LA Orthodox Rabbis Explain Abuse Policy

REPORT: A rabbinical group called the Halachic Advisory Board has released a statement following a speech by Simi Yarmush, a California resident who accused rabbis for not aiding her when she came forward about being abused at a young age.

Members of this group include Rabbi Avrohom Union, Dayan and Menahel of the Beth Din of the Rabbinical Council of California (RCC); Rabbi Gershon Bess, Rov of Congregation Kehilas Yaakov in Los Angeles; Rabbi Yosef Shusterman, Rov of Chabad of Beverly Hills in California; and Rabbi Berish Goldenberg, Chairman of Family Commission at RCC and Principal at Yeshiva Rav Isacsohn Academy in Los Angeles.

Here is their statement in full:

We have reflected in recent days on the story of a brave and valiant young woman who has shared her story with the public.

What happened to her happens all too often. Sadly it will happen again. During the course of the dialogue surrounding her message, many questions have been raised. Because of legal restrictions and a code of conduct on disclosure practiced by the professionals involved in this area, we cannot discuss the particulars of this situation.

Nevertheless, as a community that cares deeply about taking action against sexual abuse and providing assistance and comfort to their victims, we believe it is useful to provide to the public an outline of our protocols and procedures that are now and have long been in place regarding this subject.

We are in constant contact with local authorities and experts in the field and upgrade our protocols when necessary. A review of the attached flowchart will enlighten the public to the model we’ve developed and hopefully promote a thoughtful dialogue to improve the public’s awareness and assistance in tragic matters such as these (COLlive note: The document was not provided for publication).

Who is the Halachic Advisory Board?

In 2001, in response to three horrific instances of sexual abuse in our community, the Halachic Advisory Board (HAB), a group consisting of Rabbinic leaders representing the broader Orthodox Jewish community, made a groundbreaking decision.

Since their inception, they have sensitively provided support, security and resources to victims of abuse. They have undergone numerous training sessions from experts in the field and have trained groups around the country. In situations where victims of abuse were unable to be protected by law enforcement, the Halachic Advisory Board continued its work to find ways to protect victims, families and communities.

The Halachic Advisory Board would quite literally go beyond the letter of the law, to protect victims, families and communities.

Why would a victim not be protected by law enforcement?

In many circumstances including where mandated by law, cases brought to the Halachic Advisory Board are directed to legal authorities as appropriate and/or required by law. In order for authorities to protect a victim or prosecute an offender – charges must be filed.

If a family chooses not to file a police report, there is nothing law enforcement can do to help them. If an act is not legally deemed criminal, there is nothing law enforcement can do to keep someone from causing more harm.

Is anything done to protect a victim who cannot or will not make a report?

The Halachic Advisory Board offers assistance and support in situations to people when law enforcement cannot. In these situations:

· The Offender must agree to engage in a comprehensive sex offender evaluation from a credentialed agency.

· The Offender must sign a release so sex offender evaluation and treatment recommendations of the experts are provided to the Halachic Advisory Board Team.

· Any recommendations provided by the experts involved are facilitated by the Halachic Advisory Board so that there is compliance and follow up with all treatment and other recommendations.

What are the legal issues involved?

In a nutshell, these cases involve various legal principles, some of which conflict:

Most States, and especially California, have detailed laws surrounding a privilege of confidentiality that arises out of the physician-patient, psychotherapist-patient, and rabbi-congregant relationship.

In some situations, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) rules apply. In addition, licensing Boards are very protective of patients. Interestingly, these protections not only obviously apply to abuse victims; they may also serve to protect abusers. Abusers may also insist on confidentiality as a condition to submitting to analysis and treatment.

In circumstances where the victim insists, for understandable reasons, on secrecy and identity protection, the Federal and State constitutions provide protection to Offenders (called the right of confrontation). This right effectively prevents the Police, Rabbonim and all others from accusing the alleged Offender. The Offender must have the right to face his/her accuser and the right to challenge the allegations.

· State slander and libel laws make an accuser liable for compensatory claims if they cannot prove the truth of the accusation. Such proof of truth becomes impossible where the identity of the abused must be protected and not be disclosed or where the accuser does not know the identity of the abused.

The Halachic Advisory Board has achieved extraordinary success over the decades in combating abuse. Those of us who are and have been involved everyday with these significant, heart wrenching issues have devoted our lives to helping people rebuild after abuse occurs. Working together with authorities and experts of all segments of the community, as well as using our contacts nationally and internationally, we can prevent abuse and create a safer environment for all of us.

Testimonial from Paul Bishop, Supervisor (currently retired) of the LAPD West Bureau Sexual Assault Detail:

“As the supervisor in charge of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Operation West Bureau Sexual Assault Detail, I have interacted with the rabbinical council on a number of occasions regarding allegations of sexual abuse brought to their attention by those they serve.

“I always found them to be anxious to seek proper guidance and willing to follow through on a discussed and suggested course of action. They were always open and concerned with doing the right thing, never holding back information or shying away from difficult situations, even if moving beyond their comfort zone in order to provide the best resolution to a situation.

“It is rare to find this kind of ongoing relationship of mutual trust and respect between law enforcement and a religious hierarchy. I was both personally honored and professionally privileged to work with these fine individuals.”

About Luke Ford

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