Tuesday, December 01, 2015

“Five years ago, you couldn’t say the words ‘sexual abuse.’ Now you can.”

Orthodox Jews From Around the World Gather to Tackle Domestic and Sex Abuse

Haaretz Reports

More than 1,000 ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox Jews from around the world gathered in Jerusalem this week to tackle some of their communities’ darkest taboos: sexual abuse and domestic violence.

The three-day event they are attending, which began Monday, is the second annual conference on the subject spearheaded by the Israeli nonprofit Tahel, the Crisis Center for Religious Women and Children. Headlined “Shedding Light on the Darkness of Abuse,” the gathering offers five hands-on training tracks, including one specially tailored to rabbis and people who work at yeshivas.

That track – “Building Safe Synagogues and Yeshivas” – features sessions about high-profile abuse cases, defining offenders, abuse in marriage and other key subjects.

Tahel has organized pilot programs on these subjects in ultra-Orthodox and other institutions in Israel, Johannesburg, Sydney, Melbourne and London, director Debbie Gross told Haaretz. The idea is for this week’s trainees to implement what they learn back home, too.

Other training tracks in the conference are geared to individuals who monitor sexual harassment in educational institutions, lawyers and therapists. Organizers will be launching an international network that will enable lawyers to help agunot – Orthodox women who are refused a Jewish divorce by their husbands.

Some 1,100 people registered for the conference this year – an estimated 30 percent of them women – with participants coming from Israel, the United States, Britain, Canada, South Africa, Australia and European countries.

Chief Rabbi Lau addressing participants at the conference. Rabbis and teachers should not “cross the line” into inappropriate behavior, he said.Lior Mizrahi

 Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau addressed the opening session, emphasizing the important role rabbis have as “an address” for people who are victims of abuse. He said rabbis and teachers “need to know the line and not cross it” into inappropriate behavior, and added that he feels that awareness in the religious community of the issues raised by the conference “has grown and is growing.”

High-profile cases, such as those involving alleged child sex abuse at yeshivas in Sydney and Melbourne – which prompted public hearings on the handling by Jewish communal leaders of the suspected acts – have put a spotlight on this phenomenon in religious communities. The topic of the growing openness within these communities, which have traditionally hunkered down and kept abuse cases secret, came up frequently at the conference on Monday.

“Fifteen years ago in the United States, you couldn’t say the word cancer, and we would say hamakhala (“the illness,” in Hebrew),” said Zvi Gluck, head of the U.S. nonprofit Amudim. “Five years ago, you couldn’t say the words ‘sexual abuse.’ Now you can.”

Still, many rabbis are not equipped to deal with sensitive subjects. “Yeshiva didn’t prepare us for this."

Monday gave a taste of what was to come in sessions aimed at training rabbis in the following two days. In one candid session, Chief Rabbi of Safed Shmuel Eliyahu discussed his experiences in dealing with abuse cases.

Earlier this year, Safed was faced with a highly publicized sexual assault scandal involving Rabbi Ezra Sheinberg, the head of the city’s Orot Ha’ari Yeshiva. In July, Sheinberg was arrested at Ben-Gurion International Airport while trying to flee the country, and was indicted for raping, sodomizing or sexually assaulting 12 women, most of whom were young religious women married to his students. His attorney has called the indictment “inflated” and “partly baseless.”

Eliyahu alluded to tensions between secular and rabbinical authorities when dealing with abuse in the religious community, and also discussed when and how to work with police.

Veteran American ultra-Orthodox social worker gave the audience a rundown on advising parents as to how to talk to their children about abuse, another key skill for rabbis.

Many spoke among other things about how to deal with religious persons who have suffered abuse and are convinced that God is punishing them, told Haaretz that he gained expertise in the subject after many years of working with health-care professionals.

“The vast majority of rabbis are deeply caring and deeply touched by the plight of individuals who have seen abuse in any form,” he said. “But many rabbis have not had the experience to know how this takes place, and they have not always responded in the most effective way.”

One thing rabbis need help with is in realizing where their job ends, said Rabbi David Fine, head of the Barkai Center for Practical Rabbinics in Israel, which trains ordained religious Zionist rabbis in community-related skills. “He has to know when he has to refer to professionals.”

One of Fine’s rabbis-in-training, Eli Schonfeld from Givat Ze’ev, outside of Jerusalem, agreed that this is key: “I need to know how to respond the first time someone approaches me, and then how to help. I am very against rabbis being psychologists, therapists – and clowns. We are a little of everything, but we can’t do everything.”

Little children have imaginary friends. Modern liberalism has imaginary enemies.

Liberalism’s Imaginary Enemies

In Paris, it’s easier to battle a climate crisis than confront jihadists on the streets.

Little children have imaginary friends. Modern liberalism has imaginary enemies.
Hunger in America is an imaginary enemy.

Liberal advocacy groups routinely claim that one in seven Americans is hungry—in a country where the poorest counties have the highest rates of obesity. The statistic is a preposterous extrapolation from a dubious Agriculture Department measure of “food insecurity.” But the line gives those advocacy groups a reason to exist while feeding the liberal narrative of America as a savage society of haves and have nots.
The campus-rape epidemic—in which one in five female college students is said to be the victim of sexual assault—is an imaginary enemy. Never mind the debunked rape scandals at Duke and the University of Virginia, or the soon-to-be-debunked case at the heart of “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about an alleged sexual assault at Harvard Law School. The real question is: If modern campuses were really zones of mass predation—Congo on the quad—why would intelligent young women even think of attending a coeducational school? They do because there is no epidemic. But the campus-rape narrative sustains liberal fictions of a never-ending war on women.

Opinion Journal Video

Editorial Page Editor Paul Gigot on what to expect as global leaders meet to talk climate change. Photo credit: Getty Images.
Institutionalized racism is an imaginary enemy. Somehow we’re supposed to believe that the same college administrators who have made a religion of diversity are really the second coming of Strom Thurmond. Somehow we’re supposed to believe that twice electing a black president is evidence of our racial incorrigibility. We’re supposed to believe this anyway because the future of liberal racialism—from affirmative action to diversity quotas to slavery reparations—requires periodic sightings of the ghosts of a racist past.
I mention these examples by way of preface to the climate-change summit that began this week in Paris. But first notice a pattern.
Dramatic crises—for which evidence tends to be anecdotal, subjective, invisible, tendentious and sometimes fabricated—are trumpeted on the basis of incompetently designed studies, poorly understood statistics, or semantic legerdemain. Food insecurity is not remotely the same as hunger. An abusive cop does not equal a bigoted police department. An unwanted kiss or touch is not the same as sexual assault, at least if the word assault is to mean anything.
Yet bogus studies and statistics survive because the cottage industries of compassion need them to be believed, and because mindless repetition has a way of making things nearly true, and because dramatic crises require drastic and all-encompassing solutions. Besides, the thinking goes, falsehood and exaggeration can serve a purpose if it induces virtuous behavior. The more afraid we are of the shadow of racism, the more conscious we might become of our own unsuspected biases.
And so to Paris.
I’m not the first to notice the incongruity of this huge gathering of world leaders meeting to combat a notional enemy in the same place where a real enemy just inflicted so much mortal damage.
Then again, it’s also appropriate, since reality-substitution is how modern liberalism conducts political business. What is the central liberal project of the 21st century, if not to persuade people that climate change represents an infinitely greater threat to human civilization than the barbarians—sorry, violent extremists—of Mosul and Molenbeek? Why overreact to a few hundred deaths today when hundreds of thousands will be dead in a century or two if we fail to act now?
Here again the same dishonest pattern is at work. The semantic trick in the phrase “climate change”—allowing every climate anomaly to serve as further proof of the overall theory. The hysteria generated by an imperceptible temperature rise of 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880—as if the trend is bound to continue forever, or is not a product of natural variation, or cannot be mitigated except by drastic policy interventions. The hyping of flimsy studies—melting Himalayan glaciers; vanishing polar ice—to press the political point. The job security and air of self-importance this provides the tens of thousands of people—EPA bureaucrats, wind-turbine manufacturers, litigious climate scientists, NGO gnomes—whose livelihoods depend on a climate crisis. The belief that even if the crisis isn’t quite what it’s cracked up to be, it does us all good to be more mindful about the environment.
And, of course, the chance to switch the subject. If your enemy is global jihad, then to defeat it you need military wherewithal, martial talents and political will. If your enemy is the structure of an energy-intensive global economy, then you need a compelling justification to change it. Climate dystopia can work wonders, provided the jihadists don’t interrupt too often.
Here’s a climate prediction for the year 2115: Liberals will still be organizing campaigns against yet another mooted social or environmental crisis. Temperatures will be about the same.
Write bstephens@wsj.com.