While Bryan Bramly, the Arizona rabbi accused of molesting a child, denies any wrongdoing and nothing has been proved, the story became that much more real today when he was extradited to New York City, where the crime is alleged to have occurred. Given the public outcry against the Catholic Church in recent weeks, I am curious to see how the Jewish community will respond.
To be sure, this is not the first time a rabbi has either been accused of or found to have actually committed such crimes. In fact, when the story began to emerge just before Passover, I was surprised to find that the accused is not an Orthodox rabbi, but he is affiliated with the Conservative movement.
That's not a swipe at Orthodoxy. It's simply a reflection of the fact that in past years, every major case of sexual abuse by rabbis, both in America and in Israel, has involved Orthodox rabbis. Because I identify as Orthodox, that act causes me great pain.
It must be admitted because it is probably no coincidence that sexual abuse by clergy seems much more prevalent in communities with stricter guidelines about sexuality. I am not suggesting that one causes the other. But it is not something that we can afford to ignore, either.
I also appreciate that there is no central authority for Jews that parallels that of the Catholic Church. We do not have the kind of institutional structure that can control problems in the same way, even if it wanted to. That is why it becomes especially important to get everything out in the open as quickly as possible.
Moreover, if our anger at the Church's handling of this problem is more than the Catholic-bashing that many Catholic leaders, including the Pope, have claimed it is, then we must address this issue with no reservations about how it looks for rabbis, Judaism, or the Jewish community.
The only thing about which to worry now are the victims. I include in that any accused clergy who may actually be innocent. But our concern with protecting them cannot outweigh the concern for people who claim to have been abused.
We must not hide behind worries of protecting the supposedly unjustly accused or concern about lashon harah (speaking ill of a fellow human being) or bringing shame upon our community. There can be no greater shame than invoking legal principles, Jewish or American, as excuses for not addressing the evil of religious leaders who molest children.
The coming days will test the moral fiber of the Jewish community in general and the rabbinic community in particular. I hope and pray that we pass the test.