On November 11, 2004, I speak by phone with rabbi Dratch, the son-in-law of YU chancellor Norman Lamm. He's just come back from YU where he taught an undergraduate class in "Jewish family law. We're dealing with a section about domestic violence and child abuse.
"It took a long time for the religious community to step up to the plate and acknowledge it and accept responsibility for it. I've been involved with issues of domestic violence for the past 15 years. I've written some articles about it and spoken about it and been an advocate for it and gotten involved with a host of organizations and publications. I dealt with a lot of denial and criticism at the beginning. I've seen the community mature so that those issues are better acknowledged than they have been.
"I developed a resolution for the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), in which I am an officer, that was passed unanimously about 18-months ago, in which the RCA acknowledged its responsibility in dealing with colleagues who behave improperly. About six months ago, at our last convention, we passed a set of guidelines detailing how we as an organization will deal with these issues. Since then, I've been dealing with actual cases."
How did you develop this specialty?
"I stumbled into it. About 15 years ago, I met a pediatrician in Brooklyn with an Orthodox practice who told me about some of the patients in her practice who were being abused and the obstacles the rabbis in her community were putting up to dealing with these problems. It got me angry. I started to do some research, then some writing and speaking about it. I started with child abuse and it developed into domestic violence."
How often do you have to deal with disbelief that this happens in the Orthodox community?
"All the time, but there's growing awareness... Certainly Rabbi Twersky's book, The Shame Borne in Silence: Spouse Abuse in the Jewish Community, which he had a hard time publishing and he had to self-publish it. And many bookstores wouldn't sell it. But you have the growth, for example, of many organizations like the Shalom Task Force. You have ads for the Shalom Task Force in many right-wing Orthodox publications. Ohel and their work in Brooklyn. You have shelters now. The Rockland County Homeless Shelter is a shomer-Shabbos kosher facility. One of the problems is that Orthodox women don't want to go there. They are afraid of being seen. We have a long way to go but it is more acceptable to talk about it today than it has ever been in the past."
What sort of training did you get in these matters?
"It was autodidactic. A lot of reading and discussions with professionals. I counseled women who were victims of abuse.
"I wrote an article about a decade ago for a group called The RCA Roundtable. We drafted papers on different topics for informational purposes. Once a month, a different paper came out. Mine was on child abuse and halachic responses."
What sort of process was it get it adopted?
"It was an easy process. It was a no-brainer. The first thing we did was adopt a resolution against improper rabbinic behavior. It was passed unanimously. Whatever discussion there was only strengthened some of the language. That resolution obliged us to come back the following year with procedures and guidelines. We put together what the process would be if somebody came to the RCA with a complaint against a rabbi. It was presented at the convention with a couple of constitutional amendments which were necessary to enact it, and it passed unanimously."
My perception of Jewish history is that if a frum rabbi was convicted of a sexual sin, that ended his career. But Shlomo Carlebach was a watershed.
"Oy! There has never been any kind of adjudication there. It is a difficult situation to deal with because he is not around to answer the charges. I'm not sure that he is the prototype. There were rumors out there. The community never stepped forward to do anything about it. That would never happen again. If the rabbi is not a member of the RCA, we don't have jurisdiction. The Reform and Conservative movements have some control over their rabbis, but the Orthodox are so fractious that people can fall through the cracks. That's something we desperately need to address.
"Our standard for removing a rabbi shouldn't be that he has to be a convicted felon. Surely our standards are higher than that. But there needs to be a due process."
The rabbi Mordecai Tendler report came back two weeks ago but there's been no action from the RCA.
"There's been no public comment. It's a process that will move deliberately, fairly and honestly."
How responsible do you think the Jewish weeklies have been with these issues?
"I think The Jewish Week deserves tremendous praise for its role in the Lanner case. I don't think the outcome would've been the same, I don't think the community would've reacted the same, if it were not for what they wrote. At the same time, Gary Rosenblatt has said that he doesn't see the job of his paper being the whistleblower of his community. The Jewish community needs to be responsible for itself. One major concern is that you don't want things tried in the press because if it turns out the rabbi is innocent, it invariably destroys his reputation. At the same time, we cannot cover things up. I think the threat of the press can work effectively. In my opinion, the articles should not be written until the process is concluded. In the Lanner case, where the process was not appropriate, it was very appropriate for the newspaper to write about it. In a case that is ongoing and there are responsible people doing the appropriate things, then trying this in the press is not responsible."
What's your role with The Awareness Center?
"I am not officially connected to them."
What do you think of what they're doing?
"The website and its discussion groups are an invaluable resource for many people. I had been involved at supporting them at one point in time. Vicki Polin has done tremendous work. We had a disagreement about a year ago] over some of the articles published on there with regard to accusations made against individuals. Her feeling is that as long as there is an article out there it should always be public. I disagree with that. If there is no substantiation of the allegations after a period of time and the person may be innocent, those articles should not be there. As a result of that, we have parted ways. She remains an important resource for me and I imagine I am an important resource for her."
Steven I. Weiss writes: "Luke - Dratch's argument against Polin, that she should remove old stories that have not been substantiated, comes in pretty neatly with the Michael Ozair story. Remember that in that case, only allegations against him had been printed, and the fact that he pleaded no contest in 2001 would have made the allegations three years old with no follow-up. It was precisely because his file was maintained on The Awareness Center's Website that we matched him up as Michael Ezra of KabbalahCoach.com, and that we did further inquiry into the matter, reporting his plea for the first time."