As Chabad’s traditionally poor handling of child sexual abuse (CSA) comes under ever increasing scrutiny, it appears that the organization is doing some serious damage control. Victim’s advocates such as Manny Waks, organizations like Jewish Community Watch, and social network pages like FrumWatch, are putting the spotlight on Chabad’s mishandling of CSA and other problems. Most of of which occur in the dense, strictly observant, insulated populations of Lubavitch where outreach targets and casual Chabad users rarely walk. New, casual, or infrequent users are generally unaware of the epidemic of problems that exist within the movement, and see only the ‘smiling rabbi with chasidic stories’ side of Chabad. But many watching Chabad in the news witnessed two institutional actions taken last week that are unprecedented in several ways. Chabad swiftly removed two accused abusers from its institutions, with public announcement, and involved outside law enforcement. Quick action, public announcement, and outside involvement are precisely NOT Chabad’s well established way of handling these matters. So what’s up?
Jewish Community Watch reports on their Facebook page that Oholei Torah boys yeshiva in Crown Heights Brooklyn, NY, has sent a letter to its parent body informing them of a serious allegation pertaining to a member of the school’s support staff.
Oholei Torah is one of the most important institutions in the Chabad-Lubavitch yeshiva system, drawing students from around the world and providing a vast majority of the Chabad shluchim from among its graduates. It boasts many rabinical graduates who have become worldwide shluchim, Chabad missionaries (also called emissaries), or outreach program directors.
Yesterday afternoon, Oholei Torah sent a letter to its parent-body, informing them of a serious and credible abuse allegation pertaining to a member of their support staff. The letter stated that pursuant to school policy, the individual has been removed from the campus and has been ordered to have no contact with its students.
This statement, sent out within hours after we informed them of the allegations and ongoing investigation, demonstrate the type of swift and diligent action that is imperative and necessary for schools and institutions to engage in. JCW would like to publicly commend the school for acting promptly, putting the safety of our children above all other priorities.
Since the investigation is ongoing, JCW will refrain from publicly commenting further on these allegations for the time-being.
-We would like to reiterate the yeshiva’s point and reassure parents that at this time, there is no indication that any current students in the school have been hurt by this individual.
You may recall a very extensive and well-researched March 3, 2016 report in Newsweek which focused on sexual abuse problems in the Hasidic community in general, and in Chabad’s Ohelei Torah specifically: Child Abuse Allegations Plague the Hasidic Community
It’s a MUST READ for insight to the workings, behaviors, policies, and cover-ups that the Chabad organization uses to deal with problems of child sexual abuse within its ranks. These parallel Chabad’s handling of other embarrassing problems not related to CSA as well.
Below is an excerpt from the Newsweek exposé which mentions Rabbi Hershel Lustig, the signatory on the above pictured letter.
Chaim Levin, who grew up in Crown Heights and went to Oholei Torah, says his older cousin, Sholom Eichler, sexually molested him throughout his childhood. “I was a 9-year-old boy, and he sodomized me with a pen,” says Levin. “That’s not two kids playing around.” He didn’t tell anyone for years, but in 2003, when Levin was 14, he finally confided in a former counselor at summer camp, who consulted with his father-in-law, Rabbi Hershel Lustig, and then told Levin he should talk to the rabbi.
Lustig has worked for Oholei Torah for over 40 years. He’s an impeccably dressed, well-spoken man deeply beloved by the community. In 2003, he was the dean of Oholei Torah’s elementary school, a position he still holds.
Levin met with Lustig and told him about the abuse. The rabbi tried to be comforting: He told Levin not to worry, that he would still be considered a virgin and that his chances of successful shidduch, matchmaking, hadn’t been harmed. He also offered to tell Levin’s parents, but added, “We shouldn’t tell your parents who did it. It’s not relevant.”
For years, the abuse stayed buried, and everyone acted like nothing had happened: There is no public record that Lustig reported the incident to the police or to Child Protective Services. Lustig did not respond to Newsweek’s queries about the episode. [Ed. – bold]
For more on Rabbi Hershel Lustig and some cases of sexual/physical abuse in Ohelei Torah see also:
JCW’s March 13, 2016 post: An Open Letter From Eli Nash To Rabbi Herschel Lustig
Apparently Lustig ‘got the memo’ too and is taking the advice that outside sources (he calls “professional guidance”) have instructed. Decades of institutionalized child abuse, and now they do an about-face, in 2017? Chances are good that some of that “professional guidance” is coming from Chabad’s attorneys.
It should be of interest that Chabad-Lubavitch now turns to outside sources (secular Jews, and even the “goyim” they sometimes condemn in their synagogues) to advise them on these matters since their hasidic culture leaves them entirely ill-equipped to deal with them. In fact, their tradition, and the example set by their deceased Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson (a messiah figure to the movement), instructs exactly the opposite or the wrong things to do. Due to their deeply ingrained traditional teaching, and blind devotion and obedience to their Rebbe, the Chabad movement rarely (if ever) had the motivation to deal with sexual abuse issues.
In 2015, Shmarya Rosenberg of the former Failedmessiah blog (link via web archive) wrote:
Chabad’s late leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s practice appears to have been to have cases of pedophilia dealt with outside of the secular legal system by having the pedophile pay a relatively small amount of money to his victim to used for counseling. In one case FailedMessiah.com was informed of, Schneerson allegedly ordered a victim and his family not to call police and order the pedophile (who maintained unsupervised access to children in Chabad) to pay the victim $30,000 – but only if the victim signed a confidentiality agreement banning him from telling anyone about the deal or the crime.
There isn’t anything easily found on this matter elsewhere on the Internet. But Rosenberg was known to have sources providing information from within the Chabad community who were willing to leak many embarrassing secrets. Considering that the 5th and 6th Lubavitcher Rebbes were also reportedly victims of long unaddressed sexual abuse (more on this later), it’s not hard to believe that their revered Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, would take only feeble and inadequate measures against it. This is something your local shliach won’t talk about while he’s placing his Rebbe on a pedestal next to God or soliciting donations.
It’s good to see the correct actions now being taken contrary to the typical Chabad-Lubavitch approach, and teachings/examples of their Rebbe. But the recent about-face regarding their handling of abuse reports is extremely out of character for the hasidic movement. It would be foolish not to question their ulterior motives.
JCW also reports on their web site that Chabad is taking current action in Israel with a new program designed to address the problem of child sexual abuse in its educational institutions.
Chabad Combating Child Sexual Abuse In Israel Posted on February 13, 2017
Chabad in Israel is taking new initiatives to combat the sexual abuse against children that has existed for years in the Chabad educational system.
The new program, called “And you shall guard your souls” after the Biblical commandment, is teaching children learning in Chabad institutions to be watchful of sexual abuse and to report any such abuse to the authorities without fear.
Chabad education officials are also educating teachers and administrators of the dangers of child sexual abuse, and providing them with the tools necessary to prevent and fight this taboo. The strides being taken have also included a workshop in dealing with child sexual abuse for 500 teachers in the Chabad educational system.
And it was merely days ago that we read the news of Chabad rabbi Nisson Friedman, who was removed from a school in Pittsburgh due to allegations of abuse involving a child. At this time his arrest is considered “imminent.” Nisson Friedman is the son of the famous Chabad lecturer on marriage and intimacy, Manis Friedman (yichus – can’t say it enough).
I was impressed with the manner in which the school handled the abuse investigation and circumstances surrounding it in this case. It was exactly the right thing to do. And, again, it was an obvious 180° turnaround from Chabad’s well documented traditional positions on CSA, and their CSA cover-up behavior.
As I wrote here:
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.
What motivates Chabad?
Judging from the organization’s past behavior in dealing with CSA, it’s not the well being and safety of Jewish children. It’s not the prevention of years of anguish for the victims. It’s not preventing the pain felt in the families of the child victims, nor the effects it could have on the future families those child victims raise. It’s not a drive to treat people in accordance to Torah law. And it’s not their love for a fellow Jew (ahavas yisroel).
We know what motivates Chabad. It’s money. And I believe what we’re seeing is Chabad declaring ‘look, we’re kosher again. We kicked out some bad guys. We’re safe now. And you can safely spend your money with us.’ Have “faith and trust” (see letter above) in us.
They are a very big industry. Commercialized Judaism. Or as blogger Mighty Garnel Ironheart gently warns:
There are countless stories about shluchim and their families, about the efforts they’ll make to reach out to disaffected and disconnected Jews and, through warmth and kindness, bring them closer to Judaism.
It’s all such a well-woven tale that sometimes we forget that, in many ways, Chabad Lubavtich is actually Lubavitch Inc., a billion dollar company. And just as not employee at Canadian Tire or Best Buy is a helpful salesperson, so too not everyone within Lubavitch is a genuinely outgoing shliach.
Folks following the news on Lubavitch out of Australia know the troubles they’re in down there with the ongoing revelations of child abuse and pedophlia in their yeshivos. It’s interesting, others have noted, that Lubavitch seems more outraged with other folks using an eiruv than with their own people committing terrible crimes.
It also should cast a new light on your local shaliach the next time he approaches you for a donation or to tell you about his latest farbrengen. What exactly is hiding behind his smile?
A few years ago I ran across a web page called Chabad Mafia which highlights many of the problems with the Chabad organization. When I found it, I was still learning about the many problems within the movement. And I wasn’t familiar with the great extent to which those problem exist, nor how they are effectively covered-up. Not just CSA, but other problems such as corruption, outreach lies, neo-Christian style messianism, nepotism, and many others. At the time I found it, the web site struck me as bold and extreme in its claims; especially the claims that Chabad is not Jewish and dangerous. But after many hours of reading and research using various sources on the Internet, I feel the claim of dangerous is fair and accurate. My own experiences with Chabad confirm this too.
Many of the Chabad child sexual abusers within their educational system migrate from institution to institution. This is demonstrated in these two recent cases, and alluded to in Rabbi Hershel Lustig’s letter above (third course of action, first paragraph). It’s not uncommon for a rabbi to teach school during the school year and have responsibility for many children in Summer/Winter camps during the off season. In many cases, migration itself (sometimes temporary) was considered an answer to the abuse. In light of decades of institutionalized child abuse and cover-ups, coupled with an attitude of non-urgency for attention to the victims or their families, it can’t be denied. Chabad institutions hold a very real potential for being dangerous. In light of what I now know, I would never send my children to a Chabad school, Summer/Winter camp, preschool, nor leave them unattended in a Chabad institution. Nor would I ever recommend one to other parents.
This is a decades, generations old problem. There is no quick public relations fix. Last week’s dust will settle, and the abuse problems will still exist; for years and years to come. Chabad does not change easily. Outside sources of knowledge are utilized for Chabad’s survival, not their improvement. In Chabad’s view, they teach the outside world, not visa-versa. And for those who want to insure their children’s safety, there’s not a lot of room for trust in institutions with bad track records and an unwillingness to learn new ways.