Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Rav Zilberstein: Only rabbis can decide about child abuse

Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein (click link for recording) spoke at the Jerusalem Conference on child abuse and pikuach nefesh - primarily about issues of doctors and pikuach nefesh. There is a brief segment of several minutes - starting at about 34 minutes into the recording - in which he responds to a question about reporting child abuse to the police. He responds very harshly regarding psychologists (despite the fact that he was speaking to an audience of frum mental health workers. He said only rabbis can decide these issues. He mentions the case of a frum yid who is serving 15 years in jail because what he claims are false charges brought against him by a child which a psychologist validated with drawings. He claims that the rabbonim know 100% that the man is innocent while the police were totally dependent on the fantasies of the psychologist. Bottom line he insists only rabbis know what to do with charges of child abuse.

Yitzchok Zilberstein (Hebrew: יצחק זילברשטיין‎, also spelled Silberstein) (born 1934) is a prominent Orthodox rabbi, posek (Jewish legal authority)[1] and expert in medical ethics.[2] He is the av beis din of the Ramat Elchanan neighborhood of Bnei Brak, the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Bais David in Holon,[3] and the Rav of Mayanei Hayeshua Hospital in Bnei Brak.[4] His opinion is frequently sought and quoted on all matters of halakha for the Israeli Lithuanian yeshiva community.

He married Aliza Shoshana Eliashiv (1936–1999),[5] a daughter of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv and granddaughter of Rabbi Aryeh Levin. She assumed the financial burden for running their household and encouraged him to continue studying Torah.[5] They began their married life in Bnei Brak, where Rabbi Zilberstein studied in the kollel attached to his alma mater and received another rabbinic ordination by the leading posek of Bnei Brak, Rabbi Shmuel Wosner. Subsequently, Zilberstein moved his family to Switzerland, where he served as a rosh mesivta and maggid shiur in the Yeshiva of Lucerne[5] for several years (From Wikipedia)


  1. I agree with Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein shlit"a 100%.

  2. The mesayeah of a rodef is a rodef....August 31, 2011 at 7:46 AM

    I don't understand. If the Rabbis had 100% evidence that the man was innocent, why didn't they simply give it to his defense attorney?

    The police are not the judge jury or executioner. They make the arrest and there is a trial and the man is given the chance to defend
    himself with legal representation.
    What possible explanation could there be for the rabbis to have evidence that the man was innocent but not present it in court?

    If they did present it and it was overlooked because of some magical powers of the "evil" psychologist, then the Rabbi should at least let us know what this evidence was.

    I suspect that the jury that convicted the man because they were convinced beyond any reasonable doubt of his guilt, were unimpressed with the rabbis' evidence, and that maybe the evidence was misinformed because of the rabbis lack of training in how to do a forensic evaluation of a sex crime. This would be a very good explanation for why Rabbi Zilberstien, Shlita, does not present us with what the evidence was, and how the psychologist with his "drawings" was able to convince a jury to take away a man's civil liberties against the "100% knowledge of innocence by the rabbis."

    There is a very well respected Rov in Brooklyn, for instance, who publicly claimed he knew an alleged molester was innocent because the accused swore to him on a Sefer Torah. However, in court it came out that the man had given a full confession to a psychologist, and to several other Rabbanim.

    Bottom line is, Rabbi Zilberstien, Shlita must hold "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". If he actually likes the results of the last three decades or more in which rabbis were in charge of sexual abuse cases, then so be it.

    Those parents who are unsatisfied with the results and the mageyfa that has destroyed thousands of yiddishe neshamas, have no choice but to try a new approach, which is why Rav Zilberstien's shver, Rav Elyashiv Shlita said that any reasonable suspicion should be reported directly to the police.

  3. Because the secular courts are neither fair nor just. Innocents are convicted and guilty are let free in secular courts.

  4. Part of the black and white thinkings of this community is that any criticism of a great man is seen as an evil, personal slur and a direct insult to God Himself.
    I would not go to a pharmacist if I was looking to build a bridge. I'd go to an engineer because he's trained to build bridges. I would not got to an accountant if I had chest pains. I would go to a doctor.
    Are "Gedolim" trained in the assessment of child abuse? Are they trained in psychological assessment of children?
    If I had a halachic issue I would go to the Rav. But this is not that.

  5. The question is : can a frum yid actually sin / commit a crime?
    A bit of lomdus is required here.

    If a frum person sins, do they remain frum? Or does it depend on what the sin is? If he continues to wear a kippa, teffilin, tzitit, , that makes him frum, but he can do whatever he likes and remain frum?

    Next, we need to know what R' Zilberstein's Daas is regarding secular court systems. Do they have any validity at all (in halacha)?

    If they do, it is one thing. If not, then there is no reason or circumstance whereby rabbonim should agree to / permit handing over somebody to the legal system.

  6. in the name of infallibilityAugust 31, 2011 at 10:43 PM

    Well,you are back to the question that the Agudah was presented with-which Rabbis with what qualifications? It seems that it is obvious that there are incompetent people in the secular world but in the Rabbinic world by some act of supernatural intervention,there are no incompetents. Some Rabbis don't handle gittin some don't handle ribis questions,some won't do geirus but everyone can decide on child abuse issues!

  7. Who said every rov deals with child abuse issues? That is incorrect.

  8. very strong words -- perhaps too strong, from Dr. Lipner

  9. shemesh said...

    Who said every rov deals with child abuse issues? That is incorrect.
    why is it incorrect? There is no gezera that only certain rabbis can deal with the issue. There is no special semicha for dealing with the issue. There have been many cases where the rabbi has mishandled the situation and really didn't understand what the issues were. The fact is any rabbi can make decisions regarding abuse.

  10. "There have been many cases where the rabbi has mishandled the situation and really didn't understand what the issues were."


    There have been many cases where the psychiatrist or police or prosecutors have mishandled the situation and really didn't understand what the issues were.

  11. Dovid said...

    "There have been many cases where the rabbi has mishandled the situation and really didn't understand what the issues were."


    There have been many cases where the psychiatrist or police or prosecutors have mishandled the situation and really didn't understand what the issues were.
    I guess you agree with Rav Menashe Klein who critizes the gedolim for using the police to protect against abusers.

    The teshuvos of Rav Eliashiv, Rav Wosner, Rav Halberstam etc - acknowledge that the rabbis are not the address to obtain protection from abusers. Their focus is whether there is sufficient evidence of abuse and whether it is a danger for the future.

    The issue we have been discussing is who can decide when to call the police- it has not been whether the rabbis are better at investigation, placing sanctions, protecting the victims or are more prone to err in identifying an abuser.

    the rabbis simply don't have the training, knowledge and power to effectively deal with the situation.

  12. The Torah teaches us, and especially the Judges, not to favour one side or another, not to be partial - eg towards a poor person, or a great person. This obviously applies also to a frum person.
    Now, in general, the secular legal system doe snot adhere to this concept. A woman au pair stole £90K from her employer, but was spared jail, because she is a single mother!
    Problem is, neither the Rabbis , nor the secular courts can apply the Torah Law . (Rabbis don't have the power today, and courts do not have the knowledge). But that doesn't mean that criminals should walk free.

  13. Looks like you'll have to take a brief break from your favorite topic of late to update your Yad Moshe now that Iggros Moshe part 9 is out

  14. >But that doesn't mean the criminals should wal free.<

    I'm afraid that's exactly what it means! :(

  15. The claim "psychiatrist or police or prosecutors have mishandled the situation" is a complete straw man argument. First of all is it making a huge sweeping charge without details. but more importantly, there are cases where doctors gave a wrong diagnosis on some disease, where engineers designed something incorrectly, all sorts of cases where the professional in charge did something wrong, made a mistake, was sloppy. And people suffered from these mistakes/sloppy work.

    So should we use rabbanim in all these cases?

  16. Rabbonim can deal with this issue only if they have experience in dealing with this issue..How should they get experience...Go sit down with parents and a victim or psychologist and begin to understand what happens and what it does to the child and family. I know a Yerushalmi family that's broken emotionally and financially from dealing with the abuse that happened to his son for 2 years (age 5 - 7 sexual abuse that left emotional scares as well as physical R"L!!!!)

  17. "The claim "psychiatrist or police or prosecutors have mishandled the situation" is a complete straw man argument."


    The claim "rabbonim have mishandled the situation" is a complete straw man argument. All the same points as above.

  18. Even though I am areligious Orthodox Jew, any person who will listen to a Rabbi who says not to report to the police that a child (especially their own child!), that Rabbi should be embarassed to allow a child to be abused just because he thinks that the US laws don't calibrate with those of the Torah. You hurt a child, you go to jail. Even if the witness is a woman (G-d forbid right?) or if the child told the father and the father didn't actually see it.

    Additionally, imagine it's your chgild who has been abused. Will you allow some evil man to hurt them because a Rabbi said so? What happened to the rule not to allow your friend's blood to spill needlessly? People forget that we forget the innocent child when we focus on the criminal.

  19. The comments here are confusing two different issues. One is how to deal with a known abuser. Rabbonim are clearly not qualified to deal with that -- and R. Elyashiv has paskened that one must go to the authorities to stop such a person from hurting others.

    The second is when one has some evidence of abuse, whether one has enough knowledge to do so. This is a very serious shailoh because being wrong can hurt someone in either direction -- an innocent person may be convicted, sent to jail, and repeatedly raped/sodomized. On the other hand, innocent children may be hurt if one does NOT go to the authorities. So there is lo sa'amod al dam re'echa on both sides.

    This type of shailo is not unique to abuse. The Chofetz Chaim talks about, for example, if you have reason to suspect someone is a crook, and someone else is about to go into a business partnership with him. Similarly, the matter can come up in shidduchim, if you have reason to suspect something negative that would destroy the shidduch. The only difference is that here the power of the State can destroy someone more than a failed business deal or failed shidduch.

    IMO, this is a shailo in halakha, pure and simple: does someone in a given situation have enough knowledge and evidence to go to the authorities or not, and risk possible false conviction and punishment? (The secular system is far from perfect, and child abuse cases in particular historically have been subject to hysteria and false convictions.) This shailo has the seriousness of dinei nefashos -- lives on both sides are at risk. R. Elyashiv has set forth the standard: raglayim le davar. Unless the situation is crystal clear, I don't see how anyone can pasken this on their own.

  20. Let's add one other angle to the issue.

    Take the parent, whose child says something about an incident that sounds like abuse. The parent should NOT just grab the phone and dial 911, but interrogate a bit further. We can all understand that there needs to be more of a complete story before taking the next step.

    The issue of raglayim ledovor, clear in the teshuvos cited earlier, is a serious issue. One reason that I, as a parent, cannot decide that, is my bias that is inherent in being the parent. My assumption that I have raglayim ledovor might be correct, but can I rely on my own reaching that conclusion? All that the Torah leadership has been saying is that someone better equipped, with the capacity to be objective, should give the OK. Inasmuch as this a matter of halacha, it should be a Rav.

    I admit that the rabbonim who should be doing this need much, much more education and training. No, they do not have to evaluate the child - that's completely beyond the expertise of the Rav. No, they should not interview the alleged perpetrator, hear about how he makes it to minyan thrice daily, and conclude that he is innocent. This is not about determining guilt or innocence. It is about being objective in recognizing this as a case to be further evaluated.

    I also hope that the energy that is being wasted on bashing the Agudah, rabbonim and poskim everywhere, would be channeled in to making more training and education available to those rabbonim that will passing cases on to the secular authorities in accordance with the psak from Rav Elyashiv and others.

  21. Anyone know which criminal this rabbi is referring to? I would really like to know.

  22. The Rabbi is plainly and simply wrong. They are out of their depth. Period.

    The tragic story below only reaffirms that the police and only the police should be consulted if and when there is a stench of these crimes

  23. It seems to me that we're all forgetting one major distinction. "Mesirah" consists of informing idolators whose legal system does not conform to the requirements of Bnei Noach that a Jew has violated one of their laws. In contrast, informing the civil authorities of a modern nation state with developed legal institutions and the only real policing authority that a possible crime may have been committed is entirely within Halakhic parameters. We can rely on those judicial systems even though they are imperfect because not to do so is to foster a "hefker velt." The standard in criminal cases in the US is "guilt beyond a reasonable doubt" - in many cases that is a tougher standard for prosecutors to meet than what the Halakhah requires. That the testimony of a child is not admissible in Beis Din and the fact that innocent people are sometimes sent to jail in the US, should not be factors in determining whether to report a believable accusation of abuse, even when the only witness is the child-victim, to the secular authorities.


please use either your real name or a pseudonym.