Thursday, January 10, 2013

Rabbi Gerald Skolnik: Learning To Accept Our Ordinariness

Whether in the insular ultra-Orthodox community of Brooklyn this year, or the relatively more modern and open Orthodox community of Yeshiva University in the 1970’s, covering the years when I was an undergraduate student there, recent revelations about sexual abuse in the Jewish world, and efforts to hide it from public view, have been terribly disturbing to all of us. It does not appear that our community is plagued by the kind of serial cover-ups that have tragically characterized the Catholic Church in recent years, which I guess we should be grateful for. But nonetheless, learning that abusers were either sheltered from authorities, or simply allowed to “quietly leave,” stains our community as a whole.

When I hear the stories of abuses such as these, the one thing I am not is surprised. That might sound like a strange thing to say, especially for a rabbi. You might well think, how can I be so cynical? It is almost as if I am expecting there to be inappropriate and even aberrant behavior in our communities. But the truth is that I don’t for a moment doubt that such behaviors exist, nor that they always have. And I have absolutely no doubt that this is not an “Orthodox” issue, or Ultra-Orthodox issue. It crosses all denominational lines.

This is not a matter of cynicism at all. It’s simply a matter of reality. Social pathologies exist in all communities, even (especially?) in religious ones. It is our own, time-cherished and embellished communal self-image that has convinced us of our “specialness,” and made it hard to believe that the problems that afflict everyone else in the world also afflict us.

The Jewish Week
Rabbi Gerald Skolnik