Thursday, October 23, 2008

Child abuse - A sefer on the Jewish perspective

I have just started working on a sefer dealing with child abuse - with my chavrusa of many years - Dr. Baruch Shulem.

We are interested in producing a comprehensive presentation both from the psychological (as we are both psychologists) and the Torah perspective (we are both Orthodox Jews). With extensive citation from both worlds.

I would appreciate any clear references in the Torah literature (not sermons or blog postings) which explicitly deal with the issues as well as any quality secular studies  concerned with  definition, history of concern with abuse, treatment and prognosis. {I can be contacted at]

We both feel that in order for real change to come about in the Orthodox world - the issue has to be treated in a more comprehensive and scholarly manner. Without clearly defining the issues and the parameters there is really little basis for communication or action.


  1. שו"ת שואל ומשיב מהדורה א ח"א סימן קפה

  2. Blogger Gil Student said...

    שו"ת שואל ומשיב מהדורה א ח"א סימן קפה
    thanks. The discussion on your post was very helpful.

    As far as I know - the above is the very first teshuva discussing child abuse and this was in the 1800's. It would seem it was not viewed as an issue prior to this!

    The above is mentioned in an article by R' Gartner in Yeshurun which also has tehsuvos by R' Eliashiv,R' Moshe Halberstam, R' Zalman Nechmia Goldberg and Rav Weiss.

    There is also an article by Dr. Steven Oppenheimer in the Journal of Halacha.

    I am working on a finding a meaningful halachic definition of abuse. It is included in pikuach nefesh by some or rodef. No justification is provided in the literature.

  3. I suppose you would have to differentiate a lot between different kinds of abuse (touching, penetration or not, male/male, male/female, female/male, kind of penetration..)
    I suppose each kind has its own din.
    But the question of the "burden of proof" is really interesting.
    (If I understand Gil's source right, a child molestor can never be convicted under jewish law as long as he takes girls or boys under bar Mitzwa age, and as long as he is not caught in the act by two adult men.)
    (Woud semen be considered a proof, irrespective of testimony?)

  4. shoshi said...

    But the question of the "burden of proof" is really interesting.
    (If I understand Gil's source right, a child molestor can never be convicted under jewish law as long as he takes girls or boys under bar Mitzwa age, and as long as he is not caught in the act by two adult men.)
    this is not so. Please reread the teshuva. He cites the Rema and others that say just the opposite. This involves the gemora in BM 83 regarding R' Eliezer the son of R' Shimon bar Yochai who became the police chief and had Jews arressed on circumstantial evidence even though they were executed for crimes that the Torah does not punish by death. These issues are discussed at length by Rav Moshe Halbertam and are related the halacha of C.M. 2 which states that any society has the right to protect itself and its members - and can ignore official Torah laws if that is the only way to accomplish the protection.

  5. I understood from the responsum that
    the declarations of a child or of a woman were enough to have the perpetrator quit teaching Torah, but not to punish him (or to shame him in public, i.e. to speak about his acts)

    Did I get something wrong?

  6. 1) Tzemah Tzedek and the
    2) Aderet
    [33] Part of the problem in responding to the current scandal of sexual abuse is that halakhah, as it has been understood in the past, often stands in the way. For example, R. Menachem Mendel Schneersohn (the third Lubavitcher Rebbe) in Tzemah Tzedek, Yoreh Deah, #237, was asked the following question: A rabbi was playing with a young man on Purim and stuck his hands into the pants of the youth. The rabbi claimed that he did so because he was unable to perform sexually. He thought that this was due to his small testicles and he wanted to see if he was unusual in this regard. In other words, the rabbi was conducting a medical examination on the boy. The Tzemah Tzedek decided that the rabbi should not be removed from his position, as he provided a good explanation for his behavior. One can only wonder how many other boys were subjected to this rabbi’s medical examinations. Regarding another problematic decision, this time by the Aderet, see here.
    [Note this blog is now affiliated with the RCA Tradition publication
    The Tradition Seforim Blog (TSB), under the general editorship of Dan Rabinowitz, is a blog within the online forum of Tradition, a publication of the Rabbinical Council of America. As with Tradition, the views presented in this blog are those of the authors only, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the blog's editor, the Rabbinical Council of America, its administration, or the Editorial Committee of Tradition. This includes the comments section, which is intended as a forum for scholarly dialogue and respectful interaction. ]

    2) Rav Chaim Soloveitchik on local sexual molestation/abuse against children (Written by a talmid of Rav Chaim Soloveichik shlita, Ramat Bet Shemesh, Israel. Motsei Shabbat Parshat Ki Tavo, 5768)


    4) Rav Eliashiv

    5) Rabbi Adlerstein speaking for over an hour on “Whistleblowers And Fingerpointers: Dealing With Abuse Within The Organized Jewish Community.”

    6) Rav Hershel Schachter
    "Should I Call the Police? Clarifying the Issurim of Mesira and Chilul Hashem"

    7) Rabbi Nochum Rosenberg

    8) Various articles (including footnotes with sources) also April 11, 2007 statement by Vaad Harabonim of Baltimore

    9) Various articles and audio(including footnotes with sources) see:

    10) Teshuvah. Igrot Moshe, Chosen Mishpat 2:68
    "But Reb Moshe concludes with an incredible about face. He tells the Governor that when we live in a society where cruelty pervades and killing is rampant, and where murderers and those who commit acts of evil are abundant, it is most proper for the government to protect its citizens and to check lawlessness (See also Makkot 1:10; Rambam, Hilkhot Melachim 3:10). So concludes his responsa on the death penalty."

    11) Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon

  7. 12) Case Study based on Incident of Sexual Abuse in Orthodox Jewish Community

    see: Child Abuse and Neglect
    Vol: 28 Issue: 3, March, 2004
    pp: 253-265

  8. "I found afterward in the Mahari”k shoresh 188, that he wrote that this is specifically to save them that it is permitted to desist [based on the lashon ha-ra], but not to punish them with any punishment, and to embarrass them is prohibited based on bad talk. However, this is specific to the case there, where there was only bad talk. But here [in the cse where the students testified against their teacher] there was a testimony, even if there are no kosher witnesses it is worth more than (mere) bad talk, and it is obvious that one should desist from giving him students."

    Seems to be saying that there is no actual punishment only when there are just rumors that he misbehaved but here there is some form of testimony so there he would be punished by losing his job which would obviously shame him.

    As I mentioned above there are sources based on BM 83 in which reasonable circumstantial evidence without witnesses is enough to have someone punished or turned over to the police. The Beis Yosef cites a Rashba that no witnesses are required. there are other sources that if it is obvious from circumstantial evidence that he is guilty he can be punished by the community or turned over to the secular authorities for punishment such as Rashba (4:311)

    There is also a teshuva by Rav Silman who paraphrases the Sho'el U'Meishiv as "And I saw in this matter of valid witnesses precisely this in the Sho'el U'Meishiv. The subject of the teshuva concerned a rumor regarding a teacher that he molested his students. He replied that even though we normally require two witnesses but in this case where there are no adult witnesses then we apply the ruling of the Rema (C.M. 35:14 that where there are no kosher witnesses we believe also women and children. So in this case where it is impossible that there would be valid witnesses it is obvious that these former students are believed to testify. However it is not certain that this is true since we only allow this type of testimony for monetary issues but not for capital crimes. Nevertheless in our matter to fire him from his job they are to be relied upon. But regarding jailing him this will be discussed later."

    Rav Silman concludes, "In any matter in which a judge or important person concludes that the rumors are true and there is likely to be future danger he can be turned over to the secular authorities. Even according to the testimony of children or other serious circumstantial evidence such as tape recordings or letters or lie detector tests. Because without this type of evidence even according to secular law there will be no punishment. [He also talks about alternatives to calling the police.]

  9. jewishwhistleblower said...

    1) Tzemah Tzedek and the
    2) Aderet
    thanks for the wealth of sources. Part of the issue as Prof. Shapiro has pointed out is that there is not a clear definition of molesting in the halachic literature or rather the halacha understanding is not identical to the modern secular one.

    [However I am not sure at this point that there is a clear objective definition in secular law either.]

    Consequently we shift over to the alternative ad hoc legal system of C.M. 2 in which community needs and standards determines the response.

  10. See the gemara Moed Katan 17a on the way Chazal dealt with rumors about sexual impropriety among Torah scholars (see the first Tosafos for proof that it was sexual behavior that was in question). The interesting part that can be seen from the extensive narrative was that they didn't need proof in order to invoke shamta - although they clearly investigated appropriately before acting.

  11. I understood that since our rabbonim don't have true semicha they can't impose the Biblical penalties in any event. So why should it matter whether there are two witnesses or onl one; adult witnesses or children; males or females? Any response of a bet din is going to have the nature of a horaat sha'ah, even in the unlikely event that two adult males witness a rape. The only question should be whether the bet din can inform the authorities - and surely it's the nature of this sort of thing that a bet din can do anything necessary as an emergency measure.

  12. As to quality secular studies concerned with definition, history of concern with abuse, treatment and prognosis. The best source for same (and in particular studies and resarch related to the Jewish community) is the Awareness Center Yahoo group which is where I found #12 above (the Case Study based on Incident of Sexual Abuse in the Orthodox Jewish Community from
    Child Abuse and Neglect
    Vol: 28 Issue: 3, March, 2004
    pp: 253-265).

    The Yahoo Group contains 9,749 postings over 8 years including numerous court documents, news articles and studies and research. These postings also contain considerable posting of historical documents such as for example documents concerning the Zwi Migdal crime syndicate that operated from the 1860s until the start of the Second World War selling thousands of naive, impoverished Jewish girls from eastern Europe into sexual slavery. Much of this material is not reproduced on the Awareness Center website or found in any other single source and constitutes the single most extensive collection of materials on child abuse in the Jewish community. Prior to this, most collections in this area had at best a few dozen articles or documents.

    The yahoo search utility is not great and the materials are not organized or grouped (other than by post date) but it certainly is the best collection available at this time and unlikely to be surpassed at any point in the near future due to the obvious huge resources and time that would have to be put into amassing a similar collection.


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