By Dr. Michael Salamon
Zelig (not his real name), a man in his 20′s, arrived to his therapy appointment with me yesterday with tears streaming down his cheeks. He was clearly in distress. At the age of twelve Zelig was molested by a teacher, a rabbi who was giving him “special” attention at the yeshiva he was attending at the time. Zelig had been groomed by this man for close to a year before anything happened. “For a long time he gave me little presents like chocolate or a rubber ball” and “ he told me to tell my parents that he was teaching me so that I could be the smartest kid in his class. My parents never questioned why, they just thought he was being super nice to me. Maybe they were even flattered by it.” The actual touching did not begin until this teacher was hired by Zelig’s parents to give bar-mitzvah lessons to Zelig. Once the touching started it quickly progressed to penetration. Zelig was told by the man that if Zelig ever told anyone about it his parents would both die. He was also told that it was “so pleasurable that such pleasures were meant to be kept a secret between us because that is the way G-d wants it.”
Zelig told me the details of his abuse at the hands of this teacher several months ago. These memories were not the cause for his tears yesterday. The cause was an article he read in the American paper the Jewish Press written by a Rabbi William Handler. The article entitled Molestation cases must be handled by g’dolim, not by experts, begins with a diatribe that says that there is “a new danger: the existence of a clique of pseudo-experts who are working among us in the field of “Criminal Molestation.”’ He goes on to state that g’dolim are better equipped to evaluate and perhaps even adjudicate these cases than the “so-called experts” and professionals who operate in the secular realm. It is an argument that even the editors of the paper indicate, is not well made and in my estimation it is not even an argument worthy of being made by a reasonable individual.
Zelig’s response was to tell me yet again that when he turned 16 and told his principal what his abuser had done he was warned that if he did not put it in the past he would “ruin all my chances and my sister’s chances for getting married or getting into the right schools.” Zelig asked me, rhetorically, “And these are the people that should be trusted to take care of the problem? My principal is considered a gadol. See how he took care of it! What would happen if they had such power to take care of things?”
Zelig went on “And it’s not just him. There is an even bigger gadol who wrote a letter saying that the rabbi in Lakewood who just admitted in open court that he abused someone – that gadol Rabbi who wrote the letter claims that he did an investigation and there was no abuse. The authorities investigated. The authorities did what had to be done and the ba_ _ _ _ _ admitted he was an abuser. That someone who is seen as a gadol can write a letter to the public the charges against the abuser are not true – this is worse than blaming the victims it is re-abusing them.”
Zelig was feeling a very palpable sense of being re-abused by what he read and was then recounting to me and we had to use the session for the sole purpose of helping him regain his composure and focus - but he was absolutely correct. The article in the Jewish Press is one level of absurdity and illogic but if it is true that a gadol sent out a letter denying charges proven and admitted to in court that casts an entirely new light on how the leadership views cases of reported abuse. Blaming victims is horrible and still so common. It is however, even worse to deny that abuse exists and then to turn the powers of investigations, prosecution, even validation over to the hands of individuals who feign knowledge but have none, using their status to intimidate and dismiss people with problems that these leaders are not willing to acknowledge exist in their communities. We are only beginning to adress the problem. We need forward moving leaders to help us uproot the abusers, not seek excuses or ways to protect them allowing them to continue and re-abuse.
Dr Michael Salamon, a fellow of the American Psychological Association, is the founder and director of ADC Psychological Services in New York