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October 30, 2009

Putting Victims First

I am writing this letter to correct any misimpressions that may arise as a result of quotes from me that were published in your October 23 article “Rabbis Still Want Role in Abuse Cases.”

I fear that the context in which my quotes were presented in the article may cause my views to be misconstrued. In my conversation with the Forward, I emphasized that in cases of allegations of sexual abuse, protecting the victim is of paramount importance.

I also spoke of special batei din or rabbinical courts that exist in some communities, such as Chicago and Los Angeles, in which rabbis work together with appropriate professionals, including psychologists, social workers and legal counsel, who are equipped to deal with such cases. In response to a question as to the value of such special batei din, I explained that they ensure that the appropriate steps are taken internally within the Jewish community, such as immediate suspension of someone who is working at a school, until the matter is clarified. They also follow up to ensure that any steps mandated by the civil court, such as therapy, are in fact pursued. It was in this context that I stated that these special religious courts afford the opportunity to investigate allegations, and if there is any hint of substance, to immediately refer the case to appropriate government authorities.

Unfortunately, most Jewish communities do not yet have the benefit of such special religious courts. In the absence of such a court, suspicion of abuse, especially as related to minors, must immediately be reported to the appropriate governmental agencies for action to protect any potential victims. This is consistent with the resolutions and policies of the Rabbinical Council of America concerning such issues.

I again emphasize that protecting potential victims is of the utmost importance, and all necessary steps must be taken immediately. I invite readers to visit the Web site of the Rabbinical Council of America for statements of policy concerning allegations of abuse, including clergy abuse.

Rabbi Moshe Kletenik
Seattle, Wash.

The writer is president of the Rabbinical Council of America.

Minding Our Words

Uzi Silber’s October 16 article, “The Jewish Future, in Black and White,” was disturbing in two ways.

First, he demonstrated through his own observations and by using data from the National Jewish Population Survey that intermarriage is decimating the non-Orthodox Diaspora population. I think we all knew this.

But, second, I found his usage of pejorative words jarring. He described Haredi men who “yapped on cell phones in Yinglish” and referred to the fourth generation of his own Orthodox family as a “gigantic litter.”

The word “yapping” usually means the sounds of animals such as dogs. (Perhaps he was trying for alliteration and meant “yakking,” still somewhat insulting but at least human.)

As for “litter,” I have never heard it used for human offspring except as an insult. Webster defines “litter” as “the offspring at one birth of a multiparous animal” such as a dog or cat. This reminds me of the kind of dehumanizing language antisemites have used about Jews. So why does Silber describe the fervently Orthodox in such terms?

Janis Mikofsky
Allentown, Pa.

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