Recently, 300 rabbis signed a statement (300 rabbis’ pledges) condemning Orthodox child sexual abuse and calling on rabbis to make Orthodox institutions safe for children. It appears that most of the signers are affiliated with either the Orthodox Union, the National Council of Young Israel, are graduates or employees of Yeshiva University or are members of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA).
Although this statement isn’t officially from the RCA, almost everything contained in it has been copied nearly verbatim from four previous RCA child protection resolutions that date back 23 years. None of them have been implemented or enforced. What’s significant about this latest statement is that the RCA has over 1,000 rabbis who are members, yet only 300 were willing to sign it.
It is difficult to view this statement as anything more than the 5th attempt over several decades by the RCA and Orthodox rabbis to appear concerned about the rampant sexual abuse of Orthodox children, while doing little or nothing to actually stop it. Like the previously ignored RCA child protection resolutions, this one imposes no sanction on any rabbi or Orthodox institution who fails to act to protect our children from sexual abuse.
The statement condemns the covering-up of Orthodox child molesters; the ignoring, shaming or punishing of victims who cry out for help; and the rabbinic demands that victims not report their abuser to the police. It calls for Orthodox institutions to implement child safety procedures; allow victims to pursue justice and demands that members of Orthodox communities be informed when a child sex predator moves in.
Hypocritically, this statement is signed by many of the very same rabbis who cover-up Orthodox child molesters, ignore victims’ reports of abuse, harass victims and their families who speak out or demand that they remain silent about their abuse and abuser.
Moreover, many of these signers are the same rabbis who for decades have failed to implement the RCA’s own child protection rules or who deny justice to students who were sexually abused at Yeshiva University and other Orthodox institutions. They refuse to establish a public database of Orthodox child sex predators or warn community members about molesters in their synagogues, schools, yeshivas or neighborhoods.
Some of the rabbis have even gone so far as to write pre-sentencing letters to judges in support of convicted Orthodox child sex offenders, without expressing any concern, sympathy or support for the offender’s victims.
It should be clear to anyone paying attention that if we – parents and grandparents, survivors and concerned community members – don’t demand that our rabbis protect our children from sexual abuse, they will do nothing.
The holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur will arrive shortly. This is a time when our synagogues, schools, yeshivas, rabbis, presidents or board members will ask us – repeatedly – for our money.
This is an excellent time to explain to all of them that we will only donate to Jewish institutions that have implemented the public pledges enumerated in the child safety statement that our rabbis have signed, or should have signed, but refuse to. If our rabbis and Orthodox institutions want our money, they must earn it by adhering to their Torah obligation to do everything in their power to make our children safe. If they refuse to protect our kids, we will refuse to donate to them.
For many of us, this is the only time of year that our opinions and concerns matter to anyone at our synagogues, schools and yeshivas – when they ask us for our money. Once the check is written however, any leverage we have to pressure Orthodox institutions to provide a safe environment for our children evaporates.
As for Protect Jewish Kids, two months from now, I plan to email a questionnaire to every rabbi who signed the statement asking them if they have implemented the child safety procedures they publicly pledged to support. These include:
- Setting up a committee to implement child protection rules and procedures.
- Maximizing visibility into every area of the synagogue, school or yeshiva. This can only be done with security cameras installed in every room of the institution.
- Requiring mandatory background checks and fingerprinting of every employee of an Orthodox institution.
- Having a secure policy for child drop-off and pick-up.
- Establishing rules defining inappropriate touching of children.
- Training staff and educating the community about the existence of child sexual abuse, recognizing it, preventing it and reporting it.
- Informing the community about local Orthodox child molesters.
I will post the results of the survey publicly, rabbi by rabbi, with any comments that I might have about their response. I will strongly encourage community members to assist me and share information about whether their synagogue, school or yeshiva is compliant with their rabbi’s public pledges. This will give parents and community members the information they need to evaluate whether their rabbi takes his obligation to protect our children seriously and whether his institution is deserving of our financial support.
Eric Aiken is the owner of http://www.protectjewishkids.com and an advocate for Orthodox victims of child sexual abuse. “The List” is the world’s largest database of Orthodox child molesters.