Thursday, May 19, 2011

The distorted self-serving view of halacha at Sunday's Agudah conference

I listened in dismay to R' Shlomo Gottesman's presentation of halachic issues of child abuse. He picked a very narrow perspective in answering the question of whether halacha allows going to the police to report abuse. The presentation involved snippets from the collection of teshuvos found in volume 15 of Yeshurun. He concluded that it was in fact permitted to go to the police but only if a rabbi had established that there was some - deliberately vague - level of evidence  called raglayim ledavar and that this was for tikun olam (improvement to society). It was asserted that both these conditions could only be determined by a rabbi. In other words one risked being guilty of mesira (informing) and thus lose olam habah if reporting was done directly without first consulting a rabbi. Thus the focus  of his presentation was on preserving rabbinic authority in abuse cases when the rabbi is not capable of dealing with it and the police need to be involved.

He also claimed that requiring a rabbi  to decide whether abuse could be reported did not violate mandated reporting laws.  . He did not say how this is possible but just asked the audience to trust him that it was possible to reconcile the mandated reporting requirement to report abuse and the requirement to allow a rabbi to decide whether abuse is to be reported. It is astounding that he so glibly stated this since he is a very competent lawyer and presumably knows that this is very problematic and that he is unlikely to find any judge or secular social agency to agree with him. He also claimed that there was no need to utilize the concept of rodef  (self-protection) since a rabbi could decide on calling the police by tikun olam alone. That is strange since the concept of rodef is a significant factor even in the teshuvos of the gedolim that he was citing. Why would the gedolim utilize this concept if it wasn't necessary?

So what was really wrong with what he said? The fact is that by entirely focusing on the assertion that permission must first be gotten from a rabbi before contacting the police  - he avoided dealing with the complexity of the  issue of abuse as it happens in the Orthodox community. He obviously felt this was not of general interest but as he put it, this is what an individual needs to speak privately with a rabbi because each case is different.

Unfortunately he squandered an important opportunity. What he should have done was to ask a different question. Not under what conditions is calling the police mesira - but the real question is what does the Orthodox community need to do to protect the children? He failed to note that there are clearly times when a rabbi does not need to be consulted and that furthermore there are clearly times when a rabbi who says not to report should be ignored. He failed to address the more important issue of whether going to the police without community involvement and with pressure on parents not to file a complaint is really protecting the children. He failed to address the fear of reporting because of shidduchim and the danger that a child will be kicked out of school if he/she is found to have been abused. He failed to note that the Aguda has insisted that the financial well being of its institutions are more important than the welfare of the children. That cover ups to protect reputations of rabbis come before the sanity and safety of our children.

But perhaps his biggest failure was to address the betrayal of the abuse victims by the rabbis and community and the severe psychological &  religious damage this betrayal causes. It is commonly observed by those who work with off the derech children that most of these children have been abused.

So yes - there is a legitimate halachic problem of how to deal with mesira - but in reality the issue of abuse is not primarily about how to preserve rabbinic authority - but how to protect our children.


  1. Rav Shlomo Gottesman is indeed correct.

  2. Asher Lipner, Ph.D.May 19, 2011 at 7:34 AM

    This is a historic moment for Klal Yisroel. Rav Eidensohn has already made a contribution that is incalculable with his sefer towards safety and security for Jewish children.

    But this post marks the first time I know of in recent history when a Charedi rabbi was willing to directly question, yet alone argue with the stated position of Agudas Yisroel.

    This means that people are now once again free to use their minds and to study the sources and while having the utmost respect and reverence for the mesorah, to nevertheless question and think with their G-d given brains, as well.

    Mazal Tov. Shehecheyanu, Vkeyemanu Vhegeyanu Lazman Hazeh!

  3. "...when a Charedi rabbi..."

    Every Tom, Dick, and Harry calls himself "Rabbi" these days.

  4. The "mesira" issue is perhaps a red herring. BY that, I mean it is something that has developed from times of anti-semitism. Yes, to betray another jews to the authorities, or to denounce somebody in the times when there was heavy persecution.
    By bringing this mentality to the present day, even in Israel, with a secular Jewish police force and legal system - it is allowing a massive loophole for abusers. And they see hunting grounds with impunity in these closed circles.
    It is not even limited to "Haredi" world. The Takana movement in the modern zionistic Orthodox is a new body- in response to a series of high profile cases a decade ago. In one major Yeshiva, where a senior rabbi was abusing students, the students were threatened about going to the authorities. In my view, that is when Mercaz HaRav yeshiva lost its credibility.

  5. Oh hang on, an Agudah-nik presented a biased and selective view of halacha?

    Has it been thirty days since the last time that happen so we can say a she-chechiyanu?

  6. Rabbi Eidenson has refuted the Agudah position effectively. I have three additional questions. Why the position was presented by a lawyer and not by a known posek? Is there a list of the knowledgeable rabbi who should be consulted about abuse? Why does Lakewood not follow the Agudah policy? (In Lakewood one can never go to the police because no Orthodox Jew should ever go to Jail and the beis din set up to deal with abuse was closed down.)

  7. Kol Hakavod!! What Asher Lipner said.

  8. Frank,

    You wrote: "Rav Shlomo Gottesman is indeed correct."

    What are your qualifications to make any comments whatsover?

  9. Kol Hakavod what the Agudah said.

  10. Sing it, Rabbi. Tell it like it is!

  11. Josh Werblowsky M.D.May 21, 2011 at 10:19 PM

    I want to highly commend Rabbi Dr. D.Eidensohn for his courageous and honest post.Your desire to state the truth to power is most exemplary.
    Our goal is to protect our precious children and show that
    Halacha represents these same values.

  12. For a rabbi to be able to judge whether it is appropriate to "escalate" the case, presupposes he has all of the credentials and expertise of the child welfare workers, courts and police. This is of course nonsense.

    The bottom line is, there is no reason NOT to report suspected abuse.


  13. Avi Hill, IsraelMay 22, 2011 at 1:44 PM

    A friend and Rabbi sent me this statement, written by Rav Avraham ben Harambam (the Rambam's son) in about 1200, in Meavo ha-Aggadot, chapter 2:
    One who wishes to uphold a known view and to elevate the one who said it, and to accept his view without analysis and evaluation whether this view is true or not- this is a bad trait. It is forbidden according to the Torah and according to logic. It is illogical for it indicates inadequate comprehension of what needs to be believed; and it is forbidden according to the Torah for it stays from the path of truth... The Sages do not accept or reject views except on the basis of their truth and proofs, not because the one who says them is who he is.

    Its always been clear to me that the Torah demands a person use his common sense. If this whole concept of 'daas torah' as its applied today was true how could you ever apply the rule "Who do you listen to the Rav or the student?" For example if a a Rav tells you to murder someone, you don't - if whatever he says is 'Daas Torah' how could you refuse?! Folks - the rule that "if he tells you your right is your left, you must believe him" only applies with the SANHEDRIN!

  14. Thank you Rabbi E. for demonstrating that there is a real basis for contacting police--immediately--in these abuse cases. In that case, you are helping to protect the children. We appreciate it.

  15. R.Eidensohn could you elaborate when one does not need to consult a Rabbi or listen to him?
    This is a most important issue. Do Rabbis really have the expertise to evaluate this issue?

  16. whats shlomo gottesmans legal name as a lawyer?


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