Feminist Educator-Activist Decries Abuse Epidemic in Orthodox Jewish Community

Speaking at a conference in England, an American feminist educator and activist says the Jewish community is experiencing a “rampant epidemic” of rabbis who sexually abuse children.

Elana Sztokman, former executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, said, “We have a epidemic of abuse and it is rampant in the Jewish community,” according to the Jewish Chronicle (thejc.com). “A disproportionate number of abusers seem to be rabbis or quasi rabbis, Sztokman said.

Sztokman told the audience at the Limmud conference in Birmingham, England, that the conviction of Todros Grynhaus, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison for abusing two teenage girls, was the tip of the iceberg.

Dr. Sztokman, who writes on Orthodox Jewish feminism, discussed reasons why abusers often escape punishment. She said victims who report abuse are made to feel like outcasts, according to the Jewish Chronicle. Victims who come forward are often shunned by the community, Sztokman says, and their lives “are made impossible.” Stores ban them, the congregation ignores them and their families at the synagogue, and people defend the abuser. Dr. Sztokman said, “This pattern of behavior needs to change,” and the community needs to be challenged to make changes.

Sztokman says community leaders and the rabbis’ peers frequently protect abusive rabbis. “People don’t like to think of their charismatic rabbi as an abuser or capable of such acts.” She criticized the “all too common” practice within the Orthodox community of “discouraging victims from reporting abuse,” according to the Jewish Chronicle. Rabbis in Orthodox communities encourage victims to come to them rather than going to the police. But, Sztokman asks, “How can a victim who is being abused by a rabbi then go to a rabbi to report it?” Further, she says, leaders of the Orthodox community tend to be male, making it hard for female victims to come forward or to feel they have a level playing field. “Victims are dismissed and not believed.”

During the session, “Rabbis Who Abuse,” Sztokman challenged the audience to “question social hierarchies” when it comes to cases of abuse. “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.”

Activist Manny Waks, a campaigner against child sex abuse and himself an abuse victim, said the lack of research into abuse within the Orthodox community is a problem. “There is zero research in the community and it is difficult to say if we have more of a problem or less than [any] other community.” The problem, he said, ‘is not academic,” and needs exploring, according to the Jewish Chronicle.


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