Borough Park, NY – A prominent Orthodox rabbi and psychologist has been intimidated into quitting as head of a just-formed task force dealing with rabbinic sex abuse of minors, organized by Assemblyman Dov Hikind this week.
Dr. Benzion Twerski told The Jewish Week [confirmed by VIN News] Wednesday that he was quitting the task force because “I was prosecuted in the street for daring to join such a venture.”
“To protect myself, my family, and reputation, I decided to withdraw from this project,” he wrote in an e-mail as the paper was going to press with a story announcing Hikind’s formation of the task force. “From this point, I am avoiding participation in any forms of public service. Public life is not for me.”
Hikind, a Brooklyn Democrat who represents Borough Park and Flatbush, deplored Twerski’s abrupt departure from his new panel.
“He was basically forced to resign,” said Hikind. “He was literally put against the wall, and he felt he had no choice. We’ll get somebody else who’s very respected. But that’s not the point. The point is they got to him, they threatened him.”
Twerski’s dramatic departure came just as Hikind was rolling out the new panel, planned as the next step in a personal crusade against child sex abuse in the Orthodox community that he has come to view as an epidemic.
Hikind said he had amassed a dossier with the cases of “hundreds” of individuals who say they have been sexually molested by rabbis and other Orthodox community members during their childhood. And he threatened to broadcast the names of their abusers if community leaders do not respond to his call for action against them.
“Let me tell you,” he said in an interview last week, “when there’s a person who we have confirmed through a variety of people has been doing terrible things” and those who know refuse to go to the authorities, “I am prepared to name names. I am prepared to be sued by those pedophiles. If they’re innocent, let them sue me.”
Speaking after a rash of highly publicized sexual molestation cases in the Orthodox community, Hikind said, “I have been learning that a lot of people out there know who the bad guys are. Where have I been? How come no one talked to me, how come no one came to me?”
Now, Hikind says, he is more determined than ever to establish a community task force to address the issue. Though vague on the panel’s broader makeup and specific plans, Hikind ultimately seeks to develop a list of sexual molesters in Orthodox schools to keep them away from children.
Neither man would specify the nature of the threats made against Twerski to force his departure. But Hikind called them “pathetic and sad.”
“My heart goes out to him,” he said. “I don’t know if I should laugh or cry. Things are opening up, people are coming forward, but we are still so far away.”
Hikind’s new crusade follows several cases in which individuals — often adults now — have gone public with accounts of sexual abuse they experienced at the hands of respected yeshiva teachers when they were children. The alleged victims have spoken, too, of the rejection or even intimidation they experienced from their yeshivas and rabbinic leaders when they tried to report what had happened to them.