Agudath Israel of America employs a spokesman, Rabbi Avi Shafran, who is eager to defend his community from perceived attack. Rabbi Shafran seems to believe haredim do wrong at a lower rate than non-haredim and non-Jews. Why? Because, Rabbi Shafran writes, the Torah is "transformative;" it "elevate[s] [haredim], and empowers them to live exemplary lives." When haredim do commit crimes, Rabbi Shafran says, those criminals cannot be said to be representative of haredim as a whole.
For example, when a hasidic businessman is arrested for fraud, we cannot say fraud is endemic in the hasidic world – even if there are many other examples of fraud perpetrated by hasidim for us to call on. Why? Because, Rabbi Shafran says, the evidence is all anecdotal – there are no statistics to back up the claim.
What Rabbi Shafran does not tell you is those statistics do not exist largely because haredi leaders refuse to cooperate with such information gathering.
He also does not tell you that anecdotal evidence gathered from professionals who work with a population sample on a professional level carries far more weight than raw speculation, and there is much anecdotal evidence drawn from professionals to support the claim that child sexual abuse and other ills are widespread in haredi communities.
So, for example, social workers, welfare agents, doctors, and other professionals anecdotally report high levels of welfare and other social service fraud among their haredi clients. Rabbi Shafran wants us to disregard this information.
Those same professionals speak of sky high levels of child sex abuse among their haredi clients. Again, Rabbi Shafran wants us to disregard this.
According to Rabbi Shafran, when haredi victims of child sexual abuse speak out, they are tragic, individual cases. They certainly are not representative, Rabbi Shafran says, and he knows this with some certainty because – drum roll, please – there are no studies to prove it and the anecdotal evidence is not to be relied on.
[Here, where there is a study, Rabbi Shafran lists his problems with its methodology and seeks to rebut its conclusions. What he does not do is call for any substantive measures to correct the actual problem – sexual abuse of women and girls in haredi communities.]
Rabbi Shafran is also quick to point out that when there has been no trial and therefore no conviction, the rabbi is to be presumed innocent. To Rabbi Shafran, this apparently holds true even when there are dozens of victims and years of "anecdotal" evidence, and even in cases where police were unable to make headway because the haredi victims, acting on orders from their religious leadership, refused to testify against the rabbis who abused them
Rabbi Shafran makes no mention of meetings held by haredi leadership to "deal with" particular rabbi-abusers, meetings that instead ended with implementation of coverups.
Further, rabbis – including some of those Shafran represents – are alleged to have told victims and their families not to go to the police or media, and then shamed and intimidated these victims into compliance.
Jewish and non-Jewish children alike were abused by rabbis who walked freely on the streets of Brooklyn because haredi leadership, intentionally or not, made it so.
Is there more child sexual abuse in the haredi community than elsewhere? I think there is, based on anecdotal evidence I've seen and heard, including anecdotal evidence from professionals. But this is almost beside the point.
Children are being hurt by predator rabbis. One way to weed out these abusers is to have mandatory criminal background checks for all teachers in religious schools. In New York State, this is the law – but only for public schools.
Religious schools are exempt because two powerful religious groups oppose mandatory background checks in their schools – the Catholic Church and Agudath Israel of America.
The number of abused children in the haredi community could be reduced dramatically if mandatory background checks were law.
So, Rabbi Shafran, for the sake of argument, let's say you are right. We will disregard all anecdotal evidence, and we will say these types of deviant abuses are less common in haredi communities than elsewhere. Still, even one incident of preventable rabbi-on-child sexual abuse is too much, don't you think, Rabbi Shafran?
In an ideal world, which we all want and we all should work for, there would be no incidents – our children would be safe, our children would not be abused.
The haredi community can come closer to that goal by supporting mandatory background checks for all teachers and employees of religious schools. And it can come closer faster by unilaterally implementing those background checks now, without waiting for the law to change.
Let Agudath Israel of America's Council of Torah Sages rule that these background checks are mandatory for all schools in the haredi community. The ruling can be enforced by issuing bans against those schools and their leaders who fail to adopt this much needed standard.
Our children need protection now. It is time to act, swiftly and decisively, to protect them.
Anything less, Rabbi Shafran, is just so much hot air.