When Rabbis Abuse: Power, Gender, and Status in Sexual Abuse in Jewish Culture
As long as sexual abuse takes place in our community spaces, nothing in our culture can be trusted. And no place is truly safe. This should alarm anyone who cares about Jewish life, not just those who have been abused.
Against the backdrop of the #MeToo/#GamAni movement, the news is flooded with shocking accounts of abuse. In her groundbreaking book, When Rabbis Abuse, veteran anthropologist Dr. Elana Sztokman chronicles what is happening in Jewish settings, answering the question on everyone’s mind: How is this happening?
With a portrait of high profile figures, including their personality types and tactics, Dr. Sztokman’s analysis is grounded in interviews with 84 abuse victims/survivors, Jewish communal professionals, and volunteers. When Rabbis Abuse also documents how communal settings are ripe for abuse and how abusers coopt Jewish values as a grooming tactic. Equally disturbing is the dysfunctional reporting process, how high-profile abusers often receive high-profile support, and how the search for support and accountability often doubly victimizes the abused.
Against the impulse to dismiss this as an isolated problem relegated to certain sections of the community, Dr. Sztokman shares stories from all streams and walks of Jewish life, detailing the negative impacts of a community-wide culture of impunity. Dr. Sztokman concludes with sweeping recommendations for social and cultural change, reminding us that we are not free to desist from action, especially not now.
This book is essential reading for anyone who cares about stopping the plague of sexual abuse in Jewish life.
“Elana Sztokman has done a great service to Jewish life with her meticulous and moving book. She gives voice to victims of rabbinic misconduct, and through them and her supporting research reveals recurring patterns of abuse. She shines a light on communal structures, organizational hierarchies, and Jewish cultural tendencies that too often silence victims and allow offenders to get away with their transgressions. It is not an easy read, but that is the point: by making us listen, the book should move us to action so that the leaders of our communities, synagogues and institutions will be held accountable to our professed ethics and ideals.”
- Rabbi Daniel Pressman, Chair, Va'ad Hakavod (Ethics Committee), Rabbinical Assembly
"Elana Sztokman's book is an invaluable tool with which to dismantle the structures of Jewish patriarchy and unmask the shame and secrecy that enable sexual abuse and protect offenders. A must-read for anyone who cares about the safety and well-being of every member of the Jewish community."
Letty Cottin Pogrebin, author of Shanda: A Memoir of Shame and Secrecy