Apr 7, 2008

Haredim and child abuse

There is a shocking case happening right now in which a woman abused her kids to the point that one of them has been in a coma and is being declared a vegetable. She broke bones, she burned their skin, and worse. It turns out the investigation is finding that she was a student of a "Rabbi" who was preaching to her that she had to beat the kids that way to remove a dibbuk from them and as proper penance. While she was evil and abused them, she might have been dragged along in this guys scheme. This is just one of a number of recent cases in which the families were Haredi.

These cases have been very disturbing. Aside from the aspect of the actual abuse that happened, the media and the public have used these cases, to a certain extent, as an attack on Haredim in general.

Let me tell you - there is no "Acceptance Committee" into Haredi society. Anybody who chooses to live the lifestyle, at least using the external imagery (i.e. wears the black hat, grows a beard, wife covers her hair with either sheitel or tichel, etc.) automatically has entered, in the public eye, into Haredi society. They did not apply to any committee, nor were they accepted or rejected.

That means, that there is no way to control who is Haredi and who is not. So when a person gets caught doing something bad, that person is bad. That does not reflect on the whole group and society and mean all haredim are bad. Or any other group for that matter. When they catch a secular rapist, do people say Benny Sela proves that all secular are rapists, wife beaters and sick people? No, because in every group there are fringes, in every group there are crazies, in every group there are bad people. But those bad people do not mean the whole group is bad.

A lot of these cases, specifically the recent ones, are situations in which the mother, the father, the people involved, did not grow up in Haredi society. They did not grow up with the lifestyle. They took it upon themselves at later stages in their lives. Therefore they do not know what the Haredi approach is (in situations that there is one), nor do they have the training that is ingrained in most people just by nature of having grown up within the group.

So this woman in Jerusalem who seems to have been taken in by this crazy Rabbi Chen is a perfect example of this. She went through some messy personal problems, including a divorce. She became "more religious" and went to extremes that she was not familiar with so basically she was making it up as she went along, with a bit of guidance from mentors. Then she was easy prey for this Rabbi with an agenda. He told her what she needs to do and she fell for it. Of course that does not make her innocent. She is guilty (for now allegedly) for what she did and she should have had more brains than those she displayed. But to use her to judge Haredi society in general as being one of child abusers, is wrong.

Now, don't get me wrong, the Haredi response to this is something I have never liked. Whenever something like this happens, they simply disassociate themselves and say "Her? She's not Haredi! Anybody who acts like that cannot call themselves Haredi."

That type of response is just a whitewash of the affair. Nobody takes it seriously and all it looks like is passing on the blame. Nobody ever asked them for permission to join Haredi society and just like this woman (for example) never asked permission to join, neither did the Gaavad of the Eidah Hareidis, nor did the avreich learning in the kollel nor did the Haredi family living down the block. You are Haredi because you associate yourselves with the society, mostly dressing according the general code.

It helps nobody to simply brush it away by saying "They are not Haredi." They are just as Haredi as anyone else, and nobody expects Haredi society to be perfect with perfect little people. There are bad apples in every group and those bad apples do not necessarily reflect badly upon the whole group. The situation should be dealt with and not covered up, and that would go a long way in showing everybody that Haredi society can deal with the problem maturely and wisely. But even with the whitewash, haredi society is not bad or evil just because one, two, ten or even fifty women (or men) beat their kids.

The group is not to be judged by any one individual within.


  1. There may not be a haredi "acceptance committee," but there is a haredi society. The members of that society have chosen to ignore the problem until it became public. In many of the cases of abuse, the neighbors (haredi all), were aware of the problem, or that there was something amiss. However, there is no mechanism within haredi society to deal with these problems, and involving the proper authorities is discouraged.

    So while each group has its crazies, it's how the rest of the group deals with them that the group is judged.

  2. that is more reasonable. but in the burqa case, for example, the neighbors reported the family situation a number of times to the various authorities; police, social services, etc. and the authorities let the situation get out of hand due to beauracracy or lagging...

    so I think as often as we hear of a case where they went to the rav and he said not to say anything that they would try to deal with it internally, there is another case where they went to the authorities and the authorities were negligent.

  3. I think I will continue to judge the charedi oilam based on stories like these. Charedim will be judged as a group b/c unlike the broad 'secular' designation, charedim think (or don't) uniformly as a group. This woman is a great paradigm: baalat teshuva who follows even morally reprehensible rabinic teachings. If they were told to serve in the army- they would do that too. They are told zionism is bad- it's bad, that their wigs are treif- and they're treif, that this or that constitutes daas torah- and until rabinic hypocrisy is thrown in their collective face, no one questions these things. On the subject of child abuse- it is well known that charedim don't subscribe to the gentle school of child rearing. While the rest of the educated world now knows that there is never justification for striking your child, charedim still believe that parents and rebbeim should employ corporal punishment. Why you would choose to defend charedim on this very subject is confusing. I'm a frum guy and I've defended charedim on one or two things, but the code of silence and acceptance of corporal is not one of them.

  4. This has been said on other blogs but I'll repeat it here. The media might accent or emphasize the charedi aspect of these cases because charedim/religious people hold themselves up to be "holier than thou". Secular pple don't. So, of course no one assumes that just because Benny Sela was a chiloni rapist, therefore all chilonim must be rapists. Because most chilonim don't hold themselves up, as a group, to be on a higher level then the rest of the population.

    And I'll be honest, I really haven't heard any commentary out of the secular media that these cases are the norm, that this is charedi society. They are particularly gruesome cases that are only more terrible because supposedly holy people were carrying out the abuse. But I think people were equally horrified by the chiloni couple that also beat their infant to a pulp.

    Unfortunately, when you have a society that emphasizes dress and behavior as hallmarks of belonging and pple do horrible things while dressed and supposedly behaving that way, it's going to tarnish the community's image, no matter what you say or do.

  5. The whole affair is just terrible.

  6. However, there is no mechanism within haredi society to deal with these problems, and involving the proper authorities is discouraged.

    for SOME, as long as you dress the part and do all the externals, they are happy enough. Another soldier.

    And Anonymous said it all.

    I think all this a part of a bigger problem. An elephant in the room that's waiting to be addressed.


    Another question if I may: Does this constitute looking at Israel w/ a bad eye? Please be honest rather than sugar coating.

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  10. So I'm just wondering if you judge all of Islam by the behaviors of those in that group who are radical and violent.

  11. I try not to, but I might be guilty of it to a certain extent.


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