To give just a couple examples, it was reported in the Israeli press in 2008 that “police in Israel report finding more child molestation in the Chareidi community of Bnei Brak than in any other city, because abusers there are not as concerned about being reported to the authorities.” (That’s one of the ‘uncomfortable facts’ that I was referring to in the last post…)
Here’s another: according to orthodox Rabbinic sources quoted in the ‘Child & Domestic Abuse’ book, up to 80 per cent (!) of the kids going off the derech in the orthodox world are doing so in direct response to being severely abused in some way.
Denial that these things can happen in orthodox Jewish circles, silence, fears about making false accusations, and an obsession with keeping up appearances at all costs have all contributed to the problem.
But the most telling proof that something is seriously ‘wrong’ within the Jewish community of 2016 is the enormous prevalence of mental illness within all sectors of our community.
As the scientific studies that have been done in the Western World over the last 60 years show, mental illnesses don’t just ‘happen’. In nearly all cases, they have been caused by some mix of emotional neglect, trauma, and / or psychological, emotional, physical and sexual abuse, either by primary caregivers or people in a position of trust and authority, such as a rabbi or teacher.
You want to know why more and more members of our community are feeling seriously depressed and anxious? Or being diagnosed with everything from Bipolar to schizophrenia, with a bit of Borderline Personality Disorder, ADHD and OCD thrown in, for good measure?
Bottom line: frightening numbers of Jewish children are being subjected to all kinds of abuse and emotional neglect, and most of us are still walking around making excuses about what we witness happening in front of our eyes every single day.
The Jewish community: A traumatized people
For the last two decades, Rabbi Pinchos Yehoshua HaCohain has been heavily involved in issues of substance abuse, kids-at-risk, domestic abuse and violence and the treatment of trauma and molestation within the orthodox Jewish community. In a recent essay called ‘Chosen People and Abuse’, that appeared in the first volume of a work called ‘Child & Domestic abuse: Torah, Psychological and Legal Perspectives’, Rav HaCohain identified the following three major issues, which he believed was leading to the explosion of abuse and emotional difficulties in the frum community:
1)Rabbinic and communal distrust of science – both theoretical and practical – and therefore ignorance of how to deal with these types of problems
2)Misunderstanding of Torah obligations and values
3)Pervasive superficiality of our spiritual endeavors
Particularly in connection to this last point, he wrote the following:
“My study of these issues has made it clear to me that we, as a people, have become overcome, almost as if possessed, by a compulsion to maintain a façade of infallibility and perfectionism. At all costs, as if our very life depended on it, we need to protect our public visage, and put a ‘positive spin’ on any and all of our action. Being somewhat less than perfect or slightly blemished is just simply intolerable. Never mind what we feel like inside, it’s the countenance that counts!”
Later on in the same essay, he continues:
“Those who have studied the [subject matter] realize that these behaviors are none other but manifestations of the classic symptoms of a traumatized person (and people). (I.e., simple, repetitive, rigidly-structured, status quo activities with little or no depth and certainly no motivation to grow or change.)
The Holocaust happened more than three generations’ ago, but the collective damage that was done then, and that continues to be done to Jews today by terrorist attacks, wars and growing anti-semitism has cemented in a ‘traumatized’ approach to life that has all but killed our compassion for ourselves and others, our spiritual growth and ambitions and our ability to really connect to ourselves, our loved ones, and to God.
The name we choose to attach to the problem is far less important than the recognition that something has gone drastically wrong in the Jewish community, for a number of interconnected reasons, ranging across the physiological, emotional and spiritual realms.
The first, and most crucial part of this process is to stop sticking our heads in the sand, and to recognize the enormous challenge that we, as a people, are up against.
That emotionally-abusive relative, that child abusing Rebbe, that nasty neighbor – they aren’t just a little bit eccentric, or exceptional: they are the unfortunate by-products of a people who have been traumatized to their core, and have lost something fundamental, as a result: the ability to empathise; the ability to feel remorse; the ability to grow and change.
Thankfully, more and more people are starting to speak out. In August, a group of prominent orthodox rabbis in the state issued a statement that all cases of suspected child abuse had to be reported to the secular authorities. You can see their signed statement here (and also at the end of this blogpost):
The second volume of the ‘Child & Domestic Abuse’ book also contains hundreds of pages of halachic responsa dealing with most of the halachic issues that come up when dealing with abuse.
(You can order a copy from the author via his website at: http://daattorah.blogspot.com)
But most bittersweet of all is how these stories are now making their way out into the world from the individuals who have lived through them. Recently, I stumbled across a site for frum women called balaboostas – and I really liked it. I browsed through their ‘writers corner’ section – and was shocked to find it full of stories of sexual abuse.
Adults are now writing the stories of how they were abused as children, and how the abuse was covered up, and begging their peers to stop the cycle of abuse from replaying itself over and over again. You can read some of these stories for yourself at the link below:
This stuff is so icky, I know. It’s taken me weeks to write these posts, because I know how distasteful the subject matter is to most of us. But we can’t keep on ignoring the problem, because that’s only perpetuating it, and causing more and more innocent children to suffer in the worst way.
Each of us has to take a stand, in whatever way we can. Maybe I’ll come back to this again in another post, we’ll see what God gives me to write. But the point is this: things are badly broken at so many levels of the Jewish world, and across all our communities. Denying the problem is only making it worse. It’s time to pull off the mask, and to come clean. Because it’s only when we stop pretending everything’s fine, that we’re going to find the ometz we need to get God involved, and to start rooting out the evil in our midst once and for all.