Friday, November 12, 2010

Rav Sternbuch's view on calling police

Consulting rabbi before calling social services or police

Excerpt of Synopsis read & corrected by Rav Sternbuch - as printed in Child & Domestic Abuse Vol I pages page 109-100

Despite the fact that the halacha is clear that a child molester should be reported to the police and in fact it is often required by secular law - the poskim generally state that a rabbi should be consulted first. It is obvious of course that if waiting to consult a rabbi results in danger or harm to the child - that the police should be informed without consulting a rabbi. In the normal case where there is time, however, why should it be necessary to consult a rabbi? Rav Sternbuch commented that where there are serious consequences of making a mistake - it is required that a rabbi be consulted for the sake of objectivity. Even if there is little chance of making a mistake, he said that a rabbi needs to be consulted “so the world should not be hefker (without structure and authority).”

In addition in this area besides the danger of misunderstanding information, there is also the possibility of false accusations. Students who want to settle a score with teachers or divorcing couples whose lawyers advise them to make false accusations to gain custody are a danger which a rabbi can help prevent. In most cases there is no danger to a child by consulting a rav first and if there is concern that there will be then the police should be contacted. It is always best to consult a rabbi who has a lot of experience in these matters and especially once who has close relations with mental health professions and government social agencies and the police. Even after consulting a psychologist or lawyer, a rabbi should still be consulted before going to the police. Not just because of the reasons already discussed, but also as protection against those who mistakenly consider all informing the police as being prohibited. These elements can not only harass those who go to the police but they can cause severe damage to them by their slander and criticism of the entire family.

Rejecting a rabbis psak when he says not to go to the police

One frequently encountered problem is when there is clear evidence of child abuse and yet the rabbi consulted says not to go to the police. He might say that the molester promised never to do it again or that the molester’s family or community or yeshiva might suffer significant financial losses or embarrassment. In other words if the rabbi is saying to sacrifice children for the sake of money or embarrassment or the disgrace to the community, it is clear however that this view has no basis in Jewish law. We don’t sacrifice innocent people for the sake of negative consequences to others. Rav Moshe Sternbuch commented that that any rav who would say such a thing is not practicing as a rav. A rabbi has an obligation to provide protection to the victim. By definition it seems it is an unjust ruling. Any rabbi who makes such a ruling may be ignorant of either the halacha or he doesn’t understand what the molesting or wife abuse causes. Therefore if there is time - another rabbi should be consulted.

However an alternative reason that a rabbi might say not to report the molester is that he feels he can guarantee protection for children against the molester. For example he might threaten the molester with a severe beating or provides supervision or he claims the molester has repented and won’t abuse again. He might also claim he can provide therapy equal or better to a psychologist. While these seem to be logically equivalent to the police, the likelihood that they will be effective is not very high. Therefore one should find a competent rabbi who agrees that the police should be informed in the case of actual abuse. Rav Sternbuch commented that only a known talmid chachom posek can posken these problems.


  1. Will these corrections be reflected in new copies of the book that are now being shipped?

  2. this is an excerpt from the book
    Rav Sternbuchs comments and corrections are included

  3. 1. "If there is time, another rabbi should be consulted." This implies:
    2. If there is no time, just go to the police.
    3. "One should find a competent rabbi who agrees that the police should be informed"
    4. "Only a known talmid chachom posek can posken these problems."

    K'vod HaRav,
    Do you fail to see how (2) and (3) are out of consonance? And how (3) makes absolutely no sense in its own right, because we know that we will only accept an answer in the affirmative, and so it makes no sense to look for a rabbi by that logic? And how (4) accomplishes the IQ-lowering feat of being both redundant and irrelevant at the same time? (redundant b/c it's the same as 3, irrelevant for the same reason 3 is irrelevant!)
    Rabbi E., please explain to me how I am wrong. Because if I am not, then this excerpt is an embarrassment to your intelligence, a public bizayon of yourself and Rabbi Shternbuch, and an excellent attempt at humor!

  4. I too find Rabbi Sternbuch's comments strange. As I read it Rabbi Sternbuch is trying to reconcile two goals, upholding the important roles of rabbonim in paskening and advising and the reality of many rabbonim who are fundamentally under qualified in this area. Rabbi Sternbuch is obviously hoping to raise the level of rabbinic competence in this area and he is challenging them to seek the expertise of others. He is well aware of the Chazon Ish's dictum that most bad psak results from a lack of knowledge of the metzius (the realities of the phenomenon). Accordingly he is urging rabbinic consultation while offering a guide to the clues that you are dealing with a rav who is alas incompetent in this area.

    Frankly I wish Rav Sternbuch was a kanoi on this issue the way the Eidah shows it kanois on other issues. When rabbonim take the wrong position on other issues they denounce them, sometimes by name. I wish R. Sternbuch would come up with 2 lists, one of rabbonim who are reliable on these sort of matter and those that are not. Then he would not have to write such contradictory suggestions.

  5. Rav Sternbuch shlita is smarter than your daas baal habatim. I'll take his Torah understanding over anyone here, any day of the week.


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