4/14/2007

Dealing with Sexual Abuse (in Baltimore)

I am so shocked and upset by this recent article that I just don’t know what to say. I remember when he passed away, after a long illness with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (or, as I prefer to call it, Franz Rosenzweig’s Disease). His son was my 9th grade Rebbi, and was an excellent Rebbi. Another son was my wife’s high school principal, and is a living legend in the world of contemporary Jewish education. I remember the third son from growing up in Baltimore. We knew that something was up with him, but didn’t really know what.
I also knew that in Baltimore, the frum community tended to keep things under wraps, but genuinely take care of business. Rabbi Herman Neuberger was legendary for it; he could arrange that someone would never get a job in chinuch again without publicly embarrassing anyone, or so I thought.
It also makes me rethink my own school experience. Did I ever have a Rebbi who was a pedophile? There’s only one candidate I can think of. I had a Rebbi who would touch students, putting his hand under their shirts, etc. (we were 10-12 years old). We used to joke that it was a good thing he didn’t teach as Bais Yaakov. There was also a profile of the students he’d touch – ambitious, willing to work hard an kiss-up to get good grades, always wanting to be in the teacher’s good graces (definitely not me; I was actually frequently banished to the hallway, including once for an entire week). The Rebbi would play favorites, even giving them gifts or taking them to ballgames. I don’t think it ever went past that, though. It was certainly inappropriate (one parent threatened to dismember this particular Rabbi if he ever touched his son again), but not criminal, as far as I know. Point is, it never should have even gotten that far.
Education in this realm has got to become explicit, and there has to be a hierarchy of evils which acknowledges that people are people. I’ve been advocating for this for several years (see here, here, here, and here, for example), and only baby steps have been taken. Jewish sexual education must get serious. We can take our cure from R’ Kahana in Brachot 62 – ‘It’s Torah, and therefore must learn it’.
I also get the sense that Rabbinic abusers go after what’s available without distinguishing between different sexual crimes, considering all sexual violations of halakha to be equally problematic. Some value judgments need to be put forth. For example:
It’s better to watch porno and masturbate than to engage in an actual sexual relationship. It’s better to have a sexual relationship with a consenting adult – same sex or opposite sex – than to have one with a child, student, or otherwise vulnerable or trusting subordinate. Better to hire a professional than to risk ruining the life of an acquaintance. Better to have safe sex than unprotected sex.
This can be developed further, but you get the idea.
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