“The system of oversight is unknown, and that’s what needs to change,” said Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. “Rabbinic institutions need to figure out how to relay complaints and concerns about rabbinic authority, abuse, problems with synagogues.”
In the recent arrest of Rabbi Barry Freundel on voyeurisms charges related to a hidden camera placed in the women's mikva (ritual bath) adjoining his Washington, DC synagogue, the Washington Post has an article on the Rabbinical Council of America's lack of transparency with regard to allegations of sex abuse and similar misbehavior by its more than 1,000 member Orthodox rabbis, including Freundel.
Here are two key excerpts:
• “The system of oversight is unknown, and that’s what needs to change,” said Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. “Rabbinic institutions need to figure out how to relay complaints and concerns about rabbinic authority, abuse, problems with synagogues.”
The alliance, which works to expand opportunities for women within Orthodoxy, said in a statement Friday that the Freundel case should be used “as a catalyst to address those imbalances that have grown in our community.”
• [T]here is an inherent limit to the reach of the RCA. Modern Orthodoxy is an ideology, not a denomination, such as the Roman Catholic Church or the Southern Baptist Convention, with a hierarchy. Its followers, who make up the more flexible part of Orthodox Judaism, are much more likely to look to their local rabbis and other Jewish community leaders than to the RCA. There are also strong cultural norms against disrespecting or challenging one’s rabbi.
“Every congregation contracts with its own rabbis,” [RCA executive VP Rabbi Mark] Dratch said. “There are situations we’re not aware of on a local level. We’re a rabbinical membership organization; we don’t have the resources to be the policemen of the entire American rabbinate.”
The council receives fewer than a dozen total complaints a year, according to Dratch, and most details of investigations — down to their findings, even in the very rare case when a member is expelled — are kept private.…[T]he RCA in 2004 created an extremely detailed system for dealing with sexual-misconduct claims. For example, it calls for the immediate appointment of two people, one male and one female, who are not members of the council and who have training in the area of sexual abuse, to determine whether there is enough evidence to be referred to a five-member team that includes mental-health and legal professionals outside the RCA.Dratch would not give any details of the nature of the complaints the council has investigated of late or whether any rabbis — besides Freundel, who has been suspended — were penalized.…According to Dratch, “a few” female conversion candidates working with Freundel brought complaints to the council in fall 2012 that they had “felt coerced” by him to perform clerical work in his home office and to contribute money to the local conversion tribunal he ran. One said he was a co-signer on her checking account.
The article mentions many recent sex abuse scandals Modern Orthodoxy, including the alleged child sex abuse at Yeshiva University's men's high school, and Modern Orthodoxy's repeated mishandling of them. (Read the whole thing to get a good refresher course on the issue.)
As for Dratch's claims and his lack of transparency, only time will tell if all the RCA knew bad about Freundel before his recent voyeurism arrest were as seemingly benign as Dratch and the RCA now claim.