Friday, November 6, 2009

Happenings at the Yeshiva

As part of our focus this year on Hilkhot Niddah and related topics, we chose to devote our night seder this week to our communal obligations around sexual abuse in the Jewish community. We asked Shmuly Yanklowitz, as a fourth-year student, to take a leadership role in helping us shape this program, and he in turn brought in Uri L'Tzedek. In partnership with Uri L'Tzedek, and with the co-sponsorship of Drisha and JOFA, we held an open Night Seder for the community on the topic of Sexual Abuse in the Jewish Community. Uri L'Tzedek did an amazing job in shaping the program and in arranging for excellent speakers. Over 80 people participated in the event.

Rabbi Mark Dratch came from JSafe to teach relevant halakhot. The students studied the sources in chevruta beforehand, and R. Dratch then gave a shiur on the topic of certain forms of sexual abuse with an eye towards whether they are or are not clearly prohibited based on the classical sources. One of his messages was that the Torah sources do not always address these issues explicitly, and that is exactly why, when they arise, we should not try to handle them internally, but recognize that it is our responsibility to inform the proper secular authorities and act accordingly. Ben Hirsch came from Survivors for Justice to discuss the concomitant legislation and activism, and doctoral student Shayna Weiss explored these issues and how systems of sexual power within our community enable these crimes to continue.

I trust that we all know that this is a very serious problem in the Jewish community, and sadly one that we often fail to address. It was encouraging to see the large turnout and the serious investment that people have around surfacing these issues and addressing them appropriately. It was a powerful evening and one we hope will help serve as a catalyst for further action.

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