By Simon Rocker
April 26, 2010
While the Vatican continues to reel from revelations of priestly child abuse, closer to home a number of court cases have exposed alleged paedophilia in the strictly Orthodox world.
In a much commented-on blogpost, the Orthodox scholar Marc Shapiro has offered insight into why its incidence was previously covered up.
This is what Professor Shapiro writes (on the Seforim blog, see footnote 8 to the entry for April 15):
“There is another theory as to why the sectarian hasidic world in particular has had so many cases of covering up and defending child sex abusers. It is that they simply do not regard these people as so terrible. The evidence for this appears obvious, in that in case of after case we see that they continue to allow sex abusers to teach and refuse to turn them over to the authorities and warn the parent body. Had they caught the rebbe eating at McDonald’s, you can be sure he would have been fired, but not so when it comes to fooling around with kids.
“The question is why do they have this outlook, and how come they don’t regard child sex abusers as so terrible?
“Here is a possible answer (which a wise person suggested). Look at where these societies get their information about human nature, the information that they regard as authentic and true. It does not come from modern psychology, but from Torah sources and folk beliefs. If you look only at traditional rabbinic literature, you won’t conclude that child sex abuse is as terrible as modern society views it. Yes, it is a sin and the person who commits it must repent as he must do with all sins, but there is nothing in the traditional literature that speaks to the great trauma suffered by the victim.
“How do we know about this trauma? Only from modern psychology and the testimony of the victims. Yet this type of evidence does not have much significance in the insular hasidic world (unless it is your own child who has been abused). Certainly modern psychology, which is often attacked by figures in that community, is not given much credence, especially not when they are confronted with an issur of mesirah. This theory makes a lot of sense to me and I am curious to hear what others have to say.”