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American Educator-Activist Speaks on Abuse Epidemic in Orthodox Jewish Community

Dec 30, 2015

An American educator and activist says the Jewish community is experiencing a "rampant epidemic" of rabbis who sexually abuse children.

Elana Sztokman, former executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, said, "We have a epidemic of abuse and it is rampant in the Jewish community," according to the Jewish Chronicle (

Sztokman said the conviction of Todros Grynhaus in Manchester, England, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison for abusing two teenage girls, was the tip of the iceberg. "A disproportionate number of abusers seem to be rabbis or quasi rabbis."

At a session at the Limmud conference in Birmingham, England, Dr. Sztokman, who writes on the subject of Orthodox Jewish feminism, discussed reasons why abusers were often able to avoid punishment. She said victims who reported abuse were made to feel like outcasts, according to the Jewish Chronicle. When victims come forward, the community shuns them, Sztokman says. "Their lives are made impossible." Stores ban them, others ignore them and their families at the synagogue, and people defend the abuser. Dr. Sztokman said the pattern of behavior needs to change, and the community needs to be challenged to make changes.

Often, Sztokman says, abusive rabbis are protected by community leaders and their peers. "People don’t like to think of their charismatic rabbi as an abuser or capable of such acts." She criticized the "all too common" practice within the Orthodox community of "discouraging victims from reporting abuse," according to the Jewish Chronicle. Rabbis in Orthodox communities advise victims to come to them before going to the police. But, Sztokman asks, "How can a victim who is being abused by a rabbi then go to a rabbi to report it?" Further, she says, leaders of the Orthodox community tend to be male, making it hard for female victims to come forward or to feel they have an even playing field. "Victims are dismissed and not believed."

During the conference session, "Rabbis Who Abuse," Sztokman challenged the audience to "question social hierarchies" when it comes to cases of abuse. "We need to get past the idea of status within the community . . . And most of all we need to listen to and believe the victims."

Activist Manny Waks, a campaigner against child sex abuse, said the lack of research into abuse within the Orthodox community is a problem. Waks, himself an abuse victim, said, "There is zero research in the community and it is difficult to say if we have more of a problem or less than [any] other community." The problem, he said, 'is not academic," and needs exploring, according to the Jewish Chronicle.

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