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BETRAYING THEIR SACRED TRUST Section 1

Recent discussions regarding Roman Catholic Church clergy and Sexual Boundary Violations, primarily regarding sexual abuse of children, stand in stark contrast to the lack of discussion about similar problems within the Jewish community. Regrettably, the Jewish community is not immune from the scourge of clergy who would abuse its sacred power and trust in terms of sexual boundaries violations. In New York City alone, recent accusations, arrests, and convictions have involved rabbis, cantors, and chaplains, a number of these clergy who served in very prominent positions.1

The subject of clergy sexual boundary violations is newsworthy. In the decade 1993-2004 there were various news print articles or other media reportage on this subject.2 A couple of "popular" books that focus on particularly egregious examples of specific rabbis and their sexual boundaries violations were published in this decade.3

Though there is some awareness of violations, much of it remains anecdotal.4 The desire and courage to deal openly with this issue only has begun to surface in the past decade or so, from about the early 1990s onward. Regrettably, with rare exceptions, the major religious movements of North American Jewry have not publicly addressed this problem.5

Reasons given for the self-imposed silence include shame or a desire to protect the good name of the rabbinate/cantorate/chaplaincy, or clergy in general. Some quote a rabbinic principle: "If you shame your reputation, you shame your family's as well" (Midrash Numbers Rabbah 21.3). Some people voice concern about the name of the Jewish community, the victim, the victim's family, the specific congregation or school, or the perpetrator's family. Sadly, this allows a situation, which becomes a willful conspiracy of silence.6 Too often people mistakenly assume that incidents of sexual boundary violations are completely isolated. This is wrong: most often they are part of a regular pattern of behavior. The net result of this silence is that perpetrators go unchallenged, and often feel free to carry on their nefarious activities. Furthermore, their victims then continue to carry their burden, and suffer long-term psycho-sexual trauma.

There is another reason to break the silence. It is the law. Every state requires most people to report known or suspected child abuse. Some states also require this for elders and incapacitated adults. If you do not report suspected abuse, you could be prosecuted.

  2004 David J. Zucker
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