Manis Friedman Headlines Event With Child-Rapist Protector

Manis Friedman, inspirational religious leader, and well known speaker, renowned in the Chabad community, and well known for his infamous comparison of sexual abuse to a case of diarrhea, is headlining a shavuos retreat being organized by JEM Retreats, and the Illulian family. The same Illulian family that steadfastly protected registered sex offender, Mendel Tevel, and allowed him to be around children.

People might not understand the extent of the damage caused by this pairing. Let’s start with Manis. Many people feel that because Manis is such an influential figure, and because he’s “helped” and “inspired” so many people, he should get a pass for saying something that’s at worst insensitive. Like, what’s the big deal, right? So he compared sexual abuse and its devastating effects to diarrhea, he apologized, didn’t he?

His apology was half-baked, insincere, a non-apology apology that he forced out to get the “angry bloggers” off his back. But his attitude, and the attitude of the community that worships the ground that Manis walks on hasn’t changed at all. It’s the attitude that tells victims that the community’s comfort is more important than their safety, than their justice. It’s the attitude that would rather pretend that the problem either doesn’t exist, or that it’s not nearly as prevalent as activists would have you believe.

But let’s examine who’s hurt more by which. Sexual abuse is an uncomfortable topic. It’s horrific. It’s painful to think about. It turns the stomach. It offends the conscience to even think about the kind of evil required to commit such a heinous act. It’s almost inconceivable to believe that someone who has ostensibly accepted what they believe to be a moral way of life would be able to do such a thing and live with themselves. But while it may offend your sensibilities to accept that sexual abuse happens, that’s the most you’ll suffer in accepting it as reality.

The victims of this reality, however, suffer so much more. They suffer PTSD, flashbacks, anxiety, depression, addiction, self-harm, suicide, eating disorders, relationship, and sexual problems, the list goes on and on. It’s so much worse than diarrhea. You can’t fix sexual abuse with imodium. Minimizing the problem may make your life more comfortable, but in doing so, in ignoring the very real problem of child sexual abuse in our community, you ignore the suffering of its victims. You stand idly by while they suffer and die.

And that’s the problem with Manis, really. The problem is that he is so influential and inspiring. The problem with Manis is that people listen to him and believe what he says, believe that sexual abuse is no big deal, believe that it’s not worthy of discussion, that it’s blown out of proportion. He doesn’t deserve a pass because he’s respected, he deserves greater accountability because he’s respected. There’s responsibility attached to that much power, and he’s shirked his. If he can’t responsibly handle his influence, then he should lose it. And that’s everyone’s job: To make sure that people like Manis can no longer cause damage through the sway they hold over the people who follow them.

And then there’s Illulian. The fact that the Illulians are paired with Manis just proves my point. Minimize sexual abuse enough, sweep it under the rug enough, and people like Illulian, people who cover up for child sexual abusers like Mendel Tevel, freshly registered as a level 2 sex offender, keep their chezkas kashrus, even though, even more than Manis, they’re responsible for the sexual abuse of children. There can be no crueller irony than the pairing of Manis and Illulian on an ad prominently featuring a kids’ program.

 

This story was first broken by Meyer Seewald of Jewish Community Watch.

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Calling Bullshit On Supposed Charedi Sexual Abuse Progress

In an article published in The Forward on May 2nd, Barbara Finkelstein painted a very optimistic picture of the shifting landscape in the Charedi world concerning child sexual abuse policies. In that article, she claimed that “Virtually no mainstream religious Jewish organization or sect publicly insists anymore that victims speak to their rabbi before going to the police.” As proof she cited the grassroots efforts of rabbis from Chabad, Yeshiva Chovevei Torah, Yeshiva University, and the Rabbinical Council of America.

While it is true that progress has been made over the past 5 years in regards to sexual abuse awareness and prevention, this doesn’t tell the whole story. Of course, Finklestein might argue that it depends on how you define ‘mainstream religious Jewish organizations.

Arguably, Agudath Israel of America is a mainstream religious Jewish organization. It’s constituent organizations and demographic include large swaths of the Charedi, Litvish, and Yeshivish populations in North America. The official policy of Agudah, as of writing this, is still that a rabbi must be consulted before any abuse allegation can be brought to the authorities.

Presumably, the hundreds of different sects of Chassidim living in New York qualify as mainstream Jewish organizations, and yet there has been no public change in policy from any of them toward advocating reporting abuse directly to the authorities.

While it is admirable that some Charedi sects, particularly those under Agudah’s umbrella are pouring resources into prevention and training, the fact remains that they do not advocate going immediately to the authorities in cases of sexual abuse. In fact, it could be argued that their overemphasis on prevention, while certainly beneficial, is designed to shield them from public scrutiny and criticism, especially since a majority of their preventative curricula and protocols are focused on preventing abuse in institutions, while a majority of abuse happens outside of institutions, and is perpetrated, in a majority of cases, by someone the victim knows.

While Agudah’s preventative measures may reduce, and hopefully eliminate abuse in institutions, their policies still do nothing to prevent abuse by family members, family acquaintances, tutors, or other people known to the victim outside of institutional settings, and, in fact, enable these other forms of abuse, because while the preventative curricula do, in fact, cover potential intrafamilial abuse, the psychological dynamics inherent in intrafamilial abuse are such that even the most well educated child is susceptible.

Home settings cannot be controlled the same way institutional settings are. You can’t have cameras in every room. You can’t have glass in every door. You can’t always have a buddy system. You certainly can’t implement policies which mandate that a student and teacher are never alone and unobservable. Abuse will happen in the home, and other non-institutional settings. Siblings will abuse their siblings. Parents will abuse their children. Trusted family acquaintances will abuse children they know. Rabbinical authorities will abuse the children of adults who trust them. Abuse happens everywhere, and the only tool we have to fight it, other than preventative education, is the ability to report it once it happens.

By implying that the problem is next to solved, Finklestein does a dangerous disservice to victims by providing a shield behind which institutions can hide when faced with claims of apathy and obstruction concerning child sexual abuse. If there’s one way to ensure that the fantasy espoused in her article never comes true, it is by issuing unearned participation trophies to organizations that hide behind the illusion of change to perpetuate harmful policies.

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