Friday, December 31, 2010
Ban by rabbis of Orthodox blog could change views on handling sex abuse
Some are outraged, others are cracking wise -- yet most are wondering whether a ban by a group of rabbis of an Orthodox blog might not be the best thing for a community still wrestling with whether to take allegations of sexual abuse to the police or deal with them “in-house.”
“I’ve been following Vos Iz Neias? for a long time and I’m a bit baffled by all the accusations made against it,” an employee of the Orthodox Union said. “It could use comment moderation, but the other charges seem foreign to me.”
A group of three dozen rabbis have signed on to a ban condemning Vos Iz Neias? (Yiddish for “What's News?”) as sinful and “ordering” that their followers neither read it nor advertise on it -- or patronize its advertisers.
An excerpt from a flier posted in various Hasidic communities:
“… the Satan has found a way, that a site exists on the Internet known as ' VosIzNeias?'..it includes stories and events of the corrupt, abominable, and lowly; full of contamination, filth, foul language; slander, gossip, and degrading of Torah scholars; it also prints libels and slander regarding Torah individuals and organizations. Similarly the comments written there are filled with adultery and slander, and increase fights in Israel, putting everyone’s dirty laundry in public. It also writes against officers and politicians under whose favor we live, to ruin their reputation….”
Anger over the ban is something many in the Orthodox community “are thinking yet are to afraid to say outright,” said Vicki Polin, the founder and director of The Awareness Center, a non-profit organization devoted to ending sexual violence in the Jewish community.
The anonymous publisher ofVos Iz Neias? “has been a friend to many survivors of all sorts of abuses, including those who were sexually victimized,” Polintold CLIFFVIEW PILOT. “He is a good person and is someone who should be honored and respected for reporting the truth instead of reporting a censored version of reality.
“The 36 rabbis who signed the declaration [at right] should be seen as nothing more than cult-like leaders… a group of thugs parading around to be G-d like….
"(Each is) supposed to be a teacher, not a dictator. They are not kings or royalty. They are human just like the rest of us," Polin said. "This group of rabbis are taking away free will from those who live within their communities…. [They] are not allowing their followers to utilize their own personal critical thinking.”
"[M]any of the people who use Vos Iz Neias ... are caught in a conflict between what they are led to believe is reasonable and fair and part of normative religious practice and what they are now told is illegitimate to do if they are to be a member of the tribe," Michael Salamon wrote in The Jewish Star.
"Increasing fundamentalism is little more than a way to limit membership and create a group of dedicated individuals," said Salamon, a fellow of the American Psychological Association and the founder/director of ADC Psychological Services in Hewlett, N.Y.
"A pulpit rabbi needs to interact with a diverse congregation as well as the outside world. The yeshiva rabbi selects their students and tries to mold them into a mirror image of themselves," wrote a reader of The Jewish Star. "They strive to maintain absolute control over the lives of their communities and the best way to foster this is to shut out the outside world little by little.
"Jews were known throughout the ages a the people of the book, admired and respected for our knowledge and drive for education. Sad that today we are told to stop reading."
Vos Iz Neias? has reported on attempts by rabbinic organizations to convince victims to go to the police, promoted the statute of limitations extension, and publicized events such as the recent first-ever National Jewish Week for the Prevention of Child Abuse, said Asher Lipner, an abuse survivor and vice-president of the Jewish Board of Advocates for Children.
It’s been “quite an eye-opener for the community to learn how many of their own children have been hurt by this problem,” he told CLIFFVIEW PILOT.
Still, there is moderation in the discussion.
While not condemning VIN, the publisher of the blog that “outed” the man behind the ban cautions that Vos Iz Neias? is "very selective about the news it publishes."
The site "censors out the names of most ultra-Orthodox criminals and pedophiles, and many stories go completely unreported," Shmarya Rosenberg, publisher of FailedMessiah.com, told CLIFFVIEW PILOT.
"VIN means well, to be sure, but they could not exist if they reported the truth or allowed comments to report it, although the comments section is a little looser than than the actual articles posted."
As Rosenberg, Polin and others point out, the ban clearly has less to do with reports of child sex abuse and more to do with politics.
The rabbis and others have strong ties to New York AssemblymanVito Lopez, chairman of Brooklyn’s Democratic Party, who was the subject of investigations by The New York Daily News -- whose articles were reprinted by Vos Iz Neias?.
One of those stories centered on the apparent misuse of money from a $100 million-a-year, taxpayer-funded social services nonprofit.
On top of that, Polin said, “it is well-known that Lopez has done everything possible to block the Markey bill last year.
“The Markey bill would have allowed survivors of child sexual abuse to have their day in court and also would lift the statute of limitations, so that older survivors of childhood molestation would be allowed to name their offenders, with the hopes of preventing one more child from being harmed by them,” she explained. “This bill would have allowed survivors to be financially compensated for their pain and suffering.”
According to Rosenberg, a close friend and business associate of Lopez’s, Shimon Weiser of Williamsburg, drafted the ban and got signatures from several Rabbinic leaders from the Hasidic and Lithuanian religious world.
The rabbis were told that “attempts were made to contact and warn VosIzNeias to cease and desist from printing questionable articles,” but that “they were rebuffed,” according to an article published on -- and since removed from -- the 5 Towns Jewish Times web site.
By their own admission, the story reported, “many who signed “did not see the website themselves but relied on printed copies made available to them by Shimon Weiser.” They also weren’t aware of Weiner’s connections to Lopez, it says.
“ When accusations are leveled at anyone – even an anonymous person, they must be verified and the person must be given an opportunity to respond to and examine any evidence,” the article concludes. “Convictions, bans, and boycotts of advertisers cannot be done solely on the basis of one-sided accusations…. Sunshine is the greatest disinfectant of all.”
Indeed, an unintentional result of the ban may have been deeper consideration, and discussion, among those in the Orthodox community of whether it’s best to go straight to police and prosecutors at the local, state, county and federal levels, or heeding the words of religious leaders who claim a higher law must prevail. The fear is that the community could succumb to the same scandal as the Catholic Church.
It’s been a slow evolution, but even those in “ultra-Orthodox” communities in Brooklyn, Rockland County and at the Jersey Shore have begun to come forward.
In turn, the rabbis have become concerned “more about protecting their images and assets then they are about protecting our children and or unsuspecting adults,” Polin contends.
“It's really a relatively new thing that people look up to rabbis as if they are G-d. Many of these same rabbis have put a ban on using the Internet, or have only allowed their followers to use servers like JNet, which won't allow subscribers on such sites as YouTube,” said Polin, a licensed clinical professional counselor more than 26 years of experience working with survivors of sexual abuse and assault.
“The only power rabbis have,” told CLIFFVIEW PILOT, “is the power those in the community give them.”