I was tempted to ignore this item of news entirely since, as I’m fond of saying, it’s bad for the Jewesses. Scratch that, it’s just bad in general. The female principal of an ultra-Orthodox girls school in Melbourne, Australia has been found to have, allegedly, molested several of her teenage students (the exact number is unknown), reports the Australian paper The Age and the Forward, and several other news organizations. I was tempted to ignore it because I prefer to focus on positive news about Jewish women, but I realized that if it had been news of a man molesting children, I would almost certainly make note of it, and not doing so in this case would be sexist of me.
We’ve unfortunately become somewhat used to hearing about male religious educators (rabbis and priests) molesting boys and women, but a woman doing similarly is more shocking. Such lecherous, disgusting behavior is inherently male, we tend to think; but, of course, it’s not. Women are capable of it, too (though they appear to be guilty of it far less often). Unfortunately, we can’t pick and choose where women should be treated equally to men and where they should not be. But interestingly, the ultra-Orthodox community in Melbourne — in which men and women are generally not treated in a way most us would consider “equally” — seems to be treating this case similarly to the way Orthodox communities have historically reacted to cases involving men molesting children — community authorities covering things up, reluctance to alert outside authorities, etc. (though school authorities deny the worst charges against them, that they gave money to Leifer to flee the country). And the forces that seek to combat such abuse, namely The Awareness Center, have also been giving this case the same attention given to abuse by male religious authorities.
A few months back I wrote on this blog about abuse by rabbis, arguing that the lesson we should come away with from all these scandals is that rabbis are no more inherently spiritual or pure than the rest of us. The same can be said now of women. We are no more inherently pure than men. Full equality requires we acknowledge it.
The Awareness Center is having a mini-conference next weekend, “From Darkness To Light: Ending Sexual Violence in Jewish Communities.” For more information and to register for the conference, click here.
–Rebecca Honig Friedman