10 guidelines for rabbis to prevent sexual offenses

New religious initiative presents ten guidelines to help rabbis prevent sexual offenses.

Tahel ,

Debby Gross
Debby Gross
Tahel - Crisis Center for Religious Women and Children

“The 10 Gates of Caution” is the title of a list of guidelines that was published on Tuesday for distribution to rabbis across the board. The publication is the initiative of an Orthodox organization that is campaigning to end sexual harassment on one hand, and false claims of this nature on the other. The guidelines were meticulously drafted and compiled in light of the recent “MeToo” campaign.

“In secular society, relationships that have a tendency to deteriorate into sexual offenses occur mostly in the workplace or with celebrities and their fans. In the religious world, the relationship of a rabbi to a male or female student or a rabbi to a congregant is very sensitive. It is imperative to ensure that it is not negatively exploited on either end,” explains a spokesperson for the Tahel - Crisis Center for Religious Women and Children, the organization that drafted the "10 Gates of Caution" guidebook.

Included in the 10 guidelines is a warning to rabbis to trust their instincts. “If you feel that extra distance is appropriate in a specific circumstance, trust your feelings. It’s a red flag, warning you to take extra precautions. When there is an epidemic, one must take extreme measures to avoid contamination.”

Another guideline urges rabbis to avoid virtual communication with their students, congregants, and followers. In addition, rabbis are encouraged to install glass doors in their offices, place a desk between them and their guests, document any meeting in writing, and avoid physical contact.

One guideline that is expected to stir protest is the warning to rabbis to refrain from commenting on a girl’s or woman’s attire or level of modesty. This was specifically included in light of the practice of rabbis in many religious schools who monitor and reproach female students for attire they deem to be immodest. Tahel urges schools to modify this approach.

“A rabbi should not comment and certainly never compliment a girl/woman’s attire or level of modesty. This role should be assumed only by a female mentor,” the guideline reads.

The 10 guidelines reference the verse, “And you shall be clean before God and Israel” (Bamidbar 32:22). The Sages teach that a person must avoid not only forbidden activities but also any action that will cause others to suspect him of misdeed.

Next week, Tahel will be hosting its 3rd International Conference that unites Religious Zionist and haredi communities from Israel and around the world, as well as hundreds of rabbis and activists who champion the battle against sexual offenses in the religious world. At the conference, the rabbis will sign the guidelines, with the goal of instituting them as basic standards in all schools and communities.

Debbie Gross, founder and director of Tahel Crisis Center for Religious Women and Children, compiled these guidelines based on her 30 years of experience battling sexual harassment in the religious world.

“Unfortunately, in the past few years, we have dealt with a series of sexual offenses by rabbis in various communities," said Gross.

"These guidelines are, first and foremost, for the benefit of the rabbis. Their relationship with female students and female members of their congregations is one of supreme moral value, and in order to ensure that it remains that way, it’s important to establish clear standards.”

Gross, who also serves as a member of the Takanah Forum, adds, “No one wakes up in the morning and decides, ‘Hey! I’m going to harass someone today.’ This is why it’s so important to take precautions and ensure maximal safety measures. While these guidelines were created specifically for rabbis, I think it would be great if they were adopted by bosses and employers, as well.”