Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlita - Guidelines for calling the Police III

Chaim Yankel asked..

"He replied that the rabbis in those days were not aware of the serious impact these attacks have on children.'

Why was it SO poshut to many balei battim 15 yrs ago, what is now poshut to the Rabbonim?

The issue of what is poshut is not so poshut. The history of psychology is replete with twists and turns and what is todays gold standard can be viewed as malpractice tomorrow. There was a time when it was considered obvious that abused and neglected children should be placed in foster families or orphanages. Now many consider it better keep the child at home and provide intensive in home supervision. At one time it was considered a sign of insanity for a wife or child to be disrespectful of their husband or father. People were sent to mental hospitals for years because of this offense. There was a time that schizophrenia was believed caused by dysfunctional mothers. There was a time when people had chunks of their brain removed because of problems of anger. There was a time when it was considered obvious that families - no matter how dysfunctional - were told to stay together for the sake of the children. At one time it was obvious that those who suffered trauma needed to talk it out. Now it is known that many times such counseling actually makes the problem worse. There is a time when children who have trouble sitting quietly through hours of boring classes are given potent psychiatric medicines to make them more obedient.

Only in the world of Blogs is the obvious course of action for every major question - poshut. As you will note below - even a world reknown psychiatrist such as Rabbi Dr. Twerksi admits the complexity of these issues and that even he is not competent to decide every issue. Only the bor and am haaretz who is high on righteous indignation - "knows" the answer to everything and "knows" that the rabbis, teachers, parents [the establishment] are evil and stupid. For those people who are part of the real world and want to make constructive criticism - there is one important rule to keep in mind. While most important and necessary change comes from the bottom up and not from the top down, most of the time there is no need to destroy an institution or community to get change. Ranting and raving and slandering with shotgun attacks sometimes produces needed change - however such an approach often impedes change. Not every problem requires an atom bomb.

So to answer the above question. What was poshut to many baalei batim 15 years ago was not poshut to many other baalei batim. What is obvious today to many psychologists and educators was not obvious 15 years ago. Even in the so called scientific field of medicine - 15 years has seen major changes in what is poshut. Even today there is not unanimity as to what is the appropriate course of action on many critical issues. Why don't we try to work together instead playing the game of "gotcha" - of striving primarily to discover and publicize how stupid and evil others are.



Spouse Abuse in the Jewish Community Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.

[page 3]

There will be those who will say that such subjects should not be aired publicly, and that to do so is a chilul Hashem, a disgrace to wife batterers. I understand that position” but if I must choose between being reprimanded by those who believe that this problem wife batterers. I understand that position, but if I must choose between being reprimanded by those who believe that this problem should be concealed or by a wife who has suffered (along with her children) from an abusive husband, and could not receive help because no one believed her, I know where I must make my choice. Battered wives have often turned to their parents or to their spiritual leaders for help. Very often they have been told to avoid disrupting the family unit, to preserve shalom bayis (peace in the home), and that things will work out. Parents and rabbis are good and considerate people. They mean well, but they may have no way of knowing that their advice is wrong and could be deadly. In our daily confession (oshamnu), we list a number of sins to which a human being may succumb because of anger, greed, lust, and various temptations that may override a person’s better judgment. We also confess to yoatznu ra, “we have given bad advice.” Why on earth would anyone do that? What gain or pleasure could possibly result from misleading someone else? Surely we are not suspect of being sadistic and deriving pleasure from malicious behavior. No, we are not in any way suspect of being perverse. Yoatznu ra, means that we have mistakenly and unintentionally given bad advice, which we thought to be good advice and beneficial to those who sought our counsel. It is much like someone telling a friend, “Try this medication. It did wonders for me,” without knowing that the other person has a condition for which this medication may be very harmful. Unless we understand the problems of spouse abuse, we may unwittingly give bad advice to our children, our friends, our clients, and our parishioners….

[page 130]

I am not going to elaborate on the all-important subject of the various types of child abuse, because I am not a child psychiatrist or psychologist, and I do not have adequate direct clinical experience to speak intelligently and authoritatively about the subject. I can only try to alert people to the fact that these problems do occur in the Jewish home, and as with wife abuse, there is no immunity. Child abuse and molestation may occur in homes where we would least expect it. I urge child clinicians to provide first hand, comprehensive data on this vital subject, and for everyone in the community to give their utmost attention to this problem and to do whatever it takes to uproot it. Concealing the problem only serves to perpetuate it, and as distasteful as it may be, the community must confront the problem even at the risk of exposure. The issue of mandatory reporting must be looked at carefully and clarified. There is often reluctance by neighbors, relatives, and teachers to report child abuse. Should one report suspected child abuse or only when one knows for certain? Children do fall and injure themselves, and if an overzealous teacher reports the case of a child who was injured in a fall as one of child abuse, will the family be unfairly harassed? What should be done when one is not certain? How can one investigate in order to discover the truth? It is clear that everything must be done to protect the child from abuse, but by the same token, false reporting may cause harm to the child and the entire family. This and other issues require a great deal of enlightenment, and there is a need for extensive education and training for parents, educators, counselors, and rabbis. The area of child abuse is a subject for a whole book, and I touched on it only because of the strong correlation between spouse abuse and child abuse.


  1. Thank you for your thoughtful answer. My comment was certainly not על מנת לקנתר. I certainly hope you didn't take it that way. Not everyone who reads "that" website agrees with it's owner ;)

    But you should understand that many of us have seen the terrible damage wrought due to past mistakes of some Rabbis. One has the impression that in a least some of the cases, what was more important was the reputation of mosdos and not the well-being of the children. What other impression can one have when perpetrators were quietly sent away, with no concern for what they might do in their new places of employment? Rabbis (at least some) understood there was a danger to the children under their care, and therefore gave perpetrators no choice but to leave town. What we would have liked to have seen was the same concern for next set victims.

  2. R'DE,
    I think the challenge is that there is a perceived (understandable) institutional bias not to disclose which , to the outside observer, may seem to outweigh the best interests of the child. Our general rule is not to let someone who is "nogeia badavar" rule on cases of perceived conflict, yet who would suggest going outside "the system" to bring in expertise (even rabbinic) not from the particular group involved?

    Joel Rich

  3. the results of not calling the police!

  4. The Baltimore Jewish Times has an important article by editor Phil Jacobs about how the problem should not be handled

    Analysis: Anti-Child Molestation Meeting Fails

  5. “even a world reknown psychiatrist such as Rabbi Dr. Twerksi admits the complexity of these issues and that even he is not competent to decide every issue.” Maybe.

    But based on the excerpts you have provided, “extensive education and training for parents, educators, counselors and rabbis” could make all of them competent to decide certain cases. Given that “rabbis … mean well, but they may have no way of knowing that their advice is wrong and could be deadly,” rabbis have no special status.


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