Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Spirituality, Sexuality, and How Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse Experience God

Spirituality, Sexuality, and How Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse Experience God
© (2004) By Vicki Polin, MA, LCPC, Michael J. Salamon, Ph.D., and Na'ama Yehuda, MSC, SLP, TSHH

Spirituality and Sexuality are very often confusing issues for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and for several valid reasons. In families where the concept of God is present, a child's first representation of God is either of their parents or through their parents. If you have loving, kind parents you may develop a view of God that is loving and kind. If, however, you grew up in a family of violence your perception of a higher power would be of a being that is controlling, explosive and violent. For children who have been sexually violated by their parents, their role model for God is that of a sex offender. Survivors' internalize a view of a punishing, abusive God, who only allows bad things to happen to them because "God loves them." They live in a place where nothing is safe, not even their thoughts, because God can read those and therefore punished for even feeling angry, upset or disrespectful. Given the way children develop a perception of the world, a survivor of the heinous crime of incest would naturally question the veracity of a kind, loving God.

The Talmud (Moad Katan, 17a) relates that a respected Rabbinical educator was rumored to have been involved in behavior that was "hateful." The commentators suggest that he was either an adulterer or seduced young women. The Rabbis ostracized this individual. Unfortunately, despite this tradition to ostracize such offenders, Jewish communities have not taken such a strong, responsible position toward molesters. Too often when allegations of child molestation are brought to the attention of community leaders, parents or relatives of victim's are reminded that discussing issues of molestation within the community or bringing these types of allegations to the public would result in any number of negative outcomes for the survivor. These consequences include difficulty finding a marital partner of substance for not only the survivor, but also other family members, or could result in the survivor or family members of survivors not getting into good yeshivas (schools). There are tales of families of abuse victims of having to relocate to another town as a result of the political pressures following disclosures. Not only does the survivor have to struggle with their trust and belief in God so does the survivor's family.

We have begun to discuss the possibility of a correlation between assimilation and childhood sexual abuse. According to the most recently available data one in every three to five women, and one out of every five to seven men, have been sexually abused by their 18th birthday. As part of the healing journey, the majority of survivors of abuse reach the point where they try to integrate what happened to them on a spiritual level. Many are in twelve-step programs, surrounded by individuals of other faiths, yet the Jewish survivors often feel different. Jews have very different customs then that of their Christian friends. When a survivor is from an unaffiliated background, they may feel at a loss -- unsure of what to do, or how to do it while survivors from backgrounds that were more traditional and included a Jewish education may feel betrayed by that background. The confusion of the healing process adds to the inability to find a healthy spiritual place within their own religion. So what is a Jewish survivor of childhood abuse to do?

Up until now there have been very few individuals who are "survivor friendly" in the Jewish community. We need to start opening our minds and our hearts to begin listening to survivors of childhood sexual abuse bearing witness. Just like holocaust survivors, who were initially shunned, survivors of childhood abuse need to be allowed to speak in order to heal, to be able to learn to connect with God, to see God as something other then neglectful, abusive and cruel. Those listening to these disclosures have a responsibility to themselves, their families and to the survivors. It is vitally important to make sure they have access to a support group conducted by a trained facilitator who is experienced with compassion fatigue (secondary post-traumatic stress disorder), so they are allowed to debrief and maintain balance, after hearing the voices of survivors.

Karen is a thirty-year-old survivor of childhood sexual abuse. She indicated that she spent her life trying to connect to something that was spiritual, yet felt she was failing. Over the years she approached many rabbis asking them questions. Unfortunately, the Rabbis, due to a lack of training, were unable to help her understand either her questions or the concepts with which she need the most help. Most had difficulty listening to her disclose her abuse history. When Karen was a child, while her father was molesting her, he would say "this is how you know God loves you . . . you know anything that feels this good has to have come from God . . . this is how you know God is inside you." Knowing this information would be critical in understanding Karen's difficulties with the concept of God. Yet most Rabbis doing outreach were unable to help her reframe her experience and make it possible for Karen to learn to connect.

Rivka was in her teens when she first disclosed to a friend that her father, a rabbi was molesting her. Her father was also a principal of a school for young boys. Her friend told her mother, who in turn, went to a local community leader to ask for advice. Because of the stature of her father, the community leader suggested they keep quiet about the abuse. As time went on, Rivka was unable to cope. As a teen she ran into some difficulties and ended up moving into the home of one of her classmates. Due to political pressure within the community, the family that Rivka resided with was asked not to daven (pray) in the synagogue they had been members of for years. The family was dedicated to helping Rivka heal, and were not about to put her out on the streets. Rivka eventually went to college, was able to support herself financially, got married and is the mother of three. Rivka came from a Torah observant upbringing, but from her experiences with the denial of the community, she no longer practices. She feels betrayed by her family, the Jewish community, and most importantly by God. When speaking to community leaders of the town she was from, and when her name is mentioned, they make comments such as she's happy, she is married and has children. But they are not completely correct. Rivka's is in mourning. She misses her biological family, she misses her connection to her community and she feels that has no one to talk to about her feelings about God.

Mitch grew up in family filled with physical and sexual violence. The family belonged to a synagogue and his parents made sure to enroll all their children in programs so that they could learn about Judaism. There was a problem -- Mitch was deaf. None of the Jewish educational programs had interpreters. Mitch was not proficient at lip reading and disclosed that he was bored and felt left out. Growing up Mitch never felt that he was a part of his family since the majority of his family members were not proficient in sign language. He was alone isolated in his deaf world.

School was Mitch's only respite. He was enrolled in a school for the deaf, and could communicate freely with people who could understand and relate to him. Growing up in the South and being deaf meant that he didn't have any Jewish friends. As he reached high school, he wanted to be like his friends. Most of them went to church. Mitch had no concept of God, and was like a sponge to learn, to connect to something spiritual. Mitch's concept of God was that of a father who was filled with anger and rage. No one in the Jewish community ever took the time to meet Mitch's needs. He never was given the opportunity to express his thoughts and feelings about his concepts of God to anyone Jewish. But then the missionaries reached him. Like so many survivors, the desire to feel loved was strong. His new friends knew this and showed him unconditional love. He would do anything to feel loved and cared for, and if it meant learning about another religion, then he did it. When his family realized what was happening they tried to rectify the situation, but again it was done in a way that appeared to be an attempt to control and abuse him. Their attempt was unsuccessful. To this day Mitch's views Judaism as something that is abusive and wrong.

The more our communities, and our leaders are educated on the issues relating to childhood sexual abuse the easier it will be to help heal the oozing wounds of childhood sexual abuse. Band-Aids can only cover up an infection. Our communities need to do major wound care, some individuals may require "spiritual surgery," while others my just need a topical ointment. But together as a community, as a people we can come together and heal the world.

Vicki Polin, Michael J. Salamon and Na'ama Yehuda

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Case of Rabbi Eliyahu Tzabari

Case of Rabbi Eliyahu Tzabari
Former Chief Rabbi - Ganei Tikva, Israel

Ordered by the Tel Aviv District Court to pay NIS 120,000 in compensation to a woman he sexually assaulted with whom he counseled.

If you have more information about this case, please forward it to The Awareness Center.


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Table of Contents:  
  1. Rabbi ordered to pay for abuse (11/16/2004) 
  2. Court orders rabbi to compensate rape victim (11/16/2004)


Rabbi ordered to pay for abuse
by Zvi Harel
Haaretz - Tue., November 16, 2004 Kislev 3, 5765

Rabbi Eliyahu Tzabari, a former chief rabbi of Ganei Tikva, was ordered by the Tel Aviv District Court yesterday to pay NIS 120,000 in compensation to a woman he sexually abused. The women came to the rabbi a decade ago seeking spiritual advice and help with lifting a curse she said had been placed on her and her infant son, who suffered from severe asthma. The rabbi persuaded her to participate in sexual rituals he claimed would exorcise the curse. Tzabari was indicted in 2001, but a criminal trial was postponed by then-attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein because of the rabbi's poor health. The woman pressed her case in a civil suit.


Court orders rabbi to compensate rape victim
By Yaakov Katz
Jerusalem Post - Nov. 16, 2004

The Tel Aviv District Court on Monday ordered Eliyahu Zabari, the former rabbi of Ganei Tikvah, to pay NIS 140,000 to a woman who filed a civil suit against him claiming he had raped her.

The woman went to Zabari 10 years ago to receive a blessing for her son who was sick at the time with asthma. During the "blessing process", Zabari raped the woman and sexually assaulted her.

An indictment was filed against Zabari but was later annulled by former attorney-general Elyakim Rubinstein due to the rabbi's poor health.


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Tuesday, November 09, 2004

From a concerned member of the Baltimore community -- Regarding the case of Rabbi Eliezer Eisgrau)

Protocols - November 9, 2004

The following has been circulated, and mailed to several different Jewish newspapers. As of today, no one has published it. Through my sources, I know who wrote this. The letter and its author are credible.  -- Vicki Polin


To the editors

Rabbi Eliezer Eisgrau
I would like to address a very important and very troubling issue affecting our entire community and its future.

The taboo surrounding the issue of child sexual abuse in general, and even more so within our own community is very real and difficult to surmount for many reasons. Our silence is what child sexual offenders count on to enable them to continue abusing. We must break this silence and as a community begin to address this issue openly.

This sensitive issue becomes even harder to deal with when allegations are made against a rabbi or trusted leader within our community. Most of our rabbis and leaders are not child molesters, but most also have no training or expertise in this area. Most rabbonim confronted with allegations of abuse against a trusted and respected colleague are simply not equipped to deal with the situation. Obviously, they do not want to believe the allegations. It is a lot easier to stigmatize an obviously troubled or angry victim then to believe that a well respected, influential, colleague could be a sexual predator. 

Entrance to The Torah Institute of Baltimore
Instances of childhood sexual abuse are very hard to prove (or disprove), as there are rarely any witnesses, or visible scars. Training in recognizing the short and long-term effects affects of abuse is essential, and the responsibility of every Rabbi to obtain. 

We have recently read stories of perpetrators within our community who have used the silence of the community and its leaders to allow them to continue abusing children, sometimes for decades. Some say that it is a chillul Hashem for papers to have published such information. The sad truth is that going to the papers is the only thing that finally stopped the abuser and prevented future victims. The real chillul Hashem is that many Rabbonim knew of allegations for years and did nothing. The real chillul Hashem is that when a sexual abuse or assault victim dares to speak out publicly, instead of helping the victim, and confronting the issue, Rabbonim and community leaders rally around the accused perpetrator trying to protect the image of the community at the expense of his victims. 

Many of our "at risk teens" who have gone "off the derech" (OTD) are victims of childhood sexual abuse and have gotten the message loud and clear that they will not be helped or believed, and so have left the community. 

When allegations are brought against a person who is in a position of authority over innocent children this person should very quickly be directed to another line of work. To date there is no known cure for pedophiles. The only way to manage these tendencies is for perpetrators to never be alone with a child. 

Parents have a right to know about allegations made against those caring for their children and to make an informed decision about the risks that they are willing to expose their children to. The Baltimore community must be made aware of and take responsibility for any accused perpetrators in our mist, especially when they hold positions that enable them to continue to offend. 

Rabbi Eliezer Eisgrau
Rabbi Eliezer Eisgrau, the principal of the Torah Institute, is one such individual. Rabbi Eisgrau has, on at least two known occasions, been accused of child sexual molestation and on at least one occasion of physical abuse. (He allegedly hit a child in the face and broke his glasses.) One of the accusations of sexual abuse was made by a former student, and the other by one of rabbi Eisgrau's own daughters. (Both of his alleged victims are now adults.) 

The charges brought against Rabbi Eisgrau by his student were formally investigated and later dropped because of insufficient evidence. In the words of the investigator, Detective Richard Hardick, he was "stonewalled" by the community. Concerned and aware members of our community (including myself) who have tried to speak out about the potential danger to our children have been threatened with loss of their job, membership to shul, and even personal safety. Rabbi Eisgrau's rav has advised rabbi Eisgrau's other children to excommunicate their sister unless she agrees never to speak out about her experience. This, in my opinion, is a horrible chillul Hashem and abuse of rabbinic authority. 

Let us, as a community, take responsibility for protecting our children and educating ourselves about sexual abuse. A good resource, which deals specifically with sexual abuse in the Jewish community, is The Awareness Center at,

Rabbi Yosef Blau (mashgiach Ruchani of the Rabbi Isacc Elchanan Theological Seminary) in his article, Confronting Abuse in The Orthodox Community, (Nefesh News, 7:9, July 2003) writes: 

"Our community has not been educated to recognize abuse nor to appreciate the ongoing trauma of victims...Often the response is to express anger at the paper (publishing letters such as this one) and then ignore the abuse. Until the mentality of the community changes little progress will be made." 

I hope everyone reading this will take his message to heart.

A concerned member of the Baltimore community. 

For more information on this case: CLICK HERE

Monday, November 08, 2004

Scientific studies dispute writer's claim

Scientific studies dispute writer's claim
By Charles Hundey
News Gazette - November 8, 2004

To the editor:
In a recent letter, a man stated that he was "preyed on" by homosexuals as a child. The Child Welfare League of America, the American Academy of Child Psychiatrists, the National Association of Social Workers, and the American Psychological Association have all taken the position that there is no correlation between homosexuality and sexual abuse of children.
Roland Summit, head physician of Community Consultation Service at Harbor UCLA Medical Center made the following statement: "The vast majority of offenders are heterosexual men. Male offenders who abuse young boys maintain adult heterosexual relationships. The habitual molester of boys is rarely attracted to adult males."
A. Nicholas Groth, Ph.D, then director of the Sex Offender Program at Connecticut Department of Corrections and co-director of the St. Joseph College Institute for the Treatment and Control of Child Sexual Abuse wrote, "The belief that homosexuals are particularly attracted to children is completely unsupported by our data. The child offenders who engaged in adult relationships as well were heterosexuals. There were no homosexual adult-oriented offenders in our samples who turned to children." (Groth, A. Nicholas & Birnbaum, B., Adult Sexual Orientation and Attraction to Underage Persons. Archives of Sexual Behavior 7:175181, 1978.)
If this man was preyed on by men as a boy, they were pedophiles, not homosexuals. If they also maintained adult relationships, they were almost certainly heterosexual ones.