Friday, July 3, 2009

Abuse - Rabbi's prime responsiblity is protecting people from harm

In addition to rabbis being the gatekeeper to those who want to utilize resources from the secular government - when the Jewish community lacks the power to properly protect the children – they have a much more fundamental function.The Jewish community is not absolved of its obligations to its members just because the secular government can step in when asked. In fact the Jewish community must first do all that it can to protect its members – before involving the secular government. In other words if the Jewish community can in fact protect its members there is theoretically no basis for permitting contacting the secular authorities. What in fact are the obligation of the Jewish rabbis and community leaders? There is a fundamental requirement that applies to all Jews – especially rabbis and community leaders. This is expressed in a number of mitzvos including the following:

Rambam(Hilchos Rotzeach 1:14): Whoever has the ability to save someone and yet doesn’t - transgresses Vayikra (19:16): Do not stand idly by the blood of your fellow man. Similarly if one saw his fellow man drowning in the sea or being attacked by bandits or wild animals and he had the ability to save him himself or hiring others to save him – and yet he didn’t save him. Or he heard that non‑Jews or informers were plotting to cause someone harm and yet didn’t warn the intended victim. Or he knows that a non‑Jew or influential person is upset with a fellow Jew and he has the ability to placate them and to eliminate their complaints and doesn’t placate them. And all similar situations which a person doesn’t save his fellow man when he had the ability to do so – has transgressed the prohibition of “don’t stand idly by the blood of your fellow man.

It would follow from the above that the leaders have an obligation to make sure that molesters do not get jobs dealing with children. Being a leader doesn’t exempt a Jew from this mitzva. In fact he bears greater responsibility because he has greater power. That means that they need to notify and warn people concerning potential molesters. If they know or even suspect that a teacher or community member is a molester - they need to publicize that there is a real concern and children need to be watched carefuly. It also means that there needs to be a reliable registery of all those that jobs in yeshiva to have a full background check. They need to be fingerprinted. It also means that all information – which includes rumors – needs to be readily shared and accessible. There have to be sanctions that can be applied to someone who is a molester – even if it means harming the molester's family and/or yeshiva.

In other words if the Jewish community insists Jews can not go to the secular authorities with their complaints and concerns because of the laws of moser and a chillul haShem – then they have the full responsibility of the Torah obligation to protect people from harm. What are they doing to fulfill this responsiblity?

To be continued


  1. Perfect.

    I read this post after I posted on, "When reporting abuse is permitted - gedolim should not do it."

    Rabbi Eidensohn, How do the two fit?

  2. they don't and I think that is the crux of the matter.

  3. Not sure if my post on "When reporting abuse is permitted - gedolim should not do it" was properly clicked by me.

    The essence of what I wrote was that the spousal murder case before Maharam Shick, and the genovim case in the gemara, are distinguishable from child sex abuse.

    Child sex abusers are an everpresent danger. They cannot be cured, even with long term therapy. The damage done to victims is grave, and often permanent: post traumatic stress disorder, depression, substance abuse, brain injury, suicide ideation, actual suicide. Removing them from proximity to children is a mitzvah: lo sa'amod al dam ra'echa, and that mitzvah applies to all Jews, with no exemption for gedolim. If that means reporting abusers to the government, so be it.

    A wife who despises her husband and kills him is different from an abuser. So are genovim. They are not a danger to the community, in the sense of Lo sa'amod.

  4. First of all, I would challenge the assumption that secular society is somehow hostile. At least, that's the impression I got from the first part of the post - why let "outsiders" help us?

    Secondly, I think this post reminds us that while a lot of attention has gone into protecting people accused of such crimes, not a lot has been put into those who are the victims.

    Now, the other issue is that dealing with victims of molestation is a tricky business, requiring a lot of special understanding and training. Is there anyone in the Chareidi velt that is taking such training?

  5. My point was simply that too much attention is focused on whether it is permitted to go to the police. The main focus needs to be what has to be done to protect people.

    There is a clear obligation to notify someone who is endangered by another. If a molester is known or even suspected it is required for those in power to take steps to guard against this person.

    Just as one does not totally fulfill his obligation by calling the police - so too notifying a rabbi is not an excuse to ignore whether anything is being done about the problem.

    This is elementary halacha. Many times the police do nothing and many times rabbis do nothing. The Torah focuses on the victim and a Jew's obligation to save him from harm and to protect him from future harm.

    I talked with an askan recently. He said, "People make the mistake that the rabbis know what to do and are doing what is necessary in these situations. The fact is that there is a need for a coherent program which needs to come from experts in the field. Rabbis are not experts and even the psychologists and social workers are doing things which are not necessarily helpful."

  6. The police and the District Attorney have awesome power. Arrest; fingerprinting; DNA; laboratories; grand jury and indictment; conviction; incarceration; permanent criminal record on the Internet; extradition from a foreign nation; immediate access to local, national, international media at all stages. When it comes to child sex abuse, we Jews are greatly underutilizing these resources.

    I suggest Torah has no middle ground on this. "V'shmartem nafshosachem M'OD."

  7. I do not really understand: the issue of abuse is complicated enough as such: molestors are manipulators, it is done in secret, there can be misunderstandings in interpreting the testimony of a child, etc...

    Why do you complicate it even more by going first to a rabbi, etc?

    The religious decision whether a sick person should fast or not is taken not by a rabbi, but by a physician. So it seems logical that here too, things should be left to specialists. It is really a complicated issue.

  8. Therefore, the best solution would be that every school has a jewish or non-jewish school nurse with thourough training in questions of sexual abuse, who can also go to a supervisor who will help her handle cases if they appear. The nurse could be the councelor for the teachers if they detect signs of sexual abuse.

    It is completely ridicoulus to have rabbis with no specialised training decide on such matters.

  9. shoshi said...

    I do not really understand: the issue of abuse is complicated enough as such: molestors are manipulators, it is done in secret, there can be misunderstandings in interpreting the testimony of a child, etc...Why do you complicate it even more by going first to a rabbi, etc?
    A PhD is psychology does not make a person wise or knowledgeable about people. It does give a certain self confidence that he thinks he knows what he is talking about. Likewise being trained as a Torah scholar does not necessarily make one naive about the world.

    The critical issue is to use people who have experience and have been successful.

    In addition for the Jewish community - child molesting is not like a gall bladder that you simple remove it when it causes problems. There are many manifestations - some of which can be more damaging the than the molestaion itself.

    There needs to be a plan and organization. Goals have to be established as well as means of preventing it. It can not longer be treated on an ad hoc basis.

  10. shoshi said...

    It is completely ridicoulus to have rabbis with no specialised training decide on such matters.
    Specialized training in itself is not necessarily helpful and in fact can be harmful. I have seen enough people messed up by years of therapy with "specialized training".

    There are no mechanical answers to this problem. I do agree with you that being a rabbi doesn't necessarily give a person greater competence to deal with this than others.

  11. Well, I agree that providing the specialised training in itself might be a problem. By the way, I did not mean a PHD in psychology.

    I mean theoretical and practical training in dealing with abuse, which, I agree, is not very developed by now. But this should be the starting point: go to those who know about it, whether they are jewish or not, and learn from them, make sure every child has a competent person within reach (to complain), make sure that the competent person is listened to when she asks to remove a teacher, etc...

    But the approach "I'm a rabbi, so I know how to deal with it" is thouroughly wrong.

    And the approach "Which halachot of lashon hara etc. would be flauted if the child lies?" is wrong too, because the first priority should be: "What security/therapy measures should be taken if the child speaks the truth..." It should not be assumed first that the child lies, but vice-versa.

  12. "There are many manifestations - some of which can be more damaging the than the molestaion itself."
    What exactely do you mean by this?

  13. PS: there are a few basics that have been flauted regularly in the cases I heard of:

    1) "He is such a good teacher - it cannot be that he molests"

    2) "The testimony of the child is not coherent/lacking important details about time, place, etc, so it is not true"

    3) "the victim came out only years later, so obviously it never happened"

    4) "If the alleged perpetrator says he did not do it, so he did not do it"

    5) "All the other children said they were not molested, so the one accusing him is lying"

    6) "The child accusing him came from a disrupted family/has problems in school, so he is lying"

    7) "The reputation of the alleged perpetrator should not be destroyed"

    8) "If he said he will never do it again, we can trust him"

    9) "The perpetrator is in therapy, no more risk"

    10) "He is involved in healing victims of sexual abuse, so he cannot be an abuser himself"


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