14 Mar 2009

Orthodox Jews urged to report abuse cases

Winston-Salem Journal March 14, 2009


NEW YORK - In the wake of the sex-abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church, members of other faiths began reconsidering how they handle allegations against clergy, teachers and youth leaders. For Orthodox Jews, whose communal life is shaped by religious courts and a desire to avoid bad publicity, abuse often went unreported -- a situation that has slowly started to change -- much to Rabbi Yosef Blau's relief.
Blau, 70, Yeshiva University's spiritual adviser, has worked with The Awareness Center, a Jewish coalition against sexual abuse. He spoke about recent allegations against several Brooklyn rabbis, and the community's struggles to understand that such matters require outside investigators.
Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Q. How did you become an advocate for Jewish sex-abuse victims?
A. About 20 years ago, Rabbi Baruch Lanner, a very successful head of an Orthodox youth movement, was accused of misconduct. The community set up a rabbinical court, and I was one of the people chosen to be on it. It was a disaster.
Q. How would you have handled the situation now?
A. I would go to the appropriate state authorities and the police and give support to the victims. But this is still not a community that thinks of going to the police. There's a history around the world of anti-Semitism, so Jews learned not to trust the secular authorities. It became taboo to report on problems to the outside world.
Q: What more needs to be done?
A. Our obligation is to protect children. The leadership must acknowledge the seriousness of the problem, and the community must encourage victims to go to the secular authorities and stop stigmatizing them. We have to find a way of breaking the taboo, and that is the process that's going on.
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