudsman and watchdogs.

And this education must take place in the schools for the following reasons:

(A) Most parents will not discuss it with their children at home.
(B) Most parents are not trained to discuss it properly.

We must have blanket education of all of our kids on this subject in a uniform manner in order for it to be most effective.

I’ve seen and reviewed the Torah Umesorah guidelines on child abuse. In and of themselves, they are not bad. The problem is: (1) They have not been uniformly and widely implemented, and are NOT mandatory (2) Without educating all our children about abuse, the guidelines are meaningless even if they were implemented and (3) There is no one in place who is appropriately trained for our children to report abuse to.

We can talk to our girls about taharas hamishpacha, we can discuss in graphic detail their menstrual flow, about why they should use sanitary napkins and not tampons, about why they should not hand a sefer directly to a rebbe – but we can’t talk (to our girls and our boys) about inappropriate touching!? I find that absurd.

I know that there are some stickers in frum homes with an abuse hotline number on it. But it is not in enough homes.

I guarantee you that for every call to Hatzalah, there is someone who should be calling or wants to call an abuse hotline, but doesn’t know whom to call. There should be an abuse hotline sticker under every Hatzalah sticker in every Jewish home.

And none of that matters if we don’t educate our kids in school about what abuse is and isn’t.