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BETRAYING THEIR SACRED TRUST Section 4

In 2003, Rachel Lev published Shine the Light: Sexual Abuse and Healing in the Jewish Community.15 This book has two major sections, "The Context: Survivors Then and Now, Denial, Jewish Law and Family Dynamics," and "Hope for the Future: The Healing Journey for Individuals and Communities."

Shine the Light is a blend between personal anecdotal accounts of abuse, and scholarly articles. Of note is the chapter written by Rabbi Eliot N. Dorff of the University of Judaism, "Jewish Law and Tradition Regarding Sexual Abuse and Incest." Dorff also wrote a chapter entitled "The Role of Rabbis, Cantors, and Educators in Preventing Abuse and Repairing its Consequences."

Also noteworthy is Marcia Cohn Spiegel's article on "Survival and Recovery: Jewish Women Confront Abuse."

Shine the Light contains several appendices which offer practical advice for Rabbis, Educators, Cantors, Parents, Health Care Professionals, Medical and Clinical Professionals and others who would help. Among these are sections on "When an Adult Says, 'I've Been Abused,'" and "When a Friend or Family Member Says, 'I've Been Abused'" as well as a list of Agencies, Resources and Websites.

In terms of fictional depictions, until very recently the subject of rabbinic, cantorial, and chaplaincy sexual boundary violations, took only one form. This was the male rabbi as philanderer or sexual predator.16 In these novels, the innocent victims, the preyed-upon were adult women, seduced by charismatic rabbis. In these fictional instances, as in real life, there is no such category as a "consenting adult." People are overwhelmed by the rabbi's (or cantor's or chaplain's) "spiritual and supernatural aura" (Adler). Nonetheless, sexual abuse of adults is different from the sexual abuse of children.

Sexual abuse of children by rabbis, cantors, and chaplains in the real world is an indisputably, and regrettably established fact, as recent convictions attest. Yet, despite these facts, with but one exception this subject never has been addressed in the world of fiction. That one and only exception to this conspiracy of silence is Carol Matas' 1995 novel, The Primrose Path.17 In many ways, this has been an underground book. It is said that Matas, the author of the acclaimed Holocaust novel, Daniel's Story (and Sworn Enemies), was unable to find a publisher in the United States for this book. "It will not sell," she was told, "it will do your career no good"; "the Jewish community is not ready for this." She had to go north of the border to Winnipeg to find a publisher.

The story revolves around a teenage Jewish girl in the ninth grade. Following her family relocating to a new community, suddenly and unexpectedly she is enrolled in a local Orthodox yeshiva. The rabbi/principal is charismatic, handsome, and witty. Over a number of years, he built up his congregation and his school, where it now has a very fine academic reputation.

During the course of the novel, it becomes clear that the rabbi is a sexual predator with both a series of women in the congregation and with many of the children. hides his shadow side. Under the pretext of teasing, flirting, hugging, and kissing, he surreptitiously takes advantage of his position of trust. He takes some children into his office, locks the door, and then fondles and touches them inappropriately.

The novel, at least morally, concludes on a difficult note. When finally confronted, the rabbi denies the allegations. Instead of some kind of retributive justice, blame falls on the victims, the community goes into denial, and it would appear that the perpetrator goes free.18

This reaction in the novel reflects accurately the reality that victims often face. As a real world article dealing with community denial of rabbinic sexual abuse described it:

People do not want to think that their rabbi is capable of sexual exploitation . . . when exploitation does occur, the women who come forward often find themselves ostracized by their religious community . . . on the rare occasions that they turn to the rabbi's professional associations or their movement's congregational organization, they say they are made to feel unwelcome. The result is a conspiracy of silence that protects the perpetrators and leaves the victims feeling isolated and in pain, alienated from the very Jewish community to which they turned for spiritual sustenance . . . Congregants are often so deeply invested in keeping their rabbis on a pedestal that they are unwilling or unable to consider that they may do something so fundamentally offensive. And so they often deny it . . . synagogue members will often stand up and ostracize the accuser. In some cases, the accusers have been called "liars" and "whores" - and worse . . .19

What is even more disturbing is that the description of the rabbi in this novel, The Primrose Path, and the reaction of the community to the alleged sexual abuse has a real-life counterpart in the accusations leveled at Rabbi Ephraim Bryks, formerly of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and more recently of Queens, New York. In 1994, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation aired a video, "Unorthodox Conduct" which narrated the sordid history of Rabbi Bryks.20 Though challenged in court by defenders of Rabbi Byrks, this video by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has withstood litigation against its public viewing.

  2004 David J. Zucker

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