In my attempt to show that being
religious is not a guarantee of moral
behavior, this post is a part of my series
of reports featuring the bad behavior
of religious people, past or present....
Look for other posts showing the
bad behavior perpetrated by members
of other religious groups.
HIGH INCIDENCE OF CHILD ABUSE IN
NEW YORK’S HASIDIC COMMUNITIES:
Joe Diangelo, 28, says that when he was seven he was taken by his father to a mikvah (bath house) to find the place packed with naked men and boys. “I was in the tub, and I had my back turned, and somebody raped me while I was in the water … I didn’t know what happened. I couldn’t make sense of it...” Diangelo never saw the man who abused him. Today, monitors are posted by the bath to prevent sexual activity, but as a child, Joe was on his own.
Joel Engelman, 24, says his abuse came at the United Talmudical Academy. He was eight when he was called to the principal’s office. When he arrived, he says, Rabbi Avrohom Reichman told him to close the door. “He motioned for me to get on his lap, and as soon as I got on the chair, he would swivel the chair from right to left, continuously. Then he would start touching me while talking to me. He would start at my shoulders and work his way down to my genitals.”
This happened frequently over two months. He told no one for more than a decade. Four years ago, he told his parents. And a year ago, when he heard that Reichman had allegedly abused several other boys, they confronted Reichman.
When the school heard about it, they gave the rabbi a lie-detector test. He failed miserably. So they told Joel, ‘This guy has to go.” But a few weeks later, a religious leader from the school approached Engelman’s mother to ask, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how bad was the molestation?... We found out there was no skin-to-skin contact, that it was through clothing....On a scale of 1 to 10, this was maybe a 2 or a 3, so what’s the big fuss?” The school reinstated Reichman.
Both Engleman and Diangelo were raised as strict Hasidic Jews, and both fled their upbringing for the same reason.
Four ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Brooklyn have been sued or arrested for abusing boys in the past three years. That’s a tiny fraction of the actual abuse, says Hella Winston, author of Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels. She says that in researching her book, she met dozens of alleged victims who told her sexual abuse is an open secret in the Hasidic community. But the community is so insulated and the rabbis are so powerful that few dare to come forward.
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes says he has 10 active sexual abuse cases involving Orthodox Jews. He says the Jewish leaders — like Catholic bishops — try to handle these affairs internally, through a rabbinical court. "You have no business taking these cases to religious tribunals," Hynes says. "They are either civil or criminal in nature. Or both. Your obligation is to bring these allegations to us and let us conduct the investigation."
One of the problems with such abuse is that in isolated religious communities, instead of reporting the abuse to the police, it is reported to religious authorities, as was also done in the Catholic church. When it is handled by the religious community that wants to avoid bad publicity, it is usually covered up and never resolved.
For more information:
Abuse Scandal Plagues Hasdic Jews in Brooklyn
Hasidic Jews join the kiddy-fiddlers’ hall of shame
Sexual Abuse of Kids in Hasidic Jewish Community