Rachel Aviv, in the latest issue of the New Yorker, has a fascinating account of child abuse in New York’s Hasidic community.
When Sam Kellner pursued legal action against another Hasidim, his own world started to collapse around him. Part of the problem stemmed from the fact that the ultra-Orthodox community prefers to handle legal problems internally and looks down upon those who take their cases to secular authorities:
The committee granted him permission [to speak with local police], as long he had the approval of a rabbi. The rabbi would have to make an exception to the Talmudic prohibition against mesirah, the act of turning over another Jew to civil authorities. According to some interpretations of Talmudic law, a Jew who informs on another Jew has committed a capital crime. He is a “wicked man,” who has “blasphemed and rebelled against the law of Moses,” the twelfth-century Torah scholar Maimonides wrote. The law was meant to protect the community from anti-Semitic governments. Kellner said, “The way history tells it is that if a Jew was arrested he was thrown in jail and never heard of again.”
Among the takeaways from the story is the depth some people will go to to avoid facing justice. It’s also a reminder that religious communities are no more moral when they’re isolated from everybody else. They deal with many of the same serious problems as the rest of society, even if they try to sweep them under the rug.
It’s good to hear that there are people willing to sacrifice just about everything to bring the truth to light even when it means risking so much in the process.