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July 23, 2013

New York Times: The Faithful’s Failings

Haredi kids eyes covered croppedFrank Bruni's column in the New York Times links haredi and Orthodox child sex abuse coverups to similar coverups by the Catholic Church.


Frank Bruni writes:

The men were spiritual leaders, held up before the children around them as wise and righteous and right. So they had special access to those kids. Special sway.

And when they exploited it by sexually abusing the children, according to civil and criminal cases from different places and periods, they were protected by their lofty stations and by the caretakers of their faith. The children’s accusations were met with skepticism. The community of the faithful either couldn’t believe what had happened or didn’t want it exposed to public view: why give outsiders a fresh cause to be critical? So the unpleasantness was hushed up.

This is not a column about the Catholic Church.

This is a column about Orthodox Jews, who have recently had similar misdeeds exposed, similar cover-ups revealed.

And I’m writing it, yes, because the Catholic Church over the last two decades has absorbed the bulk of journalistic attention, my own included, in terms of child sexual abuse. There are compelling reasons that’s been so: Catholicism has more than one billion nominal adherents worldwide; endows its clerics with a degree of mysticism that many other denominations don’t; and is just centralized enough for scattered cover-ups to coalesce into something more like a conspiracy. The pattern of criminality and evasion has been staggering.

But some of the same dynamics that fed the crisis in Catholicism — an aloof patriarchy, an insularity verging on superiority, a disinclination to get secular officials involved — exist elsewhere. And the way they’ve played out in Orthodox Judaism illustrates anew that religion isn’t always the higher ground and safer harbor it purports to be. It can also be a self-preserving haven for wrongdoing…

Bruni goes on to talk about the YU abuse scandal, about Rabbi Herschel Schachter's talk in London last year where he said that it might be a bad thing to report abuse if the abuser will end up in a jail cell with a "schvartze," and Agudath Israel of America's position that a only senior rabbis can decide whether abuse allegations should be reported to police or instead kept within the haredi community alone.

I broke two of those three stories, Schachter and Agudath Israel. The Times former public editor acknowledged the second last year. The link Bruni gives for the first goes to an article that clearly cites and links to FailedMessiah.com as its source.

Bruni talks about Rabbi Norman Lamm but makes no note that Lamm was senile and was unethically ambushed by the Forward's reporter after being clearly told that Lamm would not be able to speak to him – another story I broke.

But the truly sad thing is that the bulk of the reporting the Forward and the Times relied on to do their haredi child sex abuse reports was taken without attribution from Hella Winston's long series of Jewish Week articles. The Times' former public editor admitted this in print, as well, and chastised his paper's editors and reporters for stealing (in effect) the material. But Bruni never mentions Winston or the Jewish Week and he provides no link to the paper.

None of Bruni's lapses are necessarily intentional. They can just as easily have flowed naturally and unknowingly from the unethical reporting that preceded him.

(In fact, that is what I believe happened. Why? Because the Times rarely links to its outside sources, but Bruni – who is a columnist and therefore has more independence and freedom – does link to an outside source, something that is commendable.)

All this aside, Bruni's column is important because it brings more attention to the issue.

It's just too bad that every step ahead seems to be accompanied by questionable behavior from leaders of the Fourth Estate.


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Shmarya, I will give you credit for bringing these issues to the attention of the public. But let's face it, the NY Times has a much wider circulation and more clout. Let's see if the NY Times does some investigative reporting regarding the costs of Haredi financial scandals and welfare abuse (both here and in Israel). So far, your web site does not seem to have brought many changes in public policy. But thanks to your reporting, one of my relatives has stopped buying Israeli bonds. I guess she has lost confidence in Israel's ability to repay its debts in the future. So have I. I am not running for political office. I don't have to be politically correct.

A culture that fails to protect its children is doomed to fail.


I remember all the Schadenfreude surrounding the first priest abuse scandals: "Those stupid Goyim! Celibacy is unnatural. OUR rabbis marry; they have normal outlets for their sexuality. THIS would NEVER happen to US!" Abuse is power disguised as sexuality, not lust.

The hassidik culture was doomed from the get go,and now in the 21st century they are a joke living in a big metropolis like new york they are a laughting stock and a shame on us non chassidic jews


Newspaper editors cut articles to fit in allotted space. The original writing might have had the appropriate cites.

Unfortunately, I doubt that public exposure will curtail abuse. Orthodox Jews will dismiss it as antisemitism. Seculars will claim that they always knew something was wrong with very religious people.

"...Unfortunately, I doubt that public exposure will curtail abuse. Orthodox Jews will dismiss it as antisemitism. Seculars will claim that they always knew something was wrong with very religious people...."

Maybe sufficient public exposure will lead to questions being asked as to why the prosecution rate is so low which we can only hope will eventually lead to changes. Exposure will provide some cover for elected officials who have the guts to act. Whatever's done will have to be imposed on these shtetl dwellers; they're so inward-directed that they see no evil, hear no evil no matter what.

As i wrote many times here before all the molesters and their protectors should be skinned alive slowly.

I could be mistaken, but I think the haredi cover ups have been worse in some ways. As horrible as the Catholic sexual abuse cover ups were, I don't recall seeing priests calling victims whores in the same way the Teitelbaums have. Nor did their counterparts to people like Weberman become venerated into saintly martyrs.

(The other) Eli -

good point.

Catholicism is not a cult so there's no circle-the-wagons mentality among most Catholics the way there is among frum Jews, plus most of the molestations by priests were of boys and young men so no chance to vilify females as whores.. US Catholics are falling away in large numbers from being observant anyway so their clergy are no longer venerated as they once were; the Church just can't get away with what Hasidim can. There's no insularity to speak of among Westernized Catholics.

Probably the groups most comparable sociologically to frum Jews are some of the fringe Protestant sects in the South and the Midwest, some of the more radical and insular Mormons and some of the Amish such as the fringe group that was involved in the recent spate of beard-and-hair cutting attacks; their leader as I recall reserved a sort of droit-de-signeur over young married women in his little community.

Check out the "Reader Picks" section of the comments for the original NYT article. Some of those comments are excellent.

Bas Melech - I agree with SML that exposure does and WILL help. It will also help down the line when the rabbinic leaders will finally realize that the damage from exposure turns out to be much worse than the damage from admitting that these problems exist and need to be dealt with by the secular authorities and secular professionals. Then the leaders will start doing something.

The changes may be very slow, but things are changing with every bit of exposure. In the last 10 years there have been some big and positive changes. Kolko was finally arrested, along with other long-time abusers. There is more awareness in the frum world. There is a childrens book that was put out which has promoted awareness. Frum parents are not as naïve as they used to be due to all the exposure. The leaders are the slowest to change, because it always serves them to keep the status quo since they are self-elected and have absolute power over the minds and money of the people. But changes have been made and are being made as we speak, albeit slowly. And exposure is the key. Shmarya gets a lot of credit for his big part in the exposure. Kudos to him!

It's not about religion. It's about power. It's about protecting the institution over the victims. That's the common thread. Otherwise how do you explain Penn State and Horace Mann

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