Jewfem Blog


NEW BOOK RELEASE: When Rabbis Abuse breaks open the terrible secrets of high profile abuse in Jewish culture


Barry Freundel. Steven M. Cohen. Marc Gafni. Moti Elon. Larry Bach. Jonathan Rosenblatt. Len Robinson. Malka Leifer…..

The Jewish community has been rocked by shocking stories about rabbis and other community leaders sexually abusing their congregants, their students, or their coworkers. And the question on everyone's mind is: How is this happening?

Against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, the groundbreaking new book by veteran Jewish anthropoloigist Dr. Elana Sztokman, When Rabbis Abuse: Power, Gender, and Status in the Dynamics of Sexual Abuse in Jewish Culture, could not come at a more crucial moment.

With a portrait of high profile figures, including an intricate analysis of their personality types, settings, and grooming tactics, Dr. Sztokman's analysis offers vital tools for understanding this painful topic. The research, which is grounded in interviews with 84 abuse victims/survivors, Jewish communal professionals, and volunteers, also examines issues of disclosure, reporting, and impacts on both the victims and the community.

When Rabbis Abuse also documents the harrowing issues of how communities support abuse, and how abusers coopt Jewish values as a grooming tactic. Equally disturbing is the dysfunctional reporting process, how high-profile abusers often receive high-profile support, and how the search for support and accountability often doubly victimizes the abused.

Against the impulse to dismiss this as an isolated problem relegated to certain sections of the community, Dr. Sztokman shares stories from all streams and walks of Jewish life, detailing the negative impacts of a community-wide culture of impunity. Dr. Sztokman concludes with sweeping recommendations for social and cultural change, reminding us that we are not free to desist from action, especially not now.

This book is essential reading for anyone who cares about stopping the plague of sexual abuse in Jewish life.

Advance endorsements:

"Elana Sztokman has done a great service to Jewish life with her meticulous and moving book. She gives voice to victims of rabbinic misconduct, and through them and her supporting research reveals recurring patterns of abuse. She shines a light on communal structures, organizational hierarchies, and Jewish cultural tendencies that too often silence victims and allow offenders to get away with their transgressions. It is not an easy read, but that is the point: by making us listen, the book should move us to action so that the leaders of our communities, synagogues and institutions will be held accountable to our professed ethics and ideals."

  • Rabbi Daniel Pressman, Chair, Va'ad Hakavod (Ethics Committee), Rabbinical Assembly

"Elana Sztokman's book is an invaluable tool with which to dismantle the structures of Jewish patriarchy and unmask the shame and secrecy that enable sexual abuse and protect offenders. A must-read for anyone who cares about the safety and well-being of every member of the Jewish community."

  • Letty Cottin Pogrebin, author of Shanda: A Memoir of Shame and Secrecy.

"Though sometimes painful to read, Dr. Sztokman's research brings to light the dirty little secrets in Jewish communal life that no one has ever wanted to talk about. Fortunately, we are living in a time when inappropriate behavior is being called out for what it is. Illegal, immoral, unethical and most decidedly not 'Jewish'."

  • Naomi Eisenberger, Executive Director of The Good People Fund and co-founder of Ta'amod: Stand Up!

"Kudos to Elana Sztokman for this comprehensive study of sexual and gender abuse in the greater Jewish community. If anyone thought Jews don't abuse, this book proves them wrong. But even for those of us who knew of this phenomenon, Sztokman goes beyond the stories. She provides helpful analysis, and even more important: suggestions for improving the situation. This is a timely and important book that will hopefully lead to necessary change, by encouraging victims to report abuse and encouraging communities to hold abusers accountable."

  • Rabbi Dr. Reverend Haviva Ner-David, author of Dreaming Against the Current: A Rabbi's Soul Journey

"Delving into this difficult subject with a scholarly and nuanced approach, Dr. Sztokman gives voice to the victims while examining the processes and consequences of abuse. In its skillful and comprehensive treatment of its subject matter, When Rabbis Abuse is a crucial work that exposes the uncomfortable and painful truth of abuse in our midst, and, with that exposure, serves as a key resource in helping us understand what happened, what must be done in the future to protect survivors, and how we might prevent abuse going forward."

  • Devorah Blachor, author of The Feminist's Guide to Raising a Little Princess

"When Rabbis Abuse by Dr. Elana Sztokman analyzes multiple examples of sexual abuse by Jewish clergy. Focusing on grooming techniques and power dynamics, communal reactions, and unique cultural and religious factors, the book includes a comprehensive review of the scholarly literature and of institutional policies as well as in-depth interviews with victims, advocates, and communal leaders. Sztokman does not hide her dismay at the injustice for those who have suffered abuse and offers. She closes with powerful suggestions for change.

  • Hannah Wacholder Katsman, Child sex abuse victims advocate and a moderator of the #GamAni Facebook group.

About the Author 

Dr. Elana Sztokman is a two-time winner of the National Jewish Book Council award, a celebrated Jewish feminist activist, anthropologist, and educator. Her writings have appeared in The Atlantic, Slate, The Independent, Everyday Feminism, Forward, Lilith, Jewish Week, Ha'aretz, Jerusalem Post, Jerusalem Report, and more. She explores gender issues in Jewish culture, and has taught and spoken around the world on these subjects. She is the founder of the Jewish Feminist Academy that offers educational content and programs with Jewish feminist thought leaders. Read more about her at A Jewish Feminist, engage with her Jewish Feminist Academy courses at, and follow her newsletter, The Roar, This is her sixth book.

For Media Inquiries Contact:
Sarah Chandler, Media Coordinator
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