Editorial by the publisher of Ami Magazine - R' Yitzchok Frankfurter July 27, 2011 page 6
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The unspeakable tragedy of Leiby Kletzkys murder united humankind as few things recently have. People of every race and creed expressed their heartfelt pain over what happened to that innocent, angelic child. However, as Rabbi Avi Shafran rightly points out in his columns this week, while it may have united people far and wide, an all-too-public exception found its way into the Jewish world.
The New York Jewish Week, a publication that has long been viewed by many as anti-Orthodox, saw in the tragedy an opportunity for slander. In its editorial entitled "Lessons from Leiby," dated July 19, 2011, it seems to fault Leiby's parents for reaching out immediately to Shomrim, and goes on to state:
"While many rabbinic authorities encourage their constituents to contact police immediately in cases of suspected abuse ... or other crises, there is still a stigma in some Orthodox communities to seek help from the authorities.
"Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president emeritus of the Orthodox Union, has often noted that when your house is on fire, you call the fire department, not your rabbi. Similarly, he maintains, when there is a suspected crime, the first call should be to the police.
"But that logic has been slow to take hold in some neighborhoods, sometimes with unfortunate results.
"In the meantime, attention should be focused on strengthening legislation for mandated reporting in New York to emulate states like New Jersey, where any person having reasonable cause to suspect abuse is required to report. Such legal action would prevent neighborhood watchdog groups from withholding from the police potentially vital information about suspects. This is particularly timely in light of reports that several neighbors of the accused killer say he had tried to abduct other boys in the neighborhood. Such incidents need to be reported."
No one else, from governmental authorities to major media, found any connection between the horrific crime perpetrated by a fiend named Levi Aron and this prejudiced publication's pet issue: the alleged failure by the Orthodox community to report abusers to the police. In addition to the weekly's gross insensitivity in raising such accusations during a period of mourning, the charge is false. Just this very week, Agudath Israel of America publicized once again the ruling of gedolei Yisrael "that when certain standards have been met it is not only permitted but in fact obligatory to report suspicions of abuse .... Where there is 'raglayim la'davar' (roughly, reason to believe) that a child has been abused ... the matter should be reported to the authorities.... "
The only caveat: "Because the question of reporting has serious implications for all parties, and raises sensitive halachic issues, the individual should not rely exclusively on his own judgment to determine the presence or absence of raglayim la’davar. Rather, he should present the facts of the case to a rabbi who is an expert in halacha and who also has experience in the area of abuse - someone who is fully sensitive both to the gravity of the halachic considerations and the urgent need to protect children."
Some were upset by the directive to consult with a rabbi. What is wrong, though with seeking rabbinical guidance before going to the police? This is but the Orthodox way of life. Yet this halachic ruling of leading decisors has been distorted not only by The Jewish Week, but by a gaggle of "activist” groups, falsely contending that the Orthodox people are obligated to go to a rabbi instead of the police, when that is not what the rabbinic ruling said at all.
While The Jewish Week claims that it seeking to help our community, when was the last time it reached out to assist challenged Orthodox children who are not victims of a crime? There is virtually no reportage about our children who may be learning disabled or suffering from serious disease. These poor souls, too, need our compassion and help. But, to The Jewish Week, crimeless victims seem of limited interest. Apparently, when an issue that affects the Orthodox community does not provide an opportunity to criticize or misrepresent, is ignored.
It is true that there are Jewish people, even within our own community, who have come to distrust rabbonim on the issue of abuse. Perhaps that is why some have joined the chorus of condemnation of the ruling that a rabbi should be consulted prior to reporting to governmental authorities. But instead of denouncing the rabbonim, it would be more constructive to assist rabbis in becoming more aware of the dangers and signs of abuse. Seminars for rabbis on this issue, perhaps sponsored by the Agudah, would certainly be a step in the right direction.
Despite the detractors, at the same time that we seek to protect our children, respect for our rabbinic leadership is paramount. Protecting our children and respecting our leaders are our solemn duties that will also lead to a more promising future.