Dear Rabbi Pruzansky, From a Rape Survivor

Steven Pruzansky, an Orthodox rabbi in New Jersey who has made numerous problematic statements in the past, recently posted a highly controversial blog about rape. This is a response: 

Dear Rabbi Pruzansky:

Regarding your blogpost, A Novel Idea. I am trying to understand the issues that were contained in your prose.

Rape is unrequited love? Women are temptresses with raging hormones and can’t control themselves because we crave affection? We respond to rejection by crying rape? Is that what you mean? I am trying to be clear on your intention. But I am baffled. You say it’s all about he said/she said. And “she” lies, most of the time.

And no really means yes?


Permit me to write to you personally from personal brutal experience.

I had no witnesses. You could call it a case of he said/she said. You can say I shouldn’t have lived near the Brooklyn College campus, where I put myself through school as a single mother… I was also the editor of the Brooklyn College newspaper that served the School of General Studies. I was also, at one point, secretary of the Minyan Club and president of the Student Center Board. I was not a faceless female student among the 35,000 students on campus. And I knew every cop on campus, including cops who were moonlighting on campus from the local precinct. For a woman at that time, I guess I was pretty remarkable. As a rape survivor, thanks to backwards attitudes like yours, none of that protected me. And none of that earned me any credibility.

I am afraid, Rabbi, you will just have to take MY word for what happened on that wintry night, 42 years ago, since there were no witnesses. It happened at 3 a.m., in the middle of a snowstorm.

It was late on a Monday night, February 4-5, 1974. My six-year old daughter was with my parents, a few blocks away, so thank God, she wasn’t in the apartment that night.

I had gotten off the phone with my mentor, Dolly Lowther Robinson, former Secretary of Labor for the State of New York and Abe Beame’s Commissioner of Model Cities. At the time, she was with the Special Baccalaureate Degree program. It was late, about 1:30 a.m. I fell asleep in my bedroom on the sixth floor of an apartment house on Ocean Avenue off Avenue H owned by Mrs. Applebaum, mother of the former headmaster at Moriah in Englewood, Shelly Applebaum.

The next thing I knew, I heard someone in my bedroom, and a strange noise that turned out to be a man cutting my phone wires. He grabbed the bathrobe at the side of my bed, threw it over my face and put a sharp, pointy object against the top of my head, that I later realized was the biggest knife in my kitchen drawer.

Though I prayed to Hashem that this was just a nightmare, that I was imagining all this in a fevered state, I had to face the ugly truth. I was being raped. When he was done, he ransacked my apartment, took whatever else he wanted, including my dignity and self-respect, warned me not to call the cops, and walked out the door.

When I tried to call the police, I realized my phones were dead. I pounded on neighbors’ doors, but only one, the single woman next door, opened her door and allowed me to call the police.

Please remember that this was at 4 a.m. — in the middle of a snowstorm. The police found a knife, my kitchen knife, on the stairs in the hallway. They saw the cut phone lines, they saw that someone had climbed the fire escape in the middle of the night, in the middle of the storm, cut the screen and forced the window open.

And then they asked me what I had done to encourage him.

I do not remember how I got to the emergency room at Kings County Hospital; I do remember getting two huge penicillin shots. At that time, could I confide in my married frum (Orthodox) girlfriends? Of course not. Could I tell my parents, leaders of the World Agudah and Nishei — Holocaust survivors — what happened? Of course not.

I was traumatized by the experience of being a rape victim and having the cops doubt my credibility, and am re-traumatized when people like you today suggest it was my fault.

It doesn’t matter whether the rapist was carrying a weapon, a roofie to put in a victim’s drink, or emotionally manipulates them. Rape is rape.

You are proud of the fact you are a lawyer and a rabbi. Unfortunately, you are ignorant about rape. It is a crime, an all too common crime. But even now, 60 percent of rapes are unreported (90 percent on campus) because women have given up trying to convince people like you that they were subjected to a violent, demeaning, dehumanizing condition, one that could cost them their lives, by men who simply wanted to assert their power over them.

Frankly, I think someone who thinks like you should be removed from his pulpit and other rabbinical duties, and that you should think long and hard before you put your fingers on a keyboard again.

It’s time for you to do a cheshbon hanefesh (soul search) and apologize to all women.

Jeanette Friedman

Rape Survivor

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