This Yom Kippur, Don’t Donate to Unsafe Synagogues and Schools
Recently, 300 rabbis signed a statement condemning child sexual abuse in the Orthodox community and calling on their colleagues to make Orthodox institutions safe for children. Most of the individuals appear to be affiliated with either the Orthodox Union (OU), the National Council of Young Israel, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) or Yeshiva University (YU).
The statement condemns cover-ups protecting Orthodox child molesters; ignoring, shaming or punishing of victims who cry out for help; and the rabbinic demands that victims not report their abuser to the police. It calls for Orthodox institutions to implement child-safety procedures; allow victims to pursue justice; and demands that members of Orthodox communities be informed when a child sex predator moves in.
Yet, hypocritically, this statement is signed by many of the very same rabbis who cover up Orthodox child molesters, ignore victims’ reports of abuse and harass victims and their families who speak out — or demand that they remain silent about their abuse and abuser.
Although this statement wasn’t issued by the RCA, almost everything contained in it has been copied nearly verbatim from four previous RCA child-protection resolutions that date back 23 years. None of those resolutions have ever been implemented or enforced. Significantly, only 300 members of the RCA, which boasts more than 1,000 Rabbis, were willing to sign this latest statement.
It is difficult to view this proclamation as anything more than the fifth attempt by the RCA and Orthodox rabbis to appear concerned about the rampant sexual abuse of Orthodox children, while doing little or nothing to actually stop it. Like the previously ignored RCA resolutions, this one imposes no sanctions on any rabbi or Orthodox institution that fails to act and protect our children from sexual abuse.
Moreover, many of these signers are the same rabbis who for decades have failed to implement the RCA’s own child protection rules or who have denied justice to students who were sexually abused at YU and other Orthodox institutions. They refuse to establish a public database of Orthodox child sex predators, or warn community members about molesters in their synagogues, schools, yeshivas and neighborhoods.
Some of the rabbis have even gone so far as to write letters of support to judges charged with sentencing Orthodox child sex offenders — without expressing any concern, sympathy or support for the offenders’ victims.
It should be clear to anyone paying attention that if we — parents and grandparents, survivors and concerned community members — don’t demand that our rabbis protect our children from sexual abuse, they will do nothing.
We are currently in between the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This is a time when our synagogues, schools, yeshivas, rabbis, presidents or board members will ask us — repeatedly — for our money.
Therefore, this is an excellent time to explain to all of them that we will only donate to Jewish institutions that have implemented the public pledges enumerated in the numerous child safety statements that have been signed and passed. If our rabbis and Orthodox institutions want our money, they must earn it by adhering to their Torah obligation to do everything in their power to make our children safe. If they refuse to protect our kids, we will refuse to donate to them.
Two months from now, I plan to email a questionnaire to every rabbi who signed the latest statement asking them if they have implemented the child safety procedures they publicly pledged to support. These include:
- Setting up a committee to implement child protection rules and procedures.
- Maximizing visibility in every area of their synagogue, school, or yeshiva. This can only be done with security cameras installed in every room of the institution.
- Requiring mandatory background checks and fingerprinting for every employee of an Orthodox institution.
- Having a secure policy for child drop-offs and pick-ups.
- Establishing rules defining the inappropriate touching of children.
- Training staff and educating the community about the existence of child sexual abuse.
- Informing the community about local Orthodox child molesters.
I will post the results of the survey publicly, rabbi by rabbi, with any comments that I might have about their response. I will strongly encourage community members to assist me and share information about whether their synagogue, school, or yeshiva is compliant with their rabbi’s public pledges. This will give parents and community members the information they need to evaluate whether their rabbi takes his obligation to protect our children seriously, and whether his institution is deserving of our financial support.