by Paul Berger (The Jewish Daily Forward)
May 25, 2011
One of America's leading ultra-Orthodox groups has reaffirmed that its followers must consult a rabbi before going to law enforcement authorities with suspicions of sexual abuse committed by community members.
The admonitions, from speakers at a conference sponsored by Agudath Israel of America, came even though a recent rabbinic edict permits reporting such crimes to secular authorities. A New Jersey district attorney with many Orthodox constituents said the advice given at the conference could be a violation of state law, though that view wasn't shared by the district attorney for Brooklyn, where many other Orthodox Jews live.
At the daylong "Halacha Conference for Professionals," held in Brooklyn on May 15, speakers elaborated on a recent ruling by Rabbi Shalom Elyashiv, one of ultra-Orthodoxy's foremost authorities on Jewish religious law, or Halacha. Elyashiv recently decreed that Jews with reasonable suspicions that a case of sexual abuse has occurred are permitted to go to secular law enforcement authorities, notwithstanding traditional religious prohibitions against mesirah, or informing on fellow Jews.
But at a panel discussion titled "Molestation Issues and Reporting: Current Halachic Thinking," the panel's leader, Rabbi Shlomo Gottesman, cautioned that Elyashiv never explained what constitutes "reasonable suspicion." To establish this, Gottesman said, a person should consult a rabbi "who has experience in these issues" before going to secular authorities.
"If [the rabbi] thinks reasonable suspicion has been met, then you would be allowed to overcome mesirah and report," said Gottesman, a board member of Torah Umesorah, the National Society for Hebrew Day Schools.
Rabbi David Zwiebel, Agudah's executive vice president, told the conference that even mandated reporters — teachers, social workers and people in certain other professions who are required by law to promptly report any suspected cases of sexual abuse — should consult a rabbi before going to the police.