REFORM rabbi Brian Fox has made allegations of child abuse in Orthodox Jewish institutions.
After having qualified remarks he made in a recent sermon that Jewish society was “worse” in this respect than others, he said at Menorah Synagogue’s Ethics Seminar on Tuesday: “What we do know is the more we look, the more we find.
“It seems that institutions run by the Catholic Brothers in Ireland are by no means alone.”
He claimed that the head of a North Manchester yeshiva used to use a strap to beat his pupils and said that even his own grandfather used his sewing machine strap during the Pesach seder.
Rabbi Fox, formerly of Australia, said that the chairman of the Melbourne Jewish community had been proud of the fact that he had “beaten to a pulp” his child for breaking Shabbat. The child had had to be hospitalised.
Rabbi Fox added: “There is a cabinet in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem which displays instruments used for discipline in East European yeshivot.”
But he maintained that this “spare the rod, spoil the child” attitude was at odds with real Jewish values.
He said: “Triage is fundamentally incompatible with Jewish values and Jewish law. All life is sacred. It is in the values of Jewish education that we see Judaism’s attitude to caring for the child.”
Nevertheless Rabbi Fox claimed that more than 300,000 Israeli children were believed to be abused or were “potential victims of abuse”.
He said: “If we admit the problem, we are more open to addressing it.”
But emeritus professor of child health Sir Robert Boyd, who felt that media reaction had created a “numerically unbalanced” attitude to abuse incidents, queried the Israeli statistics.
He said: “Some of the incidents could be of slightly inappropriate behaviour. There is far too hysterical a reaction. A generation has been damaged by phobia of neighbours.”
Professor of child psychiatry Jonathan Green referred to “classical scapegoating within Jewish biblical tradition” with its current finger-pointing at professionals.
This, he said, pushed away “painful realities by loading them on someone and expelling them”.
While he admitted that evidence suggested that “partaking in communal religious practice” improved “social, family and thus child health,” he said he was concerned about religious conservatism and fundamentalism, which frowned on single and same sex parents.
Social worker Terry Tallis complained about the current scapegoating of her profession because of recent scandals.
She said: “Doctors are not expected to cure all their patients. Teachers are not expected to have all pupils pass all their exams. It is impossible to protect all children at risk when they are in the care of their parents.”
Adoptee Ruth Cohen who herself adopted two children, said: “Adoption has become almost a dirty word.
“Many more children should be taken away from drunken and drugged parents and given to people who can give them love. Love is more important than hereditary.”
Mrs Tallis agreed and complained about the ban of placing children for adoption with families of a different race.