One could pray 100 times per day, don a yarmulke, tefillin and tzitzit; yet those acts exclusively wouldn’t quality someone to be called a religious Jew. In recent days, there has been much media attention paid to so-called “orthodox” child molesters and those within their communities who have defended them. There are a slew of different labels that may be appropriate for these individuals, but religious, and orthodox, are not befitting terms.
Various news articles have charged Brooklyn prosecutors with protecting child molesters in the insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities. “Rabbinical authorities banned relatives of the abused from reporting the crimes to non-Jewish authorities; those few who spoke out were shunned — expelled from Synagogues, their children expelled from schools — or pressured into dropping their cases,” reads a recent New York Times editorial.
This behavior is simply sickening.
Much damage is being done to the children and their families, and Jews around the world have been shamed by these individuals. Last summer a religious Chabad court (bet din) ruled that the traditional prohibition against mesirah — turning in a Jew to non-Jewish authorities — did not apply in cases of sexually abused children. “One is forbidden to remain silent in such situations,” it declared.
Words do not exist to describe those who molest children. The fact that it happens is sickening, tearful and just horrendous and as a Jew it is infuriating to hear molesters, or those who protect them, described as “religious.” What makes a Jew or any person religious? One cannot be a religious Jew and a molester of children – I don’t care how many times a day one prays.
For me, as a 37 year old father, Jew, and as a human being, being religious first and foremost means not hurting anyone, being a good, honest, decent, person, and caring for my family and my community. Those who witness the horrors of young children being molested in schools and remain silent are not religious, nor are those who pray three times a day and then steal. They simply cannot be religious people and shouldn’t be referred to by the media as such.
I pray for the day that being a religious Jew means being an ethical person, and not simply wearing a certain garb or attending Synagogue on a regular basis.