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Are you serious about ending sex abuse by Rabbis?

The Jewish community is embarrassingly behind when it comes to holding male Rabbis accountable for sexual violations. The Jewish community, yes even the liberal Jewish community, privileges the perpetrator over the victim and it needs to stop.

Should Rabbis who have violated sexual ethics been given the opportunity to do a teshuva process (given a second chance) with the intent of getting back into a congregation? Recently a URJ congregation discovered that their  CCAR affiliated Rabbi was given the opportunity to apply for congregational positions after he was already reprimanded for a sexual ethics violation. The congregation who hired him was not informed of his past ethics violations. And even when the most recent victim went directly to his rabbinic association with her story, the congregation was still not informed.

His rabbinic organization determined he was fit for service in a congregation so he was hired again, moved from one community to another. His new congregation became a hunting ground. He was given exactly what he needed to continue to abuse women. And abuse he did. The kind of clergy abuse that messes you up for life, using the power of the rabbinate, using notions of “holy sex”  to coerce women into a sexual relationship.

A group of Rabbis, an ethics over-site committee, has all the control when it comes to who gets to apply for jobs. They decided that this particular Rabbi was healed, or had engaged in his own spiritual work to the point where he was “kosher” for congregational service. And then he perpetrated again. And he did severe damage. And while it was not technically against a member of his congregation, it was with someone who trusted him as their Rabbi. But that person, who advocated for themselves within several different contexts, has no real power. She is marginalized. None is reaching out to support her. There is no one is the Jewish community charged with helping people who have experienced abuse at the hands of clergy. There is no one to advocate for her, with the exception of a small group of academics who started Jewish Ethical Leadership-a one page website for people to sign on to a statement challenging the Jewish community to change their ways.

Other than Shulamit Magnus, Rafael Madoff, and Susannah Heschel, no one of any stature in the Jewish community is advocating for victims. Few have the courage to stand up to rabbinic authority. This is why the abuse continues.

Being a congregational Rabbi is not an easy job. It is high pressure. It is not for the weak-willed amongst us. I no longer believe it is appropriate for Rabbis to police themselves when it comes to violations of sexual ethics. Too many times male Rabbis have been placed right back into congregations. Without the work of Jewish institutions like the Forward or this small but mighty band of Jewish intellectuals (Jewish Ethical Leadership), our Jewish community would not be held accountable for power abuse within the rabbinate.

I call on all Rabbis to turn to their rabbinic organizations and hold them to a higher level of accountability. Tell your rabbinic organization that NOW is the time to focus on the protection and healing of those who have been abused by Rabbis. Ask them to set up a fund so these women can seek professional care for their trauma. Demand that no Rabbi who has ever violated sexual ethics ever be placed within an environment that gives them authority over Jewish people or influence directly on the lives of people. Ask that the process of determining how to handle sexual ethics violations be taken out of the hands of the rabbinate and placed into the hands of lay people who are experts in the area of sexual abuse and community.

I call on the “Jews in the Pews”, those who come to synagogues and rabbis for inspiration, direction and learning to call on Jewish institutions to do better. Ask them: is it possible within your organization for a Rabbi to violate sexual ethics and be placed back into a congregation? If the answer is yes then you know what you need to do. Demand a change.

If you are serious about ending rabbinic sexual abuse then you need to demand a  monumental change-that the rabbinate no longer policies themselves when it comes to sex abuse. And that no Rabbi who has violated sexual ethics ever be given the opportunity to perpetrate again.

Rabbi Kinberg


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