Monday, June 8, 2009

Abuse - "teshuva" & cover-ups

Guest post:

I will share with you how I think about cover-ups. Every single society has had sexual abuse of children since the dawn of Civilization, and covering up sexual abuse has been the norm and not the exception for most of history. When rabbonim distort halakhic categories (teshuva, Chillul HaShem), I take this to be evidence that they are having a hard time coping, themselves, with the horrors that there are adults in our midst who have a ta'avah to do these things to children. Sexual abuse provokes this more than physical abuse by the way, probably because of the great shame that sexual deviancy stirs up in all of us.

So, it is significant to identify when Batei Dinim or posekim deviate from their usually correct stance in halakhic matters--they become more "lenient" in accepting someone's statement as a sign of "teshuva" and more strict in protecting against loshon hora or chillul HaShem than the would, for example, in a case involving theft, damage to property, or fraud.

Maybe just identifying cases where proper halahkic procedures are not followed - and trying to adopt a sympathetic understanding of why accomplished and knowledgeable poskim might find these situations to be very difficult - would be an approach you could take on this in your book.

I know that the concept of teshuva implies the person won't do this again, but I am pointing out that it is implausible to assert that the perpetrator has done teshuva when there has been

1. no apology to the victim
2. no payment for damages or attempt to pay for damages.
3. a "confession" which was not in the presence of the victim or victim's family but rather in front of the rabbonim, which allows the perpetrator to minimize or change the facts

In nezikin, a person cannot stam do teshuva with mere words. I know of a case where the rabbonim protected someone because he did teshuva. However, that perpetrator never even admitted wrongdoing in several of the cases--he continued to deny it! You will not be surprised to hear that he continued to molest sodomize boys despite the Rosh Kollel claiming he would keep an eye on him.

So, yes, we can all be appalled at this bad judgment. However, on technical halakhic grounds I am challenging the notion that such a person can be said to have done "teshuva" when there is no confession, no restitution, no attempt at restitution--not even a din Torah where the victim is heard! I should think that these are power halaklhic arguments against the "teshuva" concept.

Since the rabbonim who are claiming that "teshuva" is a reason for them not to worry about further episodes are in general much more knowledgeable about the halakha than I do, I assume that they know very well that there is no halakhic basis to claim that "teshuva" has been done, that it is fact just a ploy to help with a cover-up.


  1. We see a similar distorted view of "teshuva" in the Monsey treife meat scandal of a couple years ago. The perpetrator, after fleeing town and compensating neither his customers nor competitors, shortly thereafter produced an elaborate, flowery letter saying, "I'm sorry". Those two words hardly fit the authentic Jewish view of teshuva.

  2. If the rabbi bases his ruling that you can call the police because he considers the molester to be a rodef (pursuer) - then once the crime is completed the molester loses the status of rodef - unless it is reasonable to consider that he will repeat the crime.

    Teshuva is a code word to indicate that there is no basis to suspect that the crime will be repeated. Thus the perpetrator is not considered a rodef and there is no basis to call the police.

    The problem is that in fact the word of a child molester doesn't have much worth and it is highly likely that he will repeat his crime.

  3. Rabbi Eidenson,

    Can you get a written psak from Rav Sternbuch regarding reporting child molesters to the police? Also if he can address the proper applications of the laws of mesira, motzi shem ra, lashon hara and teshuva as they apply to child sexual abuse cases. Such a written document will help educate those that continue to pervert these halachos. This perversion of halacha has contributed greatly to the continued coverups in our communities.

  4. The best article on this in English is by Rabbi Professor Michael Broyde, "Informing on Others for Violating American Law: A Jewish Law View" in Journal of Halakha and Contemporary Society, Volume 43, Pesach 5762 (Spring 2002) pp. 5-48. An excellent primary source is the discussion in the Aruch HaShulchan 388:7. This is discussed in Rabbi Broyde's article. There is also an excellent shiur online by Rabbi Hershel Schachter available at which can be downloaded for an mp3 player. Finally, I have an mp3 of another excellent shiur on mesira by Rabbi Breitowitz which is more academic-he discusses the opinions of various posekim. Rabbi Schachter actually poskins that in American or Israel there is not a prohibition of mesira in most cases because of the relatively humane conditions of the criminal justice system and the fact that the Jews are given due process.


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