Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Jewish Press contines to demonstrate ignorance about clergy sexual exploitation in their unwavering support for their friend Rabbi Mordechai Tendler

6 Comments:

At 9:06 PM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

http://www.thejewishpress.com/news_article.asp?article=4514

The Feeding Frenzy Continues
December 22, 2004
By Jewish Press Editorial Board

Last week in this space we explored Jewish Week Publisher Gary Rosenblatt`s recent breathless reporting of some purportedly new developments in an investigation by the Rabbinical Council of America of reports that a prominent Orthodox rabbi sexually harassed several women who came to him for counseling. As it turned out, the story was a vague rehash of an equally nebulous August front-page story in the Forward and a transparent attempt to play "catch-up" with the Forward`s "scoop."

For the Jewish Week, the new development — which was only a small part of Rosenblatt`s article and somewhat tentative at that — was the "controversy" over the RCA`s having turned the report, containing the identities of his accusers, to the rabbi. Not to be outdone, this past week the Forward went to town on the disclosure controversy in a long front page story.

Whereas the Jewish Week simply asserted that there was a controversy and discussed it in general terms, the Forward quoted an array of "experts" whose views as to how the RCA had "blown it" by violating the supposed fundamental rule of non-disclosure occupied most of the piece. Typically, precious little real information was added to the underlying non-story about the alleged harassment itself.

Of course it is ludicrous to suggest the impropriety of allowing the accused to confront his accusers and the accusations made against him, especially when the accused`s name and family ties have been fully made public. One also wonders about the utility of a process which by definition could not reach any definitive conclusions if the rabbi`s responses must necessarily be non-informed. What exactly was the RCA supposed to do with the one-sided information it gathered from the accusers? And what could the accusers possibly have had in mind at the outset if they knew that the investigation was foredoomed by their continued anonymity? All that should have been expected was the possible publication of the accusations and, given the availability of the Forward and Jewish Week, the identity of the accused.

Perhaps a word is in order about two stories that shared the Forward’s front page last week with the Orthodox harassment story. One was a sneering piece on the overwhelming number of Orthodox Jews — as opposed to non-Orthodox — attending recent White House "Jewish events," a reflection of "the White House`s budding relationship with the Orthodox Jewish community." The other was a respectful report on some inane "feel good" proposal: "Top Conservative Rabbi Floats Idea of `Peace Holiday`."

Get the message?



http://www.thejewishpress.com/news_article.asp?article=4520

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
December 22, 2004
By JEWISH PRESS READERS
Rush To Judgment

Kudos to your editorial on the pathological need of our local non-Orthodox Jewish papers to constantly drag the Orthodox community through the mud (“The Orthodox-Bashing Never Ends,” Dec. 17).

I’m not judging who’s right and who’s wrong in the matter of these horrific allegations that are being made against a prominent rabbi, since no one knows the truth at this point. But that’s precisely what makes the coverage of the story by the Forward and The Jewish Week so sleazy and one-sided. We live in a time when any woman or group of women can come forward and accuse any man (it always seems to be men of prominence, though) with all manner of sexual wrongdoing based merely on say-so — and often years after the alleged acts took place.

Where’s the balance in this? Why are we so in thrall to politically correct feminism that we operate under the blanket assumption of “men bad, women good”? And why are these mere allegations — there is no physical evidence that we know of, the case is not being tried at this point in a court of law, and we are supposed to assume a person’s innocence until proven otherwise — given repeated front-page play by the Forward and The Jewish Week?

Doris Arlin
(Via E-Mail)

 
At 9:26 PM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

Reading material for Jewish Press idiots:

1)
First in a Series: Rabbinic sexual misconduct -- breaching a sacred trust
by DEBRA NUSSBAUM COHEN
Jewish Telegraphic Agency - October 18, 1996
http://www.jewishsf.com/bk961018/1cfirst.htm

On a hot summer's day in 1991, when her husband had taken their two adolescent sons out of town, Connie Rappaport's rabbi asked to come over for a swim in the lake near her house.

Rabbi Arnold Fink, the family's spiritual leader at Beth El Hebrew Congregation in Alexandria, Va., for more than a decade had been counseling one of the boys and had grown close to Rappaport and her sons.

"I was welcoming a friend and teacher who had been part of my religious and family life for a long time," said Rappaport.

As they ate the ice cream sundaes she had served, Fink suddenly shoved his spoon in her mouth and said, "`You must taste mine,'" Rappaport recalled in an interview.

"In the next instant he grabbed me and pulled me over to him in a tight embrace. I found myself locked with him in an intense and passionate kiss."

A "passionate sexual involvement was not what I expected," said Rappaport, a freelance radio reporter, of her ensuing six-month relationship with the rabbi.

In a recent interview, Fink acknowledged the relationship but said it was not inappropriate, because he was not counseling Rappaport in any way at the time and he believed that Rappaport was in the process of getting divorced.

But Rappaport says that although her marriage was troubled, she planned to stay with her husband another several years until their sons were in college. She was also dealing with the recent death of her mother.

"I honestly did not know how to say `no' to my rabbi, the most important authority figure in my life at the time," she said.

Rappaport's story is not unique.

Although the overwhelming majority of rabbis do not misuse their power by sexually harassing or abusing their congregants, sexual exploitation happens more often than anyone would like to think.

"We're dealing with a huge problem that I don't think we fully understand," said Rabbi Mark Winer, senior rabbi at the Jewish Community Center of White Plains, N.Y.

Rabbinic sexual exploitation involves more than adultery. It is the misuse of a powerful role, experts say, and includes unwanted sexual advances toward a congregant, verbal or physical harassment, taking advantage of a counseling relationship, or even acquiescing to a congregant's overtures.

American society has grown more conscious of the issue of clergy sexual misconduct in recent years. And the problem has not escaped the Jewish community, as several recent cases illustrate:

*Early in 1995, a Philadelphia-area congregant complained that she had been fondled by a widely beloved Conservative rabbi. The rabbi had led her synagogue for nearly 50 years. Once she came forward, the floodgates opened. At least a dozen women in the congregation said the rabbi had been verbally harassing and fondling them, with some incidents dating back 40 years. The rabbi was forced to retire promptly.

*In mid-1995, a Reconstructionist rabbi was accused of pedophilia by someone he had allegedly molested 17 years earlier, when he worked as youth director at the complainant's congregation. When questioned by members of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association's ethics committee, the rabbi admitted to having molested one or two other minors since his ordainment eight years before. The association expelled him earlier this year.

*The married senior rabbi of one of modern Orthodoxy's most highly respected Northeastern synagogues began dating a congregant who had been seeing him for counseling while she was separated from her husband. The rabbi divorced his wife and married the congregant. The synagogue did not renew his contract.

*In June of this year, a former part-time employee and congregant at San Leandro's Conservative Temple Beth Sholom filed a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment and other misconduct by Rabbi Ira Book. The rabbi, who had been fired from the East Bay congregation on an unrelated charge in the spring, adamantly denies any wrongdoing. He has filed his own lawsuit against the synagogue for breach of contract, slander and libel.

*In a well-publicized 1992 case, Rabbi Robert Kirschner, a charismatic and successful young Reform rabbi who led San Francisco's Congregation Emanu-El, allegedly sexually exploited and harassed female congregants and others -- including an anorexic woman -- over a period of several years. When four of those women came forward to the synagogue board and demanded Kirschner's resignation, the married father of four complied. He left with a package that included a year's salary, his accrued pension and his share of the equity from a home co-owned by his family and the synagogue. A dozen women ultimately came forward to complain and at least three women settled out of court with the synagogue and its insurance company.

Although no official statistics exist that measure the extent of the problem of rabbinic sexual misconduct, there are some reliable indicators, say those who have studied the issue.

In the mid-1980s, when Winer, a member of the Reform rabbinic organization's executive committee, informally studied the approximately 60 largest congregations in his movement, he found that during a 20-year span, allegations of rabbinic sexual misconduct resulted in nearly as many pulpit changes as deaths and retirements combined.

Experts on the sexual misconduct of clergymembers -- Jews and non-Jews alike -- estimate that the incidence of rabbinic sexual exploitation is about the same as among Protestant ministers.

A 1992 analysis of surveys of ministers from five mainline Protestant denominations revealed that 39 percent had had sexual relationships of some type with congregants, according to Marie Fortune, founder and director of the Seattle-based Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence.

Twelve percent of the ministers surveyed admitted to having sexual intercourse with their congregants.

Leaders of each of the American Jewish community's major religious organizations vehemently disagree that the Protestant figures apply to the Jewish community.

"That number bears no relationship to the reality of incidents in our community," said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, head of the Reform movement's Union of American Hebrew Congregations. "I think it is a wildly exaggerated figure and until there is evidence to the contrary, I don't believe it."

Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly, said, "I don't believe [that percentage figure] is right."

"I don't want to sound like I'm denying the fact that I know there probably is such sexual exploitation," he said. But "our approach to the whole issue of human functioning, including sexuality, as Jews is quite different than that of Protestants or Catholics, and I think that our approach by and large is much healthier. I have a feeling that there is less of the exploitative."

Rabbi Steven Dworken, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, an Orthodox organization with about 1,000 members, said the Orthodox rabbinate, too, is less exploitive.

"I would like to think that it doesn't exist," he said. "We're all human beings and all have the potential to make mistakes. But there are different levels of mistakes and I would like to think that an Orthodox individual would be particularly careful when it comes to any kind of suggestion of impropriety."

But many rabbis working in congregations and other settings say the comparison with the Protestant figures confirms their own sense of what is happening in the rabbinate.

"People who make light of it, who say it's a few rotten apples, don't get it," Winer said. "When you have an epidemic like this, you have to look at something going on underneath the surface."

Rabbi Nina Cardin, a member of the executive council of the Conservative movement's rabbinic organization, said she believes that "we as rabbis don't yet know how to handle this."

When a married rabbi has sex with a congregant, or a single rabbi has sex with a married congregant, more than adultery is at issue. Similarly, any sexual relationship between a rabbi and a congregant he or she is counseling -- formally or informally -- is widely considered inappropriate.

Jewish and non-Jewish experts in the field say something comes with the title "rabbi" that some clergymembers do not understand and others exploit: power.

Rabbis have spiritual, psychological and emotional power over their congregants, say experts in clergy sexual misconduct.

No matter how egalitarian the relationship between rabbi and congregant appears to be, they say, there remains an ineluctable imbalance of power.

"Rabbis, or any religious figures, embody a representation of God whether they want to or not," said Debra Warwick-Sabino, director of the California Center for Pastoral Counseling, a Sacramento-based agency that deals with clergy sexual misconduct.

"With other people you have a secular type of trust, but with clergy there is a sacred trust," said Warwick-Sabino.

Warwick-Sabino said she was sexually harassed by Congregation Emanu-El's Kirschner, which she says led her to study the issue professionally.

Some rabbis -- particularly those who have dated members of their synagogues -- dispute the notion of an imbalance in the dynamic with congregants.

"A rabbi is not God, not an emissary of God. A rabbi is a teacher; our tradition is clear on that," said Fink, the Virginia rabbi accused by a former congregant of sexual exploitation.

But that congregant, Rappaport, had a different view. "I never called him `Arnold.' He was `Rabbi,'" she said. "I felt like I was making love to God. That's what made it so powerful.

"It was the most intense spiritual and sexual relationship I'd ever had in my life."

Fink, who has since remarried, said in a telephone interview that when he dated Rappaport, he made it clear to her that he was "dating her as a person, not as a rabbi, that this could in no way be construed as a rabbi or counselor relationship."

When "we had the relationship, whatever power we had was a shared power," he said.

After the rabbi broke off the relationship, Rappaport brought a complaint to the Reform movement's rabbinical organization, claiming that Fink had exploited her.

In response, the ethics committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis sent Fink a letter of censure for conducting a relationship that it said had "the appearance of impropriety."

"In publicly accusing me, Connie grabbed a different kind of power," Fink said. "My hands are tied behind my back. The congregation has been victimized by it."

Fortune, of the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence, said: "A congregant who turns to her rabbi for counsel or as a student is not his peer.

"She is not in a position to be fully consenting even though she may be eagerly engaged in this process" of sexual relations, and "may even have initiated it."

Arthur Gross Schaefer, a Reform rabbi at Kehilat HaAlonim in the Southern California city of Ojai, said his peers, by and large, "don't understand that `consenting adults' really doesn't mean `consenting adults.'"

Gross Schaefer, also a professor of business law and ethics at Loyola Marymount College in Los Angeles, has been one of a handful of rabbis within the Reform movement advocating a change in the way rabbinic sexual misconduct is handled.

According to Rabbi Howard Jaffe, a member of the executive committee of the Reform movement's CCAR, "The role of rabbi is theoretically one of teacher but in reality is, in the vast majority of cases, much more akin to that of pastor."

Mental health professionals use the term "diminished capacity to consent" to describe a situation in which congregants or patients are unable to rebuff unwanted overtures because of the powerful influence of clergy members, therapists or doctors.

The central professional organizations in some other fields have established stringent ethics codes about such relationships and have prosecuted violators.

The American Psychiatric Association's ethics code, for example, clearly states that "sexual contact between psychiatrists and their patients is unethical."

It is also a widely accepted standard in the mental health community that therapists should not begin a social relationship of any kind with a client until two years have passed since the professional relationship has ended.

Fifteen states have criminalized sexual exploitation between therapists and clients; most consider it a felony. Some of those laws apply to clergy as well.

In Gross Schaefer's view, when a rabbi sexually exploits a congregant in some way, the damage can be more profound than when a doctor or therapist does the same thing.

"Not only is a congregant being abused by a very powerful figure," he said, "but the tradition is abusing them and God is abusing them."

2)
Victims of rabbinic sex abuse suffer pain of communal denial
By Debra Nussbaum Cohen
Jewish Telegraphic Agency - September 19, 1996

NEW YORK, Sept. 18 (JTA) -- People do not want to think that their rabbi is capable of sexual exploitation.

The overwhelming majority of rabbis, of course, are not.

Yet when exploitation does occur, the women who come forward often find themselves ostracized by their religious community. And on the rare occasion that they turn to their rabbi's professional associations or their movement's congregational organization, they say they are made to feel unwelcome.

The result is often 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 had turned for spiritual sustenance.

Members of a congregation are frequently unable to imagine that their spiritual leader, who has guided them through the most significant moments of grief and joy in their lives, could be capable of sexual misconduct.

Often compounding the difficulty is the character of the rabbi alleged to be involved.

"By and large, the people who are exploitative are charismatic and well-loved, not sleazy people on the street who we're all going to be afraid of," Debra Warwick-Sabino, an expert in clergy sexual abuse, said in an interview.

Congregants are often so deeply invested in keeping their rabbis on a pedestal that they are simply unwilling or unable to consider that they might do something which is so fundamentally offensive.

And so they often deny it.

"When you say to someone that their rabbi is capable of this, for them to suspend their disbelief would cause such a spiritual crisis in their own lives that it's easier for them to say `Boys will be boys' than face that faith crisis," said Warwick-Sabino.

At the wrenching congregational meetings that increasingly follow allegations of rabbinic sexual misconduct, synagogue members will often stand up and ostracize the accuser. In some cases, the accusers have been called, "liars" and "whores" -- and worse.

"Even in situations where the perpetrator admits all the things the women allege, congregations sometimes will line up behind the rabbi," Marie Fortune, another expert on clergy sexual abuse, said in an interview. "It blows my mind."

Fortune, a United Church of Christ minister and the founding director of the Seattle-based Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence, has been involved with numerous cases in the Jewish community and has run a seminar on the topic at regional meeting of Reform rabbis and one for students at Los Angeles' Reform rabbinical seminary.

Denial of the problem is not unique to Jews, said Warwick-Sabino. It happens "all the time, in all religions," she said.

There is also a great deal of ignorance about what rabbinic sexual exploitation is, say those involved with the issue.

Because of the anticipated reaction, victims of rabbinic sexual exploitation and harrassment rarely come forward, say these experts.

Women who have experienced rabbinic exploitation usually feel a deep and degrading sense of shame and guilt about what happened, say experts.

They often feel that they have a lot to lose if they come forward -- their place in their synagogue communities, respect and success in their professional lives, and even, in some cases, their marriages.

At Congregation Emanu-el in San Francisco, many in the congregation tried to discredit the women who had come forward publicly to charge their rabbi, Robert Kirschner, with sexual exploitation, according to congregants.

At an emotional congregational meeting soon after Kirschner resigned his position, the women who had come forward were accused of wanting to ruin the widely admired rabbi's career. They were called "harlots" and "Jezebels," said some of those women interviewed.

Two women who had been Kirschner's students when he was teaching at the Berkeley campus of the University of California complained about Kirschner's harassment of them, according to a temple board member who asked not to be named.

Another two complainants -- students from Berkeley's Graduate Theological Union -- who had obtained advance permission from the synagogue to come to the meeting and tell the congregation about their experiences, said they were forced out of the building before they had a chance to speak.

While they were waiting on the steps of the synagogue, they heard one congregant say to his wife, "`Boys will be boys. I don't see what the big deal is,'" said one of them, Debra Warwick-Sabino, who has since gone into the professional field of clergy sexual abuse.

In a letter to the dean of the Reform movement's Los Angeles rabbinical seminary, Warwick-Sabino wrote that she heard another congregant say to a friend: "If he made a pass at me, I'd be flattered, I wouldn't object."

The congregants' responses were typical for those faced with allegations of clergy sexual exploitation, say experts.

Synagogue members have been known to distance themselves from anyone accusing their rabbi of being sexually exploitative.

In one highly publicized case, Michele Samit, who has not herself claimed to have suffered from rabbinic sexual misconduct, says she was totally vilified by her former community after she wrote a book about the relationship between Anita Green and her rabbi, Steven Jacobs.

Anita Green was the president of Shir Chadash -- The New Reform Congregation in Los Angeles, when she was murdered at point-blank range in 1990.

Her husband, Mel Green, was convicted of ordering the killing and is now serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Although Mel and Anita Green were separated at the time of her murder, her affair with Jacobs began while she was still living with her husband, according to Samit's book, "No Sanctuary: The True Story of a Rabbi's Deadly Affair."

Mel Green was an angry, jealous and violent man who had long threatened Anita, even in public, according to the book.

At Green's funeral, Jacobs, who had first denied but later reluctantly admitted his relationship with her, eulogized her not as a rabbi talking about his temple president, but as a lover, several people who were congregants of Jacobs' at the time, said in telephone interviews.

In her book, Samit wrote of the eulogy: "The rabbi recalled `admiring or just staring at her beautiful nails and her gentle hands; those hands, her skin so very soft, so reassuring, those beautiful hands.'

"No one [in the congregation] said anything" about it, Samit said in a recent interview, referring to what she believed was Jacob's inappropriate language.

"The reaction of the congregation was nothing. Not even discussion there."

That's what convinced Samit that she had to leave the congregation which had been her second home, and the rabbi who had been her lifelong spiritual guide, she said.

She said she was the target of a smear campaign by Jacobs and was harassed by the rabbi's supporters.

"People called me from the congregation and harangued me. They said, `You egomaniacal whore, you think you're better than us. How could you destroy such a wonderful man,'" said Samit in the interview.

"This was the most painful thing," she said. "Rabbi Jacobs was my hero. I had him on such a pedestal. He Bat Mitzvahed me, married me, I baby-sat his kids. We were so close."

Jacobs denied in a recent telephone interview that his relationship with Green was an illicit affair.

"She was a dear friend, my temple president, and after the fact that she was going through a divorce and I had already been divorced, there was a romantic relationship."

He described Samit's book as "full of lies" and said some have accused him of adultery because "people are angry when you achieve a lot in rabbinic life."

"I would not be in the position and stay in the position if people didn't know who I am," he said.

Samit said she believes that she and every other member of Jacobs' congregation bear some responsibility for Anita Green's murder.

"There were signs to all of us that Anita was in danger and we ignored them because we wouldn't dare cross our beloved rabbi," she said.

Another congregant, Michael Hirsh, outraged by his rabbi's behavior and his community's response, wrote to the head of the Reform rabbinical association's ethics committee in April 1993, charging Jacobs with violating the group's ethics code and demanding that it take up Jacobs' behavior.

Rabbi Jeffrey Stiffman, then the head of the committee, wrote back to Hirsch that Jacobs had agreed "to uphold all provisions of our Code of Ethics," which requires rabbis "to adhere to an exemplary moral code" and "to avoid even the appearance of sexual misconduct."

Hirsh responded to Stiffman with a letter saying that the action amounted to nothing more than "a rabbinic consent decree" for Jacobs to do it all over again.

"If there is a shanda (shame) here, it is not only in Jacobs' immoral conduct, but in your organization's complicity in covering it up," wrote Hirsch, a former investigative journalist and current television producer.

Jacobs remains the rabbi of Temple Kol Tikvah, the name adopted after it merged with another synagogue.

Experts in clergy sexual abuse say the denial among congregants can be dangerous because a rabbi can go on harassing and exploiting many congregants for decades without any of them knowing that the others exist, forcing each of them to bear the suffering alone.

And if a rabbi has sexually exploited one congregant, he almost always has exploited several, Fortune said, without referring specifically to any of the above-mentioned cases.

Fortune says she has worked with more than 3,500 cases of clergy sexual misconduct in dozens of different religious denominations during a 15-year period.

In the end, while the rabbinic perpetrators often move to another job within their movements or even stay in their pulpits after a slap on the wrist from their rabbinical organizations, it appears that the victims often go away.

They often divorce themselves from any connection to the Jewish community and, in some cases, go so far as to convert to another religion.

According to Fortune, denial of the problem is so pervasive because "none of us wants this to be happening."

"There is long-term damage being done here we're going to be living with for years,' she said, adding, "It doesn't have to be that bad if we respond better."

3)
Critics push for stricter codes for handling sexual misconduct (Part 3 of 5)
By Debra Nussbaum Cohen
Jewish Telegraphic Agency September 19, 1996

NEW YORK, Sept. 18 (JTA) -- How seriously does the Jewish community take rabbinic sexual misconduct?

Many officials of the major religious movements say that when a congregant complains of being sexually exploited or harassed by her rabbi, they deal with it cautiously but effectively.

"We're dealing with issues of sexual harassment and exploitation and we will take seriously rabbis' behaviors in all areas of their lives," said Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly.

"We want to be very careful in coming to any kind of a judgment, to first understand what the situation is before we jump to conclusions," he said.

Other movement leaders say they believe more needs to be done.

In the Reconstructionist and Reform movements, the issue has recently received more attention, as evidenced by the development of new policies to deal with the issue and more focus on the matter at professional gatherings and in rabbinic journals.

But others -- including women who say they are victims of rabbinic sexual exploitation, many members of congregations where such conduct has allegedly occurred, a handful of rabbis working to change the way the issue is handled and clergy sex abuse experts -- say that on the whole, the response of Jewish religious leaders continues to be ineffectual.

Those pressing for change say that the response of leaders of the congregations and the movements is ultimately what counts if the problem is to be tackled effectively.

"If this area is ever to be taken as seriously as it needs to be, the message must come from our leaders," said Arthur Gross Schaefer, an attorney and rabbi at Reform congregation Kehilat HaAlonim, in Ojai, Calif.

"In the past, that message has been less than clear," said Gross Schaefer, who has for the past few years, been pushing his movement to better handle rabbinic sexual exploitation.

Until very recently, the response of many synagogues to those few women who complained of sexual misconduct by their rabbi was to try and get the clergyman to quietly leave the congregation and hope that the real reason for his exit did not leak out, according to those involved in such cases.

For their part, rabbinic professional organizations have often helped the rabbi in question secure a job in a synagogue in a different community.

"There's a desire to reshuffle people, to keep it quiet and move them to a new community where they succumb to the same temptations," said Rabbi Debra Orenstein, a Conservative rabbi who serves as a senior fellow at the Wilstein Institute in Los Angeles.

According to Rabbi Julie Spitzer, director of the New York Federation of Reform Synagogues and the Union of American Hebrew Congregation's resident expert on rabbinic sexual misconduct, "A lot of organizations want to handle things quietly in-house."

The situation only began to change, she said, "when the women who had been victims started to come forward."

But rarely do these women go beyond their congregations to their movement's ethics committee to pursue disciplinary action. Few congregants even know that the rabbinical organizations -- let alone the ethics committees -- exist, and the movements do little to help educate their constituents about where they can turn in cases of rabbinic misconduct, say those involved with the issue.

Awareness of clergy sexual abuse has grown in American society over the past several years.

This awareness seems to be making a slow but growing impact on the way the matter is viewed by members of the Jewish community's grass roots and its leaders.

The Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia, for example, recently devoted a one-day symposium to the issue of rabbinic sexual misconduct.

For its part, the Reconstructionist movement, the smallest mainstream denomination in American Jewish life, has recently implemented a stringent approach to the matter.

The Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association's ethics committee formulated an initial policy in 1995 and refined it this year when its members were confronted by a tough case, involving one of the movement's rabbis who had molested young boys years ago.

The RRA expelled the rabbi earlier this year, becoming the first rabbinical organization to expel a member for sexual misconduct.

As part of its new policy, the group notified all of the movement's own congregations as well as the other movements to ensure that a rabbi who has a serious problem involving sexual misconduct does not work as a religious leader again.

"It is necessary not to endanger anyone else," said Rabbi Leila Gal Berner, chairwoman of the association's ethics committee.

"This is very serious business and we don't take it at all lightly," said Berner, who serves as the spiritual leader of Bet Haverim in Atlanta and teaches religion at Emory University.

The centrist Orthodox rabbinical organization has not disciplined one of its members for sexual misconduct in years, if ever, said Rabbi Steven Dworken, executive vice president of the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America.

"I really don't think it goes on in Orthodox circles the way it does in others," he said. "I don't think that in any way, shape or form it's a problem in our ranks."

Yet the recent experiences of several Orthodox individuals lead them to disagree with Dworken's assessment.

Three years ago, two women who had studied closely with a prominent, married Orthodox rabbi in a large Northwestern city, one to convert to Judaism and the other to become observant, came forward claiming that he had courted them and had sex with them several years earlier.

"My soul had been raped," said one of the women, who asked that her name not be used.

"The community got rid of the rabbi and hushed up what it was about," said another Orthodox rabbi in the same city who is familiar with the case.

The accused rabbi, a member of the Rabbinical Council of America and the married father of four children, agreed to step down from his pulpit but wanted to remain in the community. One of his victims threatened to go public if he stayed in the city, so he relocated to a fervently Orthodox community on the East Coast.

The synagogue board paid out his contract, and the rabbi left with more than $30,000 in hand, one of his victims and the other rabbi said in interviews.

At no point did either of the women who came forward approach the RCA about their rabbi.

But they did appeal to some leading Orthodox authorities for guidance about taking the rabbi to a Beit Din, or religious court, said the woman interviewed.

"They said that halachically they don't recognize clergy [sexual] abuse," she said, referring to Jewish law.

"Ironically, despite all of the authority that the religion heaps on the rabbi, they halachically insist that he's just another adulterer, and we were of consensual age," she said.

The rabbi in question did not return several phone messages requesting an interview.

According to a leading Orthodox halachic authority, Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz, Jewish law's view of a rabbi's sexual exploitation of a congregant "would be no different than anyone else" having an adulterous affair.

In the Conservative movement, rabbinic sexual misconduct also rarely seems to be brought to the attention of its Rabbinical Assembly.

Even when it is, there is no formal procedure in place to handle the matter, and neither is there a written ethics code.

"In today's environment a report means someone is guilty. We have tried to maintain very carefully the fact that someone is innocent until proven otherwise," said Meyers of the movement's Rabbinical Assembly, who initially investigates most complaints himself to try and resolve them.

Rabbi Milton Feierstein, immediate past chairman of the R.A.'s Va'ad Hakavod, or ethics committee, said the Conservative rabbinate is working toward developing "a code of appropriate rabbinic practice that would cover things like the rabbi in relationship to his congregation and to other rabbis."

"We've been at the talking stage for almost two years," he said.

Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, a member of the R.A.'s executive council, said she once approached Meyers to tell him about a report of a rabbi's sexual exploitation of a congregant.

Meyers "said there was essentially nothing we can do. He said to tell the victim to `get a lawyer,'" said Cardin.

Meyers said he does not remember that case, but acknowledged that "maybe I said it and really blew it, and I'm ready to admit that I can be as blind as anybody else can be."

Since taking his job at the R.A. in 1989, four cases of sexual misconduct have come to his attention, said Meyers.

Two of the four cases turned out "not to be true," he said, noting that one of them involved a false accusation.

In a fourth case, which involved a rabbi using "inappropriate behavior, but nothing physical," the R.A. required that rabbi to take defined steps toward repentance, including an acknowledgment of his wrong-doing to his victim and to his congregation as well as consulting with a rabbinic mentor, Meyers said.

In the Reform movement, the Central Conference of American Rabbis recently has been working actively to address the issue.

CCAR leaders agree with critics that the organization needs to improve the way rabbinic sexual misconduct is handled.

"We're in the process of refining what we do," said Rabbi Jeffrey Stiffman, the past chair of the CCAR's ethics committee. "There are a lot of new findings and willingness to face the problem."

But change is coming slowly, according to some Reform congregants and rabbis who charge that the system too often protects offenders and punishes victims.

In the mid 1980s the CCAR convened a task force -- jokingly called "the well-oiled zipper committee," according to several sources -- to look at the matter.

After meeting for about two years, the committee participants, including the CCAR's senior leaders, decided that discussions and papers about sexual misconduct would be promoted at CCAR conventions and in the organization's journal.

A decade later, some Reform rabbis and congregants are angry that the issue still hasn't moved beyond that.

"When it's time for the CCAR to take action about an ethical issue like grapes being picked by migrant workers, they come up with a policy immediately," said one Reform rabbi who has been agitating within the organization to get the issue addressed in a concrete way.

"But when it comes to monitoring and peer supervision, we can't act. There's such fear" of taking a stand against a colleague, said this rabbi. She asked that her name not be used because she has already been marginalized by her peers for being outspoken on the issue within the CCAR, she said.

The Reform movement did, however, formulate a sexual harassment policy, which was adopted in October 1995.

Intended to help congregations create their own sexual misconduct guidelines, a copy was sent to each Reform congregation's president and was written up in the movement's magazine for congregants, Reform Judaism.

But the UAHC's Spitzer said the impact of the guidelines has been limited.

"There are lots of guidelines but a lot of confusion and denial on the part of congregations," Spitzer said.

Currently, when a victim formally complains to the CCAR's ethics committee, the charge is investigated through a process that has, in some cases, taken years. The committee then makes recommendations to the CCAR's executive committee, which decides on appropriate discipline.

Until now, the resolution of recent cases of sexual misconduct involving Reform rabbis has varied widely -- from a slap on the wrist to temporary suspension.

In the four years that Stiffman chaired the ethics committee, a position that ended this year, the CCAR temporarily suspended between five and eight rabbis for periods of one to 10 years for sexual misconduct, he said.

The CCAR established a new ethics review committee in March of this year to assess and possibly overhaul the way allegations of rabbinic sexual misconduct and abuse are handled.

"We have to develop a mode of investigation that may not yet be in place," said Rabbi Jack Stern, a highly esteemed veteran member of the Reform clergy who is serving as chair of the new committee.

He expects the task force to report back to the CCAR at its annual convention next spring.

One of the system's most serious flaws, critics charge, is that none of the movements' rabbinical organizations consistently specifies what must take place to illustrate sincere repentance in order for a suspension to be lifted or an expulsion revoked.

That makes it unclear to the perpetrator, his victims and even those movement leaders responsible for discipline whether or not the rabbi has gone through that process, say both critics of the system and those involved in changing the process.

"There is a lot of leaning toward giving the offending clergy the opportunity to repent, and sometimes premature placement back in congregational or other settings," said Spitzer.

According to Stern of the CCAR's oversight committee, "We have to deal with the area of teshuvah. We haven't begun yet. All we know are the areas that we should be discussing and making recommendations, but nothing is foregone."

The great sages of Jewish tradition, from Maimonides to Joseph Soloveichik, have elucidated elements common to all repentance, according to Reform Rabbi Arthur Gross Schaefer, who has written about sexual misconduct and repentance for the CCAR Journal: Reform Jewish Quarterly.

Repentance for sexual misconduct must include: self-examination, acknowledgment of wrong-doing, an appeal to the victims for forgiveness and some restitution for the damages caused, he wrote in the article.

"Teshuvah is not achieved simply by an offending rabbi saying that he/she is sorry, seeing a therapist or being placed on suspension for a period of time," he wrote.

"When we deal with the difficult issues of rabbinic sexual misconduct, we have not taken seriously our own tradition," said Gross Schaefer.

"Until we are willing to take teshuvah seriously," he said, "we are doing a major disservice to our victims, to our congregations and to our colleagues."

4)
Last in a Series: `Conspiracy of silence' fuels rabbis' sexual misdeeds
by DEBRA NUSSBAUM COHEN
Jewish Telegraphic Agency - November 1, 1996
http://www.jewishsf.com/bk961101/1blast.htm

NEW YORK -- When women charge sexual exploitation by a rabbi, a conspiracy of silence often ensues.

The secrecy protects the perpetrators, leaving victims alienated.

Victims who speak out often find themselves ostracized by their religious communities. And they say that when they turn to the rabbi's professional association or their movement's congregational organization, they feel unwelcome.

Many congregants are unable to imagine that their spiritual leader, who has overseen so many significant moments in their lives, is capable of sexual misconduct.

"By and large, the people who are exploitative are charismatic and well-loved, not sleazy people on the street who we're all going to be afraid of," said Debra Warwick-Sabino, an expert in clergy sexual abuse.

"When you say to someone that their rabbi is capable of this, for them to suspend their disbelief would cause such a spiritual crisis in their own lives that it's easier for them to say `Boys will be boys' than face that faith crisis," said Warwick-Sabino, who directs the California Center for Pastoral Counseling, a Sacramento-based agency that handles clergy sexual misconduct.

At the congregational meetings that follow allegations of rabbinic sexual misconduct, synagogue members often ostracize accusers. Some accusers have been called "liars," "whores" and worse, she said.

"Even in situations where the perpetrator admits all the things the women allege, congregations sometimes will line up behind the rabbi," said Marie Fortune, another expert on clergy sexual abuse. "It blows my mind."

Fortune, a United Church of Christ minister and the founding director of the Seattle-based Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence, has handled more than 3,500 clergy sexual misconduct cases in dozens of faiths and denominations.

She has run a seminar on the topic at a regional meeting of Reform rabbis as well as one for students at Los Angeles' Reform rabbinical seminary, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

Women who have experienced rabbinic exploitation usually feel a deep and degrading sense of shame and guilt, experts say.

They often feel they have a lot to lose: their place in their synagogue communities, respect and success in their careers and even, in some cases, their marriages.

At Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, some congregants allegedly tried to discredit the women who came forward to charge their rabbi, Robert Kirschner, with sexual exploitation.

At a congregational meeting soon after Kirschner resigned, the women were accused of wanting to ruin the well-liked rabbi's career. They were called "harlots" and "jezebels," some of the women reported.

Two of the women overheard a congregant saying "`Boys will be boys. I don't see what the big deal is,'" said Warwick-Sabino, one of the women who claimed Kirschner sexually harassed her. Then a student at Berkeley's Graduate Theological Union, she has since become a professional in the field of clergy sexual abuse.

In a letter to the dean of the Reform movement's Los Angeles rabbinical seminary, she wrote that she heard another congregant saying: "If [Kirschner] made a pass at me, I'd be flattered. I wouldn't object."

The Emanu-El congregants' responses were typical, experts say.

In one highly publicized case, Michele Samit -- who does not claim to be a victim of rabbinic sexual misconduct -- says her community vilified her after she wrote a book about the relationship between Anita Green and Green's rabbi, Steven Jacobs.

Green was the president of Shir Chadash/The New Reform Congregation in Los Angeles when she was murdered in 1990.

Her husband, Mel Green, was convicted of ordering the killing, and is now serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Although the Greens were separated at the time of the murder, Anita's affair with Jacobs began while she was still living with her husband, according to Samit's book, "No Sanctuary: The True Story of a Rabbi's Deadly Affair.

Mel Green was an angry, jealous and violent man who had long threatened Anita, even in public, Samit wrote.

Several people who were Jacobs' congregants at the time said in telephone interviews that at Green's funeral, Jacobs -- who had first denied but later reluctantly admitted the relationship -- eulogized the dead woman not as arabbi talking about his temple president but as a lover.

Samit wrote of the eulogy: "The rabbi recalled `admiring or just staring at her beautiful nails and her gentle hands; those hands, her skin so very soft, so reassuring, those beautiful hands.'

"No one [in the congregation] said anything" about it, Samit said in a recent interview, referring to what she believed was Jacobs' inappropriate language

"The reaction of the congregation was nothing. Not even discussion."

That's what convinced Samit she had to leave the congregation and the rabbi who had been her lifelong spiritual guide, she said. She said she was the target of a smear campaign.

"People called me from the congregation and harangued me. They said, `You egomaniacal whore, you think you're better than us. How could you destroy such a wonderful man?'

"This was the most painful thing. Rabbi Jacobs was my hero. I had him on such a pedestal. He bat mitzvahed me" and presided at her wedding. "I baby-sat his kids. We were so close."

Jacobs denied that his relationship with Green was an illicit affair.

"She was a dear friend, my temple president, and after the fact that she was going through a divorce and I had already been divorced, there was a romantic relationship," he said in a recent telephone interview.

He described Samit's book as "full of lies," and said some have accused him of adultery because "people are angry when you achieve a lot in rabbinic life.

"I would not be in the position and stay in the position if people didn't know who I am."

Samit said she believes she and every other member of Jacobs' congregation bear some responsibility for Anita Green's murder.

"There were signs to all of us that Anita was in danger, and we ignored them because we wouldn't dare cross our beloved rabbi," she said.

Another congregant, Michael Hirsh, outraged by his rabbi's behavior and his community's response, wrote to the head of the Reform rabbinical association's ethics committee in April 1993, charging Jacobs with violating the group's ethics code and demanding that it assess Jacobs' behavior.

Rabbi Jeffrey Stiffman, then the head of the committee, wrote back to Hirsh that Jacobs had agreed "to uphold all provisions of our Code of Ethics," which requires rabbis "to adhere to an exemplary moral code" and "to avoid even the appearance of sexual misconduct."

Hirsh responded to Stiffman with a letter saying that the action amounted to nothing more than "a rabbinic consent decree" for Jacobs to do it all over again.

"If there is a shanda [shame] here, it is not only in Jacobs' immoral conduct but in your organization's complicity in covering it up," wrote Hirsh, a former investigative journalist and current television producer.

Jacobs remains the rabbi of Temple Kol Tikvah, the name adopted after Shir Chadash merged with another synagogue.

Experts in clergy sexual abuse say congregants' denial is dangerous because a rabbi can harass and exploit numerous victims for decades on end without any of the individuals knowing the others exist, forcing each to suffer alone.

If a rabbi has sexually exploited one congregant, he almost always has exploited several, Fortune said, without referring specifically to any of the above-mentioned cases.

In the end, while rabbinic perpetrators often take a new job within their movements or even stay in their pulpits after a slap on the wrist from their rabbinical organizations, it seems the victims often go away.

They often break all ties to the Jewish community and, in some cases, convert to another religion.

According to Fortune, denial of the problem is so pervasive because "none of us wants this to be happening."

There is "long-term damage being done here that we're going to be living with for years," she said.

"It doesn't have to be that bad if we respond better."

 
At 6:54 PM, Blogger Avi said...

why do we, as Jews, accept being brainwashed into believing such dribble? The Jewish Press (or really the Jewish Mess) has been "reporting" the biased nonsense that their readership wants to hear for a very long time. So many of their stories are a "spin" of the truth that fits the orthodox Jewish "perspective". We are becoming so like a cult that I am afraid to drink the coolade... So why do we accept these lies? What are we really afraid of? The fact that we have a corrupt and dishonest person like Tendler is understandable. There are good and bad people in every group. But the fact that we, as a community, accept the coverups and corruption is disgusting and disgraceful. When will we get up enough courage to speak the truth and denounce this evil in our midst...Avi...

 
At 1:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

New Hempstead Mikvah

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)



Q. Who is building this Mikvah? Who is giving the Hashgacha?


This Mikvah project is now under the complete control and Hashgacha of the same three Rabonim who built and run the other Mikvaos in greater Monsey. Specifically, they are:

· Rav Yehoshea Leifer

· Rav Shlomo Breslauer

· Rav Chaim Flohr





Additionally, they are using the same dedicated askanim and volunteers to build and manage the project.


Specifically, the builders are the Herskowitz brothers (Yossi & Eliezer), who have selflessly given of themselves to get the project moving and where we can see the results “on/in the ground” today.



The fundraising and administrative efforts are under the able direction of R’ Naftali Silberberg, with the New Hempstead volunteer Askanim carrying much of the responsibility.

Q. What Kind of mikvah are you building?


Initially, the intent is to address the very pressing need in our fast-growing community for a Shabbos/Yom Tov Mikvah.



Using the expertise of the Herskowitz brothers, we have also planned for the future. It is being configured so that if it needs to become a weekday Mikvah in the future, the building and layout will have already been optimized for future use as well.



Q. Why are you building this? What is the need?
The most pressing requirement we have today is for a Shabbos/Yom Tov Mikvah. According to statistics from those with great experience in Mikvaos, of every 100 families, there will be 3 on average who will need to use it every Friday or Yom Tov night.



Let’s extrapolate that number to our community. We have about 500 families (between the 11 minyanim which make up our Greater New Hempstead community). That means 15 people would be using the Mikvah every Friday.



Of course, on a 3-day YomTov (as we just had), you can triple the number.



Q. How much is it supposed to cost?


If you went to any outside builder for a quote, they would tell you it’s more than $500K.



However, the Herskowitz brothers are acting as coordinators for this project and although they are investing literally thousands of hours and months of their time, are not being paid.



The Herskowitzes and the other Rabbonim serving as Mikvah consultants are all volunteering their time and effort; it is only the building sub-contractors who are doing the work that will be paid.


As such, the budget is approximately $400K. The final amount will depend on a number of factors that cannot be accurately forecast at this stage.



Q. Where is the money coming from to fund this?


The money comes from the Ribono Shel Olam. Hashem has boundless wealth and therefore, as with all such projects, is sure to be completed successfully, B’Ezras Hashem.



However, Hashem has also decreed in his system that we must do some Hishtadlus; we’ve got to go and hustle a bit to raise this money.



This means that we each do our best to contribute whatever we can, and then some, for a share in this most-awesome Mitzvah.



If at all possible, we go to our friends, relatives, neighbors and other acquaintances and ask them to help as well.

Our job is to go out there and make some effort.

Q. What is your Schedule?


The entire building should be completed by Summer. Check the website for the latest photos and status ( http://nhmikvah.blogspot.com ).



Q. Where do I send Checks
Please make your tax-deductible checks payable to Community Mikvah of Rockland and give to your shul representative, or mail them to:

Mikvah

c/o Rosenberg

10 Wits End

New Hempstead, NY 10977

 
At 5:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Avi: This was an editorial, so your comment about skewing the news to brainwash readers makes no sense. An editorial is not a news story, but an expression of the views and opinions of a publication. And considering that the Jewish Press has long covered domestic abuse issues, aguna problems and the like, they can hardly be accused of sweeping things under the rug. And I do not recall reading in any Jewish Press editorial that Tendler is innocent -- what they said was that to drag a man's name through the mud before he's been found guilty of anything is not the proper or Rorah way of doing things. But based on your own comments about Tendler it appears you've appointed yourself judge and jury.

 
At 5:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Avi: This was an editorial, so your comment about skewing the news to brainwash readers makes no sense. An editorial is not a news story, but an expression of the views and opinions of a publication. And considering that the Jewish Press has long covered domestic abuse issues, aguna problems and the like, they can hardly be accused of sweeping things under the rug. And I do not recall reading in any Jewish Press editorial that Tendler is innocent -- what they said was that to drag a man's name through the mud before he's been found guilty of anything is not the proper or Rorah way of doing things. But based on your own comments about Tendler it appears you've appointed yourself judge and jury.

 

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