Monday, October 31, 2005


Clergy sexual misconduct, perpetrated under the guise of closed-door pastoral counseling is against the law in 21 states and is a felony in Minnesota and Texas. I read an article last year about a Minnesota minister who was convicted of clergy sexual abuse of a female congregant he had counseled. He was sent to prison and when released he will face a long probation and must register as a sex offender. In Minnesota and Texas, the same statute (law) that protects individuals who undergo counseling with licensed mental health practitioners also protects those who seek pastoral counseling with clergy. I've read the statutes - it places clergy who provide pastoral counseling in the same category as psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists. The statute states that it is a felony for clergy to engage in sexual relations or sexualized behavior with individuals they have counseled. The same statute applies to mental health practitioners who abuse therapeutic fiduciary relationships with patients. These laws require clergy who counsel to maintain the same professional boundaries and code of ethical behavior as mental health pracitioners. These statutes apply to all clergy members or anyone who represents themselves as members of the clergy. It makes no difference if the individual is ordained or just "pretending". The offending clergy isn't required to have an education or degree in psychology to be bound by the statute - the only requirement is that the clergy member engaged in pastoral counseling with the victim prior to the illegal act or behavior. Baruch Hashem! There are legislators out there who "get it" and have actually done something to protect their citizens against this tragic and prevalent problem. I am elated that 23 states have enacted laws to regulate pastoral counseling - it's a positive step in the right direction. Twenty seven more states need to enact legislature to criminalize clergy sexual misconduct and forty eight more states need to declare it a felony before I'm completely satisfied.

As a resident of California, I had no legal recourse (other than a civil lawsuit) as a victim of rabbinic sexual misconduct, perpetrated during pastoral counseling. I was sexually harassed, touched in a sexual manner, endured forced genital contact (through clothing) and ultimately, I was physically assaulted when my abuser discovered I'd ended my silence and had spoken out against him. If these acts had been perpetrated in Minnesota or Texas, my abuser would have been guilty of a felony, required to serve prison time and register as a sex offender upon conviction. The legislature in my state is long overdue for a wake up call. I wrote my term paper last year on this subject: "Adult Clergy Sexual Misconduct During Pastoral Counseling and the California Legislature". I earned an A+ and my oral presentation generated a tremendous amount of interest from my fellow paralegal students. No one was aware that this is not already against the law and they were all horrified.

In the fall of 2001, when I became convinced that I must report my abuser to the Central Conference of American Rabbi's - (CCAR - Reform) - I said a very earnest, special prayer asking G-d to make me His servant and show me His will. I know in my heart that Hashem called me to do everything in my power to prevent my abuser from ever perpetrating sexual abuse against another woman. This was my task and for the next four years I did everything I could do, putting privacy aside, to stop him from doing it again and warn the women of my community about what he's shown himself to be capable of. I knew I had to report him when I was given information about another victim from a former temple board member. The information was provided to me after the former board member was told about my case. He was horrified to hear that the rabbi had done it again and encouraged me to report the abuse to the CCAR Ethic's Committee. The previous incident recounted to me involved a sexual harassment lawsuit against the rabbi, the temple Board of Trustee's and the temple itself, by a female congregant who also worked in the temple office. I was told to go to the courthouse and look up the case, which I did. The lawsuit was reportedly settled out of court by the temple's malpractice insurance and the entire incident was "swept under the rug" - hushed up by the Board to avoid a scandal. I was told it was thought at the time that the "incident" occurred due to the rabbi's going through a divorce from his first wife. The rabbi was placed on probation but allowed to remain on the Bimah. Three years later, I joined the temple and in eight months I was made a victim of rabbinic sexual misconduct. Just goes to show you how horribly wrong temple administrators can be when dealing with cases of rabbinic sexual misconduct (RSM). I had been afraid to step forward because I would have to speak out against a rabbi - I thought that no one would believe me. I bought into the old adage that "rabbi's don't do that!" When I was given solid information from a reliable source that there had been another victim, I had to report him - it was no longer just about me.

I have a wonderful male Reform rabbi who advocated for me during the entire reporting process and the adjudication of my complaint with the CCAR. I asked him on more than one occasion, "Why me?! Why do I have to be the one who steps forward to face shunning and ridicule? Why me?!" He answered, "Chavah, we cannot dictate to G-d who He chooses to carry out His work, who He asks to fight in the trenches in this war (against rabbinic sexual misconduct)." He would remind me that to work for G-d to right a wrong and hopefully prevent future victims is a positive way to turn my trauma into a blessing. He always found ways to comfort and support me during our numerous phone calls and e-mails. The first time I spoke to this rabbi he said two things at the start of our conversation that changed my life: "Chavah, I believe you and you know it wasn't your fault." He explained to me what transference was, easing the huge load of guilt I'd been carrying around with me and gave me back my dignity and self respect. I was assured that G-d had nothing to do with what happened to me. My advocate rabbi is big on counting blessings, even in the face of adversity and trying to bring some sense and reason to what happened. He helped me to see that I was fortunate to have been emotionally strong enough to say no and preserve my marriage vows. Had I been in different psychological circumstances during the abuse I could easily have succumbed to the persistent, forceful seduction. I was strong enough to endure the onslaught of psychological and emotional abuse that ensued following my refusal to engage in sexual intercourse with my abuser. I overcame the guilt, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that I suffered with for so long. I was utterly despondent after my abuse, wavering in my core belief in G-d, feeling as though my very soul had been raped, but I survived. I was strong enough to step forward, with the help of my many advocates, and report my abuser to the CCAR and the Jewish Press. I've been told that my abuser chose the wrong woman to attempt to seduce and I agree. My marriage thrived and became better than ever after my ordeal. The abuse I suffered caused my husband to take a long hard look at his role in our marriage and we made many positive changes because of that wake up call. He is now a better husband and has grown into the soulmate I've always been looking for. I would have chosen not to become a victim but since I cannot change history, I will continue to count the blessings of what could have happened but did not and the good that has come from the trauma and suffering, as my advocate would have me do.

Now that my abuser has been reported and his sexual misconduct has been publicized to warn the women of my community, I have embarked on my survivor's mission. I am being called upon to help other victims through this blog and to lobby my legislature to enact laws to protect those who are not yet victims. My role as a lobbyist is in the research stages. Once I have educated myself on the process by which bills are introduced to the Senate and the House of Representatives, I will be marching forward. I will then call upon victim/survivors, their families, friends and associates to help me in the fight to regulate clergy pastoral counseling. We must demand state laws to regulate pastoral counseling and force the legal system to prosecute clergy sexual misconduct in public courts of law. Enough of the secret investigations, surreptitious pulpit to pulpit transfers and meaningless wrist slapping that our religious institutions have to gall to call discipline in cases of clergy sexual misconduct. These institutions have graphically shown that they cannot and will not police "their own" - the government must step in and take charge when clergy abuse their positions of power and trust. This is a call to action and I will be counting on your support to get our voices heard by those who can make a difference.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


The High Holy Days are often painful and difficult for victims and survivors of rabbinic sexual misconduct. We, as Jews, are obligated to look back over the past year and perform Teshuvah for the wrongs we have committed. Teshuvah - the act of the transgressor acknowledging the wrong committed, asking for forgiveness, making restitution and resolving never to commit the wrong again. It's extremely rare for an abusive rabbi to perform Teshuvah with his (or her) victims. From the first High Holy Days after the abuse, and every year thereafter, the victim/survivor waits for the Teshuvah that is never performed. The gates open and then they close again and we are still wronged.

For those of us who have been shunned and ostracize by our own Jewish Communities, the very idea of sitting in a shul during the High Holy Days brings pain and anxiety. I attend the community services at a local Chabad each year. The abuse didn't stop me from going to shul on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but it has changed the meaning for me in some ways. It's been six High Holy Days that have come and gone for me with no Teshuvah forthcoming from my rabbi/abuser or from my former congregational family. I know I will never receive the apologies I am due but it still hurts deep down and always will. I feel differently about Teshuvah today, it's just doesn't have the same meaning it did before I was abused.

The response of the Jewish Community to victims and survivors of rabbinic sexual misconduct is a continual source of pain. We, as Jews, are commanded: "Thou shall not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds", yet the Jewish Community collectively turns it's back on those Jews who have been gravely wounded by their rabbi's. It's a difficult, uncomfortable issue to address but we as a people must acknowledge that it does happen to Jews. We must start treating victims and survivors with care, compassion and dignity. Hashem expects this of us. Any Jew who shuns or ostracizes a victim or survivor is just as guilty as the abuser. Anyone who attempts to silence the victim is guilty of aiding and abetting those who victimize the vulnerable. The typical Jewish Communal response to the victim/survivor is one of disbelief and anger for speaking out against a rabbi. This "shoot the messenger" mentality only serves to further injure the already traumatized victim. Congregations usually play the "blame the victim" game and stand behind the rabbi in support, turning their backs on the one who is in dire need of help. I experienced this myself and it still hurts today.

Education to help prevent rabbinic sexual misconduct is urgently needed within our Jewish Communities. If I had attended a seminar on this issue I might not have become a victim. It is possible that if I'd been aware of the problem, I might have recognized what has happening to me and reacted accordingly. Jewish Community centers are the ideal place to sponsor seminars on this vital issue. Rabbinic sexual misconduct (RSM), along with professional sexual misconduct (doctors, therapists, etc.) sexual violence and domestic abuse are areas of importance that have not been adequately addressed within the Jewish Community. Jewish Family and Children's Services conduct domestic violence seminars but they don't address the other urgent issues that threaten Jewish women today. Knowledge is needed to counter all the misinformation and misconceptions that exist about this issue. If the Jewish Community were educated about this tragedy, perhaps the way in which the victim/survivor is treated will improve. Support from the Jewish Community would go a long way towards easing the pain of waiting for the apology that will never come.

Yom Kippur starts tomorrow at sundown and I will be one year older. I can find many things to be thankful for and things that I need to improve in my life. I resolve to spend more time enjoying the simple things in life. I want to try to attend shul more often in the new year. I resolve to do everything in my power this year to push for education in our community on rabbinic sexual misconduct. I am thankful for my beautiful family and friends. I am thankful for the Jews who know my story and still support me, those I am proud to call friends. I am thankful for my shul, my rebbe and my new congregational family. I don't know how many of them have read the articles that came out last year about my case. They don't mention it and they don't shun me at my Chabad - for that I am sincerely grateful. For the rest of the Jewish Community, those who have shunned and ostracized me - I will continue to walk among you and hold my head up high. I did nothing wrong - I was the victim - the way you have treated me is shameful and perhaps one day you will understand this. L'Shanah Tovah - May we be inscribed in the book of life for another year.