Victor Vieth
Victor Vieth Courtesy of Yeshiva University

Yeshiva University (YU) is offering a new online course for rabbis to prepare them in dealing with a topic that many say does not receive enough attention in the religious world - child abuse.

The 12-week course on preventing child abuse is a joint offering by YU's Center for the Jewish Future (CJF), YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) and Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center.

"Rabbis engage the issues relating to child abuse on multiple levels," explained Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, Dean of the CJF. "They play a crucial role in educating the community regarding awareness and prevention, they contribute to setting policies in local institutions to prevent and address issues of child abuse and they are often on the front lines of guiding families through these extraordinarily difficult circumstances and counseling them through the complexities of the situation."

Expanding on that point, Rabbi Naphtali Lavenda, director of online rabbinic programming at CJF, said "the rabbi is in a unique position. The rabbi has to be this Superman: he’s the first responder for all crises in the community and bears the weight of every person’s pain, suffering and troubles."

"This course seeks to provide rabbis with the skills, resources and relationships with presenters so that they have a full toolkit to draw on, both in terms of knowledge and being able to connect to people and consult with them as these issues come up," added Rabbi Lavenda.

The rabbi explained that Victor Vieth, founder and senior director of Gunderson, will be guiding many of the sessions.

"He has a background in working with faith-based institutions, clergy and chaplains," Rabbi Lavenda said of Vieth. "But we also have our own community experts that provide real, relatable experiences about what’s really going on in our shuls, our schools and our communities."

Vieth's sessions are to focus on the dynamics of child abuse and the role the community can have to help the victims, as well as how rabbis can guard their own mental and emotional health while dealing with difficult cases.

"We tend to assume that folks inside faith communities are moral, upstanding, and would never violate a child," said Vieth. "Just accepting the likelihood that most communities have survivors and people who prey on children is hard. Participants will leave this course with state-of-the-art knowledge about what kinds of protection policies should be in place, how to respond to child abuse, and how to work with criminal justice professionals and mental health professionals, as well as a deeper appreciation of the spiritual questions survivors have."

Vieth added "there are studies showing that undergraduate institutions and universities don’t know much about child abuse. I think this YU course is historic and could be a model for other faith-based communities as well."

Upon completion of the course, participants will receive a certificate in recognition of the significant time and resources they have dedicated to developing expertise in the area.

“The role of continuing rabbinic education is something that Yeshiva University takes very seriously,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, YU vice president for university and community life. “It enables us to convene our academic and spiritual resources assuring the rabbinic couple and their community that Yeshiva’s engagement is a lifelong experience.”