Friday, July 5, 2013

Halachic Synopsis for Child & Domestic Abuse - reviewed by Rav Moshe Sternbuch

We have seen that there are rabbonim who have failed to acknowledge their error in running a talmid chachom out of town for reporting abuse to the police. It seems that part of the problem is a lack of knowledge about the issues of child abuse - both the halacha and the psychology. Therefore I am posting my synopsis which was reviewed and approved by Rav Moshe Sternbuch. (This is included in my books on abuse.) They mistakenly claim that calling the police is mesira and that a beis din is required to give permission and not just a single rav. They are not aware that an abuser is a rodef and that he thinks differently than normal people - and can not be trusted. Some rabbonim seem willing to talk with me - this is the initial step.

Update July 6 2013 Regarding G's question of whether my view  and that of Rav Eliashiv is inconsistent with that of Rav Sternbuch:

I don't think there is any difference between Rav Eliashiv and Rav Sternbuch. What I have been saying all along is based on the halachic guidelines I heard from Rav Sternbuch.

1) If you think there is a possibility that a delay in contacting the police places a child risk - then go right to the police.

2) If you think that a there is no harm in waiting then consult a rabbi. However Rav Sternbuch clearly has said one does not abdicate his judgement when consulting a rabbi. It is to basically just to provide an objective view that there is reasonable basis to suspect abuse. However if you feel that the rabbi is wrong - then you are required by Rav Sternbuch to ask another rabbi. All of this again is only if the delay doesn't create a possibility of danger for a child. Rav Sternbuch said in addition that a rabbi needs to be consulted in order that the world shouldn't be hefker. Again this principle does not override the welfare of a child and thus is only relevant when it doesn't endanger a child's welfare.

In addition if there is mandated reporting - in New Jersey that applies to everyone - then you also must report possible abuse. Rav Sternbuch said that even with mandated reporting one should go to the rabbi because the police don't mind if you ask a rabbi or professional or friend first.

This latter point is problematic. There is no question that some places don't mind or rather there were some places where up till recently didn't feel it was critical to report immediately. However if they do insist that you report immediately you could get into trouble for delaying. For example if a child is abused because you delayed then you could be in serious trouble. The halacha does not require you to endanger your welfare, finances or professional license to first consult a rabbi. So practically speaking - especially where there is mandatory reporting - it is typically best to go right to the police if you think that any delay would possibly danger a child.

In sum - I recorded what Rav Sternbuch told me his views are. And he approved the accuracy of my report. However I am saying that utilizing his principles - most of the time it is best to call the police first because the lack of rabbis who know what they are talking about in these issues and therefore there is the distinct possibility that a delay caused by trying to consult with a rabbi would endanger a child.Thus on a practical level you are creating a possible harm to a child by delaying. Rav Sternbuch seems to feel that typically you will have time to consult a rabbi without endangering the child. It is thus a question of reality - not of halachic principle. In my experience with Rav Sternbuch - he doesn't actually conduct an investigation and call in witnesses. He listens and if it sounds that there are grounds to suspect abuse then he says to call the police.

The rabbi is not serving as a beis din and the rabbis is not poskening halacha here. There is no din of mesira in reporting abuse. Reporting abuse is a non-judicial procedure based on rodef. Even if it is only a sofek rodef - we treat it the same as certain rodef.

A molester is considered a rodef because typically they will attack again.  We did have a disagreement regarding someone who hasn't molested for many years. Rav Sternbuch said he is presumed to be no longer dangerous while the professionals I spoke to disagreed and said that some pedophiles will be inactive for 20 or more years and then start again. This is especially true after they have been sentenced to jail for abuse - they tend to behave themselves for various periods after getting out. On the other hand as far as I know there is no requirement to report according to  mandated reporting - if you don't think it likely that he will attack again.

My understanding of Satmar and Lakewood - is they are in agreement with Rav Menashe Klein. There is a requirement of beis din, there needs to an actual investigation and witnesses and they don't seem to understand that nice people with proper yichus can be pedophiles. They don't understand that promises mean nothing to a pedophile.They are not trained or experienced in conducting an investigation in these issues. In sum they are willing to give the molester the benefit of the doubt - even at the expense of children being attacked. Rav Sternbuch is clearly not requiring anything which might endanger the child and he leaves the investigation up to the police.


  1. Not loading in my firefox.

  2. I've been reading your opinions for a while.
    My impression was that you say (and that Rav Elyashiv said) go straight to police on allegations (here you suspect they are true). This document seems to say go straight to rabbi and if you convince him that the child WAS molested then he will give you permission to go to police if he thinks the guy might do it again.
    With my impression of your opinion and satmar on to ends of the spectrum, this doc is not to far from satmar.
    Have I totally misunderstood you in the past, or is this document just the most Rav Shternbuch would sign off on (in contrast to your stated opinion and advice for practice)?


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