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October 8, 2015 / 25 Tishri, 5776
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Our Children Are Not Hefker

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

One week ago on my website I announced my intention to attend the next court appearance of a man who was arrested last year and is now standing trial on 10 felony charges of child abuse.

I am attending the court proceeding to stand with and support victims he allegedly abused and to let them know they are valued members of our community.

I am doing so to send a loud and clear message to the predators who abuse our precious kinderlach: Our children are not hefker.

I am doing so to support the rule of law. Time and experience have proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that well-meaning, untrained people (like this writer) are powerless to protect children. Chazal (Avos 3:4) wisely stated that we must pray for the stability of our government for “if not for the fear it holds over its citizens [who commit crimes], a person would swallow his neighbor.”

In my web post, I asked members of our community to please post supportive comments, which I would print out and deliver.

All week long, people wrote the most beautiful notes of support to the victim and his family members. As of this writing, more than 200 individuals from across North America, Europe, Eretz Yisrael – even Australia – posted comments and sent e-mails of support.

I strongly encourage readers to visit the website and join this effort. (Go to www.rabbihorowitz.com and look for the post with the title of this column). Let the family members know we love them, are terribly sorry they had to suffer this way, and will do everything in our power to see that those who abuse our children will be reported and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

I respectfully ask that you kindly sign your real name and your city of residence. We should be proud to do what the Torah instructs us to do – 36 times, no less, far more than any other mitzvah – to give comfort to the gerim (strangers) among us as they lack the support structure so vital to one’s well-being. I can think of no greater “stranger” than the innocent children who have been ravaged by pedophiles.

When Yaakov Avinu criticized his children Shimon and Levi for killing the residents of Shechem after their sister Dina was violated by the son of Shechem’s leader (Bereishis 34:31), he gave two reasons for his displeasure with the vigilante actions of his children: (1) they shamed the family and made them loathsome in the eyes of the neighboring nations and (2) they placed their family in life-threatening danger of an attack by the incensed people surrounding them.

Shimon and Levi responded to their father’s critique with a four-word phrase: “Ha’chizonah ya’aseh es achoseinu? – Should our sister be treated like a harlot? ” Rashi explains that they meant to say their sister is not “hefker” (lit. one who is abandoned), but rather has family members who are willing to lay their lives on the line for her.

At first glance, it seems Shimon and Levi gave an emotional response rather than a logical one, since they did not address either of the two concerns their father expressed. It is almost as if they acknowledged their entire family would be shamed and in grave danger as a result of their actions, but they asked Yaakov to take into account the mitigating circumstances and understand that theirs was a visceral reaction due to the situation at hand.

I would like to suggest an alternative understanding of their response to their father’s rebuke. They may have been answering the critique point-by-point by explaining that if they allowed their sister to be treated as hefker, (1) a non-response to their sister’s defilement would be a far greater shame to the family than the one they caused, and (2) the family would be in greater danger than before since the neighbors would assume that they could violate Yaakov’s family members with nary a response.

Permit me to take a page from the response of Shimon and Levi and propose that our reluctance to squarely stand with abuse victims who report predators to the authorities has sent a shameful and dangerous message – that we do not have the moxie to do what it takes to keep our children safe.

We are also sending a shameful and dangerous message when we sit by silently while friends and family members of the alleged perpetrators harass the victim’s family members for reporting the abuse to the authorities. That is why your notes of support for the victim’s family are so very important.

Sitting on the sidelines and not supporting victims of abuse is not really a neutral position, for your silence only emboldens the perpetrators.

In his remarks upon accepting the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, Elie Wiesel eloquently stated: ” And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Each and every one of us has a sacred obligation to stand with the victims and with those who are oppressed. Again, we need to send a loud, clear and consistent message: Our children are not hefker.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam and founder and director of Agudath Israel’s Project Y.E.S.

About the Author: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam and founder and director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S.

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