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BETRAYING THEIR SACRED TRUST Analysis

In analyzing the articles, books, websites and the one novel presented dealing with Jewish clergy and Sexual Boundaries Violations of adults and children, it is clear that there still is an absolute dearth of material. The Jewish community remains reluctant to openly face this problem.22 23

What, however, distinguishes the extant Jewish materials from other more general, or non-religious, or non-Jewish articles and papers? To begin, there is a strong desire to seek guidance from traditional Jewish texts, notably the Talmud and other rabbinic sources.24

Furthermore, there is a desire to frame the "rehabilitation" of the offender/perpetrator in terms of traditional forms of Jewish repentance. One suggestion is to convoke a rabbinic court [beit din] and Adler suggests a spiritual supervisor/counselor/mentor [mashgiah ruhani].

The reality may be that most perpetrators cannot be rehabilitated permanently.25 In that case, the kindest thing to do following some period of punishment and repentance would be to help the perpetrators to find an area of work where they would not come into contact with youth, or serve as a religious functionary, where they would/could exploit the rabbi-cantor-chaplain's spiritual and supernatural aura which simply comes with that sacred position. For most predators, the temptation is simply too great to be fought successfully. Removing them from roles where they might exploit their power would also protect against reoccurring victimhood.

Earlier I made reference to the fact that for too long the community has been guilty of failing to uphold the commandments found in Leviticus 19, warning us about cursing the deaf and placing a stumbling block before the blind. To allow a predator to be in a position where abuse will take place, is in its own way to curse the deaf and place a stumbling block before the blind. These predators are morally deaf and ethically blind; they need to be protected from their own inclinations.

What is clear is that repentance takes time, and great effort. Indeed, in some cases, repentance/t'shuva is literally a lifelong effort. The cruelest and most disastrous choice is to forgive and forget. It excuses evil and offers no resolution to the victims. Marie Fortune, an internationally recognized figure on this subject has written: "Forgiveness is the last step at best . . . . Quick forgiveness or cheap grace is not helpful to perpetrators --- and it can be devastating to survivors whose process is cut short. Some experience of justice is the prerequisite for forgiveness and eventually for healing. . .

"Forgiveness, healing, recovery -- these become real possibilities when the community surrounding the survivor create the conditions for an experience of justice. For the perpetrator - the goal is the possibility of change or, as we theologians say, repentance: 'to get a new heart and a new mind,' to be restored to community. This also becomes a possibility in the context of justice."

She further explains, that in her own experience in working with offenders, she has heard them say, "Whenever you talk with people about forgiveness, tell them not to forgive us so quickly." Each [one of these offenders] . . .had gone straight to his [religious leader] . . .when he was first arrested. Each one had been prayed over and sent home "forgiven." They said, "it was the worst thing anyone could have done to us. It meant that we could continue to try to avoid responsibility for the harm we did to our children."26

In conclusion, there needs to be further articles and programs that address a variety of subjects. These include awareness; education; procedures for raising accusations; clear protection for the innocent - be the innocent party the rabbi, cantor, chaplain or a congregant; procedures for dealing with offenders in an appropriate manner which may mean in effect expulsion from the rabbinate, cantorate, or chaplaincy; and ways to heal the wounds caused by these offenses.

  2004 David J. Zucker

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