A Lubavitcher’s Response to Controversial Book “Hush”

A Lubavitcher’s Response to Controversial Book “Hush”

I received this book review from JewishMOM Naomi Cohen, and thought this was important to share…

I read Hush within 24 hours. I couldn’t put it down. The masterful writing – in the voice of a child for most of the book – held my attention, and the subject matter – an Orthodox Jewish girl who is being regularly molested by her Torah-studying brother while nobody notices or seems to care – is riveting.

Having been an advocate of open discussion as a tool to fight the sexual abuse of children (which is found in all societies—but we expect more of religious societies), I expected to like the book, and in fact I read it with an eye to promoting it through my connections in the Jewish media.

And yet for most of the 24 hours, I alternated between frustration and disgust.

People come to Chabad all the time to study Orthodox Jewish life and to create films, articles, or books about it or to write their college theses, and sometimes they twist and discolor what they see to create something sensationalist rather than true.

It is true that sometimes it is honest misunderstanding. But sometimes unfortunately it is deliberate falsification in order to sell more films/books.

And that is what is done in the book Hush, ad nauseum. The book gives readers terrible and false impressions about Orthodox Jews.

Examples:

Page 6:

[The first Rebbe] was a saintly man who had a direct relationship with Hashem. But then he died, and they found they couldn’t pass down his holy relationship with Hashem, so they passed down his hat and had a direct relationship with that instead.

Hundreds of thousands of chassidim worldwide are thus relegated to the level of idiots.

Page 25:

My teachers always said that all goyim were evil inside…

My parents, siblings, children and I all went to Orthodox schools. I never heard this. We were to keep ourselves separate from non-Jews, yes. We were not to drink wine with them or marry them. But evil? All goyim? No. This makes Jewish education seem like a form of filthy indoctrination.

Page 97:

My brother Avrum … is getting engaged tonight though he does not know it yet… My parents made their final decision yesterday, after the Rebbe gave his blessing for the shidduch, but then decided that it was useless to interrupt the young man’s Torah learning with distracting thoughts, when he would not meet his future wife anyway until later today when the L’chaim was ready.

Unimaginable.

Page 248:

She drummed her pen on the table and closed her eyes. She mumbled a short prayer, and in a flat, monotonous voice proceeded [to describe what would happen] when we came home from the wedding… “It will only take a few minutes,” she reassured me. “You have to remember that it is a mitzvah from the Torah and the obligation of every man and wife.”

This horrific prude is the teacher who is supposed to be teaching the girls the marital Torah laws. And, according to the book, her mother is no better. When the girl, now engaged, tries to discuss with her mother whether it is right or wrong for brides to wear attractive and revealing nightgowns, the mother tells her daughter that it isn’t right to discuss it. This was not my experience or the experience of any of the many Orthodox girls and women with whom I discussed this.

Page 271:

He said there was no way his mother or his sisters had “that,” so I should stop talking nonsense. And I said “that” was something that Hashem gave for children to drink milk from. Yankel stared at me as if I were insane and said that there were cows for a reason, and a Chassidish woman would never let her child view such “things” and maybe just in America they had “that.”…in Israel, forget it, if a woman had “that” she would never be able to make a shidduch.

More ridiculous sensationalism.

Page 283:

“I know you are a good girl, you don’t want this, but sometime it is too hard for men [to abstain except for Friday nights].”

These words of wisdom come from no less than the advisor/Rabbi himself. So now Jews are Catholics? Now it is “good” to suppress all desires within marriage, or better yet, not to have them at all?

The disrespect and obfuscation only grow as the book continues. The mothers don’t listen to their children. They are not interested in having any real conversations with them. It’s all superficial and geared to maintaining appearances. The main goal of their lives is to marry off their children without anyone discovering any dirt in the family.

According to Hush, we Orthodox Jews send our children into marriage without adequate preparation. Newlyweds just think about having babies and don’t even make an attempt at a real relationship. Which dishes we buy and which clothing we wear is all we really care about. And worst of all, we don’t really mind or care if little girls are being molested, just so long as nobody finds out about it and the family name is not tarnished. We are shallow, unthinking, repressed idiots.

Although the insights about child abuse (how the victim felt, how her best friend felt, how the molester acted) might be valuable, and certainly it is wrong to protect molesters and silence witnesses in order to protect some idyllic reputation, it is too miserable to see in print that someone obviously on the inside, someone who clearly knows better, has decided to badmouth our entire society, our way of life and the Torah itself for the sake of sensationalism.

What Happened Next

And then something new happened. The author, who had remained anonymous (“Eishes Chayil,” which means Woman of Valor – a strange compliment to give herself), suddenly decided to go public with her real name.

You write a story completely differently when you are anonymous. When you are anonymous, it doesn’t matter what you say about the people in your neighborhood or family – since nobody knows who you are, nobody knows who you’re talking about. When you reveal your identity, and the entire story is about how closed-minded and cruel your family, neighbors and friends acted, you are accusing and hurting your family and [former] friends in a way that the word “unfair” does not do justice to.

When people use a pseudonym, readers naturally assume that the story is true.

I no longer want to be known only as Eishes Chayil when my name is Judy Brown. I must find the courage to stand with the victims who carry the burden of our silence for the rest of their lives, wrote the author on huffingtonpost.com on August 1, 2011.

But who will stand with the victims of her newfound courage?

Breaking One Thing While Fixing Another

The superbly accomplished and formidably talented Judy Brown created a well-written, highly readable book that opens people’s eyes to the realities of child abuse. That alone would be a wonderful achievement. It could have been a step towards repair, healing, prevention, and even justice. But when that same book also bashes Yiddishkeit and makes the frum way of life appear Taliban-ish, all you’ve accomplished is to break one thing while fixing another.

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53 comments

  1. Although you may not know people who were taught that goyim are evil or that sex is for Friday nights only, many of us do. Especially those from other chassidic groups. But considering the attitude of the tanya towards gentiles, I’m surprised at your assertions on that point as well.

  2. I read this book with growing anger and frustration because I sensed a deep seated disrespect and even scorn for everything we hold sacred – Hashem, Torah, mitzvos, etc. Thank you, Naomi Cohen for articulating what was troubling me when I read this book.

  3. I am posting this for the author of this review:
    Author Naomi Cohen responds:

    There might be someone somewhere who tells their children that all non-Jews are evil. However, there is no basis for this in Tanya.

    In the Tanya, at the end of Chapter 1, we are told that non-Jews are guided by their natural self-interest. (That most people are guided by self- interest is the basis of the capitalist system, by the way. The fact that communism and socialism do not work well and capitalism does – proves the truth of this.) Jews are also guided by self-interest. In additon, Jews have truly selfless qualities.

    Furthermore, at the end of chapter 36 in Tanya, it says that non-Jews will be present in the era of Moshiach and the resurrection of the dead. In the era of Moshiach evil will no longer exist. If all non-Jews were evil, they would not be able to exist at that time.

    Regarding the quote in the book HUSH regarding marital relations being limited to Friday nights, in the Shulchan Aruch Aruch Chaim chapter 280 we are told that marital relations are among the pleasures and joys associated with Shabbos. Shabbos is a time for enjoyment, and one way that people express joy and experience pleasure is by engaging in marital relations.

    The false impression that the author of HUSH is giving us is that according to Torah, for a woman, marital relations are a chore to be endured, and not something to be enjoyed. She is to endure it for the sake of her husband, who has unfortunate urges that he cannot resist. This is not the Torah point of view. According to the Torah, marital relations are to be enjoyed by both partners, in a holy and pure manner and in a holy and pure environment.

    It is true that I wrote my review without having first-hand knowledge of the inner workings of the Chassidim of Boro Park. I am a Lubavitcher and we are different, yes. My point was that it is clear that Judy Brown is attempting to portray these people in an extremely negative light. She portrays Chassidic Jews as closeminded to the point of absurdity. True, there might be some people who are as devoid of depth as those she portrays. When an unknowing person reads HUSH, s/he is likely to absorb the strereotypes portrayed as true samples of what Chassidic life is like. And since it is portrayed in a book together with a tragic tale of child molestation and violent death, the book becomes sacrosanct. One cannot critique the validity of the stereotypes that come along with such an unthinkable and terrible crime against a child.

    HUSH expresses a deep-seated and unmistakable anger and rejection and scorn of Hashem and His Torah. We who love and respect Hashem and His Torah need to be careful about such a book. Though we may want only one message to come through, it doesn’t work that way. ALL the messages come through. And because the author is so talented and her writing is so good, it’s convincing and believable. Caveat emptor.

    • The thing is, that the author herself may have experienced many of the things she writes about. It may not be representative of the entire community (I certainly hope it isn’t), but if you tell her she must censor her own experiences to portray her community in a more positive light, you are ignoring the cry for help and change that this book is meant to be, and are also asking her to turn it into a sort of propaganda that is not based in truth.

      I’m not saying her portrayal isn’t problematic and a chilul Hashem. I’m saying that unfortunately it may have been the behavior of those around her that caused the chilul Hashem and she is only reflecting it to the general public. I would not expect her to try and find positive points about the community after experiences like she describes. That’s like asking a battered woman to write about how her husband actually had some rather fine qualities.

      • The Nudnik

        My reaction when I read the book was that it is not what is taught where I live. However, the account in “Hush is based on what the author experienced.

      • But, you have to remember that a religion’s doctrine is rarely the culprit for evil. It is the people within a community as well as community traditions that develop outside of its doctrine that cause harm.

        As an example from the Chabad community; a friend of mine grew up in a household with an unhappy marriage. When he was a bit older, his parents got a divorce. Lots of gossip went on in the community about my friend, who was labeled as ‘not normal’ b/c of his experience. When it was time for him to get married, nobody wanted to set him up with a shidduch, aside for with girls who had problems themselves. Surely this isn’t the Torah way – to ostracize a person b/c his parents had got a divorce.

        As another example; another friend of mine was molested by, of all people, a rabbi in his yeshivah. The man was a well respected community leader who had received a blessing from the Rebbe to open up his school. When he went public with it and approached the police, he was also ostracized by the community. Many people said he had always had problems and was just trying to hurt the Chabad community by giving them a bad name. Although he won in court, very few people in the Chabad community believed him or the court system – labeling the court system as anti-semetic. Again, this surely isn’t the Torah way, yet it is a symptom of developed traditions (NOT minhagim) that are part of the very culture of that community, and many other fundamentalist communities.

        I know its hard for someone in the Chabad community to agree that problems exist within their culture (please note, I’m referring to the actual culture and not the community). In any fundamentalist community, members are taught that 1) their culture is pure. And 2) they should go to any means to protect the reputation of their culture. To believe that there are cultural problems is difficult, especially since cultural traditions are supposed to backed by a holy doctrine. This is not always the case, however. Idealism often gets twisted in tradition since humans are imperfect. There are many other such examples in other fundamentalist communities as well, and it should be noted that Chabad, Chassidim, and frum Jews are not my primary target. Fundamentalist Christian organizations, Fundamentalist Islam communities, and other such organizations have similar problems.

    • Chapter 1 of Tanya

      נפשות אומות העולם הן משאר קליפות טמאות שאין בהן טוב כלל – The souls of the nations of the world, however, emanate from the other, unclean kelipot which contain no good whatever.

      It’s not that Jews are like non-Jews plus some good. Jews are a completely different entity with a

      ונפש השנית בישראל היא חלק אלו-ה ממעל ממש

      The second, uniquely Jewish, soul is truly “a part of G-d above.”

    • My thoughts exactly. The book’s portrayal of Chassidim is as untrue as it is disrespectful. I’d like to add that her attempt at getting the Chassidic community to open up with this book were kind of futile in that she spoke very openly about intimate contact when it was totally unnecessary – in Gittel’s marriage (regardless of the fact that intimacy was, as stated above, portrayed as a chore and not the holy pleasure that it is). The way she discussed it, the crass terms she used, made the book not on the level of any Chossid to read – unless they were already “testing the walls” on their own.

  4. Perhaps the negative portrayal of Orthodox Judaism is, in fact, what the author experienced when she grew up. ANYONE who grew up being molested by her brother (G-d forbid) would be traumatized and angry at the family and community which allowed her to endure such unfathomable pain.

    I had a friend in (boarding) high school who had been molested by a male babysitter for years. Her parents had known about it and had done nothing to stop it. Needless to say, she never spoke about her family or community. As far as I know, boarding school was her escape, and she never planned on going back home. And who could blame her?

    I have a relative who was beaten up by Jewish boys in distinctly Jewish settings, twice, in middle and high school. Can I be surprised that he didn’t set foot into his college Hillel House? The best I can do is remain open and supportive, to respect him for his life decisions as he respects me for mine, and hope that someday he will heal from those traumas. But the pain is real. The damage has been done.

    As a baalat teshuva myself, I want my children IY”H to find Orthodox Judaism to be compelling, beautiful, meaningful, etc.; to build their lives around the Torah. At the same time, I have to respect the fact that the author of “Hush” went through terrible trauma. Why SHOULD she have anything positive to say about Orthodox Judaism? The Orthodox Judaism she experienced lacked basic safety, love, and support. If religious Jews want the author to have more positive things to say, then we should actively create those experiences for her. Invite her for a Shabbat meal if you live in her area. Write her a letter thanking her for her courage to tell her story. Give her a reason to believe that her childhood experiences are not indicative of all religious Jews everywhere. That would be a good place to start.

    • Leah, I hear what you are saying. But I read Judy Brown’s statement about why she wrote the book, and she doesn’t mention that she is was a victim of abuse.

      • Could you show us that statement?

          • As you very well know, Chana Jenny, you don’t have to be a victim of abuse yourself to be deeply traumatized by such experiences and deeply hurt by the perpetrators and those who demand that you remain silent instead of fighting the problem. Yes, she could have done it differently. But many of the things mentioned here she could easily have experienced herself without being the one abused, or heard firsthand from her friend.

            My point is, I think it is extremely unfair to judge her.

      • Having to sit by and watch someone you care about suffering and watching the indifference of those around you IS SUFFERING and she too is a victim.
        While Judy doesn’t speak for all orthodox people, I can understand that she is angry and upset with those whom were supposed to protect and care for both her and her friend from such horrible doings. People from all walks of life ignore terrible things that are going on because they don’t choose to get involved or realize that they cant fight the system. Everyone one of the different religious groups have their idiosyncrasies and some are more serious than others. There are many people who choose not to discuss the sexual relationship ,out of ignorance or just because its the way they were taught and they believe that is the way the knowledge should be handed down- minimally.
        Unfortunately the idea that goyim are below Jews and possibly evil is alive and well amongst many people who are religious. The disdain I have heard and witnessed is not prevaricated.
        Its real . Its not the way we teach our children. Yet when a woman refers to her Goya, or Shiksa/shaygitz is that really promoting tolerance by using such derogatory terms and the tone of voice that smacks of something that certainly isn’t respect.
        G-d made all of us and each one of us has a job and a place here. You wouldn’t pick and choose from amongst your children a favorite so why would you expect such behavior from G-d?
        Jews have a bigger burden to carry its true- supposedly being a light unto the nations, but then again any good and righteous person has the same job.
        Being a human we all need to be humane. Its expected of us.
        While its true that the Jews have had suffering at the hands of many, that should make us empathetic towards others: not causing others suffering.
        I saddens me when I see articles that blast so many Jewish people’s wrong doing’s and it makes a chilul Hashem about religious and non religious Jews but, hiding what’s wrong in our communities and ignoring it isn’t the answer. Nor is pretending that there aren’t problems in orthodox Jewish homes and communities and only focusing on what we’d like Oprah to portray to the outside world. Wherever you live there are real issues going on and real people that need our help not just for tzedaka or tehillim. They need our understanding and if possible our participation. That’s going to take courage and you probably wont be the most popular person in the community. You might even find yourself pushed or shunned to the outside. Its a big price to pay for doing the right thing and not turning the other way. Especially if your children are apart of the shunning.
        Not admitting that our communities are suffering from drug using and selling and pregnancies/abortions, swingers, gambling problems, and kids that are leaving orthodoxy faster than we can mekarav those from the outside, is not going to bring these things to a stop.
        Indifference is dangerous.
        No one will really know what Judy experienced but I’m not going to say that there aren’t people out there that don’t reflect well on orthodox Judaism and are not what they should be.

    • I think one of the biggest misconceptions that this book has caused, or possibly strengthened, is that the Jewish community IS Judaism. And that is discouraging. Because Jews are people and people make mistakes. When people confuse Jews with Judaism, especially through the eyes of this book, Judaism is portrayed as one big mistake.
      Don’t warp your perception by putting on other people’s glasses.

      • S, I couldn’t agree more. Jewish communities develop their own traditions that sit well outside of their doctrines. This part is very difficult to convince other frum Jews of – since they often can’t imagine that their communities hold traditions that are not official minhagim. But such traditions exist – whether they’re recognized or not. Silence and the guarding of the community’s reputation is a very big one. Others are included as well – such as a widely-held tradition in many communities to ostracize those who don’t fit perfectly well into the accepted picture of ‘normal’ the community holds.

  5. she says only that her friend was abused. not she herself.

  6. What?? It is “unfair to judge” someone who writes for the public, and makes sure with much fanfare that everyone knows who she is? That doesn’t make sense. When someone goes public, she or he is asking to be judged. I am a writer and when I publish under my own name I know full well in advance that I am asking people to discuss and critique my writing. It is a given.

    • Perhaps I should complete my sentence: My point is, I think it is extremely unfair to judge her for having a negative view of orthodoxy and for portraying it as such when that has been her experience. I will change my previous analogy: it is like asking a woman whose friend was beaten by her husband, to focus on his fine qualities when she writes about him.

  7. I found HUSH a heartbreaking and beautiful novel. Knocking it because it doesn’t conform to your personal reality or ideals of how life “ought” to be, is intellectually dishonest and disrespects victims and survivors of abuse.

  8. I don’t think Naomi Cohen is knocking the book because it doesn’t conform to her personal reality.
    I think she is knocking the book because it goes against Hashem and the Torah, and because due to the topic in the book, it is “sacrosanct” and nobody dares to knock it except Naomi Cohen.
    Chana Jenny, you once wrote “my inner Jenny vs. my inner Chana”
    well this is another example of that
    I think most of us – our inner Jennies were raised with “it’s a free country, I can say whatever I want, I’m being true to myself”
    but that’s not Torah.
    in the Torah we are not encouraged or even permitted to say whatever we want.
    there are many laws about that
    we cannot, for example, remind a convert of where they come from
    even if that is our personal experience and it’s being intellectually honest
    we cannot make false accusations
    we cannot curse G-d
    and I’ll bet no rov in the world would have allowed the author to write as she did about her husband and family and then suddenly force them into the limelight by announcing her real name – can you imagine what that would do to a family, to human beings, children, a husband, parents?
    as Naomi writes, “who will stand up for the victims of her newfound courage?”
    our inner Jenny says “freedom of speech” – the ultimate value
    and our inner Chana says “this is wrong and this woman should not be a role model and she should not become the spokesperson for victims of abuse”
    let’s get beyond the fact that the book is beautifully written and the topic is horrendously heartbreaking and see that the author did something wrong. Difficult as it is to do that.

    • I flatly disagree. It is also Hashem’s will that evil be blotted out from our communities: Tzedek tzedek tirdof!

      What do you think is a more constructive way to look at this? Pointing fingers and calling the author names, or trying to figure out what we can learn from this?

      In fact, I would argue that the first reaction (which most people seem to support here) is EXACTLY THE PROBLEM and EXACTLY THE REASON things like this can happen in Orthodox communities. This is the entire point of the author. This is the “Hush” of the title of the book.

      Whether she did something wrong is not our business. Our business is to learn what we can and to make sure our own communities are healthy enough that when things like this happen, a victim does not have to reject her entire upbringing and lifestyle to stop the abuse, seek help and speak out against what happened. Our business is to prevent potential Judy Browns from ever developing from within our own communities.

  9. I grew up in the Brooklyn described in HUSH. The author captured it accurately. She wasn’t writing about Chabad, or the beauty which attracts B’aalei Teshuvah. While the Torah is true, many cultural experiences in the name of Torah are not; and it is this darkness in the name of Torah which often crushes the human spirit. Baalei Teshuvah may not see this side of the community– but I assure you that their FFB children do and will have questions that need honest answers. Again, the book is not a reflection of Hashem but of dynamics of a specific culture that is based on emotion, in a specific time and place. Going after the author for expressing her experiences instead of thinking about how a community based on the name of G-d can condone such anti-Torah behavior, is an emotional reaction, too.

  10. Dear Naomi Cohen,
    You sound extremely ignorant in your knowledge of other sects.
    The mere fact that you are ridiculing the author for generalising is a joke, please refrain from publicising that you are in fact a Lubavitcher, it is embarrassing as we are not all as closed minded as you are.
    The only part I can agree on is when she came out with her name I can imagine the shame brought upon her family and community. However as a survivor of abuse her statement meant more to me and others like myself then it probably did to you.

    • I was asked to post this response from the article’s author, Naomi Cohen:
      Dear Emunah,

      True, I am not a member of the sect that Judy Brown is ridiculing. True, I do not have first hand knowledge of how this sect of chassidim live their lives in the privacy of their homes. As an open minded person who is respectful of others, I am assuming that they are not the pathetically obtuse and materialistic hat worshippers that she portrays them to be.

      Why is the mere fact that I am criticizing (not ridiculing) the author for generalizing “a joke”? The people who are being ridiculed here are the Chassidim whose lives this book is based on. Men who believe that Jewish women do not have breasts? How ridiculous is that?

      What makes me closed-minded? The fact that I think it is unethical to shame one’s family and community?

      Why do you sarcastically assume I am not a victim of abuse just like you? In fact several members of my family are survivors and the impact is on-going — I pay the price every day. Not everyone recovers and some in my family have not.

      On one thing we agree. Judy Brown does an excellent job portraying the terrible tragedy of a little girl who is repeatedly raped and even in death is not given the love and sympathy that she deserves.

      Naomi Cohen

      • Dear Naomi

        I apologise for assuming you yourself were not a survivor of abuse, it was not in the slightest bit sarcastic. I have spoke with countless people all with their own opinion on Judy Brown putting her name to her book, I have found most people who think it was wrong have not ever been affected by abuse. Sorry for basing that assumption on you.

        It does not come across as constructive criticism more of you stating how ridiculous you think it is that some sects are so uneducated on any such matters. I grew up and have worked amongst people from other sects who have shared with me their knowledge of the outside world, it was a pretty accurate description with what Judy Brown described in her book.

        Touching on the area of ethics upon shaming one’s family, the whole area is so beyond our mere understandings. Would reporting to the police shame a family? Where do we draw the line at what shames our families?

        Emunah

        • Dear Emunah,
          I just want to respond to your last paragraph.
          There is no comparison between reporting to the police something that must be stopped and publicizing one’s name just because one wants to. The former is justified, especially since the shame that the community brings upon the family is not at all just.

      • Dear Naomi,
        You obviously have no knowledge of the family lives of other chassidim. There are even certain Lubavitcher families that have elements of the reticence towards intimate matters that you claim is ‘unimaginable’ and ‘ridiculous sensationalim’. Your emotional response towards the book, and naïveté about chassidic culture doesn’t qualify you to give the response, especially in the name of Lubavitch! Right or wrong, the book portrays one particular chassidic group, which everyone here is politely not naming, who keep very strict rules regarding intimacy between husband and wife. Vehamvin yavin. The description of ho the shiduch was arranged was so commonplace I wonder what surprised you. The harried mother in the book with no time for meaningful discussion with her children, and uncomfortable herself with certain topics, is a type I have seen many times.
        I am an incest survivor myself, and a Lubavitcher and I love Hashem and found no chillul Hashem in the book whatsoever.

  11. We have to remember what Hashem told us: On this day, I give you both a blessing, and a curse.
    Torah, in the right hands and souls, is a balm and blessing. In the wrong hands, it is cursed. Elsewhere it is written that Torah can bring life or death.
    It is unfortunate that the dark side of Torah observance has been exposed to the public, but it’s no secret, it’s written in our own holy Torah. I agree with Daniella that the real point here is to look at the sadness and bitterness revealed, whether truthfully or not, regardless of motive, and resolve not to let it fester and infect the rest of us and do further damage, and even further, to provide positive role models for those who might think we are otherwise.
    I hadn’t even heard of the book, and had I, I wouldn’t have read it. Quite frankly, I get enough stimulation, both emotional and intellectual, from JewishMom.com!!!!

    • The author did not reveal the dark side of Chassidism. She fabricated it. The only truth is the aspect of silence. While that is utterly shameful, that a victim could be shunned for protecting others from going through what s/he had to go through, IT DOES NOT JUSTIFY THE FACT THE AUTHOR OF “HUSH” UNJUSTLY AND UNTRUTHFULLY RIDICULED ANY ASPECT OF OUR COMMUNITY WHICH WE HOLD SACRED.

  12. Yehudit, what are you talking about? I really want to understand. You write that “the dark side of Torah observance has been exposed to the public, but it’s no secret, it’s written in our own holy Torah” — what on earth could you be referring to?

  13. Just a small note, without getting involved…
    To respond to Naomi Cohen who wrote that she is unbelieving that someone actually thought that Jewish women don’t have breasts. I have a Chasidic neighbor from Bnei Brak whose sister gave birth, and was appalled to discover that breasts were meant to nurse your baby.
    Some families are extremely private about everything related to your body, so this girl, whose mother and aunts all nursed their children, had never been exposed to it.

  14. Here’s a comment I received from a Catholic anonymous poster:

    I know that some Jewish religious communities (sorry, I don’t know the right term, partly b/c she changed names) were really shaken by tragic news about abuse that happened last year. There are few things worse than the abuse and death of a child. That is a terrible situation, and I can see how that would lead to disclosures of abuse among people who had never discussed it. It sounds like the author talked to a lot of people who opened up about their stories so she has done some real activist work.

    The author went through a terrible experience seeing her friend molested. That was not her fault and she should not be blamed. It is more common than some people think that abuse involves more than one abuser, or victim, or both at the same time. In fact I went through that also with a friend and I both being abused. For a long time I remembered it the way I wanted to, which was that I was effective in protecting her from abuse. Then after talking about it and realizing we were both 12 with abusers twice our age, and that what I was saying did not match what I was describing, which was harm to both of us, I realized my view of my effectiveness was based on wishful thinking. This happened during the day at her house so this bad treatment can truly happen anywhere. I think it’s safe to say both of us were completely unprepared for it, or the punishment we got at school, instead of help. I know better than a lot of people that although the concept of the helpless bystander is really troubling, children in this situation are much more helpless than they like to think they are. This can be true even if the abuser is the same age and if he/she is a few years older, it’s even more difficult.

    However in this book, the author sets the tragic events in the 1999-2000 time frame. I think by that time, much of the pressure to keep quiet was gone, at least compared to when I was young. My most severe abuse happened around 1980. Although I tried to tell, I was not believed until 1982 when I told a supportive adult who unfortunately, was living on the other side of the country and there really was nothing he could do. The abuse had stopped by the time I told him. He then met me again in 1987 and by that time, professionals were starting to write articles about treating child sexual abuse, and books were just beginning to come out. He showed me some of the resources, said there were more becoming available, and told me to get into therapy, that doctors were just beginning to tackle this topic on a widespread scale. After that child abuse became a household concept for many people. There was no escaping the reality that things would be quiet when I was abused in the early 80s but by 2000, the Church was in serious trouble. I think the news about sexual assault broke around 2001 but that was to the general public; individual cases would have been investigated before then. I’ve looked at the history of people who spent decades trying to raise awareness about child abuse in the Church, and in the 1980s it was virtually impossible; people were fired or ignored.

    I think it’s very unlikely that in the year 2000, the police would just go away after a 9-year-old committed suicide at her friend’s house, with both the child and her friend making disclosures about the abuse. For one thing, the conclusion of suicide is never questioned, and I think that’s something the police would not take for granted, and in 2000 I think it’s likely they would keep pushing until they got the truth. I think it could be a little bit frightening to feel that as recently as 2000, abuse was a horrible unspoken taboo to the extreme as when I was growing up. I really had a sense of despair b/c it was NEVER talked about no matter what, except maybe as happening in very disadvantaged families, and certainly not as something that happened to us. That left the abusers completely free to put their own interpretation on what they were doing, with not a lot of challenge. Younger survivors may not be burdened with the taboo issue and deference to abusers to the extent that others of us were (I’m 43). I would be surprised that even in what’s called a “closed” community, abuse was made to go away like that. Although abuse is shocking and horrifying and it may have been fairly recently that a lot of people talked about it

    (this is where you would know the reality better than I do)

    Part of recovery for me is realizing that the abuse was other people’s problem and it does not show that I’ve been degraded although it felt that way. Growing up with the stigma of it being beyond speech was part of my problem. Presenting it as a virtually completely unspoken problem in 2000 may make the described community look worse/more uncaring than they are, and/or make survivors feel that things are more taboo than they are. – assuming it was being addressed.

    It’s possible that the attitudes reflected in the book of shock, horror, punishment, and widespread disbelief with virtually no help were more common a couple of decades ago than they are today. It also sounds like the author and perhaps her mother have done work to improve things. If interested, a recent book on recovery from child abuse is called coping with trauma-related dissociation: skills training for patients and therapists, by Suzette Boon, Kathy Steele, and Onno van der Hart.

    I also have brain injury from birth or before, during the pregnancy. I would have to give major spoilers to say what I feel is wrong with SJ Watson’s book, “before I go to sleep,” but one person said it would take a crane to suspend this much disbelief. In Hush, Judy Brown made an attempt to portray real people in real situations. The brain injury book, “before I go to sleep” does not treat any of the characters with respect and you might even get the idea that people with brain injury are always dangerous – or in very unlikely danger – b/c we have no insight and are essentially not able to care for ourselves in any way. Watson was describing an extremely rare situation in which the main character woke up every day with total amnesia. However he also portrayed the main character’s life as full of loss and basically ruined b/c brain injury ended everything. While brain injury can cause a lot of loss, I found the portrayal degrading, especially the ending. People don’t act like that, that’s all I have to say.

    • The Nudnik

      Unfortunately, even to this day, in some communities, the civil authorities seem to be reluctant to “interfere” in the “internal workings” of the Orthodox community. How much more so in 2000.

      As late as 2009, the following appeared in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/14/nyregion/14abuse.htm)

      David Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, a group representing many Orthodox factions in Brooklyn and nationwide, offered the moderate view. “A broad consensus has emerged in the last few years,” he said, “that many of these issues are beyond the ability of the community to handle internally.”

      But he added that prosecutors should recognize “religious sensitivities in the community” by seeking alternatives to prison, to avoid depriving a family of its breadwinner, or by finding appropriate Orthodox homes for children removed from abusive families.

      “The district attorney should be careful not to be seen as making a power grab from rabbinic authority,” Mr. Zwiebel said.

      Almost threw up when I read the last sentence of that passage for the first time. Still turns my stomach.

  15. Naomi Cohen

    I would like to reply to Emunah, who wrote to Rishe, “Touching on the area of ethics upon shaming one’s family, the whole area is so beyond our mere understandings. Would reporting to the police shame a family? Where do we draw the line at what shames our families?”

    I do not think the whole area is beyond our understanding. These are not the deeds of Hashem we are talking about. We are talking about the deeds of human beings, people who, by deliberately going public, are asking to be discussed and analyzed.

    Emunah, you ask, where do you draw the line?

    I think if you must do something because it is the right thing to do (such as going to the authorities to report abuse), and some shame to the family might result, then it is unavoidable. It is the price that must be paid to stop abuse.

    But in this case the story was already told. The work to help other victims and to change the way the frum world suppresses victims’ voices – was accomplished. The book was out there.

    Embarrassing and accusing her family by announcing her name in connection with Leiby Kletzky – a fantastic publicity stunt – did not save more lives than letting the book remain anonymous. ALL it did was make JB more famous and shame her family. Shame on you, Judy.

  16. shoshana

    I know the author, I grew up in these circles, I am a “survivor”….Do I have license to speak as a fair representative?
    Thank you Naomi. I was deeply upset for a long while after reading some of the book.
    We will not argue that there are all sorts of people and all sorts of interesting, and sometimes over-dramatized minorities among us. But THIS is how you describe Orthodox Judaism? What a cynical and deliberately damaging book. And what an inaccurate and ridiculous portrayal of our life.
    If you are so intent on “standing with the victims”, why don’t you market a book, free of sensationalism and twisted portrayals, to our community? How exactly are you helping us, aside from creating a huge chillul Hashem, by marketing a book like this to the general public? I don’t feel helped by you at all, thank you.
    It only made me angrier to read all the comments about how important this book is, how we silence everything, how we have this issue and that issue. I don’t see how this book validates or helps anyone. I feel misrepresented, not validated.
    Yes, we have a long way to go to helping abuse…as does EVERY community. Incest is not something that any child anywhere is easily reporting. The Jewish community has come a long way and several beneficial books have recently been published. Is our job done? Certainly not. But I don’t see how any responsible and intelligent person can praise this book as a step in the right direction

  17. YES, you have license…

    Thank you for this post, Shoshana.

    Wishing you all the best.

  18. I just started reading this book and haven’t finished it yet. But from what I’m getting so far is that she’s writing her childhood in the eyes of a child. The writing doesn’t seem to be “bashing” as much as it seems to be portraying a child’s naïve understanding of complicated subjects.

  19. I am hesitant to interject here with emotions on all of our sides so high. I see the issue of publicity/abuse in the light of Kamsa Bar Kamsa. Everyone in our community sits at the table of the child being hurt, everyone knowing , unknowing is responsible for not stopping it. Not changing the environment to prevent these things from happening and then for being more concerned with the reputation of the perpetrator’s family that the victim’s safety. I hope that no prosecutor is keeping abusers out of prison so that they can support their family’s. They are a danger to society and they should be removed from it. Any hardship felt by the family should be dealt with by the community as a kappara for the abuse taking place in the first place. There should be no quarter given to people who prey on children. After a true Teshuva from all things, a complete medical and social and restitution process to the victims, society and their own family. then we can forgive, but still be cautious.
    I would not presume to know how the author’s family feels about her revealing her name. It is speculation to assume that she is embarrassing them. They certainly knew she wrote the book that is all we know.
    everyone feels emotional with good reason but making generalizations about the author is not a valid criticism of the book. Naomi Cohen next time you review a book publicly, do some research first. Otherwise this is all just Loshon Hara. People on this forum have personally attested that people as she described do exist despite your disbelief. Whether or not she had a right to write about them, since, a untutored reader might assume those characters to be representative of mainstream Judaism is a discussion I am interested in. I will add that I have felt similarly to you about a book I read. A book that I felt was tasteless and baseless in its judgments. I wrote a letter to the author and publishing company. You say that by revealing her name she committed a sin, perhaps, but you give yours very easily on a very public forum on a very controversial book, should we judge your motives? I think not. I think you are sincere in your feelings toward this work, perhaps she is sincere as well.

  20. To the author:

    I know how it feels to read a published work that targets your group and is widely read by people who have little or no other source of information about that specific group. It seems like such published works are great avenues for propaganda and aim for easy targets of people who are otherwise uniformed.

    Having grown up in Chabad, I understand this all too well. I still have many friends in the Chabad community, and hold no ill-well toward the organization. I respect much of what Chabad does, support it, and attend some of their events.

    Having left the community, I can also see. from an outside view, that people within such isolated (by isolated, I mean very little is known about the organization outside of it) organizations are often too sensitive about the possibilities of giving their organization a bad name. Here’s a rebuttal to some of your quotes, which I hope you will read.

    Page 25

    In a Lubavitch yeshivah, I was told over and over again that ‘eisav will always hate yaakov’ (a quote from the Talmud). This was in response to the alleged friendship that some of my fellow students had with non-jews in the neighborhood. The message was clear; all non-jews hate Jews, even when they seem to be a ‘friend of the Jews’. My Lubavitch teachers told us over and over again that if you scratch the surface of a non-Jew, you will reveal his anti-semitism. This was a broad rule and applied to ALL non-jews, without exception.

    This is not to say that this is a belief held by all orthodox Jews. For example, at home I was taught to respect goyim and that not all of them were bad (only some of them). However, I was also taught that goyim, by default, were inferior to us b/c we Jews are given an animal soul as well as a godly soul, while goyim only have an animal soul. We were also taught that most of the laws of the Torah, in respect to how we treat each other, only apply to fellow Jews. For example, the law ‘ahavas yisrael’, which dictates that Jews should love each other, only applies to fellow Jews. It is not necessary to love non Jews. The same applies to charging interest, visiting the sick, and other such laws. Thus this bred an unconscious tendency to look down upon goyim and not consider it important to treat them with respect.

    Of course there are orthodox Jews who don’t hold these beliefs. Those who emphasize the importance of ‘getting along with your neighbors’, etc. But it would be blind to believe that there are no orthodox Jews who believe that all goyim are evil..

    Page 97,

    While Lubavitch doesn’t practice arranged marriages any longer, the practice is still held amongst several Chassidic sects.

    Page 248,

    Try discussing the matter with Gerrer Chassidim. I think you will be surprised to find out that that IS the belief amongst quite a few fellow orthodox Jews. Again, you have to remember that not all Orthodox Jews are the same..

    Thanks –

  21. Chana Jenny, I don’t understand the DATES on the comments. Why are comments from August 2012 placed among comments from November 2011?

    • I guess some of the new bomments are responses to the older comments. A lot of new comments came in this week for some reason.

  22. I think the reason the new comments might be coming in is because the book got recent publicity in the Forward. Judy Brown published an article a week or so ago, and they mentioned the book. So I purchased and read the book. After reading through the comments to this article I wanted to learn more about how accurate Judy’s descriptions were of her sect. Anyone interested might want to read this balanced article which represents the positive side of the particular sect. http://www.haaretz.com/weekend/week-s-end/gur-hasidim-and-sexual-separation-1.410811

  23. As someone from Judy Brown’s chassidishe circles, AND someone who was molested, I can tell you that it is a bunch of hypocrisy.
    true – some of it might be true to SOME DEGREE. But a) not e/o is that way, only those that feel they CAN keep that darga of kedusha b) she EXAGERRATED everything in that book – which makes you not want to believe anything..
    and that Haaretz article was written by an ex-Gerrer who is angry at everything in it… Most Gerrers are okay with it – so why rock the boat?
    I think everyone should focus on their own circles problems instead of thinking they can fix Ger – if you have a problem with how ger conducts themsleves – by all means, you can – because that’s not your derech. But don’t bash what you don’t know.

  24. Personally, I believe that while much of this may seem exaggerated, in fact it’s based on truth. Those who would like to can try to cover up what really happens- but we all know it’s not that far stretch from the truth.
    For example, er account of her brother not knowing of the plans for his engagement mayseem far fetched. But in the same circles I’ve personally heard of girl calling her parents frantic because her friend told her “I hear ur getting engaged soon”. This does exist!!

    And about ger, much of what’s written is expected of the ger Chassidim to be done. The boys are in fact educated on the day of their wedding by their “komedant”, who does teach them all the chumros as if they’re Halacha. Only those boys who are so called “open minded” know different.

    And who says this way is more “kedusha”? Are you saying that those few people who do things in such a way are elite to the rest of frum Jews?
    I’d say this book is well done.

  25. and why air what ger is about if its nto ur derech?

  26. I’d say Rebecca is right, why let someone else’s derech bother you. Each can do their own thing.

  27. I have read the book Hush, and am thankful for the fact…

    In reading alot of the feedback from people in this thread, I am shocked and alarmed (I have counted AT LEAST 4) at the number of woman that have confessed HERE in this thread that they have experienced molestation from within religious communities.

    How have you addressed these issues? Have you gone public/Police/Anything? This is very scary. It makes me wonder how many that have not read this thread, and are not exposed to the internet or the outside world have experienced the same thing?

    This is very scary to me as a religious Jew!!!

    If something it wrong and against Halacha then it NEEDS to be dealt with. Burying it and protecting the sinners is not dealing with the problem. This has nothing to with size of ones Kippa or hat.

    I learn Torah with Chassidim and grew up in a chabad school, so I do know the basics of the way of life. There is alot of beauty in the way they learn torah, – but there is also alot also that needs to be fixed in their communities. No community is perfect. Books like this sadly need to be written since no one from the inside is really doing anything about solving a growing problem…

  28. Runner1983

    There is overwhelming anecdotal data to indicate that the incidence of child sexual abuse in some haredi communities is much higher than in other haredi communities, and in the non-haredi Jewish community. Victims and their families are told not to go to the police to report the crime, and when they do, they are vilified, threatened and shunned by their community, all with the approval of their rabbi. This protects the accused, and he is left free to continue to abuse other children. These Haredim are more interested in protecting their cultural norms than in protecting their children. Why? What is wrong with these communities and their rabbis, who serve in leadership positions? There is no other culture in the world where this takes place. There are none so blind than those that REFUSE to,see.

  29. as far as I know of all Hasidic sects, only the Chabad Rabbanim (of Crown Hts) have come out with a letter stating that one should go to police with information on molestation. this is much to their credit.

    also – the N’shei Chabad Newsletter was the first chareidi publication to write extensively and honestly about child molestation, in its September 2006 issue. article by Sheiny New. Mishpacha magazine came soon after, with an article by Rabbi Yakof Horowitz, and then Ami. I don’t think Hamodia or Binah wrote fully and extensively on this yet, though I may be wrong (would like to be wrong).

    we cannot be more interested in “protecting our cultural norms than in protecting our chidren” as Runner1983 says.

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