Insular Hasidic Jewish communities are the perfect breeding ground for physical abuse. These are places where no one dares to doubt the rules. You do what you are told, you follow the higher ups, you unquestioningly internalize the values of the community. This makes abuse so easily normalized. Such communities are often isolated from the outside world, with items like TV, internet, and smart devices being forbidden. Any outside influences, such as library books or movies, are banned, and the community is usually self-reliant, establishing their own schools, grocery shops, police force, and courts. This leads to a society with a dangerous collective consciousness, with everyone shares the same values and beliefs, and few have any means of questioning them. Closed off from the secular world, there is no objective source that can judge any given situation, and realize when the “normal” discipline methods cross into the realm of child abuse.
Today, parents recognize the importance of fostering an emotionally safe and loving environment so that children can thrive. The discipline methods they practice usually mirror those values. However, physically abusive discipline in religious societies remain a particularly tricky problem. Not only is physical abuse an accepted practice in many extreme religious communities, but it is also believed to be justified. People oftentimes use verses from the bible to excuse the abusive behavior. Sayings like “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” contribute to a culture that fosters and encourages physical abuse, using religion as an excuse. However, to discuss physical abuse in religion, we must begin first by describing what physical abuse is. The definition of physical abuse is: “Any non accidental physical injury to the child” and can include striking, kicking, burning, or biting the child, or any action that results in a physical impairment of the child.” Perpetrators of such actions can be punished to the full extent of the law.
Unfortunately, such abuse is shockingly common in religious communities. This is a problem not often addressed, but one that affects thousands of children every day. Not only that, but the physical abuse is usually deeply rooted in the community, practiced not only by parents but by schools as well. As someone who was raised in a Hasidic community, I can attest to the violent methods that are considered acceptable forms of punishment for misbehaving children in schools. Children, particularly boys, are beaten with sticks and belts. They are often left with physical bruises and injuries from the beating. I have heard stories of children crying while being beaten in the front of the whole class, of sticks with staples in them so that they hurt more, of kids being chased by angry teachers who were trying to hit them. Such stories are alarmingly common. A major story that received press a few years ago was one of a young boy who was beaten so badly by a teacher that his entire face was bruised. The doctor was horrified, and felt obligated to report the abuse, but the parents refused to press charges, scared to go against their community. There are many parents who are uncomfortable with such abuse, but are afraid to speak up, since the community is too powerful. Expulsion and ostracization by the community are valid concerns, not ones to be taken lightly. You can lose your job, your house, your sense of belonging, and oftentimes, your entire family. Such silence allows the abusers to continue their actions with little to no consequences.
I am not writing this article to attack Hasidic communities, nor I do not mean to belittle the system in any way. I am only calling to attention the dire issue of child abuse that needs to be addressed. Physical violence in any form is unacceptable. Such abuse needs to stop being shoved under the rug, or covered up to protect the community. This is a call to action, to the people in such communities who are too afraid to speak up. Even if you are not personally affected by this issue, recognizing that there is a problem is the first step to solving it. Children are being hurt, and we cannot ignore the issue any longer. It is time to end this abuse once and for all.
- I would like to note that this article was written solely based on my experience, and not every Hasidic community or member of such community endorses such abuse.
- I would recommend watching “One of Us” on Netflix for more insights into Hasidic communities.
- If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, call child protective services and seek help.