When Public Trust is Broken (#1 on Rabbi Eliezer Meiesels Scandal)

Note: This essay was written with input from and the encouragement of esteemed Rabbonim, Dayanim (rabbinic judges), community leaders and mental health professionals who all have extensive experience with these issues.

My dear friends, we need to have a long overdue conversation about establishing protocols and “best practices” to be implemented by communal leaders who betray their public trust by engaging in inappropriate or illicit relationships and/or have abused people who entrusted their lives and souls to them.

As we are painfully removing our rose-colored glasses and coming to terms with the bitter reality that observant Jews and even revered community leaders are not immune from the human failings of the general population, this conversation is becoming more and more necessary as “situations” are uncovered and publicized by courageous Rabbis and Batei Din (rabbinic courts).

As many of these cases are not actionable in the criminal justice system due to the understandable reluctance of victims to testify in open court, statute of limitation issues, or when inappropriate relationships occurred with adults, the involvement of Rabbonim and Batei Din in this process is critical and valuable. It is our strong feeling that abuse that is actionable be reported to the authorities as this presents a Clear and Present Danger to the public.

We would like to propose that when these conditions occur, a specific set of steps be taken to provide restitution to the victims, closure to members of the public, restore public faith in the institutions where these individuals served and to prevent these injustices from happening in the future.

Our Torah codifies five categories of compensation to victims of physical damage, with the victim being paid for:

  1. (Regular) Damages
  2. Pain suffered
  3. Medical bills
  4. Unemployment
  5. Shame incurred

Being that our Torah clearly factored in many components of the damage caused and placed the burden of restitution squarely on the shoulders of the “mazik” (one who caused the damage), it would stand to reason that perpetrators be responsible for the often lifelong damages caused by their actions. Similarly, the institutions where they served have a moral responsibility to remove the perpetrators from any vestige of involvement/ownership, and undertake transparent and good faith efforts to address the structural shortcomings that allowed their inappropriate behaviors to go unnoticed or unreported.

Therapists and agencies that provide services and support to victims of abuse regularly see the physical, emotional and spiritual devastation caused when restorative measures are not taken. As such, we at Project YES feel compelled to share with our readers the steps that we feel should be taken in instances like those described above:

1) A public confession in writing or via recorded statement shall be made available to the constituents of the institution where the individual served. The public acknowledgment need not include specific details, but the perpetrator needs to clearly state that he/she committed severe misdeeds and takes full, personal responsibility for them.

2) The confession should include a public apology to his/her victims (without mentioning the names of any victims), along with requesting that they be supported by community members and never be c’v subjected to isolation and disdain as a result of their coming forward.

3) The individual and/or institution take full responsibility to make financial restitution to the victims – including paying for their ongoing therapy when required.

4) The individual expresses sincere commitment to undergo professional counseling to address his/her self-destructive behavior.

5) The institution he/she served in shall be transferred to responsible parties in a transparent, irrevocable and arms-distant manner. Additionally, the individual shall make a firm pledge never to serve again in an educational/rabbinic/counseling setting.

6) The institution’s new leadership shall commit to engage outside professional consultants who will help them implement the changes necessary to prevent the conditions that allowed these inappropriate behaviors to go unchecked.

In future columns, we will explain why each of the six steps listed above are absolutely critical to the process of healing the victims – including those who were indirectly affected, ensuring that the perpetrator never harms others, and restoring confidence to the institution.

We strongly believe that the above-mentioned steps are also the best advice for the perpetrator, for reasons we will point out in future columns on this matter.

These steps above are only a first draft and we certainly don’t believe that they are binding or the final word on this painful topic. Rather, we view these as the beginning of a public dialogue that will help bring healing to the victims and keep our children and grandchildren safe. We welcome your constructive comments – including those that are critical of the positions we have taken – and kindly email them to admin@162.144.64.250 

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. The problem and damage goes much deeper and far beyond what was outlined in this article. The numerous and widespread instances of various forms of sexual abuse by prominent leaders, and their cover-ups, in the broad Orthodox community points to a failure of our whole system and ideology. It is not just about one private corporate entity of schools. It is not just about isolated individual perverts. The problem of sexual abuse is also not an isolated problem. It is connected to the parnossah crisis, tuition crisis, shidduch crisis, and at risk youth crisis etc. There needs to be a major shakeup and dare I use the word reform from the top down. The Leaders who have failed in their roles need to do Teshuva publicly and if they can not lead they should get out of the way.

  2. This is the first thing I have seen online that makes common sense suggestions, and addresses the current issue sensibly. As my family debates how to handle our daughter’s upcoming seminary year, it’s gratifying to see this important dialogue begin. May you be successful in this endeavor.

  3. so many readers yet so few comments!! why?

  4. have many concerns about some of these statements.
    “As many of these cases are not actionable in the criminal justice system due to the understandable reluctance of victims to testify in open court, statutes of limitation issues, or when inappropriate relationships occurred with adults, the involvement of Rabbonim and Batei Din in this process is critical and valuable” Any suspicion of abuse should be reported. Many people are mandated to report. It is the law for mandated reporters. I believe that reporting suspicions is the right thing to do for all community members. By stating that a case is not actionable for the reasons stated one would assume that Rabbis have a role to play in deciding whether a report is made – according to whether it is actionable. That is not the case . There are many reasons for reporting. What if there are suspicions involving another child by the same person? And another? The evidence would be better, the cases actionable and hopefully the abuser stopped. If each case is not reported vital information is missing. Even if a suspicion of abuse is not substantiated, processes can be put in place after the first suspicions are reported, perhaps a person who has abused would get professional help for fear of ending up in jail. Like • Reply • 55 minutes ago

  5. Rabbi Horowitz, kol hakavod for your avodas hakodesh and you should have the koach to continue.
    Here’s my complaint: I assume most of us know what the catalyst is for this, as has already been alluded to in the comments. My complaint is not aimed at you but I think this is a good forum. I heard about the seminary situation from 2 sources that contained not just the necessary facts but innuendo and lashon hara (I use that term because it may well have been true) that was totally gratuitous, IMO. How are we to get information? How would we have found out without those bloggers?

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Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, Founding Dean of Monsey’s Yeshiva Darchei Noam and Director of The Center for Jewish Family Life, conducts child abuse prevention and parenting workshops internationally, and sponsors the Bnos’ One on One Big Sister Program with branches in seven states and Canada. He’s the author of two books, published the landmark children’s personal safety picture book Let’s Stay Safe!, which has been adapted into Yiddish and Hebrew, and the Bright Beginnings Chumash and Gemara Workbooks which helps children acquire Judaic Studies skills in a fun-filled manner. Rabbi Horowitz received the prestigious 2008 Covenant Award in recognition of his contribution to Jewish education.