RIETS Addresses Sexual Abuse in Orthodox Community

The YU Commentator: The Independent Student Newspaper of Yeshiva University

December 26, 2017

By Shoshy Ciment, Lilly Gelman, and David Rubinstein

On December 25, the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary hosted a talk for rabbinical students on sexual abuse in the Orthodox community. The event, which was attended by over 50 students, rabbis, community members, and administrators, featured remarks from Dr. Norman Blumenthal and Rabbi Yosef Blau. Pizza was served and copies of the most recent issue of Tradition—the foremost Modern Orthodox journal of Jewish thought and law—which focused on sexual abuse, were distributed free of charge, courtesy of its publisher, the Rabbinical Council of America.

This event occurred amidst a tide of high profile cases centering around sexual abuse in the United States. In light of this, it was announced a few weeks ago that employees of Yeshiva University were required to complete an online course about sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. A few days later, a mashgiach (kosher supervisor) at Stern College was fired after an investigation into allegations of his inappropriate conduct.

Rabbi Larry Rothwachs, RIETS Director of Professional Rabbinics, introduced the speakers. He said that when the allegations of sexual abuse in the Jewish community first emerged, people were silent. Over the last two decades, however, “a lot has changed,” and the voice of “victims past, present, and future…exists now, and is protected now, and is given a safe space within our segment of the community.” Rabbi Rothwachs said that “we have every obligation as Torah Jews to go ahead and promote the interest of those who would otherwise not be able to protect and defend themselves,” referring to victims of sexual abuse.

Dr. Blumenthal, a senior psychologist at OHEL, a major Jewish social services organization, spoke about preventing sexual abuse. He emphasized the need for a Torah curriculum on sexuality. “The time has come for us to have a curriculum for the Torah approach to sexuality to make it such that it if a 16-year old waiter at camp propositions a 12-year old camper, it is unthinkable.”

“A schmues in high school is not enough. We need a curriculum, and we need to teach from kindergarten through high school. If we can use those opportunities to train our children …there will be a healthier attitude,” said Dr. Blumenthal, who is also the Educational Director of the counseling training program for prospective clergy at Yeshiva University. “You can’t eliminate [sexual abuse completely], but we can make a significant difference in terms of children understanding that this is wrong. If we can inculcate an attitude of reverence and respect and the proper attitude within our community, when that 16-year old propositions that 12-year old it will be totally unthinkable.”

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