Sunday, April 15, 2007

Breaking the Silence

On the last of Pesach, the rabbis in several synagogues in Baltimore spoke out about a very serious problem in the religious community - the code of silence that has been protecting sexual predators in the community.

Ezzie talks about the statements released by the Baltimore Vaad here.

This problem is not new. When I was studying writing, one girl who was a member of a very religious community found herself dealing with the silencing of the problem in her writing. She described how parents refused to believe there was a problem, or, if they did believe there was a problem, they refused to report it for fear of hurting their children's chances of getting a good shidduch - a good marriage match.

When a professional I know was teaching new religious therapists, she encountered a story of a known abuser who was living in a certain community. While several children had independently accused him, none of the parents would allow their children to testify against him for fear of the family's reputation. This silence allowed the abuser to go unpunished, and to continue having access to more victims.

There have been numerous stories of rabbis in schools being moved to a different school in order to silence accusations. In the next school, the accusations surfaced again. Then the rabbis were moved on to a new community of unwitting parents and a new supply of victims.

The Baltimore Vaad has taken the very first step in breaking the silence, and I applaud them.

This past Shabbat, at my synagogue, Rabbi Lau (no, not this one, his son, Rabbi David Lau) spoke about the weekly portion, Shemini. The ending of this parsha is very upsetting. The children of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, future leaders of Am Yisrael (the nation of Israel) bring strange fire to the Mishkan - the tabernacle - and are killed by G-d.

It is said that when Job read about their death, he took it very hard. At first blush, that seems quite odd. Job had already lost all of his own children. Why would he mourn so bitterly for Aaron's two sons?

One midrash claims that Nadav said to Avihu, "When will these two old men die so we can lead the nation?" and Avihu didn't respond.

The midrash says that when Pharoah said that he wanted to kill all the sons of Am Yisrael, there were four people present - Pharoah, Yitro, Balaam, and Job. Balaam spoke for it, and was punished later. Yitro spoke out against it. Job, knowing he could not stop the inevitable, said nothing. When Job realized that Avihu was killed for saying nothing, he realized that all the punishment wrought upon him was for saying nothing.

Similarly, in Megillat Esther, the Scroll of Esther, Mordechai says to Esther "Im hacharesh tacharishi ba'et hazot, revach v'hatzala yaamod layehudim mimakom acher, v'at uvet avich tovedu..." - "If you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, while you and your father's house will perish." (Translation courtesy of Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures--The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text)

We *MUST* break the silence and protect our children. How can we be a holy nation if we harbor the unholy among us?


luckluster said...

Amen to that!

Lady-Light said...

It is written,'u-vi-arta ha-ra mi-kirbekha:' and you shall burn out the evil from within you. But we are not following that in the 21st century, apparently. The time has come.
(I would be honored if you would add my blog to your blogroll.)