Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Mordecai Tendler - Rabbinical Court Slams Embattled Rabbi


Please write to the editor of the Forward and journalist Rukhl Schaechter. Ask them to remove the name of the survivor in this article, and to stop publishing her name. Also supply them with the following information that is provided by the US Department of Justice.

Over the past decade, coverage of crime and victimization has drastically changed. For example, in 1985, footage of bodies and/or body bags on national networks elicited organized outcries from victim advocates across the nation. Today, such footage is commonplace. The volatile issue of identifying victims of sexual assault in the media has been debated and analyzed from both victim advocacy and First Amendment perspectives, with little consensus from either side of the argument.

However, the past fifteen years have also witnessed an increase in media professionals who seek sensitivity training from crime victims and advocates so that they can accurately cover crime stories with the least amount of trauma to the victim. Today, crime victims and service providers offer training programs to newsrooms, professional journalism associations, and university-level journalism classes about media sensitivity in addressing violence and victimization.

Journalists who cover crime beats are also affected by the scope and demands of their jobs. Those who cover the horror and degradation of violence on a regular basis have few outlets for the personal trauma they must endure. As such, there is high demand for a protocol to "debrief" journalists whose assignments include regular coverage of violence."

The most comprehensive written policy on ethical considerations affecting journalists, including those affecting crime victims, was developed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1992. In the sensitive introduction to its "Guidelines on Privacy Issues," the following guiding statement was made:

As we consider the policies that will best serve the Post-Dispatch.

The news media should--

  1. Present details about a crime in a fair, objective, and balanced manner.
  2. Recognize the importance of publishing or broadcasting information that can contribute to public safety and, at the same time, balance this need with the victim's need for privacy.
  3. Respect the privacy of individuals who choose to refrain from dealing with the media or who choose to address the media through a spokesperson of their choice.
  4. Provide a balanced perspective relevant to a criminal act that reflects the concerns of the victim and offender.
  5. Never report rumors or innuendoes about the victim, the offender, or the crime unless such information has been verified by reliable sources.
  6. In crimes other than homicide, identify the victim by age and area where the crime occurs, omitting street addresses and block numbers.
  7. Refrain from using information gained from private conversations of victims or their relatives who are in shock or distraught.
  8. Identify witnesses only when they volunteer to be named, and when there is clearly no danger that can be predicted through their identification by the media.
  9. Never publish the identity of a sexual assault victim without his or her prior consent, regardless of whether the case is in the criminal or civil courts.
  10. Never publish the identity of a child victim.
  11. Never identify alleged or convicted incest offenders when such actions could lead to the identification of the victim.
  12. In cases of kidnapping where it is determined that the victim has been sexually assaulted, stop identifying the victim by name once a sexual assault has been alleged.
  13. Never identify the names of victims of scams or other crimes that tend to humiliate or degrade the victim without the victim's prior consent.
  14. Refrain from photographing or broadcasting images that portray personal grief and/or shock resulting from a criminal act.
  15. Never publish photographs or broadcast images that could place the subject in danger.
  16. Refrain from showing photographs or broadcast images of deceased victims, body bags, or seriously wounded victims.
  17. Never publish photographs or broadcast images of funerals without the surviving family members' prior consent.
  18. Refer to drunk driving incidents as "crashes" or "crimes," not accidents, regardless of whether or not the use of alcohol has been determined as a factor.
  19. Approach the coverage of all stories related to crime and victimization in a manner that is not lurid, sensational, or intrusive to the victim and his or her family.

Rabbinical Court Slams Embattled Rabbi
By Rukhl Schaechter
Forward (NY) - January 6, 2006

An ultra-Orthodox rabbinical court in Monsey, N.Y., has waded into the battle over a beleaguered rabbi facing allegations of sexual harassment.

Rabbi Benzion Y. Wosner, head of the Shevet Levi rabbinical court in Monsey, issued a ruling last week (dated Hanukkah 2005) stating that Rabbi Mordecai Tendler, the spiritual leader of a synagogue in nearby New Hempstead, is unfit to serve as an Orthodox rabbi. The ruling was widely distributed to the rabbis and congregants of the local Orthodox synagogues, including Tendler's synagogue, Kehillat New Hempstead. Tendler did not return phone calls from the Forward.

The ruling comes just one week after (SURVIVORS NAME REMOVED), a former congregant of Tendler's synagogue, filed a civil lawsuit in Manhattan against Tendler, the scion of a prominent rabbinical family, accusing him of giving her "sex therapy" when she went to him for counseling. Tendler was expelled from the Rabbinical Council of America, a Modern Orthodox organization, in March 2005, after a yearlong investigation of allegations that he sexually harassed women who came to him for spiritual guidance.

In the months before the RCA ruling, Tendler's supporters said that the allegations against him were being orchestrated by ultra-Orthodox rabbis who opposed the methods he used in helping women who were unable to secure a religious divorce from their husbands. At the same time, Tendler told people that several of the ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Monsey who criticized his work on women's issues had investigated the sexual harassment allegations and rejected them. However, attached to Wosner's ruling was a clarification signed by seven ultra-Orthodox Monsey rabbis disputing Tendler's claim that they had exonerated him.

In an interview with the Forward, one of the signatories, Rabbi Mordechai Orbach, said he arranged a meeting with Tendler at the beginning of 2003 in Congregation Shaarey Tefilah, Orbach's Monsey synagogue. The meeting was attended by six other rabbis representing the various Hasidic and non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox groups in Monsey.

The rabbis questioned Tendler and ended the meeting by saying they would investigate further, Orbach said. Since then, Tendler and his supporters claimed on a number of occasions that the Monsey rabbis had cleared him.

In their clarification, however, the rabbis wrote: "Since it has been publicly announced...and printed that we investigated R' Mordecai Tendler and that we were convinced of the truth of his statements, we are hereby forced to publicize that this is an outright lie." Rabbi Shraga Feivel Zimmerman, one of the seven signatories, told the Forward that the clarification "is authentic, and we stand behind the statement contained in it."

Meanwhile, the RCA, the Modern Orthodox rabbinical union that expelled Tendler, has been fighting its own battle with the rabbi.

A Jerusalem regional rabbinical court contacted by Tendler after his dismissal by the RCA has been chastising the organization in a series of letters for expelling Tendler without bringing the issue to an independent rabbinical court. In response, on December 29, the RCA announced on its Web site that it has formally agreed to participate in a Jewish legal procedure, known as zabla, in New York. According to the rules of the procedure, each side of a dispute chooses a rabbinical judge, and the two judges jointly choose a third judge, forming a religious tribunal to hear the case.

"To this date, neither Mordecai Tendler nor his representatives have ever properly communicated his commitment to in fact proceed to zabla," the RCA statement continued.

In his recent ruling, Wosner, the ultra-Orthodox legal authority in Monsey, defended the RCA. According to the rabbi, Tendler questioned the RCA investigation because women are not considered kosher witnesses according to rabbinic law and because Tendler was not present when the witnesses testified. Wosner wrote that in a case where only women could possibly testify, they can and should do so. In addition, he wrote, testimony taken without the defendant present is valid, especially in a case where the defendant has a history of intimidating witnesses.

Citing what he described as incriminating tapes, Wosner wrote, "The RCA had every right to oust this rabbi from their organization, and his own congregation has the same obligation." In conclusion, he wrote, "the rabbi can no longer officiate at divorces, weddings. ... One should never allow their wives or daughters to go to him at all including [for] counseling... and all his rulings are null and void."


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