The Sceptic Blog

Random thoughts of a random chappy

North Hendon Adath Yisroel – Time to Leave the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations

with 3 comments

  1. Tomorrow morning iy’h the North Hendon Adath Yisroel Synagogue will hold an Extraordinary General Meeting to decide whether or not to leave the UOHC.
  2. I hope and pray that we do leave, if only for the selfish reason that then I will be able to return and daven in my local shul to which I have belonged for about 20 years.  For the last two weeks I have felt unable to set foot inside the building, and this post explains why.
  3. Abuse of the vulnerable is a natural human temptation, and it is therefore inevitable that in any community someone will sooner or later be abused by someone else.
  4. The test of a community is not whether it can prevent abuse, but how it handles abuse when it happens or is alleged.
  5.  Indian society today is having to take a long and painful look at itself to work out how it has allowed attitudes to women to deteriorate to such a degree that abusive and violent treatment of women had become so commonplace that the atrocity that occurred a few days ago was simply waiting to happen (or had already happened further from the public, and international, eye).
  6. Catholic society around the world has been having to take a long and painful look at itself for some time to work out how child abuse had become in effect tolerated and condoned by a religious institution.
  7. Until very recently, many orthodox Jews may have had our fears that perhaps abuse – which must inevitably occasionally happen in our community since we are as susceptible to human failings as any other community – may not have been being handled properly.  But I for one have not felt it necessary to confront these fears openly and investigate them – perhaps I should have done, but to look the other way is another strong human temptation.
  8. In the words of one of the most powerful activism songs of all time, “How many ears must one man have, before he can hear people cry? … How many times can a man turn his head, pretending he just doesn’t see?”.
  9. The crying is now too loud to pretend not to hear it; and to turn ones head in today’s situation makes one morally complicit in what is happening.
  10. The Torah law of sexual offences makes an important distinction.  Where a woman has an adulterous relationship in a populated area, she is unable in effect to plead that she was forced because the Torah asks why she did not cry out; in the countryside, however, the Torah plaintively notes “maybe she did cry out and there was nobody to hear”, and expands that maybe she did not cry out only because she knew there was nobody there.
  11. The women of India had almost given up crying out at the degrading treatment to which many of them are treated every day, because they feared that in one of the most densely populated areas of the world there was still nobody who cared to hear them: they have just found new voice, and one hopes and prays that the ears of all Indian society will listen.
  12. The vulnerable of the London orthodox Jewish community have apparently just cried out.  A number of specific allegations of abuse have been made against one of the most powerful and respected Rabbis of the community.  I am not required or able to pass judgment on whether these allegations are true or false: but as a member of the community I am morally obliged to satisfy myself that the cries of the vulnerable are listened to in an appropriate way.
  13. There is only one appropriate way to listen to allegations of abuse in our community.  Our botei din have no criminal jurisdiction; so in any matter of law that is not confined to a dispute between individuals about property matters that can be arbitrated under the Arbitration Act 1996, we are obliged both as a matter of halachah and as a matter of secular law to present evidence of any alleged crime to the police, and evidence of any other kind of abuse of the vulnerable to appropriate civil authorities (such as the social services).
  14. If we believe that perhaps an allegation of abuse may not amount to an allegation of a criminal offence, whether because the acts complained of may have been consensual or for any other reason, we need to leave it to the police and the prosecuting authorities to look at the evidence and make a decision.  It is not for us to decide, for example, whether apparent consent is vitiated by having been obtained through undue influence or through fraudulent misrepresentations as to the halachic position; those are matters on which we could only speculate but the prosecuting authorities first, and possibly later the courts, are equipped and obliged to decide.
  15. If we are to be a God-fearing community, our self-regulation must be efficient and effective, and it must know its limitations and engage with those outside people and authorities who are available to take over where self-regulation is no longer available.
  16. The only proper response to anyone who comes to a rabbi with an allegation of having been abused is “get in my car and I will take you to the police station, I will stay with you while you make a statement to the police, and I will support to my last breath your right and duty to have your allegation investigated by the authorities of the State, so that wrong-doers can be punished and deterred, and other vulnerable people can be protected”.
  17. Members of our self-absorbed and insular community will of course be very reluctant to go to the police.  It is never easy or pleasant for someone to make a complaint about a sexual offence.  But many women, children and men have found the courage to go through the traumas of the court procedures, at horrendous personal emotional cost, in order to make sense of what has happened to them by using it to prevent the same from happening to others.  Members of our community may have additional fears for themselves and their families: but outspoken support from the rabbis acting together can allay those fears, and if they do not provide that support then they do not deserve to be our rabbis.
  18. The fear of washing dirty linen in public is something I have never been able to understand.  Dirty linen smells: to pretend there is no dirty linen in the cupboard deceives nobody.  And why go through the charade of a pointless pretence anyway?  It is no disgrace for ones linen to get dirty: but it is a disgrace not to take it to the wash in the same way as everybody else.
  19. To encourage people not to take criminal allegations to the criminal authorities, or to encourage them to use alternative, necessarily ineffective methods of “resolving” potentially criminal matters, rests on a failure to understand the halachic implictions of the law of mesirah as it applies in the context of the political and legal structures of the United Kingdom today.   The Torah forbids recourse to the secular courts in matters where a Beis Din is competent; and it forbids recourse even in other matters to an arbitrary, unjust and inherently anti-semitic system.  There are no Cossacks in the UK today; and although the police and courts are not perfect, and miscarriages of justice will occur, there are mechanisms for righting even those; and they are not as inevitable to begin with as the injustice that is bound to occur when criminal allegations are dealt with in an informal manner by people who are neither trained nor appointed to assess them, nor have effective remedies to deal with them.
  20. “Leave the rabbis to sort this out – we can make the place too hot to hold any perpetrators”, as well as resting on this halachic misconception, can result only either in perverts being shunted from place to place to reoffend once people’s short memories have become confused with the passage of time, or in innocent people being driven from their homes and their livelihoods based on insufficiently tested evidence.  This behaviour is not only wilfully ineffective, but may, depending on the precise circumstances, amount to the criminal offence of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
  21. As for behaviour which after full analysis of the available evidence, and full cooperation from the community, the police or the Crown Prosecution Service decide is not criminal, or is not sufficiently evidenced to make a conviction likely, at that point the question of self-regulation arises again.  The rabbis need to have, as do the medical and other professions, a process for dealing with allegations of professional impropriety not involving (or not necessarily involving) criminality.  That procedure needs to be transparent and efficient, following due process in an accountable and public way (subject to such privacy as is justified in individual cases for publicly recorded reasons); and it needs to engage effective and proportionate remedies.
  22. I can happily belong to a community in which I am not the only imperfect human being; I cannot belong to a community in which my silence is part of the collective cowardice and institutional inertia that allows the cries of the vulnerable to go unheard.
  23. North Hendon has always been a remarkable community.  If nothing demogs like demography, in the same way few things geog like geography: as a result of being set a little apart physically from the rest of the orthodox Jewish community, we have always had a degree of objectivity.  Now is a time to put that objectivity, and its consequent clarity of vision, to good purpose, and to show the rest of the community the way: leaving the Union may be only a small gesture, and it may only be a start, but it is at least a start to putting our community back on the sound moral basis which is its only justification for existing in the first place.

Written by Daniel Greenberg

December 31, 2012 at 1:15 pm

3 Responses

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  1. This well researched opinion should be reprinted in the Jewish press as it is sets out the argument in a professional way and needs a much wider audience in the ultra orthodox media

    David Pearl

    January 1, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    • What a well written response to a very tense, and confusing situation. its good to see that he silent majority is coming out of the cave. I hope to see others follow suit.
      Yasher Koach


      January 3, 2013 at 6:12 am

      • I would have thought that that is the first time any one has refered to Mr Greenberg as either silent or the majority, but I certainly wish and hope that he is the latter if not the former!

        John Davies

        January 4, 2013 at 11:07 am

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