As the issue of emotional abuse by a particular rabbi has been tackled by The Jewish Week, different thoughts have been running through my mind. The two most frequent: 1) We have created a cult of personality that leads to people in positions of power taking advantage of our children. 2) Every article or book currently out in the Orthodox world addresses the issue of male (usually rabbinic) abuse. Why have the female abusers not been mentioned?
With regard to the cult of personality, I think this is part and parcel with the points made in Dr. Hayyim Soloveichik's 'Rupture and Reconstruction.' He talks about our preference for texts and textual sources post-Holocaust. Well, post-Holocaust our veneration for those who are intimately versed in those texts has also grown. In order to rejuvenate Jewry, different strategies came into place. One of these was the creation of informal education youth groups such as NCSY and the other was the creation of the post-high school gap year at a yeshiva or seminary in Israel.
Everyone knows about the potential for the power wielded by the charismatic kiruv rebbe to be abused (see Baruch Lanner). But though we joke about the seminary/ yeshiva flip out reactions, until this article in The Jewish Week, I don't think people viewed the fact that we relinquish our students into the care of people we don't know in Israel as problematic. I have personally always felt distaste for this system and the amount of (disturbing) power wielded by these seminary rabbis and morahs. I have seen students at Stern who would call these people to discuss relationships, engagements and dates and who had these people veto or advocate for prospective suitors. I think the fact that students have created a culture of giving their brain over to these morahs/ rabbis is really disturbing. There are some decisions you really ought to have autonomy over and your seminary rabbi who you had a crush on has no business interfering.
Books that have explored the year in Israel phenomenon say that often the students grow because they feel like they are finally experiencing authentic Judaism. They meet people who can serve as their role models. And yet these same role models sometimes advocate for the children to stay a second year in Israel against their parents' wishes, give up their college aspirations, go to kollel rather than work a job etc. I do not think disturbing peace between family members and students should be the role of a rabbi. A rabbi and a guide needs to be a responsible person. You need to use texts responsibly, teach responsibly and meddle in family politics (if you feel it's your place to meddle) responsibly. Fervent zealotry has its place, but that place is not working with impressionable teenagers.
Aside from the issue of the cult of personality that we have fostered within Judaism, there is the issue of who exactly we are reaming out as abusers. I am glad that we are speaking openly about the flaws within the system, but not once (not once!) have I read an article talking about a woman who is abusive. Now, it's possible that most women within our community aren't slapping the teenage girls under their care, but they come up with more insidious ways to abuse them. The worst is what I call religious abuse. They use religion as an abuse textbook. They say things like, "Sweetie, I'm just worried about your neshama. You used to be so tznius. What happened? Is it those friends of yours? I just feel like you're slipping. I'm always available to help, you know, if you want to talk to me." The school that I went to included a teacher who was totally unsuitable. She was verbally abusive to me and others. Why is it that she and people like her get a free pass? Why are we focusing specifically on the men? There are women who have ruined the lives of many Bais Yaakov girls. When will we comment on the impact that they are having, the fact that they rip their students' self-esteem to shreds and pit them against each other for their approval?