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BETRAYING THEIR SACRED TRUST Section 3

Believing the victim, and taking seriously charges of sexual boundary violations, however, is but a rare occurrence.

The veil of silence, however, is slowly lifting. Yet, only limited segments of the rabbinic, cantorial, and lay leadership publicly are addressing this issue.

The Orthodox movement has yet to address this issue publicly in print in its "house" journals, and the Conservative movement scheduled its first article on this subject in its congregational-based magazine, United Synagogue Review, for Winter, 2004.10 The Reform and Reconstructionist movements have taken a lead in addressing the matter of clergy sexual boundaries violations, publishing articles as early as 1993. Of primary note are several articles in the CCAR Journal, the professional journal of the Reform rabbinate, and one in Reconstructionist movement's journal, The Reconstructionist.

The first article to address this issue within the official rabbinic/congregational world was the 1993 work by Rachel Adler, "A Stumbling Block Before the Blind: Sexual Exploitation in Pastoral Counseling." Her article commences with some general definitions of sexual contact and sexual exploitation. Sexual contact includes any kind of penetration, any kind of inappropriate touching, or narration of sexual fantasies by a counselor to a client. Sexual exploitation is contact which violates roles, and she points out that "The exploiter's insistence that the sexual activity be kept secret can be interpreted as a tacit admission of role violation" (emphasis in original). Adler writes about "Transference and Counter-transference" and she highlights the gulf between rabbis [cantors, chaplains, and other revered figures] and congregants. Her remarks, while mentioning rabbis specifically, are equally applicable to cantors and chaplains. She suggests that rabbis possess specialized knowledge. Further, there is a discrepancy between rabbis and congregants' roles. This discrepancy, plus the rabbis' familiarity with sacred texts, sacred objects, Hebrew language and Jewish tradition allows congregants to endow the rabbi with a spiritual and supernatural aura and unique priestly powers. The rabbis play out their part by agreeing to be the "ideal parent of childhood fantasy, who nurtures selflessly and magically ensures safety and well-being." This in turn "creates religious environments rife with potential for abuse." She mentions a typology of six offenders, suggesting that in many, if not most cases treatment is difficult, if not impossible, and that there are persons who cannot be rehabilitated. The article concludes with sections dealing with recommendations regarding offenses and recommendations dealing with offenders.11

In 1994 Rabbi Howard Kosovske, in response to Rachel Adler published an article dealing with "Sexual Exploitation: A Jewish Response,"12 wherein he examined a Talmudic response to the issue of a rabbinic sexual boundary violation found in the tractate Moed Katan 17a.

Again in the CCAR Journal, Stephen S. Pearce's article "Betrayal, Sex, Power, Trust, and Unfinished Business"13 points out that clergy are particularly vulnerable to indiscretions, and that the term rabbi - and the words cantor or chaplain as well - make these clergy "more vulnerable to both innocents and predators, as well as to their own uncontrollable desires." He writes about the "Heroic-Wounded Healer versus the Needy-Supplicant" and how easy it is for a rabbi [cantor or chaplain] to overstep appropriate limits. He explains that because the rabbi [cantor, or chaplain] is held in a position of awe, that with this position comes a sense of the "divine, spiritual, supernatural, mysterious" and so the rabbi/cantor/chaplain becomes the "embodiment of such otherworldly power." He goes on to say, that consequently for some people, "having sex with a clergyperson is like having sex with God."

In his article, like Adler, he offers some characteristics of Boundary Violations, and offers some Strategies for Maintaining Boundaries. Among his strategies he suggests Consultation with someone trusted if you feel you might be about to violate a boundary, and then such other points as Self Awareness, Refer-Refer-Refer, and Adequate Training.

Arthur Gross-Schaefer, writing in The Reconstructionist points out that when "rabbinic colleagues and lay leaders keep the 'secret,' the abusing rabbi can continue the violation either in the existing congregation or at the next with the belief that his actions will be kept a 'family secret.' In this way, colleagues, lay leadership, and religious institutions become part of the conspiracy which allows the abusive activity to continue."14

  2004 David J. Zucker
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