Parents of children attending a Charedi school in Jerusalem have complained lately that their children have suffered
sexual abuse, but some of them have refused to cooperate with the police even though some Rabbis support cooperation. Is there an awareness of the need for action?
“Suddenly I feel I am not there. I am standing in front of the class being slapped left and right, mainly on my behind. He slaps my behind and shouts “An animal!” and the whole class repeats after him. “A beast!’, slap on the behind, the whole class. The lesson continues, I am facing the cupboard in a niche, looking at the dust. The rebbe [religious teacher] teaches, walking back and forth and slapping my behind when he walks past me. At some point I think ‘why is he touching especially there’”.
This is part of K’s diary, a graduate of a Talmud Torah school in Jerusalem, where a case of suspicion of paedophilia became public knowledge after parents had complained about sexual abuse of their children. Although the police investigation, which some of the parents had refused to cooperate with, had no results, it seems K was the not the only one to go through this traumatic experience.
The parents are concerned about their children’s safety, especially as at some point teachers of the school were suspected of the sexual abuse. A few days ago one of the teachers was suspended due to suspicion he had been involved in the abuse, but after further investigation he resumed teaching.
Charedi children and adolescents are suffering sexual abuse. More than in any other sector? Not for sure, but typical to that sector: lack of sexual education, and especially the unwillingness or inability to complain and the code of silence.
“As a child, I had no sexual awareness”, says N, who studied in that Talmud Torah school. In grades 2 or 3, we had a rebbe who liked kids sitting on his knee. In retrospect, you realise. In grade 5, there was a rebbe who favoured beautiful kids. The cute kids got his special attention.”
N adds: “About one of the rebbes I learned years later that he used to touch one of the kids in our class. I also learned that they knew about this and did nothing. That rebbe abused kids physically as well. There was also an inspector who enjoyed beating kids brutally. As a child my understanding was he was a sadist. Now I realise this brutality has sexual roots. He used to stand kids in a line and break their asses. And he was considered a pedagogue.”
Silencing and Suppression
Dr Sarah Salzberg, researching violence in the Charedi sector, says: “I have identified a typology very characteristic to sexual violence in the Charedi sector”. According to her, one category of sexual abuse is that perpetrated “by educational religious authorities, rabbis, melameds [teachers], rebbes and Gabayim [managers of synagogue affairs], and every person that the Charedi minor identifies as an authority figure. Those people take advantage of their authority and carry out their plot”.
Salzberg explains that “it is a sector which has tight control especially in sexual matters. As well, sexuality is suppressed and not to be mentioned, especially sexual violence against boys. That is because it is connected to the sin of mishkav zachar [lying with a male], which is considered to be a grave sin. Since the subject is not discussed, youth are often not aware of being sexually abused. And even if they are, they won’t dare to talk. In the general population, more children will talk to their parents about it.”
The researcher mentions another type of sexual abusers, “the older friend” (like ‘big brother’) – youth in Charedi Yeshivas, who turn into the older friends of minors, whose connection gradually becomes of a sexual nature. Salzberg explains that “in the Charedi sector there is a homo-erotic experience. Such an experience takes place sometimes with consent and sometimes without, but even when with consent, this is an abusive act as the gravity of the sin results in guilt feelings. Someone said to me: “I didn’t want it, the Yetzer Ha’ra (evil inclination) made me”.
Salzberg explains that the homosexual experience is the result of the fact that most areas of life in this sector are ruled by total gender separation. This results in a single-sex society and homosexual experience that is reflected in sexual relationships. This is inevitable in the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) sector.
Salzberg explains that such relations often turn to sexual abuse since they involve minors and because “the moment a man has no women around and he satisfies his needs with anyone close by – there is a more brutal effect”.
A third type of abuse is perpetrated by the non-Charedi. According to Salzberg, there are many incidents of non-Charedi “who realise the potential for sexual abuse existing in the Chardei sector. There is a demographic increase in the number of children and they are not always under supervision or care of an adult. The non religious mother can better supervise, as she has two-three children, not 12. The ‘outside abusers’ know that a Charedi child can walk on the street unsupervised. They pose as Charedi and enter the Mikveh (ritual bath). There are pools and restrooms, but the Mikveh is much more convenient. Children arrive there without supervision”.
Salzberg emphasises: “The lack of sexual education leads to silencing and under-reporting, but I can see some change happening. There is a growing awareness of the subject and in conversation about it, but predominant are silencing and cover-ups. This community does not wish to advertise its felons, is concerned about its reputation. Yes, even if the price is never putting a stop to such brutal behaviour”.
Not Reporting to the Police
A researcher of the Charedi sector, Prof Menachem Friedman, does not blame it on the lack of sexual education. “It hasn’t been proven that sexual education helps in curbing the impulses of perverted individuals”, he says. We know that it exists in both the Charedi and non-Charedi sectors. The big difference is in the availability of children. We know that it often happens in Yehivahs. Abuse has always been there unless there is close supervision and zero tolerance”.
“Children are also available for abuse in church as well. Choir boys are very much around. The priest is a figure of great authority and often uses this power to take advantage and hurt kids. The same happens at the Yeshivahs”.
Friedman adds: “The fact that a person is religious doesn’t make him less or more perverted, as was commonly thought. The problem is that the Charedi community is closed for both sides. It is in the interest of both victim and perpetrator to hide the deed. Consequently, instead of finding them and offering treatment, there is hiding”.
Friedman says that the hiding does not stem only from the probable shame to the abused or to his family but also to the whole community. “The institutions of every Chasidic movement or community have a distinct identity, each such case when publicised hurts not only the child, not only his family, but also the community they are part of”, he explains.
“In my opinion, there is no difference between the Charedi sector and the general public”, says Manny Mandelovichof from “The Guardians”, an organisation that operates in B’nei B’rak to keep Charedi order and propriety. The Charedi communities attract both thieves and paedophiles. Both Charedi and secular persons can enter the Mikveh, blend in and do what they are doing. Children are more accessible as well. A child in Tel Aviv though is exposed to such things earlier and his parents warn him”.
“The Guardians” track suspected paedophiles and also try to convince the victims’ parents to report it to the police. This is usually coordinated with juvenile investigators, who know the Charedi sector.
“There were simple cases, for example a person that only hugged a girl or a boy. The Rabbis said not to go to the police and that they would take care of him. We follow up on such people and haven’t heard complaints about them”, says Mandelovich. “There was a case of parents of a sexual abuser who gave a bond, lots of money, to a certain Rabbi, to ensure there was no complaint. Indeed we haven’t lodged a complaint because he went for treatment”.
“The Guardians” believe that “the police too do not have all the necessary means for dealing with it. During house arrest perpetrators can act, and after arrest too. We do not seek out reporting to the police as much as wishing to prevent another child from being hurt”.
“There’s change”, says Mandelovich. “In the past, we never talked about it, and now parents are more aware. They never complained to the police and now they do. The Rabbis, in some cases, are very supportive of reporting to the police”.
However, not always are the parents willing to place a complaint. “So we also check security cameras in the streets, to find evidence and do the reporting ourselves”, says Mandelovich. “In the end, in the Charedi sector people are afraid and there are rabbis who forbid reporting to the police, because it is acting as a ‘moser’ [police informer] and this could also harm shiduch [marriage] prospects. We sit for hours and drive the parents mad trying to convince them, but if the person doesn’t want to complain, we’ll look for his rabbi in order to convince him to allow it”.
*Instead of within reach. In Hebrew the expression has the double meaning, loss in translation.
** Original Hebrew article is available at Ma'ariv website.