Orthodox Jewish Community Divided By Sexual Abuse Allegations
It is no longer a secret that the sexual abuse of children by clergy members has been an ongoing problem in the Catholic church. Nor is it a secret that church officials have taken great pains to conceal this fact from the public. Given the depth of “cover-up” and breadth of abuse by Catholic clergy, it is not difficult to believe that trustworthy leaders sexually abuse children in nearly all religious institutions. Like those in the Catholic church, religious officials may be trying hard to minimize abuse allegations and keep victims silent.
Alison Knezevich, a writer for the Baltimore Sun, sheds light on sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community and how Jewish leaders have responded when faced with allegations against some of their own. Knezevich highlights one recent case in particular in which a Rabbi who was accused of abusing three boys, continued to work with students for several years before being fired. The case, according to Knezevich, “the latest in a series involving allegations of sexual misconduct by Jewish leaders in Baltimore, has divided the local Orthodox community and ignited a debate over how their institutions handle the issue of abuse.”
Rabbi Worked With Children for Years After Abuse Allegations
Rabbi Krawatsky was suspended from his job in Pikesville, MD after three young boys came forward in 2016 with allegations of sexual abuse that they said occurred at summer camp. The police did not find enough evidence to charge the Rabbi with criminal activity, and he returned to work teaching middle school children. This occurred despite Child Protective Services finding credible evidence that he abused two of the boys. (this finding was later reversed on appeal) Nearly three years later, in January 2019, with no additional allegations or evidence, Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School decided to terminate his employment. The school said the decision was based on an article detailing the 2016 abuse allegations. The Rabbi has sued the school and his accusers for defamation and continues to deny the claims vigorously.
Orthodox Community Torn: Protect Victims of Sexual Abuse or Our Reputation?
The issue of Rabbi Krawatsky has divided the Jewish community in more ways than one. Many people support his innocence and proclaim he is the best teacher and Rabbi their children ever encountered. Others are extremely upset with the school for not terminating his employment sooner. Still, other community members are uncertain about his actions but are using this case to address the problem of secrecy that surrounds allegations of sexual abuse in Judaism and other religions.
In the Baltimore orthodox Jewish community, several prominent Rabbis and teachers in recent years were found guilty of various acts of sexual molestation and abuse of children. Ben Hirsch, the co-founder of Survivors for Justice, a New York-based advocacy group for Jewish victims of abuse, believes that these cases have caused Jewish officials to want to protect their reputations more than the alleged victims.
The father of one of the boys who accused Krawatsky of abuse stated, “I had multiple leaders say, ‘Let’s just keep this quiet.” Hirsh added “Victims are intimidated. They’re discouraged from coming forward.” Some victims’ advocates allege that the Orthodox rabbis use religion to discourage victims from coming forward and reporting abuse. In Judaism, the Orthodox believe it is a sin to speak negatively of another person.
The Community and Rabbis Respond
In 2016, more than 300 orthodox rabbis across the nation signed a proclamation. The proclamation acknowledged that sexual abuse “exists in our communities” and decried the use of Jewish law “to silence victims or witnesses from reporting abuse.” The rabbis stated that no one needs to seek a rabbi’s approval before reporting sexual abuse to the police or other authorities — something critics said contributed to coverups of abuse allegations.
Unlike the Catholic religion, Judaism has no central authority that issues policies or governs its schools, synagogues or camps. Several organizations, however, have emerged and are tackling sexual abuse issues in the Jewish community. CHANA, Sacred Spaces, and Jumpstart Labs are all playing a role in helping Jewish schools, camps, community leaders, and parents promote the safety of their children. They have focused on implementing safe reporting structures, rules about being alone with adults, and training on recognizing and counseling children who have been abused.
If you or someone you love has been abused by a member of the clergy; a rabbi, priest, minister, or pastor, call Alonso Krangle and protect your rights. Call 516-350-5555.