This week a horrific story of child abuse came to light in Jerusalem. Child abuse is always terrible and leaves psychological scars on its victims. Tragically in this case, one of the children involved has been severely and irreversibly physically injured as well.
However, what makes this case even more disturbing, if such a thing were possible, is the fact that the person who inspired and advised this abuse called himself a rabbi. Elior Chen,
together with some of his students, is suspected of beating two children aged three and four with hammers and knives and other instruments over many months. The three-year-old finally fell into a coma last month, and is not expected to recover.
Any normal human being finds it difficult to read the horrific details of the abuse in this case. How a parent could allow this to be done to his or her child and even participate in it is beyond comprehension.
Unfortunately, religion has its share of crazies and phonies that use a religious façade for their own nefarious and narcissistic purposes. The so-called rabbi involved in this case was such a person. Clearly he had tremendous influence over his followers, and sadly they trusted in him completely.
Lamentably, however, as is happening with the tragic Kolko case in the United Sates, some in Israel have politicized this horrific case and used it to bash the haredi community as a whole. Some have claimed, falsely, in my opinion, that abuse is commonplace within the haredi community and for appearance’s sake is just brushed under the carpet.
Of course there are psychopathic people in every society, but anecdotal evidence and my experience—having lived among both groups of people—tells me that family and domestic problems are far less common in Orthodox and haredi communities. The following incident will illustrate this.
Nearly 10 years ago I had the distinct honor and privilege of accompanying one of Israel’s senior rabbis to a meeting with Rebbe Moshe Yehoshua Hager of Vizhnitz, who currently resides in the Israeli town of Bnei Brak. During the meeting, Rebbe Hager related that he had just been visited by the Israeli Chief of Police who told him that there was, at the time, a serious problem with juvenile criminals in Israel. Rabbi Hager told us that he asked the police chief how many of these juvenile criminals were haredi. “None,” the police chief replied.
Whatever problems and difficulties the haredi community has—and it has its fair share—they seem to have their domestic arrangements figured out rather better than secular society does.
This dreadful case of abuse must not be used as a reason to stereotype haredi rabbis either. What we now know about Elior Chen demonstrates that he is a person with serious mental health problems and the case should be seen as such rather than as a general community issue.
Most haredi rabbis I know are good, well-intentioned people, who not only have a deep knowledge of the Torah and Judaism but also a lot of wisdom in other areas, including the rearing of children. It is therefore perfectly normal for religious parents to go to their rabbi for advice on how to deal with a difficult child. It is equally obvious that psychologically healthy parents would never listen to the advice of any person—no matter how spiritual or divine he seemed—if he told them to hurt their own child.
The perpetrators in this case need to be brought to justice and feel the full weight of the law. It is, however, mistaken and in horribly bad taste to use this heartbreaking and horrific case, as some have, to attack and stigmatize an entire community of good and decent people, the overwhelming majority of whom manage to bring up their children in an enviable manner.
Rabbi Levi Brackman (www.levibrackman.com)
is executive director of Judaism in the Foothills (www.jitf.org).
His upcoming book, about Jewish Business Success, is set to be published in late 2008.