Over one hundred prominent haredi rabbis and Jewish educators from across the United States have signed a landmark public pronouncement, urging the public to help combat the scourge of sexual abuse.
The kol koreh (public pronouncement) has already garnered 108 signatures, affirming the obligation under Jewish law to immediately report and notify secular law enforcement when a reasonable suspicion of child abuse exists.
While there is no indication of higher levels of abuse within the haredi Jewish community than among the wider public, victims rights activists and victims of abuse themselves have long complained that too often cases are not dealt with properly, due in part to some community leaders preferring to deal with abuse themselves instead of reporting it to police.
In some cases, abusers have even been encouraged to leave the country on a self-imposed "exile," thus evading police while remaining free to carry out their crimes elsewhere.
The pronouncement thus represents a potentially historic watershed, due to its unprecedented, broad-based support from a large number of haredi rabbis from every major Jewish community. The letter addresses the need to prevent and eradicate the epidemic of child abuse adversely affecting the Jewish community.
Some of the prominent signatories include Rabbi Nota Greenblatt, Rabbinical Judge and Dean; Rabbi Dov Aharon Brisman, Chief of Court; Rabbi Peretz Steinberg, co-chairman of Bais Din Agudath Yisroel; Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, Dean; Rabbi Noach Isaac Oelbaum; Rabbi Kalman Epstein, Dean; and Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst, Rabbinical Judge.
The letter refers to the Torah’s statement in Leviticus 19:16, admonishing Jews to “not stand by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.” This passage “obligates every member of the community to do all in one’s power to prevent harm to others.” According to the document, “Every individual with firsthand knowledge or reasonable cause for suspicion of child abuse has a Torah obligation to promptly notify the proper civil authorities.”
One of the document’s prominent signers, Rabbi Yechiel Perr, Dean (Rosh Yeshiva) of the Yeshiva of Far Rockaway/Derech Ayson Rabbinical Seminary, explained that from a halakhic perspective, turning a blind eye isn't an option.
“People stand by and do nothing because they don’t want to get involved. It’s not their business. But it is! The Torah has made it everyone’s business when a Jew is being harmed.”
Rabbi Simcha Feuerman and Chaya Feuerman, prominent psychotherapists in the haredi community, hailed the letter.
“This kol koreh and consensus of rabbis and judges is a step forward in prevention and removing any barriers for reporting perpetrators,” they said in a joint statement.
There is currently a movement underway in the haredi community encouraging the reporting of child abuse to the civil authorities so as to deter abuse. Rabbis are now increasingly assisting in prosecuting and convicting Orthodox sex offenders, whereas in prior years many avoided doing so for fear of "shaming" the community, or in the misplaced belief that they could handle things more effectively themselves.
In one particularly significant development, Rabbi Shraga Feivel Zimmerman, Chief Rabbi of Gateshead, England, recently testified against a haredi child molester. Abuser Todros Grynhaus, son of a prominent rabbinic judge in the UK, was convicted and sentenced to thirteen years in prison for a series of vile crimes.
Gateshead is home to Europe's largest yeshiva, and its haredi community is known as particularly insular, making Rabbi Zimmerman's public appearance in court all the more significant.
In a recent lecture, Rabbi Zimmerman proclaimed: “We have to educate ourselves to understand the pain of these children… It’s time that we say ‘Enough!’ It’s time to end the silence.”
Another signatory, distinguished author and lecturer Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, noted that sexual abuse can often totally destroy young lives
“It is our job to protect the guarantors of Torah which are our children,” he declared.
Many more rabbis are expected to sign the petition in the coming weeks.
The following is the full text of the letter:
We, the undersigned, affirm that any individual with firsthand knowledge or reasonable basis to suspect child abuse has a religious obligation to promptly notify the secular law enforcement of that information. These individuals have the experience, expertise and training to thoroughly and responsibly investigate the matter. Furthermore, those deemed “mandated reporters” under secular law must obey their State’s reporting requirements.
Lives can be ruined or ended by unreported child abuse, as we are too often tragically reminded. The Torah’s statement in Leviticus 19:16, “Do not stand by while your neighbor’s blood is shed,” obligates every member of the community to do all in one’s power to prevent harm to others. In conclusion, every individual with firsthand knowledge or reasonable cause for suspicion of child abuse has a Torah obligation to promptly notify the proper civil authorities.