Friday, December 21, 2012

There is no statute of limitation for crimes in halacha!

When one flips a light switch there is an immediate appearance of light. The cause and effect is obvious. If someone steals money and the next week he  is caught and jailed - we say justice is done. 

However if someone robbed a bank as a twenty year old. And has lived as model citizen in his community for 30 years, happily married and has family  - there is a feeling that somehow the past should be forgotten. (There is a bit more problem of a concentration guard who killed and tortured hundreds of people - we don't forgive so fast even if he has lived an exemplary life for 40 years.)

If a person committed crimes but he was never caught and then he died  - should the discovery of his criminal past be mentioned or allowed to be forgotten.

 All this is leading up to the question of sexual abuse. It is not rare but rather typical that there is a significant passage of time between the crime and the complaint and punishment. This is primarily due to the psychological trauma resulting from the crime.

We typically hear, "Why did it take so long before they complained?" "What good is it to put an 80 year old grandfather in jail for raping kids when he was 25 years old." There is much that can be said to explain the psychodynamics but that is really not relevant to the question.

It is generally perceived that by having a delay of years or decades between the crime and reporting and punishment - is inappropriate or even immoral.  However there is no such idea in halacha. 

What about the claim that the person has done teshuva and thus doesn't have to be further punished? The simple answer is that teshuva is not complete without punishment. There is no concept that teshuva erases a crime - whether it is theft or murder.

In sum, a passage of time - no matter how long between crime and reporting - has absolutely no relevance in halacha. If you have any sources that contradict this conclusion I would appreciate being enlightened.


  1. R"DT,
    You might find this shiur of interest.
    Rav Asher Weiss-Vayigash

    While R' Weiss does not come to halachic conclusions, he begins (IMHO there's a lot more to be said and thought about) to address the issue of the authority of beit din to take into account "extra halachic" considerations. I'd be really interested in your take on it (e.g. extrapolation from melech to beit din)
    Joel Rich

    1. interesting - thanks. He doesn't really get into the basic issues however.

      The Abaranel raises the question as does the Ran regarding whether the ability to deviate from the Torah because of the needs of the time was left to the king or it was part of the job of the Sanhedrin. Rambam also notes that the Torah deals with life in general and there are times when it is harmful and thus needs to be modified.

      Meiri (Sanhedrin 17a): This need that the members of Sanhedrin have to be able to permit something clearly prohibited by the Torah can be explained as follows. If the Sanhedrin sees major problems associated with the keeping of particular Torah commandment in their generation – they can create new laws as well as add and subtract from the law on an emergency basis supporting themselves with Torah sources. The Gaonim similarly say that the Talmud permits gedolim to create new decrees and regulations in order to ammeliorate serious problems of their time - even without strong legal justification. The great commentators have noted however that this approach to halacha is only relevant for the major transmittors of the tradition or for those who are masters of correct and clear mature reasoning. No rabbis other than the gedolim – the universally recognized supreme masters of tradition - have the right to do such things…

    2. Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim3:34): It is important for you to know that the Torah does not concern itself with issues which rarely happen. All that it wishes to teach concerning an idea or moral quality or meaningful act are concerned with the majority. It does not attend to something that rarely happens or the harm that comes to only a single individual because of a particular way of evaluation or approach. That is because the Torah is a Divine thing. You have the responsibility to anticipate those things included in the Torah which according to the natural flow of events can be expected to harm certain individuals. … From this perspective you should not be surprise that the intent of the Torah is not fulfilled perfectly for every person. In fact there are some individuals who are not perfected by the Torah…[same as Drashos HaRan]

    3. Derashos HaRan (#11): It is self evident that man needs a judge to decide between differing views because otherwise the members of society would destroy each other (Avos 3:2) and thus society would be destroyed. Every society requires a legal system in order to function so that someone said that even a band of thiefs needs to devise a code of law in order to survive. So obviously the Jewish people need to have rules, just as the other nations. Besides this judges are need to supervise society for another reason. That is in order to make sure the Torah laws are observed by punishing those who are liable lashes and those who are liable capital punishment because they have transgressed the Torah – even though the particular transgression does not cause any deterioration of society itself. There is no question that for both the needs of society and that of the Torah – there are two additional factors. There are times when a person must be judged according to the actual law but there are also times when a person needs to be judged not according to the actual law. That is because there are are times when for the sake of the society or the individual it is necessary to judge differently than the law requires…But since the reason for appointing judges is in order to provide judgment according to the actual law and so therefore the judges can not deviate from the actual law. However since society can not exist solely on following the law itself, G d has given the option of ruling differently then the law by commanding the appointing of a king…. If transgressors are only punished according to the actual law it will end up destroying the fabric of society entirely because murderers will increase since they will not have fear of punishment. That is why G d has commanded that a king be appointed – for the sake of the well being of society…Thus there is an equivalent need for a Jewish society and a non Jewish society to have a king who can act beyond that which the law specifies – in order to preserve the society itself. For example the king is able to judge without concern with the requirement to warn the transgressors and anything else he sees is needed for the welfare of his kingdom. In contrast the appointment of judges is of much greater need for a Jewish society…

    4. Abarbanel (Devarim 17:2):He asserts that the ability to punish beyond the law, is not the job of the king but rather the prerogative of the Sanhedrin.

  2. I learnt in Halacha that if a criminal defendent escapes from Beis Din after conviction and sentencing for a capital crime (or perhaps between conviction but before sentencing or perhaps after deliberations but before conviction -- I'm having a memory lapse at the moment), if a certain amount of time elapsed before Beis Din recaptures him then he can no longer be executed. (I believe the same principle applies to lashes [malkus].)

    1. And therefore what? If you claim that there is a source that if a person escapes trial for a number of years - he is free then that would show there is a concept of statute of limitations. But what you are showing is simply a restriction on punishment and it at most applies to capital punishment.

  3. I agree that the passage of time should not be taken into account in terms of action and punishment.But why, from a psychological point of view would somebody wait?That is not to say"forgive and forget".No way.Action must be taken.But it has been 35 years ago.If they came out earlier there would not have been additional victims.There parents were not children.They knew they should have done this immediately.

    1. this has discussed a number of times and it is various accounts by victims. You might want to read some of them in in volume I of my Child and Domestic Abuse.

      Bottom line trauma and the sick relationship as well as concerns such as not being believed, greatly shamed, fear of ruining chances for shidduchim, not wanting to harm abuser's family and other innocent people, not want to harm abuser etc etc

    2. Noshies

      I was sexually abused in 70/71 when I was at YUs high school.
      It took me decades to remember the incident.
      As soon as I remembered the abusers name came back to me. I verified that the name I remembered was in fact a smicha student and then verified that rabbonim at YU knew about this guy. I believe this had dramatically affected my life with perhaps lingering affects today.

  4. Misleading.

    There IS Teshuva - see C"M Siman ל"ד.

    By monetary matters - restitution is necessary + הוכחות of true repentance.

    By איסור והיתר there must be הוכחות of true repentance.See סעיף כ"ח - ל"ה.

    אין דבר העומד בפני התשובה.

    1. what is misleading? How would we be allowed to execute a murderer when he claims to have done teshuva and he has a number of rabbis certifiying that fact? If he steals - there is no repentance until he returns the money. If we are talking abuse of others - how would you have teshuva if he hasn't been forgiven?

      My point stands - a claim of teshuva alone without the appropriate punishment and forgiveness is not teshuva

    2. Teshuva alone does not help for transgressions punishable by Bais Din. The transgressor MUST first be punished.

      Teshuva alone does not help for monetary obligations. The transgressor MUST first offer restitution.

      Teshuva and asking Mechila DOES help where Bais Din has no authority and no money is involved.

      Today Bais Din does not have the authority to give מלקות and surely not מיתת בית דין. So TESHUVA DOES HELP in cases of sexual abuse, assuming he admits his transgression and follows a protocol similiar to that mentioned in the aforementioned Siman ל"ד - where he keeps a "clean slate" for an extended period of time AND stays away even from דברי היתר that might arouse him.

      Judaism never "writes off" anyone. On the other hand, I think the Halacha is quite pragmatic: Strong proof is required as assurance that the transgressor has changed. At that point he once again becomes כשר לעדות etc.

      So yes - still misleading, when referring to to 20 yr old abuse allegations.

    3. BTW, I think the ADMINISTRATORS who looked the other way, if still employed, should most definitely be punished for neglecting their duties in the past, which if they're still employed could have ramifications for the future.

  5. In this situation, it appears that some students were terrorized by staff members and got no proper hearing or help from administrators. A student in that predicament might be too traumatized to press on with charges, etc. Later, when the former student regains his bearings and the overall climate seems to have changed, the student might get the courage to make his case to the public, hoping at least to prevent further outrages. What in this is so puzzling to normal people?

  6. The person is too traumatized to come forward immediately and it can take even decades to speak out.

  7. if a person does complete t'shuva his sins are forgiven. In the case of a sin of bein odom l'chaveiro you need mechila from the victim. if you molested him/ her not so simple.

    1. He can't do complete teshuva without receiving the appropriate punishment and returning the money as well as forgiveness from the victim. So what isn't simple?

    2. The following citations for hilchos Teshuva are translated by Rabbi Tougher

  8. Rambam Hilchos Teshuva


    At present, when the Temple does not exist and there is no altar of atonement, there remains nothing else aside from Teshuvah.

    Teshuvah atones for all sins. Even a person who was wicked his whole life and repented in his final moments will not be reminded of any aspect of his wickedness as [Ezekiel 33:12] states "the wickedness of the evil one will not cause him to stumble on the day he repents his wickedness."

    The essence of Yom Kippur atones for those who repent as [Leviticus 16:30] states: "This day will atone for you."
    Halacha 4

    Even though Teshuvah atones for all [sins] and the essence of Yom Kippur brings atonement, [there are different levels of sin and hence, differences in the degree of atonement.] There are sins that can be atoned for immediately and other sins which can only be atoned for over the course of time. What is implied?

    If a person violates a positive command which is not punishable by karet and repents, he will not leave that place before he is forgiven. Concerning these sins, [Jeremiah 3:22] states: "Return, faithless children! I will heal your rebellious acts."

    If a person violates a prohibition that is not punishable by karet or execution by the court and repents, Teshuvah has a tentative effect and Yom Kippur brings atonement as [Leviticus, loc. cit. states "This day will atone for you."

    If a person violates [sins punishable by] karet or execution by the court and repents, Teshuvah and Yom Kippur have a tentative effect and the sufferings which come upon him complete the atonement. He will never achieve complete atonement until he endures suffering for concerning these [sins, Psalms 89:33] states: "I will punish their transgression with a rod."

    When does the above apply: When the desecration of God's name is not involved in the transgression. However, a person who desecrated God's name, even though he repented, Yom Kippur arrived while he continued his repentance, and he experienced suffering, will not be granted complete atonement until he dies. The three: repentance, Yom Kippur, and suffering have a tentative effect and death atones as [Isaiah 22:14] states: "It was revealed in my ears [by] the Lord of Hosts, surely this iniquity will not be atoned for until you die."


    Halacha 9

    Teshuvah and Yom Kippur only atone for sins between man and God; for example, a person who ate a forbidden food or engaged in forbidden sexual relations, and the like. However, sins between man and man; for example, someone who injures a colleague, curses a colleague, steals from him, or the like will never be forgiven until he gives his colleague what he owes him and appeases him.

    [It must be emphasized that] even if a person restores the money that he owes [the person he wronged], he must appease him and ask him to forgive him.

    Even if a person only upset a colleague by saying [certain] things, he must appease him and approach him [repeatedly] until he forgives him....

    1. So your post is NOT pertaining to abuse?

  9. It is 100% and unquestionably true that there is no statue of limitations in the Torah and no matter how much time passes and how perfect a life the person is living, Bais Din MUST punish the perpetrator.

    This might not have much implication in contemporary life though. This issue is typically raised with people accused of abuse decades ago. I am not aware of any case where such a person is convictable in Bais Din. The blog has made a case that that even though such people could/would not be found guilty in B"D, we much go to the secular courts to protect the public. Therefore, it seems logical to me, that where there is no reason to believe the public is at risk (based on decades of good behavior), we return the B"D standards and therefore, while (s)he remains guilty and subject to the punishment, we do not need (and perhaps) shouldn't go to the secular courts regarding this matter

    1. good point however when it comes to child molesters there is no evidence to support the idea that a period of good behavior indicates that they have reformed and are no longer a danger

    2. see the next comment and my reply which provides more details

  10. 1) What punishment are you talking about here? Where the secular Statute of Limitation has expired it would seem there is no recourse for punishment. Are you talking about public exposure? That would seem to contradict Chofetz Chaim who says that even in matters of bein adam l'chaveiro where the person has done teshuva it is only permissible to discuss to help the victim regain what they have lost. Whatever is possible to gain in a case of abuse i.e. apology or monetary restitution would seem that it could be obtained through private channels (at least as an initial attempt).

    2) Don't you quote R' Sternbuch in your book saying that after 15 years one may no longer report?

    3) What would your opinion be where the acts were done by a teenager. Many mechanchim who work with teenage boys will tell you that it is not uncommon to have a boy who engages in inappropriate behavior with his peers. Most of these kids with proper help can go on to lead healthy and productive lives. Should we be exposing them many years later for things they did when they were kids? (Unless there is a distinction between actions against peers as opposed to children).

    1. excellent points

      1) You are correct this is not an issue of punishment. However a molester can not do teshuva without being forgiven by the victim. If the victim has paid large sums of money for therapy and had his life ruined - as a minimum the molester owes him a lot of money to obtain forgiveness. If someone destroys a house - is it prohibited to publicize the damage? If the molester has not acknowledged the crime nor made an effort to ask forgiveness - what is wrong with publicizing the injury and why is it prohibited to attempt to get compensation in a civil lawsuit? Rav Silman has written that it a molestor should pay for therapy. I agree that this might be handled through private channels - but I would consult an expert in child molesting as well as legal advise as to whether the private approach is likely to 1) bring peace to the victim 2) result in compensation 3) remove the possible danger to the public of the molester.

      2) Yes Rav Sternbuch is quoted in my book that after 15 years not to report because of the assumption that the molester is not a danger. However as I note in my book from the Mayo Report on Pedophile this assumption is not supported by real life experience with molesters. The literature I have seen as well as number of expert therapists in the area says that there is absolutely no evidence to support such a commonsense idea and that even after 20 years or more of inactivity a molester can start up again. While it might work for thieves or murderers it doesn't work with perverts. One therapist said that one of the major benefits of jail is that molestors tend to behave themselves for a number of years after jail - but the mere threat of jail doesn't stop them. Another therapist told me of a case she was dealing with a a man in his 70 who had molested his daughter when she was 10 -13 and then stopped and now 20+ years later had started molesting his granddaughter. His daughter had incorrectly assumed because her elderly father hadn't molested anybody for 20+ years he was safe - but he wasn't.

      3) I agree that sexual behavior amongst children or same aged young teens is a different issue and that it is possible that they won't repeat it. In fact I believe it is common in secular law to require a 5 year or more disparity in age before and act is called statutory rape. However this was not what is alleged happened at Y.U.

    2. 1) There is no recourse in the secular legal system. And Marc is correct that it is loshon hora to publicize it.

      2) Rav Shternbuch is correct. Even the medical literature does not maintain that someone who molested one time, and has not done so in the twenty years since, will usually do so again over 20 years later in any but the rarest circumstances.

      3) Teenagers are halachicly adults not children.

    3. 3) Teenagers are halachic adults, not children. And no medical literature maintains that a 16 or 17 year old perps have a different molestation repetitive rate than 18 or 19 year old perps.

    4. 1) There is no recourse in the secular legal system. And Marc is correct that it is loshon hora to publicize it.

      Sorry but the assertion of anonymous person on a blog has absolutely no significance - please provide a source that one can not go to secular courts to seek compensation that a beis din can't provide?

      2) Rav Shternbuch is correct. Even the medical literature does not maintain that someone who molested one time, and has not done so in the twenty years since, will usually do so again over 20 years later in any but the rarest circumstances.

      We are not talking about someone who molested once we are talking in the case of YU and others of someone who is accussed of multiple allegations of molesting

      3) Teenagers are halachic adults, not children. And no medical literature maintains that a 16 or 17 year old perps have a different molestation repetitive rate than 18 or 19 year old perps.

      So what. This is a question of whether they constitute a danger in present or future.

      We are not talking about beis din following Jewish law. but actions based on the issue of rodef. the experts I have talked with have indicated that there is possiblty a difference dealing with teenagers in the time while hormones are strong and sexual identify is perhaps unclear as well as ability to control behavior. In contrast an adult who has molested a number of times is presumed to have a lifelong problem. As I have indicated this is a question for an expert.

  11. 1) Please provide a source that it isnt loshon hora to publicize. Otherwise it is classic loshon hora situation. And financial legal compensation must be sought in beis din, not arkoyos secular court.

    2) Who said the YU rabbis didn't molest more recently? You agree that a one-time molester is different than a repeat offender? Do you know of any medical literature that discusses someone who molested eons ago but it has been conclusively determined has not done so in over 20 years?

    3) What is the cutoff age and why that specific age?

    1. 1) Don't understand what you are talking about. any case where a person has a claim against another that he takes to beis din or secular court is lashon harah. What is the heter to go to beis din?! If it is possible to go to beis din then that should be considered- but it is unlikely that beis din would be effective.

      2) As I have pointed out rodef situations do not require that you first go the the library and research and reconcile hundreds of research articles. A sofek rodef has the halachic status of rodef. Furthermore I said a person should go to an expert in child abuse and ask him whether someone might be a danger. Furthermore it is very rare that someone has been conclusive determined that he hasn't done anything in 20 years. Perhaps a person who had a stroke and hasn't moved in 20 years - but other than that it doesn't really exist.

      3) Again - go to an abuse expert in each case. Rodef situations simply require a reasonable concern that person is dangerous - not proof.

  12. Fenster,

    I don't know where you've done your research but there are alot of studies on the Internet documenting the differences between adult and adolescent offenders.

    Furthermore where the victim and the perpetrator are close in age a diagnosis of pedophile would not apply so all the studies of pedophile reoffending would not apply.

    From a halachic perspective I would agree that where there is a strict halachic liability a teenager has the status of an adult however where the matter is more subjective I would suggest there is room for differentiation. I would further suggest that we find a halachic concept of a teenager not being liable bidei shamayim so we see that outside the strict liability of Beis Din there is a diffrentiation for teenagers.

    As for a cutoff age I think most would put that between 18-20 but as R' Eidensohn states an expert should be consulted where there is doubt.


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