When Do You Report Child Abuse?

Marc B. Shapiro writes:

After my previous post on ultra-Orthodox tolerance of sexual abuse, there were some who doubted that there is any rabbinic support for this. Those who can read Hebrew, please read the following responsum from R. Menasheh Klein, Mishneh Halakhot, vol. 16, pp. 169-171.

…According to Klein, there is never a time when sexual abuse can be reported to the police, even if a child is being continuously raped. That is because there are never two male witnesses who see the abuse. If someone does report the abuse, it is a mitzvah to kill the moser. If anyone has a difficult time understanding why a segment of the hasidic world time and again offers support for the perpetrator and ostracizes the victim, this is all the explanation you need. From their perspective, the victim who goes to the police is worse than the sexual abuser. Based on Klein’s understanding, I don’t think there is a “heter” for a woman who has been raped by a Jew to go to the police, because there is no halakhic evidence of a crime. (He also says that it is forbidden to turn in a murderer. In case anyone needs to be reminded how crazy this viewpoint is, I am writing these words only a few hours after the monster who killed Leiby Kletzky was identified.)

A friend insists that there is no difference between Klein’s position and that of Agudat Israel. This is not true at all. Whereas Klein states that someone can never be turned in to the police, the Agudah position is that a molester can be turned in, but only after a rabbi gives approval. The Agudah position continues to develop, and I have no doubt that in the end the Agudah will end up holding a position identical to that of the RCA. I also think that it is public pressure that will move Agudah in this direction, as public pressure has been responsible for all the adjustments in the Agudah’s position that we have seen until now.

Yet even without public pressure, the current Agudah position is so untenable, that it will have to be updated. For one, it asks people to violate the law. The law is clear that some people are obligated to contact the police when they suspect child abuse. By insisting that a rabbi be consulted before doing so, mandated reporters are being put in the position of being told by a rabbi to refrain from doing something that the law requires. Do the Agudah constituents realize that listening to the rabbi in these circumstances can open them up to both criminal and civil penalties?

As for the rabbis, I can’t imagine who would agree to be on the Agudah’s panel of rabbis that will examine accusations of abuse in order to determine if it is permitted to go to the police. If one of these rabbis rules that the evidence is not compelling and it is therefore forbidden to go to the police, and the rabbi is wrong, he opens himself (and the mandated reporter) to a lawsuit by the parents of the molested child. Whatever the ultimate verdict, the lawyer fees alone will end up bankrupting the rabbi. Is the Agudah prepared to set up a fund to defend rabbis sued by parents of molested children? Certainly not, which is why no rabbi who is thinking straight will ever agree to put himself in such a circumstance. The Agudah’s position also leaves the organization itself vulnerable to a lawsuit by parents of victims.

Finally, unlike so many of the cynics in our community, I don’t think the Agudah position is all about protecting rabbis, guilty or not. I really do believe that the Agudah recognizes that there is a problem. It is convinced that the rabbis it will charge with examining abuse cases will indeed make sure that molesters are turned in. The problem, however, is that we have seen all this before. We have seen over and over again that it is precisely the rabbis who have failed in this matter, often because they are not willing to turn on their own. It was precisely because of this that the community of laypeople rose up and said “No more.” One doesn’t need to be a prophet to see that by relying on individual rabbis to determine if an accusation of sexual abuse is credible, there will continue to be cover-ups. (Am I wrong in assuming that these cover-ups never would have happened if women were in charge? Would mothers ever have permitted child molesters to continue to prey on the young?)

The Agudah position is thus both a public relations and legal disaster in the making. The Church tried such an approach already and it doesn’t work. I don’t understand why such smart people in the Agudah don’t see how their new position is doomed to failure.
[5] See here where I attribute the rabbinic silence to the money Tropper was handing out. I also brought proof that even great rabbis are not immune to being influenced by money. Regarding this point, see the recent biography of R. Zvi Pesach Frank written by Shabbetai Dov Rosenthal, Geon ha-Hora’ah (Jerusalem, 2011),, vol. 1, pp. 410-411. A letter from R. Frank is published in which he criticizes members of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate (of which he was a member). The subjects of his criticism were gedolei Yisrael, and yet he accuses them of being improperly influenced by Israeli government money.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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