In October 2017, The New York Times published several allegations by women who claimed to have been sexually harassed or assaulted by former famed film producer Harvey Weinstein. The investigation broke a dam of cultural silence and helped spark the international #MeToo movement, a deep reckoning with sexual harassment and assault. In what is now termed the “Weinstein effect,” many powerful men previously protected by networks of allegiance and secrecy were held accountable for sexual misconduct in the workplace.
The Jewish community faced its own #MeToo reckoning, precipitated by investigative reporting found in the pages of The Jewish Week. Over the course of 2018 and 2019, The Jewish Week did not shy away from holding figures of authority accountable. Powerful communal figures and philanthropists were called to task for decades of alleged sexual misconduct. The effects of these investigations continue to reverberate, as our community works towards creating more respectful, equitable places of work and worship.
An exclusive Jewish Week investigation revealed that billionaire philanthropist Michael H. Steinhardt was under investigation by Hillel International for unwanted sexual remarks aimed at at least two of the organization’s female employees, including a former vice president. The behavior seemed to indicate a pattern stretching back decades.
Steven M. Cohen was best-known for population studies on the American Jewish community and hypotheses about the Jewish future. However, an exclusive Jewish Week investigation found that the famed sociologist had a pattern of sexual harassment and unwanted physical contact among female colleagues and fellow-academics.
An exclusive, multi-part investigation by the Jewish Week found that the former executive director of one of the largest Jewish camping networks in North America had sexually assaulted and harassed female employees for decades, including allegedly raping an underage counselor.
For female clergy members, #MeToo reaches beyond the office and into the pews. The Jewish Week spoke to half-a-dozen female rabbis who described being sexually harassed by senior rabbis, synagogue administrators and even congregants.
In the aftermath of the #MeToo movement, a first-of-its-kind study found that gender discrimination, sexual harassment and lack of adequate reporting protocols to be a widespread problem across Jewish institutions.
As victims step forward with claims in the age of #MeToo, the ability of rabbinic ethics committees are being tested among different denominations.
Moving the dial on child sexual abuse prevention
Additionally, a first-of-its kind study pointed to ‘glaring gaps’ in child sexual abuse prevention at Jewish schools and camps while a new start-up to address the problem, Sacred Spaces, gains rapid traction as the scope of the problem comes into focus. In a series of exclusive investigations, including a deep dive into a former middle-school teacher in Baltimore accused of sexually assaulting three children, The Jewish Week looked at how the community is facing — or not facing at all— alleged child sexual abuse in our schools and synagogues. Here are some of those reports:
Historic Child Victims Act Passed in New York
Six months after the Child Victims Act was signed into law on Feb. 14, 2019 — extending the statute of limitations for reporting sex abuse and filing lawsuits — a one-year litigation window in New York opened, allowing people of all ages to file civil lawsuits that had previously been barred by the state’s statute of limitations.
As New York courts bend under the onslaught of filings — with thousands of lawsuits expected to be filed against the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts of America and other entities in the coming days and weeks — Jewish survivors of childhood sexual assault await their day in court. Some of those stories:
Progress and Pushback for Orthodox Female Clergy
As mainstream Orthodox umbrella groups resisted the possibility of female rabbis, Orthodox female clergy continue to take strides in synagogues, schools and community centers. Though the Orthodox Union released a statement in Feb. 2018 prohibiting synagogues from hiring women into rabbinic positions, graduates press forward against tough odds and even communal sanctions.
Our colleague Amy Sara Clark and freelance journalist Hella Winston conducted a months-long investigative series on subpar secular education at chasidic schools in New York City. The four-part series, a collaboration between The Jewish Week and WNYC, resulted in the city opening an investigation into the schools and the yeshivas forming a committee to improve their secular education from within. The series was a finalist for awards in two categories by the Deadline Club, the New York City chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Amy continued to cover this issue after the original investigation, including City Hall’s suspiciously mum behavior during the probe’s proceedings, leading advocates to be concerned there was a conflict of interests.
She also covered the city health department’s investigation into metzitzah b’peh, a ritual performed during circumcisions that health officials were concerned put infants at unnecessary risk of fatal herpes. Supporters claimed the practice was no more risky than other newborn procedures and the ensuing investigation was followed closely as a significant church-state issue.
Hannah Dreyfus is a staff writer at The Jewish Week.