Break­ing the Silence: Sex­u­al Abuse in the Jew­ish Community

David Man­del and David Pel­covitz, eds.
  • Review
By – August 24, 2011
David Man­del and David Pel­covitz have edit­ed and con­tributed to a land­mark vol­ume address­ing the prob­lem of sex­u­al abuse in the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty. Man­del is the chief exec­u­tive of Ohel Children’s Home and Fam­i­ly Ser­vices and Pel­covitz is a high­ly regard­ed clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist who spe­cial­izes in child­hood trau­ma and abuse.

The Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty is begin­ning to acknowl­edge what has long been a taboo sub­ject: that one can live an obser­vant life while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly sex­u­al­ly abus­ing chil­dren. Being an obser­vant Jew ought be con­gru­ent with a ded­i­ca­tion to the wel­fare and safe­ty of chil­dren, but psy­chopathol­o­gy and deviance often gain the upper hand in influ­enc­ing indi­vid­ual con­duct. While not a sur­prise to many, the acknowl­edg­ment of sex­u­al abuse occur­ring in the home, in camps, in sem­i­nar­ies, in pro­fes­sion­al offices, and at the hands of teach­ers and cler­gy rep­re­sents a major break in the wall of silence that stood for decades in the reli­gious com­mu­ni­ty.

This indis­pens­able vol­ume rep­re­sents the out­come of Jew­ish men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als real­iz­ing the need to guide par­ents, teach­ers, and col­leagues in the best ways to pre­vent and treat sex­u­al abuse of chil­dren and teens.

This is a uni­form­ly well-writ­ten and well edit­ed vol­ume. The edi­tors are to be com­mend­ed for select­ing clin­i­cians and cler­gy whose expe­ri­ence and eru­di­tion inform their con­tri­bu­tions. Susan Schulman’s paper on unwant­ed touch is a superb overview of pre­ven­tion prin­ci­ples for par­ents. The school pre­ven­tion mod­el out­lined by Deb­bie Fox mer­its nation­al adop­tion. Halachic issues raised by sex­u­al abuse are sen­si­tive­ly addressed in schol­ar­ly papers by Rab­bis David Cohen and Mark Dratch. The chap­ter on the treat­ment of child vic­tims of sex­u­al abuse, by David Pel­covitz, will pro­vide clin­i­cians with an out­stand­ing review of best prac­tices along with many valu­able ref­er­ences. Addi­tion­al note­wor­thy chap­ters focus on the treat­ment of offend­ers. One obser­va­tion the edi­tors will hope­ful­ly con­sid­er when they dis­cuss this sem­i­nal work in pub­lic forums is the mat­ter of pun­ish­ment. Vic­tims of child­hood sex­u­al abuse are enti­tled to know that per­pe­tra­tors of such crimes are not free to re-offend and that jus­tice has been served. When to treat and when to pun­ish is a cru­cial moral and soci­etal dilem­ma that needs to be seri­ous­ly addressed.

This book will serve as the gold stan­dard ref­er­ence on the top­ic of sex­u­al abuse in the Jew­ish world for clin­i­cians, both sea­soned and in train­ing, as well as teach­ers and rab­bis serv­ing the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty. Glossary.
Steven A. Luel, Ph.D., is asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of edu­ca­tion and psy­chol­o­gy at Touro Col­lege, New York. He is a devel­op­men­tal psy­chol­o­gist and psy­cho­an­a­lyst in pri­vate prac­tice. He is co-edi­tor (with Paul Mar­cus) of Psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic Reflec­tions on the Holo­caust: Select­ed Essays.

Discussion Questions