The Jewish Chronicle reports that Rabbi Nisson Friedman, 26, son of Chabad Rabbi Manis Friedman, has been removed from teaching at Yeshiva Boys School of Pittsburgh after a lengthy investigation of child sexual abuse. He is a suspect in several alleged incidents. Though no arrest has been made yet, it is considered “inevitable.”
Nisson Friedman is suspected of sexually assaulting at least three boys while employed by the school and the Pittsburgh Police Sex Assault Team has indicated that they are “absolutely certain” there are additional victims. Claims of assault against Friedman are coming from parents in Pittsburgh as well as from other communities.
Nisson Friedman is the son of the very well known Chabad personality Rabbi Manis Friedman who in a January 2013 video trivialized the effects of child sexual abuse (CSA) and mocked CSA victims. Manis’ comments received waves of negative publicity, and resulted in the Chabad-Lubavitch organization trying to distance themselves from him.
Something interesting the Jewish Chronicle article mentions regarding Nisson Friedman is:
Attempts to contact Friedman were unsuccessful. A member of his family who did not want to be identified noted that Friedman himself is a victim of child sexual abuse.[Ed.-bold]
By whom? Very often victims are abused by members of their own family. And it is often that victims of child sexual abuse become abusers themselves. This leads me to view Manis Friedman’s trivializing of child sexual abuse in a different perspective. The father of the suspect in a multi-incident child sexual abuse investigation, trivialized the effect of CSA and mocked victims. If his own son was a victim (and now a suspect), how is it that Manis Friedman lacked compassion for other victims?
There is one aspect to this case which differs greatly from other CSA cases within the Chabad community. The school acted in a number of positive and proactive ways and reported the problem to outside authorities. They called Deborah Fox, founder of Magen Yeladim, a national organization based in California that works to prevent child abuse. She recommended a call to Child Protective Services. Fox said:
They really followed through in every way. They were exemplary and a model for how a school should handle a very dramatic situation. Nobody wants this to happen, but if it does, you have to know how to deal with it.
The article also notes other circumstances common in CSA cases within the Chabad community, notably that Nisson Friedman was connected to additional institutions (including Camp Gan Israel summer day camp), and a connection to a prominent or influential figure in the movement.
Fox noted the particular “sensitivity” in this case, praising the school for acting in accordance with proper protocol despite outside pressures. Friedman is connected to several Jewish institutions throughout Pittsburgh. Moreover, Friedman hails from a renowned Lubavitch family and is the son of an influential Minneapolis-based rabbi.
Despite Nisson Friedman’s connections, Yeshiva Schools employed the same vetting procedure before hiring him as it does for all its other potential employees, according to Rosenblum. That vetting includes procuring FBI clearances, checks with the Department of Homeland Security and personal interviews.
Rabbi Yossi Rosenblum, the principal of Yeshiva Boys School said, [we] “knew we had to report it,” and “We have training every year on mandated reporting from a secular group that tells us our legal responsibilities.”
If they knew their moral responsibilities, a “secular group” may not have to train them. But that they take such training is a good thing since Chabad’s treatment of children (and their families) in sexual abuse cases doesn’t have a very good track record at all.
The article seems heavy (repetitively so) in support of the school. The school deserves a lot praise, which the article makes more than abundantly clear. The apparent swiftness of action is remarkable, including the reporting of the earliest known incident to the parent body of the school. And, the article implies, there is an unusual community support in this case, as opposed to the common ‘sweep it under the rug’ approach. There is no mention of how victims and their families are being treated within their communities. Often times they are subject to blame and shunning.
After my many experiences with Chabad shluchim, I will never take them at face value again. Never. There is always a ‘rest of the story’ to look for. Chabad is aware that the child sexual abuse spotlight is upon them ever more frequently. In Australia, coast to coast USA, Israel, and elsewhere worldwide, Chabad related CSA cases are being exposed. They know they have a problem. Even if many in the organization don’t consider child sexual abuse a significant problem (and I hope this school truly does), they know the legal, financial, and publicity fallout can present a major blow to their organization. This may be an indication of a change of approach that would help improve a damaged image.
I think doing the right thing, is doing the right thing, regardless of the motivation. And for that, we should be very relieved to see how this unfortunate case is unfolding. But considering Chabad’s history in dealing with CSA, I think it’s a smart consideration to ask why? Why now? Why Friedman? I hope it’s for all the right reasons, but I won’t take it on faith in Chabad integrity that it is.