By Bracha Goetz, Matzav.com
Agudath Israel of America has been making numerous statements recently clarifying their position on reporting abuse to civil authorities. Outrage about these statements (which advocate the reporting of abuse to rabbis before the civil authorities, if one did not actually witness the abuse) has been coming fast and furious. There is a great deal to celebrate about the Agudah’s important clarification, however.
On public transportation, recently many signs have cropped up, advising us: “If You See Something, Say Something” – referring to unattended packages or suspicious activities that need to be reported to the police. We are further advised by metropolitan transit authorities not to try to investigate these suspicions on our own. Likewise, the Aguda is now getting the word out to us as well that “If You See Something, Say Something.” If one sees abuse, that person is obligated to report it to the police.
We are also advised not to investigate suspicions about abuse on our own. In contrast to the public transportation campaign, though, eizeh dimyan, the phrase which Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv uses for mere suspicions or conjectures, about abuse need to be brought first to a rov well experienced in both cases of abuse and the halachos pertaining to reporting, in order to determine if the suspicions have “raglayim ledavar” – legs to stand on, halachically – which are required in order for those that did not actually see the abuse to make a police report.
During an interview on the Zev Brenner radio show on the Motzei Shabbos following a published clarification of the Agudah’s stance, Rabbi Chaim David Zweibel, Executive Vice President, emphasized that it is not only halachically permissible for a survivor of abuse to report to the civil authorities a perpetrator who is still at large and a danger to others – it is an obligation. This point never seemed to be as clearly and strongly emphasized before, and it is of utmost importance to publicize this vital information.
Rabbi Zweibel pointed out that our halachic obligation is much more stringent and far-reaching than the secular law. All Jews who have been abused by a perpetrator who can still be a danger to others are required by halacha to report their abuser directly to civil authorities. Others, learning of the abuse, can only report to the civil authorities after first checking with a knowledgeable rabbi to determine if it is halachically permissible for them to report. Thus, every single Jewish person becomes a mandated reporter when necessary.
When an adult female who was a survivor of abuse called the radio talk show to ask if she should report the abuse inflicted upon her by a relative in her childhood, Rabbi Zweibel clarified that if the abuser could still harm others, then according to halacha, she had an obligation to report the abuse to the civil authorities, whether it be the police or a child protection agency.
If children are molested, while still children, they would not have an obligation to report abuse, just as they do not have an obligation to do any other mitzvah, like keeping Shabbos or eating kosher food, but the mitzvos are considered necessary for their training to become responsible Jewish adults. Nobody else can do these mitzvos for them, but parents can help support, assist and train their children as much as possible so that they can fulfill mitzvos. Children who are survivors of abuse certainly need a substantial amount of assistance, support, and training in order to be able to make a report to a civil authority as well, and this chinuch is vital for the wellbeing of our victimized youth.
Our community is gaining the clarity needed to understand the importance of finally containing our predators. As this discernment builds, the essential encouragement required for children, as well as the adult survivors of childhood abuse to report to protect others, can be provided more and more readily.
It is a major step forward for Agudath Israel to publicly seek to clarify that according to halacha, the survivors themselves are obligated to report directly to the civil authorities if the perpetrator can still be a danger to the public. All others, upon hearing second-hand about the abuse from a survivor, would still need to check with a rabbi who is an expert in both abuse and the halachos pertaining to abuse. Those that did not suffer from the abuse directly would need evidence that reaches the threshold of raglayim ledavar (“roughly, reason to believe“) before reporting what they heard to the civil authorities.
The same strong Torah obligation to report abuse that the actual victims have, does not apply to those who have been told about the abuse by the victim. This means that those who hear about a survivor’s abuse at the hands of a perpetrator who is still of danger to others need to encourage the actual survivors to report to the civil authorities. As more and more rabbis publically clarify how vital it is for survivors to make these difficult reports, the community will gradually rally more and more around the survivors rather than the predators, for the betterment of all.
Then Rav Elyashiv’s directive will finally be widely put into practice. When the Rav was asked whether a community member who has sexually abused a child should be reported to the police, he responded: “One should report to the government when one knows [from circumstantial evidence] that the accused has transgressed; and in this there is benefit to society” (Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Yeshurun, XV, Nisan 5765, p. 641).
“However,” as the Agudah makes clear in its most recent published statement on the subject, “where the circumstances of the case do not rise to the threshold level of raglayim ledavar, the matter should not be reported to the authorities. In the words of Rav Elyashiv, perhaps the most widely respected senior halachic authority in the world today, “I see no basis to permit” reporting “where there is no raglayim ledavar, but rather only ‘eizeh dimyon’ (roughly, some mere conjecture); if we were to permit it, not only would that not result in ‘tikkun ha’olam,’ it could lead to ‘heres ha’olam’ (destruction of the world)” [Yeshurun, Volume 7, page 641].”
Those who have not witnessed the abuse themselves need to seek the aid of a rov competent to make these types of decisions about whether it is permissible to report. The actual victims know what has taken place. The circumstances of their cases rose to the threshold level of raglayim ledavar, the moment their innocence got ripped away.
Rav Hillel Weinberg, Rosh Yeshivas of Yeshiva Aish HaTorah in Yerushalayim, Israel, wrote last week:
Let us unite to find the lost, torn, injured children of the Al-mighty and return them with healthy bodies and spirits, neshama and nefesh, to their Father, our Father, who cries out for them – Ayekka? (where are you?).
Agudath Yisroel has stepped forward with vital help. We, in turn, can help the Agudah’s statement to be actualized loudly and clearly. Through providing the extensive support necessary for survivors to have the courage to report abuse to the civil authorities as halachically required in order to protect others, may we all be blessed with the revealed goodness of Divine protection. And may we soon bring back all our lost, torn and injured children.
Bracha Goetz is the author of fifteen children’s books, including Remarkable Park, Let Your Fingers Do the Mitzvos and The Invisible Book. She also coordinates a Jewish Big Brother and Big Sister program in Baltimore, Maryland. Mrs. Goetz can be reached at email@example.com.