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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."

I found this profile of rabbi Mark Dratch on OU.org:

Rabbi Mark Dratch is the spiritual leader of Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford and a Judaic Studies instructor at Yeshiva University’s Isaac Breuer College. He has previously served in pulpits in Toronto, New York, Schenectady and Boca Raton.

Rabbi Dratch has published many articles in scholarly and popular journals on the interface between Jewish Law and contemporary society. He has also authored numerous divrei Torah for rabbinic journals. Rabbi Dratch has a special interest and expertise in the halachic issues surrounding child abuse and domestic violence and is a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Religion and Abuse.

In 1993, Rabbi Dratch addressed the first international rabbinic conference on child abuse and domestic violence. His discourse on the halachic implications of family violence has been used by a number of organizations including the Rabbinical Council of America, Jewish Family and Children’s Services throughout North America and Jewish Women International. He has collaborated with the Institute for the Prevention of Child Abuse in Toronto on a five-part training video for faith leaders. Rabbi Dratch also participated in "Broken Vows," a video dealing with family violence in faith communities, produced by the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence in Seattle, where he is a member of the Jewish Advisory Committee.

Rabbi Dratch received his B.A. from Yeshiva College of Yeshiva University. He earned his M.S. in Jewish Education from the University’s Ferkauf Graduate School and received his semicha from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS).

Recording Secretary for the Rabbinical Council of America as well as for the Rabbinic Alumni of RIETS, Rabbi Dratch is also a member of the Orthodox Caucus and a board member of the American Friends of Nishmat. In addition, Rabbi Dratch serves as a "Vebbe Rebbe," answering halachic questions sent in to the Orthodox Union website.

3/24/05

"Naomi" at the Jewish Survivors blog writes:

I wrote to Rabbi Dratch asking him which cases he thought should be removed from the AC website. I told him that some survivors are concerned about his new organization. Here is his response to me, (with his permission to post it).

Dear Naomi: Thank you for your email and your concern.

I empathize with you and appreciate the hard struggle that you must be going through as a survivor. I do not know you or your story, but I do know that the path is not easy, neither while suffering the abuse nor after it. I admire your strength and stamina.

Vicki is doing many wonderful things with her project and has been a source of help and inspiration to many through her website and its related services.

I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to speak out and write on these issues, help some survivors along the way, and work for systemic change in the Jewish community to help prevent and appropriately respond to and help those who need it. JSafe was an outgrowth of that commitment. My only agenda is to help. I know that there are many different perspectives on just about every issue that we face.

I know that sometimes what is important to one segment is alienating to another, and vice versa. Advocates at times, to some, seem to be too "advocatey" (pardon the unsuccessful coining of a new word) and establishment types at times, to some, too "establishmenty."

As far as the postings are concerned, I understand Vicki's point. The allegations are usually true, the information needs to be out there to help protect others and to inspire others to come forward, etc. At the same time, others are totally alienated from her work because they feel that there are no checks and balances and that anyone could possibly find their names and pictures posted (inappropriately) with no recourse, suffering untold damages, etc. I don't know of an appropriate medium. Neither extreme works for me. I know of the difficulties and sometimes long lengths of time it takes to adjudicate and the system often fails. I don't know the answer, really. But I think that there needs to be some kind of review process that takes many factors into account. That will ensure greater credibility in the larger community for the project and will be more ethically sound.

One of my goals for JSafe is to convene a Think Tank to explore questions like this, and others, with the participation of survivors, halachic experts, legal experts, ethicists, advocates, etc. and to try to articulate policies that are appropriate and sound. Then, with this backing, advocate those policies on a large scale.

I appreciate your comment, "We want to believe in you and what you are doing." That's why I am doing what I am doing. Leaving the pulpit and going into this work full time is a risk for me, professionally and personally. But I believe in it.

Unfortunately, there are misunderstandings and misrepresentations out there that I will not or cannot respond to. (That's a much different conversation.) I hope that my track record has proven my commitment, sensitivity and responsiblity. And I hope that I can use my position as a male, as a rabbi and as a community leader to help further the cause. Some may not like every thing I say or do, or the way I say it or do it... I understand that and I hope that they will understand and appreciate that they have a friend and ally and supporter in me-- and that together we can make a difference for survivors as individuals-- and for the community at large.

Anonymous blogs are both wonderfully safe havens for peoplemto find help and support and, at the same time, spaces for people to make uninformed conjectures and critiques about things that they know little or nothing about. The former is great, the latter can be destructive and ultimately unhelpful.

Thanks so much for writing. I hope I have answered your questions. Please feel free to be in touch at any time. I appreciate your perspectives and will certainly consider them very carefully. It helps me to learn, understand and see things in ways I need to learn, understand and see them.

7/25/05

Rabbi resigns to lead nonprofit group

STAMFORD -- Rabbi Mark Dratch of Congregation Agudath Sholom will leave the synagogue and the pulpit for a new role as leader of his nonprofit organization, Jewish Institute Supporting An Abuse Free Environment.

Dratch, 47, started working on issues of sexual and physical abuse in the Jewish community 15 years ago. Noticing that the topic was rarely addressed in Jewish institutions, he created educational, counseling and advocacy programs.

After receiving his rabbinical ordination from Yeshiva University in 1982, Dratch joined Agudath Sholom as assistant rabbi. In 1984, he left to lead congregations in New York and Toronto before returning in 1997 to serve as head rabbi of Agudath Sholom, the largest Orthodox synagogue in New England.

Dratch said he plans to create a national certification program to address abuse in Jewish schools and synagogues. The program would require principals, teachers and administrators to complete a course confirming they are trained in detecting abuse and handling abusive relationships.