I don’t talk about Judiasm that often on Horror Show Sunday, not because the Jews aren’t responsible for their fair share of abuses and horrors but because Judiasm just isn’t that visible in American culture. Jews represent less than 2% of Americans, compared to 80+% of Christians, thus Christians get a lot more attention. However, sometimes you just get a story that must be told.
You’ll notice that for just about all of these American Jewish horror stories, they come out of the largely Hasidic community in New York, the stronghold of American Judiasm and this is no exception. According to the Satmar Hasidim fundamentalist branch of Orthodox Judaism, Orthodox Jews are required to ritually bathe themselves in special bathhouses called “mikvahs”, where they can go to be purified. Women are required to go following menstruation and men must attend prior to High Holy Days. Some of the ultra-Orthodox will purify themselves much more often, such as before and after sex and before the Sabbath every week. However, Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg says that other things go on in those bathhouses, unspeakable things that happen far too often.
He describes a scene that he personally witnessed in Jerusalem in 2005, “I opened a door that entered into a schvitz. Vapors everywhere, I can barely see. My eyes adjust, and I see an old man, my age, long white beard, a holy-looking man, sitting in the vapors. On his lap, facing away from him, is a boy, maybe seven years old. And the old man is having anal sex with this boy.” He went on to say, “This boy was speared on the man like an animal, like a pig, and the boy was saying nothing. But on his face—fear. The old man [looked at me] without any fear, as if this was common practice. He didn’t stop. I was so angry, I confronted him. He removed the boy from his penis, and I took the boy aside. I told this man, ‘It’s a sin before God, a mishkovzucher. What are you doing to this boy’s soul? You’re destroying this boy!’ He had a sponge on a stick to clean his back, and he hit me across the face with it. ‘How dare you interrupt me!’ he said. I had heard of these things for a long time, but now I had seen.”
Rabbi Rosenberg believes that around 50% of boys in the New York Ultra-Orthodox community have been similarly abused by their elders in these unregulated bathhouses. Ben Hirsch, director of Survivors for Justice, a Brooklyn organization that advocates for Orthodox sex abuse victims, thinks the real number is higher. “From anecdotal evidence, we’re looking at over 50 percent. It has almost become a rite of passage.”
As in many other insular religious communities, those who dare to speak out against such practices are banished and shunned by their communities. Rabbi Rosenberg, who has written about Jewish sex abuse for several years, has found himself a pariah in the Jewish community, he is not allowed in any of the synagogues or bathhouses and leaflets have been distributed saying that his “name should rot in hell forever. They should cut him off from all four corners of the earth.”
This is the same thing that’s happened in the past. Take the case of Rabbi Elior Chen, convicted of child molestation in 2010 and perhaps the worst example of serial pedophilia in the modern history of Judiasm. Leading Orthodox rabbis still support and defend Chen as a holy man and condemn anyone who dares speak about his crimes.
Yet this is not just a problem among the Orthodox Jews, although that is where it is predominant. According to Michael Lesher, a practicing Jew who has investigated Orthodox sex abuse and represented abuse victims, “The same patterns of victim-blaming, covering up, idealizing the rabbis so that cover-ups aren’t even acknowledged, are found all across the spectrum of Orthodoxy. The Orthodox left was shamefully slow to react to Rabbi Baruch Lanner’s abuse or to the similar case of Rabbi Mordechai Elon.” Rabbi Lanner, a former New Jersey Jewish high school principal, was found guilty in 2000 of sexually abusing dozens of teenage students over the decades of his tenure. Rabbi Elon, who had publicly denounced homosexuality, was convicted on two counts of forcible sexual assault on a male minor, following several years of reports of his abuse of young boys.
Rabbi Rosenberg sums it up. “I have children come to me with their parents, and the blood is coming out of the anus. These are zombies for life. What are we to do?” What shall we do indeed, especially when the Orthodox Jewish community shows no more interest than the Catholics in stopping this horrific abuse.
Michael Lesher holds out little hope that the situation will change. “If Orthodox institutions continue on their current trajectory, I’d say things could get worse before they get better.”
Even the Jews are guilty. Are there no religious groups that don’t belong in the Religious Horror Show?