Virtual Talmud

Virtual Talmud

Sex, Lies, and the Internet

Should the Internet be used to publicize the names and alleged improprieties of alleged sexual predators? Is such use justified to protect victims and potential victims from sexual predators even if it runs roughshod over the requirement to protect innocent individuals from potentially false charges that can ruin their reputations and their careers?

According to Jewish tradition, a sexual predator is a rodef, a pursuer intending to harm another. As Jews we are obligated to not stand idly by, but to intervene to protect the victim. While we are not free to ignore the threat, nevertheless we are to use the minimum degree of force necessary to neutralize the threat posed by a perpetrator.

That is why I am uncomfortable with posting charges of sexual misconduct on Internet sites.

Jewish tradition teaches us that we are to protect the reputation of others: we are not to spread unconfirmed rumors (lashon hara, literally meaning evil talk), nor are we even to spread a bad name about others (motzi shem ra), even if true, to anyone who does not have a direct need to know for his or her own protection. In these ways, Judaism seeks to protect someone’s reputation and ability to support oneself.

The biblical story of Joseph (who winds up in jail for having spurned the advances of his boss’ wife) (Gen. 39:7-20) reminds us that mentally fragile or vindictive individuals can use a charge of sexual misconduct to get back at someone who is otherwise innocent. And sometimes one person’s kind act (for example, giving a congregant a hug in public) is inappropriately labeled by another as an act of sexual impropriety.

While I don’t agree with the use of the Internet to publicize unproven charges of sexual misconduct, I certainly understand why such postings happen: All too often victims find no support or redress in the organized Jewish world.

That is why it is our responsibility on every level of our community to establish protocols and procedures for dealing expeditiously and confidentially with charges of sexual misconduct, whether about rabbis, teachers, or other professionals and leaders, and in a way that is sensitive and fair to both parties.

In my synagogue we have a Personnel Committee staffed by volunteers with Equal Opportunity and human resource experience who regularly run training programs for all of our teachers and staff about sexual harassment and misconduct. Each of the major rabbinical organizations should have a similar procedure that ensures a fair hearing not just to the rabbi in question, but to the self-identified victim as well. I would also suggest that some of the national initiatives to train rabbis on issues of domestic violence could also include training in sexual harassment and impropriety so this growing number of concerned rabbis will know how to respond appropriately if someone comes to them for help.

Perhaps such steps, once in place, would vitiate the need for blogs that ultimately do more for the spread of lashon hara than the effective protection of potential victims of sexual misconduct.

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Rabbi Mark Dratch

posted June 8, 2006 at 3:51 pm

In response to Rabbi grossman’s concern that only those with a need to know the disparaging comment should be told– how does anyone know who the next innocent victim of an abuser is going to be? A couple of excerpts from my article “Let Them Talk: The Mitzvah to Speak Lashon Hara” available at There are times when a person is obligated to speak out, even when he is the sole informant and even though the information is disparaging. Specifically, if a person s intent in sharing the negative information is for a to elet, a positive, constructive, and beneficial purpose, the prohibition against lashon hara does not apply. Motzi shem ra, spouting lies and spreading disinformation, is always prohibited. And if the lashon hara serves as a warning against the possibility of future harm, such communication is not only permissible, but, under certain conditions it is compulsory Commentators maintain that the distinction between derogatory speech that is solely detrimental and derogatory speech that serves a helpful purpose derives from the biblical verse itself. They point to the juxtaposition of the two clauses of the verse, You shall not go up and down as a slanderer among your people and nor you shall stand by the blood of your neighbor (Lev. 19:16) and note that although there is a prohibition of defamation (clause 1), that prohibition is overridden by the obligation to save another or to testify in his behalf (clause 2). Thus, the verse should be read, You shall not go up and down as a slanderer among your people; but, nevertheless, you shall not stand by the blood of your neighbor (and you must speak out in order to prevent harm). This obligation includes protection not only from physical harm, but protection from monetary and spiritual harm as well . Victims of abuse need to speak out, for all kinds of personal reasons, in order to help themselves. Their supporters need to speak out in order to help them. And the community needs to speak out in order to hold the perpetrators responsible and in order to protect other innocents from potential harm. All must be diligent in meeting the conditions required for such speech, including knowledge of or verification of the facts, proper motivation, the curbing of personal animosities, no exaggeration, and the like. Allowances must be made for persistent rumors and circumstantial evidence when their credibility meet halakhic standards. And each of us needs to recommit ourselves to protecting the physical and spiritual welfare of women, children, and men; safeguarding the integrity of the social fabric of the Jewish community; and securing the honor of Torah and God s very Name.

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Lying to the courts

posted June 8, 2006 at 5:07 pm

Thank You Rabbi Dratch. It would help therefore to start speaking out against Mordechai Willig on various blogs. It would serve the purpose of correcting the evils of the system. How the system enables abuse and then hides it. Even if not every rumor of Willig’s lying, perjury, quest for power, distortions, and manipulations are correct, in the end enough will have been revealed to bring changes to the system and to uphold a proper Torah ethic. Thank You again.

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Rabbi Mark Dratch

posted June 8, 2006 at 8:54 pm

I must admit that I don’t know what you are referring to regarding Rabbi Willig. If you are referring to his role in the scandalous Lanner affair, then even Rabbi Willig himself acknowledged his mistakes and credited the criticism of others for enabling him to do so: See: “Rabbi Willig then delivered a sermon on the subject of recognizing errors, integrating his personal story with examples from the Bible and Talmud. A person is blind to his own faults, conceded Rabbi Willig, citing the celebrated example of Adam in the Garden of Eden. He compared his own sightlessness to that of King David, who comprehended that he had sinned with Batsheva only after the prophet Nathan challenged him. In this case, the unconditional support of his students had exacerbated his self-denial of even the smallest mistakes. Rabbi Willig thanked his friends, colleagues, and critics who fulfilled the role of Nathan by helping him recognize that he had erred. He exhorted his students, especially those who will be come rabbis, that when you become aware of a mistake on your own or through your Nasan Ha-Navi, admit and take responsibility for it immediately and unconditionally. Even if the mistake was unintentional, and even if you share the blame with others, if you contributed to it, say chatasi [I have sinned]. Rabbi Willig stressed in his speech that he desired to restore peace both in the campus and in the community at large. Let me be clear: I bear no grudge against any of my critics, be them victim, supporter, or journalist. I wish them bracha v hatzlacha, and I beg, even command, that my talmidim do the same. After the primary goal of protecting our children, my next goal is to restore shalom in our Yeshiva and beyond. I hope that in four weeks on Purim, we will all dance together to the music of Jordan Hirsch, and with all our neshama, in the spirit of shalom. I agree that public discussion– especially anonymous and unaccountable discussion — is dangerous. I wrote about that recently in The Jewish Week, “Are Blogs Kosher?” ( Here’s an excerpt: There are serious issues to contemplate. Consider lashon hara, defined as reckless and harmful speech. The Torah prohibits it. Morally sensitive people are appalled by it. And the blogs seem to be full of it. Because there is no accountability, especially from those who leave anonymous comments on the threads of others sites, anybody can say anything about anyone. And sometimes they do. With the peck of a few letters on a keyboard, information is posted that anyone with a computer and Internet access can read, and lives and reputations can be destroyed. All of this with no due process or accountability and with no real chance of rebuttal. On some blogs you can find dirt that even some of the less reputable newspapers wouldn t publish. And consider Chillul Hashem, the concern of scandal and communal disrepute. What will others say about the Jews and the Jewish community? These concerns are serious ones and cannot be easily dismissed or pushed aside. They deal with fundamental precepts of Jewish law and the very bases of moral decency. But denial and cover-up and dismissal of complaints and victimization of vulnerable children and adults are also serious and cannot be easily dismissed or pushed aside. Too many innocents have felt unheard, ignored, rejected, and sacrificed on the altar of public and private reputations. They have been silenced in order to protect the image of a community whose perfection exists only in their imaginations. Too many times Jewish law and Jewish values are misapplied, misinterpreted and misappropriated in order to achieve these reprehensible ends. There are reasons that victims, along with their supporters and advocates, have turned to the blogs, Web sites, newspapers and magazines. And that s because too many times they first turned to rabbis and Jewish institutional leaders to complain about the abuse and violation they suffered and they were abused again. Can these blogs be more responsible? Yes, and they need to exercise much greater care in upholding standards of decency, fairness and justice because they, too, can be responsible for harming innocents. And Web surfers should not necessarily believe what they read on them. In fact, they should take much of what they see on these sites with less than a grain of salt. But the blogs are here and, for now, supply a valuable service. In a community that was responsive and accountable the excesses on the blogs would be unnecessary. At the moment, there are those who feel that they have no other choice. Innocents victims and potential victims of abuse and the values and reputation of a compassionate and valuable community are being hurt by a community that could and should do better.

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posted June 9, 2006 at 6:01 am

I have literary dozens of open files that I am investigating. Some include the most vicious of pedophiles that have literally left a trail of broken lives from one community to the next, a number of victims which have taken theit own lives. My community has not only refused to hear their cries, they have silenced and intimidated them while protecting their abuser. If any of the Beliefnet rabbonim have a place for me to take those names and a mechanism for dealing with them, I’d be happy to hear it. I’ll start forwarding names immediately.

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posted June 9, 2006 at 11:14 pm

Those who work in or study the field of child sexual abuse have known for decades that the clerical professions are a red flag for abusers. That is, it is one of several occupations known to have above average numbers of offenders, regardless of denomination. I didn’t grow up being taught Judaism, although my family was Orthodox until my mom gave it up. So, I don’t know much about “evil talk” for instance. But I do wonder if it is “evil” to tell the truth, even when the truth harms another person. Even if that person is an important adult who hurt a child. As an adult who was molested for many years of my childhood, I am hopeful about the chance for healing that arises as the truth comes to light. Many thanks to all who are making this blog available. p.s. I love getting the Beliefnet quotes, here’s a good one for this topic: It is not your obligation to complete the task [of perfecting the world], but neither are you free to desist [from doing all you can]. – Ethics of the Fathers 2:16

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Ian Silver

posted June 10, 2006 at 3:55 am

I’d like to bring your attention to This was a situation that directly affected our family, as my wife’s courageous stand against a molesting rabbi cost us dearly, emotionally and in every way imaginable. I fear that far too often, we are nervous of exposure as prompting anti-semitism, rather than fear of l’shon hara. I am proud that my wife went on national television to tell this horrible story. I know that Bryks and other abusers/manipulators are being watched by the authorities, and it is incumbent upon us to be transparent, as Jews: to expose wrongdoing, rather than to take a position of “sha,shtill”, that gives succour to our enemis, within and without.

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posted June 10, 2006 at 5:18 pm

Coming from a catholic background and entering Judaism, I have found a great deal of help, inspiration and spiritual guidance in Torah, and halacha on human dignity, respect, and boundaries regarding such matters as abuse, sexual and otherwise. I find it refreshing to see such an open discussion on Beliefnet by Rabbi’s who sign their names, and do not have to censor or edit their thoughts and reflections in obedience to a centralized hierarchical committee of human beings. While I do not agree with every opinion stated here, I am heartened to see such searchingly open discussion. It needs to be kept in mind that recovery from any form of abuse is a spiritual journey which is complicated because such abuse has been at the hands of those closest and most entrusted with the care of ones being, physical, mental, and spiritual. Since abuse fractures ones trust on such elemental levels, questions of trust are complex and layered, and there is much confusion in a child, and the adult they become, as to why G-d allowed such things to take place, particularly by those who used the name of G-d to justify and rationalize their power and influence over an individual. I have found the book “Shine the Light” by Rachel Lev to be a very helpful resource in utilizing Torah, Midrashic stories, and Halacha in examining the various layers of effects of sexual abuse and healing in a Jewish spiritual context. It has helped me realize that G-d was not merely a silent and impotent witness, but that my parents were the ones who were spiritually disconnected and acting out their own disowned needs on others. This book has helped me to reconnect to a more trusting paradigmatic approach to G-d, and to truly value the ethical precepts of human dignity and halachic teachings on treating others with respect and dignity, and not just using them because you can. I just looked for a website for this book and here it is

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posted June 10, 2006 at 11:35 pm

Thank you, Ian Silver and Gita. I have read the transcript re: Bryks and also ordered a copy of “Shine The Light.” It’s a pleasure to read the calm and intelligent posts here.

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Dave from Canada

posted June 16, 2006 at 6:15 am

Gita, thank you very much for deciding to becoming a Jewess. We really appreciate it most sincerely.

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posted July 19, 2006 at 5:22 am

I read the post of Rabbi Susan Grossman and all the comments with interest. I am an advocate for victims of rabbinic sexual misconduct and am actively working with several victims. I was a victim too and took my case to the CCAR. Of my experience with the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the Committee on Ethic’s and Appeals, chaired by Rabbi Rosalind Gold did a wonderful job with my case. They voted unanimously to censure my abuser, ordering him to undergo a complete psychological examination with therapy as appropriate. My abuser refused to go to a psychiatrist, appealed the censure and ultimately his friends on the Board of the CCAR reduced his censure to a letter of reprimand, that will sit in his file at the CCAR, unread by anyone. The letter of reprimand he was given protects no one. This is a “rabbi” who physically assaulted me when he discovered that I’d told another congregant, a friend of mine, what he’d done to me. This “rabbi”, resigned from the shul where he abused me during the investigation of my case and started his own pastoral counseling practice, where he would have unlimited access to women – behind closed doors – with no supervision whatsoever. The Board of the CCAR, and then president Rabbi Janet Marder, miserably failed to uphold their sacred duty to keep the rabbinate safe. The CCAR Board makes every appearance of being a “Good Old Boys Club” whose primary objective is to protect the rabbi at the sacrifice of the victim, and all future victims of the abusive rabbi. There are some rabbi’s who are trying to make a difference, among them, Rabbi Arthur Gross Schaefer, Rabbi Rosalind Gold and Rabbi Karen Fox – Reform – but they are few and far between. I decided to go to the press with my case and, Baruch Hashem, they published my story through the Jewish Telegraphic Agency – all over the U.S. and Europe, including Israel. I will never know if my stories prevented other women from being abused but I do know one thing – after the stories were published, my abuser stopped his pastoral counseling practice and is now concentrating on teaching. Baruch Hashem. The one reason why I went to the CCAR with my complaint in the first place was that I was told of another victim of his that sued, was paid off through the temple malpractice insurance and the victim was officially gagged as part of a settlement agreement. The shul’s Board of Trustee’s allowed the abusive rabbi to remain on the Bimah, where just 3 years later he abused me. I was able to say no to the affair he was pushing for, after groping me and emotionally abusing me but the damage to my spirituality was done. My soul was raped. I still cannot attend shul, 6 years later. My abuser touched me in inappropriate ways in front of my 7 year old daughter (who is now 13). She is now forever scarred by his abuse as well, and does not attend shul anymore either. She is still studying Hebrew with a private tutor but she will never have a temple ceremony for her Bat Mitzvah. Her memories of shul are now the memories of my abuse. Now you go ahead and tell me that when I share my story with other victims, I’m committing LaShon Hara? You tell me that by going to the press, and preventing my abuser to continue his pastoral “counseling”, I committed LaShon Hara? You tell me that what I did was wrong. I did everything I could to prevent other victims. If my abusers victim that sued him had been allowed to go to the press, and if I’d read about this “rabbi”, I most likely would not have become his next victim. I would have known what to look out for and I would NOT have trusted that man. So, you tell me I did the wrong thing – go ahead. Chavah | Homepage | 07.18.06 – 6:19 pm | # ——————————————————————————– Name:

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posted July 19, 2006 at 5:25 am

If there are any victim/survivors of rabbinic sexual misconduct reading this who need advocacy and support, please feel free to visit my blog and email me under my contact information. I will be there for you, just as others have been there for me. You are not alone.

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Ariel Lee

posted July 19, 2006 at 3:30 pm

I am so tired of the Jewish community using the prohibition against lashon hara to protect these most abhorrent criminals because, make no mistake about it, rabbis who commit acts of sexual misconduct with their congregants are criminals. Innocent people suffer and are traumatized while Jewish communities protect their clergy. So the message is to any sexually deviant Jewish man that the rabbinate offers the perfect career path because not only will he have unlimited access to vulnerable women and children but the Jewish community will sanction his behaviour and protect him, all under the guise of fear of lashon hara. Meanwhile they stand idly by while the victims suffer. What kind of an ethical standard is that? No wonder these men are so arrogant and convinced of their invincible power. They are given carte blanche to do what they will and their victims are re-victimized if they come forward. They are now accused of slander. Does anyone in the Jewish community care about the well-being of these vulnerable women and children, or is the image of the rabbinate all important? Must the show go on at all costs?

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Ariel Lee

posted July 19, 2006 at 5:00 pm

And what about the lashon hara committed by the rabbis and their supporters against the victims? No one seems to be too concerned about that. These men will do anything to prevent being exposed. This includes slandering and villifying their victims and trying to prevent them from attending their shuls. Once they have used up all the innocence and vulnerability they can in their victim, they want no reminders of their wrongdoing. So the victim is sent off into the proverbial wildnerness and the rabbi happily moves on to his next prey. Potential victims need to be warned about the red flags indicative of potential rabbi abusers. (1) If the rabbi seems too good to be true, he is. E.g., if he seems just unbelievably caring to vulnerable women (eg., those facing illness, grieving, divorce, single parenthood), it is not to be believed. This is not menschlekeit. This is not caring. This is stalking his prey. (2) If his past credentials include a lot of moves with no reasonable explanations for this, this is a red flag. Especially if his career track includes moves from high-paying, prestigious shuls in desirable geographic locales to lower paying, less prestigious shuls in less desirable locales. (3) If he held posts for long periods of time and left under mysterious circumstances (e.g., he says there was a difference of opinion but doesn’t say exactly what it was), this is a warning sign that he is trying to hide something. (4) If he is knowledgeable about rabbinical sexual misconduct perpetrators but not about the victim advocacy network and who among his colleagues is an advocate, this is a danger signal. His interest is either because he is one of the perpetrators or because he wants to be an advocate. If he lacks awareness as to who among his colleagues is an advocate, this is not where his interest lies. May rabbinic sexual misconduct survivors move from strength to strength in supporting one another and in trying to help the perpetrators to do the right thing.

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posted February 5, 2008 at 5:38 pm

The internet can be utilized in order to attck in a kind of virtual terrorism against inoccent people too.

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