Lifting the Veil of Silence


child_cryingThe following article, written by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz, appears in this week’s Yated Ne’eman. The article is groundbreaking in that it is virtually the first time that the issue of abuse has been openly discussed in the mainstream chareidi newspaper media. The article focuses on calling for sympathy for abuse victims and lifting the veil of silence in our community on feeling their pain. One prominent expert in the field with whom has spoken hailed the article is a milestone in that it is making waves among victims who have been waiting many years for the voice of Torah Judaism in America to validate them. We are grateful for being granted permission to post the article here:

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

There is an issue that has been on my mind for several years. It is an extremely sensitive topic and I tried writing about it many times but couldn’t find the right words with which to express what I wanted to say in a way that would be beneficial and adhere to standards of derech eretz and fairness.

I have discussed my predicament with many gedolim and they all encouraged me to write about it here in the Yated and said that Hashem would help me find the proper voice.

The sad fact is that children in our community are being abused by perpetrators who prey upon their innocence and our silence. We don’t have a count of how many people are hurt, but it is much larger than we realized, even a short time ago. There is no real debate about the catastrophic effects of abuse.

The innocence and purity of children is destroyed for life. The victims remain hurt, shamed and scarred. They suffer in silence, afraid to reveal their secret to anyone. They are hounded by feelings of guilt and embarrassment and live lives of tortured pain. The overwhelming majority of survivors suffer in silence, unless they are lucky enough to endure agonizing, arduous, expensive therapy. However, even a lifetime of therapy doesn’t ensure that the victim can ever be fully healthy again. Not every young victim’s psyche can be healed. Victims are much more likely to go off the derech, become addicted to drugs and lead a life of abusing themselves and others.

Let us be clear: For too long, we weren’t tuned in to these innocent victims’ stories and their pain. For too long, we weren’t sufficiently aware that this problem existed and thus were able to ignore the quiet pleas, the sad eyes, the pained lives, and the personalities withdrawn. We didn’t recognize the warning signs and thus largely ignored the phenomenon. Equally clear, this inattention was not a function of some high level conspiracy to harm people or cover up for criminals or abet nefarious activities. It was simply a function of a lack of education about a complex and highly sophisticated problem. It was a result of our leadership simply being unaware of the depths that such sordid people could sink to, and the extreme skill perpetrators exhibit in covering the tracks. And yes, it was undeniably a gezeirah, which, as so often is the case, claims innocent holy souls – bikroyvai Ekodeish.

I am all too aware that it is fashionable in certain circles to blame this all on our rabbinic leadership. These people have yet to explain why our rabbonim, who devote their lives to serving people, would want to hurt anyone. The days when being a rov or rosh yeshiva meant strictly paskening shailos or teaching Torah are long gone. Rabbonim routinely spend an overwhelming portion of their time dealing with every type of personal problem imaginable. I don’t have to elaborate on this now, but suffice it to say that it defies logic to arrogantly accuse our most choshuve leaders, who exhibit much mesiras nefesh, of coldhearted indifference. As I said, the problem was a lack of understanding.

Those days are behind us. We understand our challenges now and we have to live up to them. There are many things we have to do to help prevent future cases. In fact, in recent years, much has been accomplished. It would probably surprise some of the critics to know that in the past five years, the Vaad Roshei Yeshivah of Torah Umesorah has devoted many meetings, encompassing scores of hours, to these issues. As one who regularly attends these meetings, I can tell you that no single subject has been discussed in greater length and depth, in excruciating detail, than preventing abuse. Many sophisticated guidelines and programs have been designed and disseminated in all our schools. Implementation has not been universal, but we have clearly begun to turn the tide in the school area. I will devote another article to detail some of these efforts. Today, I want to focus on the topic I began with – the innocent victims.

We almost never do anything for these victims. We look at them as small children. We don’t peer into their little hearts. We don’t follow up with them. We don’t do anything to assuage their piercing pain and harrowing hurt. Usually, we don’t know who the victims are, for their parents are petrified lest they be stigmatized for life.

They go through life distressed and tormented, and the fact that they think that we don’t care adds insult to injury and makes the wounds that much more difficult to heal. They think that if we would know what happened to them, we wouldn’t respond with compassion and love. They think that the world around them would turn a deaf ear to their cries and be uninterested in their stories.

So they go through life feeling isolated, betrayed and abandoned. It is about time that as a community we join together and shout out to them that we have been silent for too long. We have been oblivious for too long. And we are going to do something about it. This is what we say:

“We realize it wasn’t your fault. We realize you didn’t do anything wrong. We realize that you were singled out for punishment due to no fault of your own. We realize you were taken advantage of. We love you. We care about you. We are here for you. We will listen and we will hear. You are not alone.”

We have to get a message to the children who have been wronged that they don’t have to resort to drugs or worse to cleanse themselves and restore their self respect and self worth. 

How do we get that message across? Not by being quiet and not by being shrill. First we strengthen those groups in our machane who are devoted to counseling and aiding victims. We tell them they are innocent; we feel their pain and are here to help them. We prove that by continuing to implement parent and community-wide education and prophylactic programs to prevent future horrors. Above all, we deliver the message by living lives of Torah – a Toras Chesed and Toras Emes – by being kind and compassionate to all. We do it by not embarrassing anyone and not jumping to conclusions about the reasons people act the way they do. We must conduct ourselves to all with true love and compassion. We should treat victims like brothers, without prejudice, never knowing what pain and hurt lies in their hearts, forcing them to act the way they do.

One thing is clear: silence is acquiescence. Silence permits the affliction to fester. We must be prepared to lift the veil off the more embarrassing goings-on in our communities so that we rid ourselves of evil and malice and the pain they cause. We will thus be preparing the world for the coming of Moshiach and the erasure of all tears.

 {Yated Ne’eman}

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  1. I agree and disagree with the article. I agree that it is a problem and we need to show love and care, but I don;t think it is necessarily an issue of abuse as much as in general showing love and concern to kids and teens who are not “in the syste,m” or who want to do their own thing. That is the main issue. Most of them walk into shul and treated like otucasts.
    So regardless of whether or not they were abused, the issue is treating those who do not fit into the “cookie cutter” system with love and care and sensitivity and an open heart.

  2. very sad that this issue is finally surfacing only after a recent incident.
    if torah umesorah new about this and they did and so did the aguda , camp aguda and the ou as well . Then why wait so long to address this issue . its loooong overdue!

  3. Congratulations to the Yated and to Rabbi Lipschutz for this. I fully understand what took so long. I congratulate them for finally taking the courageous step of mainstreaming this issue instead of relegating it to the loshon hara blogs. Now the community will be forced to deal with it. I know he will get death threats for this ,the way others in the frum community did. But he’s showing the courage of his Rebbe, Rav Elya Svei ZT”L, in saying things that the community doesn’t want to hear. Lo saguru mipnei ish, and keep pounding the issue until our kinder are safe.

  4. I thought that Matzav is part of the YATED. I guess not.
    A very well known & highly respected Rosh Hayeshiva was in a dilema when he went to ??? ????? to see his son. He knew that his son might be dressed not like a Yeshiva bochur & pick him up in a jeep or an open jeep.

    He was advised by a ???? if you ever want to get back your son….show him that you accept him as is……

    The Rosh Hayeshiva did just that, the son picked him up as described….The son was shocked that he was accepted as is.

    Yes, he returned to the fold, married and raised a nice family.

  5. I don’t understand all the claims of abuse. From where I see it, it is all fabricated. there is no problem and people should just realize that. things are fine and to make every person into a victim is ridiculous.

  6. I am glad to see the article and I have definitely seen an increase in awareness and a desire to change the status quo.

    I have two main questions (for today). One, I appreciate the statement that it wasn’t our fault and we weren’t being punished, but how do we come to terms with the Torah thoughts that “everything that happens is for our good” and that “Hashem planned everything that happened to each of us”. These are very painful ideas for abuse survivors.

    And two, where can survivors go to get help dealing with the life long issues that arise? Who is out there to help us cope from a Orthodox BUT non-judgemental position???

  7. Rabosai! I have been waiting for a long time to say my opinion on this matter. I will spare you the details of my harrowing childhood as well as my adolescent years. Suffice it to say, they were full of torment and suffering, bitterness and resentment, BUT, what kept me afloat was the fact that I knew that this is also from Hashem our King loving merciful G-d who watches over us always. I know that Hashem has decided that I be a victim for some reason. ???? ??? ??? ????? even the hard ones we can’t understand. So the main thing is to stay strong and remember “everyone has their nisyonos”.
    Another point is, we know there is a problem, but we blow things out of proportion out of fear that we are being to complacent. We wrongly accuse people and ruin them for life. We will also be held accountable for MURDERING innocent so called aggressors!! That is also a very dangerous idea that we, in this entire hulabooloo of excitement regarding this matter are overlooking. The victims can become aggressors by falsely accusing others. Let’s keep this fact in mind and we will be spared of killing innocent people.

  8. Are you kidding me? The Jewish Press has been discussing it for quite a while now, unless you dont consider the JP mainstream chareidi enough for you. What does a newspaper have to do to be considered mainstream in your eyes? Im curious to know.

  9. To Fear This:

    Rav Dovid Cohen spoke in our shul (Shomrei Emunah – Baltimore) He said that unfortunately after beind in the trenches he has realized that RUBA D’RUBA of the accusations are true!

    Dr. David Pelcovitz, a highly respected Psychologist (respected by Gedolim too!) spoke this past year in Baltimore (Benai Jacob Shaare Zion) and said other than in divorce cases, it is extremely, extremely rare for someone to accuse a Rabbi or Rebbe of abusing him.

  10. true, the yeshivish/ chareidi olam doesn’t read the Jewish Press. A lot of it had to do with the marriage annulment beis din that the Jewish Press supported. Mishpacha has been talking about it, but the Yated didn’t, until now.

  11. The Jewish Press is definitely a mainstream Frum newspaper and if what is and what is not considered chareidi is determined by the people who subscribe and purchase it, then, yes, the JP is a chareidi, as well as modern orthodox, newspaper. What I dont understand is: why is this website making such a big deal that someone wrote an article about this topic. It really hasn’t been hush-hush for quite a while now. Also, why do the “charedi” newspapers always wait so long to finally broach the subject of these sensitive topics if they know that eventually their going to end up talking about it anyways?