Thursday, June 11, 2015

When Rabbis Behave Badly

Please note, this article is about the issue in general and not a commentary on a particular case.

Over the years, we have heard disturbing reports of some rabbis committing unconscionable crimes against children. How do we respond?

First, we need to protect our children, teaching them which behaviors are inappropriate. For young children, two books on this subject, both by Bracha Goetz, are Let's Stay Safe (with Project Y.E.S.) and Talking About Private Places (with Project Innocent Heart). Teenagers need to be taught as well. See the articles on, “Preventing Child Molestation” by David Mandel, David Pelcovitz, Ph.D. and Dr. Susan Schulman., and “Protecting Your Children” by Rabbi Moshe Hauer.

Present possible scenarios to your children, ask how they would respond and then discuss it. This way, if God forbid someone acts inappropriately, your children will know what to do. One conversation is not enough; talk to them again before camp and the new school year. Have the conversation in a calm, matter-of-fact, manner so as not to scare your children. To that end, child abuse expert, Mary L. Pulido, Ph.D. recommends framing the discussion around “safety” rather than “abuse.”

Make sure it is clear to your children which behaviors by others are unacceptable and in response to which they should say no. Also make clear that it does not matter who the person is (e.g., a teenager, respected rabbi, beloved relative etc.), if the person tries or does something which makes your children feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or scared, they should immediately tell a parent or trusted adult. They must do this even if the person tells them to keep it secret or threatens them or blames them for the behavior. And if they are ignored, they should keep telling adults, until someone does something about it.

In addition to talking to our children, we need to pray to God, asking Him to watch over us and protect us from harm.

We must have zero tolerance for perpetrators, no matter how respected they are. At the same time, rumors or allegations do not mean that the person committed the act; it means we need to investigate and take precautions in case it is true. When true, perpetrators fall under two categories. Some of them are remorseless, evil people. Others, are otherwise good people who have failed to overcome their unnatural lusts. Ethics of the Fathers teaches (2:5), “Do not judge your fellow until you have reached his place.” Who can say with certainty that if he had their temptations, God forbid, he would have overcome them? We can feel compassion for their struggle, yet still insist they be brought to justice.

It seems as if the numbers of people committing these crimes has increased. Why is that?

Although partially due to an increase in reporting these crimes, perhaps there is a biological reason for the increase in this unnatural lust which can be addressed. Another possible factor is a spiritual malady prevalent in our generation – low levels of Yirat Shamayim, awe of Heaven.

In previous generations, just the thought of sin would cause people, especially rabbis, to tremble with fear. Today, there are some religious people, even some rabbis, who do not have a genuine, authentic relationship with God; their observance is superficial. They do not possess strong enough Yirat Shamayim to hold them back from acting on their lusts. (See, “Is Your Commitment to Judaism Strong Enough?”)

When rabbis behave badly, that reflects badly on them as individuals; it does not mean all rabbis are illegitimate, it means they are illegitimate rabbis. God, His Torah and our authentic leaders remain untainted.

The vast majority of rabbis lead exemplary lives; we just hear about the rotten apples. Yet, no matter how many rabbis are guilty of heinous crimes, there will always be legitimate ones to whom we can turn, people who have genuine Yirat Shamayim. God will never abandon His people, leaving us like sheep without a shepherd.

When we hear about phony rabbis, we have to take practical steps to address the issue. We should also use the disturbing news as a reminder to enhance our own genuineness, suffusing our Judaism with authentic love of God and true awe for Him.

Please share this post with family and friends by using the icons below. 

To subscribe to this blog, type your email address in the box on the upper right and click on the "Subscribe" tab.


  1. Thank you so much for letting people know about my books. (I'm actually the author of Let's Stay Safe too. :))

    1. Thank you for writing your important books!
      I added your name to the first book; thanks for letting me know.