I read with dismay Erica Brown’s “Open Letter To Frank Bruni” (Aug. 2, Back of the Book).
In his July 23 column in the New York Times, “The Faithful’s Failings,” Bruni unflinchingly discussed sexual abuse among Orthodox Jews. The hurt and shame we feel as Jews when reading his column is compounded because it was written by someone outside our faith. But for that Bruni deserves our thanks, not our criticism.
Brown tries to argue that when Orthodox rabbis sexually and physically abuse children their actions are less worrisome than the abusive acts by Catholic priests because Jews do not have a “centralized office.” In what meaningful sense does she see a difference? In both cases a group of empowered men abused children and attempted to frighten and silence their victims. It is also no secret that the “strong patriarchy” in some Orthodox communities believes that victims — even victims of sexual abuse — who turn to secular authorities have betrayed their faith. In what meaningful sense is this any different from the Catholic Church’s abysmal record of hindering investigations by secular authorities?
Brown’s praise for [former Yeshiva University president] Rabbi Norman Lamm’s purported apology upon his retirement at the age of 85 is mind-boggling. She is doubtlessly referring to the three vaguely worded paragraphs in which Rabbi Lamm excuses his failure to protect children at his school as “ill-conceived” and praises himself for his “good” intentions. Nonsense. Rabbi Lamm decided that he, his colleagues, and their power and prestige were more important than abused children. That is how one maintains a “strong patriarchy.” If he feels otherwise now, let him make amends.
At the end of her letter Brown asks that Bruni be “more subtle.” That is a strange request. Subtlety is precisely the wrong response. When the insular and patriarchal world of any religious community endangers children and violates secular law, we need to expose it. Bruni’s article was an important step in the right direction.