Feminist campaigner claims child abuse is rampant in strictly Orthodox community

By Rosa Doherty, December 27, 2015
Elana Sztokman

Elana Sztokman

The Jewish community is experiencing a “rampant epidemic” of rabbis who sexually abuse, according to an American educator and activist.

Elana Sztokman said public cases such as the conviction of Todros Grynhaus, who was jailed for 13 years for abusing two teenage girls, were the tip of the iceberg.

“We have a epidemic of abuse and it is rampant in the Jewish community," she said.

“A disproportionate number of abusers seem to be rabbis or quasi rabbis."

Speaking at a session at the Limmud conference in Birmingham, Dr Sztokman, who writes on the subject of Orthodox Jewish feminism, highlighted reasons why abusers were often able to escape punishment.

Dr Sztokman, a former executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, said victims who reported abuse were made to feel like outcasts.

She said: “We have seen it time and time again a victim comes forward and the community shuns them.

“Their lives are made impossible, kosher shops ban them, people in shul push past them and their families. And people come out in defence of the abuser.

“This pattern of behaviour needs to change and as a community it needs to be challenged.”

She also said rabbi abusers were “too often” protected by community leaders and their peers.

She said: “People don’t like to think of their charismatic rabbi as an abuser or capable of such acts.

“They come out in defence of them and say ‘oh I only know him to be nice’.

“But what they are doing is silencing victims.”

Dr Sztokman criticised the “all to common” practice within the Orthodox community of “discouraging victims from reporting abuse.”

She said: “Rabbis in these communities are telling victims to go to them before going to the police.

"How can a victim who is being abused by a rabbi then go to a rabbi to report it?”

She added: “People at the top in the Orthodox community tend to be male and it makes it hard for female victims to come forward or have an even playing field.

“Victims are dismissed and not believed. If you come forward against a abusive rabbi you will loose.”

During the session, called "Rabbis who Abuse" she praised moves by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis to speak out about the problem of abuse earlier this year.

She said: “Rabbi Mirvis has made incredibly strong statements about it being a legal imperative to report abuse.

“It has meant fewer rabbis are discouraging people but there is much more work to be done."

She challenged the 70-strong audience of to “question social hierarchies” when it comes to cases of abuse.

“Just because a person has a position of power in the Charedi community doesn’t meant they don’t have a dark side. We need to get past the idea of status within the community.

“And most of all we need to listen to and believe the victims.”

Manny Waks, a leading campaigner against child sex abuse, said the lack of research into abuse within the community was a problem.

Mr Waks, who himself was abused, said: “There is zero research in the community and it is difficult to say if we have more of a problem or less than other community.

“But there are activists in Brooklyn who have suggested 50 per cent of Hasidic boys there there have been abused.

“That is not academic but it needs exploring. Its is a horrible thought.”

Last updated: 4:58pm, December 28 2015