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.