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"Same Old, Same Old. . ."

Mar 23, 2012 — Categories: , ,

We have become almost numb to the steady stream of disclosures of child sexual abuse: the Roman Catholic experiences continue even with serious efforts to stem the tide, the Penn State tragedy and subsequent campus situations. So in some ways this most recent release of a new documentary, “Standing Silent,” could easily be overlooked.

We have become almost numb to the steady stream of disclosures of child sexual abuse:  the Roman Catholic experiences continue even with serious efforts to stem the tide, the Penn State tragedy and subsequent campus situations.  So in some ways this most recent release of a new documentary, “Standing Silent,” could easily be overlooked.

But it should not be overlooked.  Phil Jacobs, a journalist with the Baltimore Jewish Times, has been engaged for over six years in uncovering and writing about the sexual abuse of children in the Orthodox Jewish community in Baltimore.  “Standing Silent” tells his story and many more.

Jacobs has experienced what so many others have when they have dared to break the silence and name the harm in their communities.  He receives hate mail directed at him and his children.  He is accused of the sin of lashon hora, the Hebrew term for negative speech that harms another.  Some have organized boycotts of the Baltimore Jewish Times.

Sadly this is par for the course for faith communities, particularly in minority communities.  Many orthodox Jews fear the backlash of anti-Semitism from the dominant community when issues like child sexual abuse are revealed.  This fear is not unfounded.

This fear also drives the desire to “handle” these reports quietly inside the community. There are cultural expectations which support this approach arising mainly from Jewish law known as “mesirah” forbidding a Jew to report a fellow Jew to secular authorities. 

“The law is integral to a culture of self-protection rooted in centuries of anti-Semitism, according to Rabbi Yosef Blau, spiritual adviser of Yeshiva University in New York. . . ‘Why go to a rabbi? Are these rabbis qualified? Do you call the police if you want to find out if food is kosher?’ said Blau. ‘The problem is the community doesn’t want to bring a shame on Orthodox Judaism if these crimes get reported. But I would argue that we have an obligation to protect our children first.’”

This obligation has to be our priority in our faith communities.  When we let fear drive our responses to disclosures of abuse, we end up trying to protect institutions and sacrificing our children . . . which ironically ends up destroying our institutions of faith.

A colleague of mine paraphrases a verse from the Gospels saying, “You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you flinch . . . before it sets you free.”  This is true for all of our faith communities. 

I pray that the release of this film, “Standing Silent,” will be the truth that makes the Orthodox community flinch and then sets it free.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute
www.faithtrustinstitute.org

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