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Responding to Abuse: Should We Ask Gedolim?

The welfare of the child requires that every allegation be investigated.
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As the scandals and the chillul Hashem increase, Rabbi William Handler, in a recent op-ed article on JewishPress.com, attempts to justify not reporting abuse to secular authorities.

He asserts that one should go to a gadol who has “siyata deshmaya.” The fact that there is no evidence that this has reduced abuse in the past is far less significant than its assertion of frumkeit. Not one of the major poskim who analyze the level of certainty needed before calling the police has ever made the claim that he is better equipped to deal with abuse. Victims can only be further traumatized when told to go to the very rabbis who failed to acknowledge their pain and hurt in the first place.

The Talmud in Yoma (83a) discusses the role of doctors in determining whether a person is permitted to eat on Yom Hakippurim. It’s clear the Talmud recognizes expertise and trusts the knowledge of a person in his field. Even non-Jewish experts are trusted to determine taste in a mixture of kosher and non-kosher ingredients.

Most troubling is the argument that there is a group of so-called experts working for the state agency protecting children who are looking to take Jewish children from their parents and have the parents prosecuted. In this scenario, if they don’t find the Jewish parents guilty of abuse they will lose their jobs.

Rabbi Handler apparently is not aware that there are not enough social workers available to deal with the many abuse victims in the general community; this renders moot his claim that social workers are looking for victims because they want to keep their jobs. The reality is exactly the opposite – the child protection agencies in fact need more social workers.

It will be unpleasant for parents when unusual injuries of infants treated in emergency rooms are investigated, but children’s lives will be saved. The police are not quick to arrest, and it takes many such incidents before a child is taken away from his parents.

Even when charges are made by one parent against the other in a divorce dispute – a circumstance ripe for false accusation – the welfare of the child requires that every allegation be investigated.

We do not live in a country where the social agencies or police are prejudiced against Jews. Yes, mistakes are made, as in every judicial system, but the solution cannot be anarchy. We read about faulty prosecutions, but no one has suggested the correct response is to let all offenders go free. Sexual abusers, who often are chronic offenders, have to be separated from potential victims. The proper approach would be for the Orthodox community, especially the day schools, to work with the state agencies.

It is no longer the time for this sterile debate. We do little to prevent abuse and less to help those who have been victimized. The cries of the survivors can no longer be ignored.

Where is the support for those who struggle to overcome the double trauma of having been abused and not believed when they came forward? The recent case in Lakewood where the rabbinic leadership defended an abuser (who was convicted after other victims came forward and he admitted guilt) and hounded the victim’s family has produced not one apology from the rabbis involved.

We have seen case after case, conviction after conviction, but there has been no change. What is needed is a discussion about how to get the Orthodox community to acknowledge the extent of the crisis. We must stop trying to protect our image and start protecting our children.

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About the Author: Rabbi Yosef Blau is mashgiach ruchani at Yeshiva University and an advocate for survivors of abuse.


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8 Responses to “Responding to Abuse: Should We Ask Gedolim?

  1. Jacob Alperin-Sheriff says:

    Of course a YU guy is going to disagree with Rabbi Willy Handler. Any yeshivish types disagree though?

  2. Rose T Glasses says:

    Rabbi Nochum Rosenberg and Rabbi Yakov Horowitz are the first examples that come to mind.

  3. Benny Forer says:

    Thank you to Rabbi Blau, who has continuously demonstrated that he is one of the few who has consistently supported survivors of abuse instead of the perpetrators and their supporters.

  4. To echo Benny below: "Thank you to Rabbi Blau". One of the very few senior Rabbis to tell it like it is, and display it in his actions, publicly and consistently. Can someone please explain the meaning of "Chillul Hashem" (desecrating G-d's name, bringing Yiddishkeit into disrepute) to the others? Their silence and inaction, or worse, falls into that category.

  5. John Smith says:

    Some Rabbis are (incorrectly) more concerned about their olam habo than their children's olam hazeh. If they would realize that a molester is a rodef exactly like a murderer then they would take moser out of the equation and whole heartedly agree that the police must be called. Enough.

  6. Rachel NeuFryman says:

    "We must stop trying to protect our image and start protecting our children." So true and this dialogue is so important. Thank you for raising awareness and advocating for victims.

  7. Joel Pearl Handyman says:

    Rabbi Handler's argues that “if the government social worker does not find any cases, there is no justification for the existence of her agency, no justification for paying her salary and benefits. So, she has a clear bias in favor of seeking something—anything—that would justify a finding of child neglect.” So Rabbi Yosef Blau is trying to answer that argument by saying that "the child protection agencies in fact need more social workers."

    Rabbi Yosef Blau might have refuted Rabbi Handler's argument to the incoherent minds only. Those who think Rabbi Blau made a valid point are the same people who confuse apples with oranges. Honestly speaking, how in the world does “government social worker agencies being understaffed” have to do with the fact that the social workers have a clear bias to “dig up” abuse? So are you also saying that if the police department is understaffed, the traffic cops won’t have a bias to ticket people?

    Furthermore, it didn’t seem to my sister that there’s an understaffing problems at the government when she was harassed by the DCP 2 in the morning (like they did in Soviet Russia) the same night that hot tea spilled on her child from the counter. They then kept coming for weeks and weeks before they gave up. They even interviewed each child separately to try to get a hint of abuse but came up with nothing.

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