The Orthodox Jews’ “Catholic-priest problem”

The Orthodox Jews’ “Catholic-priest problem”

If only Orthodox Jewish rabbis could marry they wouldn’t abuse their teenage students and members of their synagogues. Oh right.

New York Magazine asks, “Do the Orthodox Jews have a Catholic-priest problem?” Ouch. A “Catholic-priest problem.” That one phrase drops into my heart like a lead stone. It would be nice if a Catholic-priest problem meant we had an excess of vocations, and too many priests for our parishes or something. But we live in a different time in a different place under a severe mercy. In any case, the Orthodox Jewish scandal bears a striking resemblance to the Catholic one.

One rabbi molesting twenty students over several decades would be disturbing enough, but Framowitz’s lawsuit alleges that there was also a conspiracy among powerful members of the ultra-Orthodox community to cover up Kolko’s actions. The suit names not just Kolko but his yeshiva—accusing Kolko’s boss, Rabbi Lipa Margulies, of orchestrating “a campaign of intimidation, concealment and misrepresentations designed to prevent victims from filing lawsuits.” According to the complaint, Margulies, a pillar of the Borough Park community, took extraordinary measures to derail a rabbinical court action, or beit din, against Kolko in the eighties—telling family members of a dozen alleged victims that if they came forward, they’d be shunned by the ultra-Orthodox world and their other children would be expelled from his respected yeshiva and kept from enrolling elsewhere (Margulies is named in the suit but not as a defendant). The suit also alleges that Margulies had a revered ultra-Orthodox rabbi, Pinchus Scheinberg (also not a defendant), tell the victims that as a matter of Jewish law, Kolko would have had to have more than just fondled them for the acts to qualify as sexual abuse.

What we see is not something unique to the Church, but evidence of how self-serving men seek to preserve their power and avoid embarrassment by intimidating those who should enjoy their full solicitude.

This isn’t a Catholic problem, nor is it a celibacy problem. It’s not a religion problem or even an American problem. It’s a sin problem, and a refusal to name sin in general and a sin in particular. We have the cure for the disease, we just don’t want to diagnose it because it makes some people uncomfortable.

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli

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