Books Tempest in the Temple

Books: ‘Tempest in the Temple ' looks at Jewish leaders and child sex scandals

By Anne Grant

The Providence Journal (RI)

May 10, 2009

For decades, while victims of child sex abuse fought Roman Catholic bishops in New England, dozens more in Brooklyn, N.Y., met a wall of resistance from District Attorney Charles “Joe” Hynes and the informal council of Orthodox Jewish leaders who assured Hynes’ long tenure in office. Jewish victims feared reprisals against their families in Orthodox communities even after five non-Jews, beginning with an Italian-American boy, persuaded a grand jury to indict a charming yeshiva administrator, child therapist, and rabbi, Avrohom Mondrowitz.

The New York Times gave the story a few lines in 1984, when Mondrowitz, charged with sex crimes against ch ildren, disappeared. The Times reported nothing further for 23 years. This book skillfully gathers the voices of those who struggled against official silence to speak truth and demand justice in this case and others.

The editor, sociologist Amy Neustein, has midwifed an endangered subject matter to safety in the Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture, & Life. She dedicates the book to the memory of her father, an Orthodox rabbi.

Among the startling histories recounted is the case against Rabbi Solomon Hafner in 2000, when a Yiddish-language newspaper in Brooklyn published a full-page notice signed by 50 prominent rabbis. They reminded readers of the “severe prohibition” against informing non-Jewish authorities against another Jew. This included reporting child abuse to police. The ad warned in religious Hebrew that such a mitzvah [positive commandment] entitled any Jew to kill the informer.

Mitzvahs like this defended against Czarist goons and Nazi storm troopers. But what if a rabbi sets up a fraudulent yeshiva to scam Pell grants? If secular authorities and media pursue these crimes, will they be smeared as anti-Semites? What if authorities allow Jewish leaders to assault Jewish children with impunity? How will modern ethicists parse the caveats of the people who gave us the Ten Commandments?

Neustein’s fascinating collection includes perspectives from rabbis, lawyers, psychotherapists, social workers, and educators who seek to empower children against predators. One chapter tells the parallel history of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

“In a place where no one will take responsibility,” advised the sage Hillel, “try to be responsible.” Attorney Michael Lesher pursued Mondrowitz to Israel , where authorities arrested the rabbi in 2007. If the Israeli Supreme Court denies his appeal, the prisoner will return to Brooklyn to face his accusers. This book helps us begin the discussions we have resisted too long.

Tempest in the Temple: Jewish Communities and Child Sex Scandals