What does Clericalism mean in a Jewish context?

There was another Orthodox sexual scandal that ended in conviction.  On the journalism of religion site GetRelgion, they asked  about the application of the term clericalism to Orthodoxy.

None of the five women had spoken publicly before the criminal case, because, they say, it was understood that members of the modern Orthodox Jewish community — especially young ones — did not divulge errors by its leaders, let alone accuse them of impropriety.

Hey reporters, does any of this sound familiar to you? The story is describing a word that has become common in the context of the three-decades of scandal in Catholicism about sexual abuse by clergy — “clericalism.” Does the term deserve to be used in this Jewish context, in the context of a hierarchy that consists of a single powerful congregation and its niche in a larger religious community? Read the story and decide for yourself if this particular shoe fits. After you read the story, you may have questions pop into your mind.

The allegations all focus on abuse. Are there any allegations about sexual affairs? Did the rabbi have a line in his own mind that he never crossed?

Back in the 1950’s, Rabbis  Emmanuel Rackman and Leo Jung argued that orthodoxy cannot have clericalism. Rackman even argued that it would be unAmerican and communist to remove the basic equalities promised in Judiasm and in America. There are no special protections, authority, and insights available to rabbis.  Is this a return to traditional halakhic values with their implicit hierarchy, or is there  something new in the current community structure? What is the social and political theory behind this new Orthodox clericalism? What texts do they cite? As the author tmatt asked in his post: What lines will the Rabbi not cross that make this OK? How is it different than the Catholic Church? We dont use the term when Evangelical preachers sin, but why does it seem apt here?

More sources to decide if the usage is correct:  wikipedia article and from a Catholic blog

As far as I can see, the position of the Bishops Conference of England and Wales including our own Bishop Terrence Drainey is currently “let us have a culture that tolerates and even encourages clerical abuse, in which priests and bishops are free to abuse their power and authority and laypeople are expected to be co-conspirators or else face accusations of disrespect and disloyalty but let us make an exception for the sort of abuse that the civil authorities take seriously, that is, the sort of abuse that costs money and looks bad in the papers”.

This is like saying “stealing is okay, as long as you don’t steal anything somebody will notice” or “lying is okay, as long as nobody finds out”. Essentially, the Bishops are saying “it’s okay with us if priests abuse their power, as long as they don’t do anything illegal”.

What concerns me most of all is this: As long as the culture remains in place, the potential for harm continues. As long as the culture remains in place, the potential for “[hiding] behind a clericalism which is prepared to protect vicious behavior at the expense of defenceless innocents” remains in place.

This is simply unacceptable.

Sounds familiar? Why?

2 responses to “What does Clericalism mean in a Jewish context?

  1. Jonathan Hirsch

    This raises an important issue ,We need to understand the Religious doctrines ,Sociological and ,Historical factors that causes Clericalism to exsist in Orthodoxy .

  2. Is this clericism or just an old boys network? Is it the fact that he is Rabbi that protected him or because he was influencial and powerful. I would think it the latter.

    Most insular communities protect “their own” whether they have smicha or not.

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