by Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz
[Editor’s note: Presumably, CC readers are not interested in sitting in judgment about events they have neither the knowledge nor the authority to judge. Many of us, however, do need to learn much more about the parameters of abuse, and the possibility of witness intimidation. A high-profile trial (with others waiting in the wing) in the frum community increases our awareness of problems with death-dealing consequences. Since I have the pleasure of speaking at times with Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, who possesses a rare blend of experience, professionalism and courage, I encouraged him to submit some reaction. He first offered to submit an original piece; when that proved impracticable for him, we agreed to post the essay he published on his own blog. Here is Part One -YA]
Many of you have asked tough questions regarding my advocacy on behalf of Weberman’s victim and I would like to thank those of you who took the time to write and ask them. From my vantage point, questions are a quintessential sign of respect; it means you considered the issues to be worthy of your time and thoughts.
Here are some of the questions posed by our readers on our website (www.kosherjewishparenting.com) and on twitter (@yakovhorowitz) where a running account of the trial in real time is being posted:
1) Why can’t these things be dealt with internally, and why don’t we work this out in Bais Din?
2) Why should the bar be set lower with abuse cases than with other matters in halacha, where two witnesses and a Din Torah are required to incriminate someone?
3) How can anyone possibly figure things out when there is an accusation?
4) What is this “raglayim l’davar” that so many people mention?
5) So many of the people who bring accusations of abuse have abandoned religion or engage in antisocial/harmful behavior such as drug use. How can we believe them?
6) Don’t we have an obligation to judge others favorably (dan l’kaf zechus)?
7) Why should we trust a 17-year-old’s word over a respected 50-year-old rabbi? Especially when there is no physical evidence only a he-said-she-said? How do we know she is not lying?
8) Why the rush to judgment? Don’t we believe that a person is innocent until proven guilty?
9) Why didn’t you give Weberman the courtesy of listening to his side before you jumped on the side of the girl?
(Please feel free to continue to post questions, comments and complaints at the footer of these columns as it will help us frame and clarify our discussions. I respectfully request that you include your real name and city where you live unless there are personal matters listed in your comment. Our community will be a healthier place when we become more comfortable dissenting respectfully and listing our names when we post our thoughts.)
There are no quick and easy answers to these questions, so forgive me for taking the long route. I believe this issue is so critical that it deserves the time and effort necessary to answer in a fully developed manner.
Gaining a deep understanding of the complex issues surrounding abuse may be one of the most important gifts you can give to your children, so please carefully work your way through each of the links and references provided.
Perhaps the best place to start would be with a brilliant and overarching chidush (novel idea) on this subject delivered by my Rebbi, HoRav Dovid Cohen Shlit’a, at a national conference on the subject of Abuse Reporting in Far Rockaway a few weeks ago. Rav Dovid has been the Posek (halachic advisor) for Ohel Children’s Home and NEFESH for decades now and has been paskening sheilos (giving halachic rulings) of this nature throughout that time frame.
During his presentation and more so during Q&A, Rav Dovid addressed questions 1-4 in many different forms, and he framed the issue early in his shiur (lecture) with a profound one-liner, “This is not a sheila of Hilchos Arayos; it is a sheila of Rotzeach U’shmiras Nefesh!”
He explained that people mistakenly think that since a predator is engaging in a sin of an illicit relationship, it is governed by Hilchos Arayos (Hilchos is plural for Halacha, or Jewish Law. Arayos refers to immorality) as would be a forbidden union of two consenting adults. In that case, it would fall under the domain of Bais Din (Jewish Court) and the bar to punishment would include two witnesses and all other rules of Bais Din.
Child abuse, however, said Rav Dovid, has been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt to be genuine sakanos nefashos (threat to human life) due to the havoc it wreaks on the victim’s life and due to the fact that abuse often leads directly to drug use and suicide. As such, a confirmed child molester has the status of one who presents a life-threatening risk to others – whose laws are discussed in the section titled Rotzeach U’shmiras Nefesh ([Laws Governing the status of] A Murderer and [the biblical obligation to] Guard One’s Life) . And whoever sees someone posing danger to others has an obligation to step in and protect the potential victim.
Rav Dovid stated that the only avenue to provide protection to children from predators is through the authorities who have the training, resources and capacity to investigate and prosecute offenders. But aren’t there false accusations, someone asked? To which Rav Dovid replied, that the people who are best trained to sort things out are the authorities. When a few people pointed out that there are significant flaws in the judicial process, he responded that schools have flaws too, yet we still send our children there. He explained that we either trust the system or we don’t, and we have painfully seen what happens when we try and take care of these things on our own.
On a personal note, during his presentation, he shared with us that he himself is surprised that he has not gone mad from the pain of all of the abuse cases he has listened to over the past 30 years. I humbly second the motion.
As to the broader matter of reporting children in danger to the authorities; … In 1997 when Project YES was founded, I asked the legendary Rabbi Moshe Sherer zt”l (after his passing, I penned This Tribute to him) to help us answer the challenging halachic questions we were dealing with in Project YES. He asked HoRav Shmuel Kaminetsky shlit’a to serve as our rabbinic advisor and we leaned heavily on his broad shoulders during that time. Over the years, Rav Shmuel consistently told us to call the authorities whenever a child was in danger.
The halachic reasoning which drove the psak that authorities need to be called when there is danger to life, extended itself to other areas as well. In 1998, we got a similar, unanimous ruling from a body of our leading Roshei Yeshiva, to report Frum Drug Dealers to the police. It is important to note that our great rebbi, HoRav Avrohom Pam zt”l, who was the most extraordinarily gentle and kind person we knew, spoke first and told me, “Er is a rotzeiach (he is a murderer),” saying that not only can, but we must report the dealer to the police.
There has been a great deal of churn in the media about the Agudah’s position on “raglayim l’davar” (loosely translated as “legs to stand on”), where some say one ought to consult a rabbi if he/she is not sure if the suspicions are legitimate. But there is unanimous agreement among all our gedolim shlit”a that one must immediately go to the police if there is credible evidence!
Over the past few years, I have had the honor of presenting at Agudath Israel Rabbinic Meetings, most recently at the 2011 National Convention and the 2011 MidWest Convention in the presence of our leading gedolim shilt”a including HoRav Shmuel Kaminetsky shilt”a, HoRav Avrohom Chaim Levine shlit”a, and HoRav Ahron Feldman shlit”a, and they each made that point numerous times.
To sum up this segment; the clear, unequivocal and ongoing p’sak, hadracha and shimush (ruling, guidance and mentorship) I received over a period of fifteen years was to do everything in my power to keep children safe from spiritual and life-threatening danger. It was a sacred and overwhelming obligation that was placed on me by Rabbi Sherer zt”l and the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah when we started Project Y.E.S. in 1997 and I try my very best to be their faithful shliach (messenger).
I am humbled and honored to be worthy of their continued trust as evidenced by their full-throated chizuk and haskama (support and approbation) for the Project YES Safety Book we published with Artscroll last August and which has help make over 18,000 Jewish homes safer so far.
That hadracha and shimush compels me to support a victim who comes forward with credible evidence. And there is way more than credible evidence that Something is Terribly, Terribly Wrong here.
To Be Continued…