During my fifteen years in the practicing rabbinate and ten years as a practicing attorney, I have encountered – both first-hand and, as a result of my open discussion of those experiences, through the parallel and often horrifying experiences that many colleagues and even clients have shared with me – a whispered subject that shames American Jewish life: Clergy Abuse. In its Jewish dimension, I use the term “Clergy Abuse” to describe the shameful, disgraceful, and painful efforts by certain laity to destroy their clergy: their rabbis, their cantors, and others among their klei kodesh.
These abusive and destructive efforts are advanced through many forms and vehicles, primarily including disseminating libel and slander, character assassination, and building of alliances through social groupings, carpools, and even the weekly coffee klatch, bowling match, or poker game. Thus, if one is a strong enough personality and imposes enough intensity on his or her social grouping, a dominating environment can influence others in the social subgroup to join along, if only for the social equanimity of the group and its dynamics. Soon, people with children the same age and attending the same school, or simply carpooling together, join the dynamic.
The phenomenon of Clergy Abuse, as directed against rabbis, is discussed with refreshing honesty and pinpoint accuracy in Chapter 22 of Rabbi Berel Wein’s latest volume, Tending the Vineyard (N.Y.: Shaar Press, 2007). Nor is this tragic and disgusting phenomenon unique to Jews. See, e.g., G. Lloyd Rediger, Clergy Killers: Guidance for Pastors and Congregations Under Attack (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997); Kenneth C. Haugk, Antagonists in the Church: How to Identify and Deal with Destructive Conflict (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988).
In literature, the stage, and screen, one is reminded of the tragic figures of Sir Thomas More (“A Man for All Seasons”) and St. Thomas Beckett, notwithstanding certain historical inaccuracies in the respective representations. Even outside theology, the phenomenon parallels social tragedies reflected by the dynamics so well captured in Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People,” in which Dr. Thomas Stockmann finds himself targeted for destruction.
Through the many stories I have heard from colleagues – ranging from Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative rabbis to Orthodox rabbonim – I have come to wonder whether our American Jewish secular organizations were similarly plagued by destructive internal politics of this nature during the Holocaust years. My research reflects that, indeed, the internal politics of destruction existed in the 1940s and deterred American Jewish organizations from effecting rescue at maximum force and full throttle – at a time when 12,000 Jews went to the ovens in East Europe every day.
To this day, every time I meet a rav who now is a full-time stock broker, a full-time realtor, an entrepreneur with a storefront business or an export-import firm (not to mention a lawyer, an accountant, or even a therapist) — and I then ask why the rav left the rabbinate –the answer always is the same. He did not leave to make more money, although he has found he makes more money. He did not lose interest in his desire to serve G-d.
Rather, in case after case, I have learned that he is but one more Jew recovering from Clergy Abuse.
These pages invite the stories of my colleagues who have been wronged and abused. Please communicate in confidence by contacting me.