Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Call Speaker Heastie now! He is the only one in control of bill now to give it a hearing. 4 days left and New York will kill the bill for the 8th year. Speaker Heastie 518-455-3791 speaker@nyassembly.gov


Assembly Bill A2577B

2019-2020 Legislative Session
Requires the commissioner of education to make recommendations to the board of regents relating to instruction on preventing child sexual exploitation and abuse in grades K - 8
download bill text pdf

Sponsored By

Current Bill Status - In Assembly Committee

Monday, June 17, 2019

A Pathetic Group of Crackpot Anti-Vaxxers Storm Albany In Hopes Of Saving Religious Exemptions For Vaccines...One Commenter Says" Not Only Do Orthodox Jews Smell, They Are Dumb & Sick"

ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – Despite the worst outbreak of the measles in a generation, hundreds of parents and so-called anti-vaxxers rallied in Albany Tuesday.

They are urging lawmakers to stop a bill that would end religious exemptions for vaccinations.
Robert Kennedy Jr. was among the protesters questioning the safety of vaccines. Health authorities blame misinformation for the recent outbreak; predominately centered in the Tri-state area.
There have been more than 770 cases in New York State alone.

The CDC says the measles vaccine is safe and effective. Dr. Jon LaPook of CBS News asked demonstrators about their objections to the widely accepted science of vaccines.

”How many people in this room do not believe the information coming from the Centers for Disease Control,” LaPook asked a room of anti-vaxxing parents who all raised their hands.

“The rabbis tell us that there’s nothing in Judaism that prohibits vaccinations,” LaPook told a parent at the protest.

“It doesn’t matter,” she replied.

Most of New York’s measles cases have been traced to Orthodox Jewish communities in the state.



Friday, June 14, 2019

Anti-vaxxers lose minds after religious exemption bill gets pushed through - “And these are the religious people?!” Agudath Israel Worried About The Threat To The First Amendment!

“And these are the religious people?!”

The state Capitol turned into a chaotic scene Thursday as both houses of legislature — and eventually Gov. Cuomo — passed a bill that will end New York’s policy of allowing religious exemptions from vaccine requirements.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, the bill’s sponsor, got cursed out and flat-out threatened at one point by opponents of the legislation after it got passed and sent to the Senate floor.

“We’ll be back for you Jeffrey!” shouted one man in Orthodox religious garb, who was fuming in the gallery with others, many of whom had children with them.

“Motherf–ker!” screamed another person. “Shame!”

Dinowitz and other lawmakers remained calm during the mayhem, but were on edge as they recessed for the day.

“I’m sure the hallways are very dangerous for me right now,” Dinowitz said afterward. “I think it’s very sad that people who are up here in the name of religion were acting anything but. Judging by the way some people behaved and judging by the threats that we heard from some people, it would be prudent to exercise some caution.”

Gov. Cuomo wound up signing the bill into law just hours later.

“The science is crystal clear: Vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to keep our children safe,” the governor said in a statement. “This administration has taken aggressive action to contain the measles outbreak, but given its scale, additional steps are needed to end this public health crisis.”

The vaccine problem was witnessed first-hand Thursday at two schools in Williamsburg, which had to be closed by the Health Department for allowing dozens of unvaccinated students to attend classes, according to officials.

Cuomo said that while he understands and respects the right to freedom of religion, “our first job is to protect the public health and by signing this measure into law, we will help prevent further transmissions and stop this outbreak right in its tracks.”

Dinowitz’s bill had been approved by the Democrat-led Assembly by a 77-53 vote, though the tally was unofficial. The legislation will end non-medical exemptions for vaccines statewide.

“This bill was never about [religion], it was about public health, as I said on the floor,” Dinowitz explained. “It’s going to protect children’s health and we’ll never know which children don’t catch a terrible disease, but we know for this bill it will protect children.”

The lawmaker said he was disappointed by the behavior seen today in the Assembly chamber but was hopeful that the anti-vaxxers would “calm down” and “be a little more civilized.”

“I don’t ever remember in all my years here, the screaming in the Assembly chamber and the disruption in the Assembly chamber — people yell and scream outside and that’s fine, that’s fine — but the disrespect, not to me … Forget me … to the institution, to all the members of the state … was frankly a disgrace,” Dinowitz said. “And these are the religious people?! Shame on them. Shame on them.”

Any issue the Agudath Israel can not control entirely: Sexual abuse reporting, metziza b'peh, vaccinations, education..... "is a dire threat to the Jewish people!"


Thursday, June 13, 2019

“What is the true test of someone’s character? It’s what you do when no one is looking,”

Why a judge called this pious sex offender ‘the most self-centered individual to ever testify in my courtroom’

Alexander Davis was convicted of enticing a minor over the internet to have sex with him and traveling across state lines to have sex with a minor. He arrives March 25, 2019, to be sentenced in federal court in Easton. (Rudy Miller | For lehighvalleylive.com)
Alexander Davis was convicted of enticing a minor over the internet to have sex with him and traveling across state lines to have sex with a minor. He arrives March 25, 2019, to be sentenced in federal court in Easton. (Rudy Miller | For lehighvalleylive.com)

To his family and his fellow congregants, Alexander Davis was the model parent, husband and Jew.
In letters to U.S. District Court Judge Edward G. Smith they described his generosity, his commitment to his wife and children and his devotion to Judaism.

But the letters failed to delve into his “secret life” on the road as a traveling salesman, according to the judge.

“It was as though he had no moral compass and he defaulted always to drugs and sex and alcohol in a fashion that was totally immoral,” Smith said in his federal courtroom in Easton.

Smith sentenced the 32-year-old Monsey, New York, man on Monday to 10 years and seven months in federal prison.

Davis was convicted at trial of using the internet and traveling across state lines with the intention of having sex with a 14-year-old in Bethlehem in December 2017. The girl he thought was “Marisa” was actually a federal agent who set up a sting to catch sexual predators. Davis testified he thought Marisa was an adult “role playing” as a teen.

Those who sent letters to the judge couldn’t believe Davis was capable of the crime. Some questioned the jury’s decision based on their knowledge of Davis.

A co-worker, Yehuda Herzig, wrote that Davis would read books on ethics and character in his spare time. He listened to inspirational and educational lectures in the car on their way to sales calls, Herzig wrote.

Davis’ father was a Rabbi, according to his mother, Madelaine Davis. She said her son embraces orthodox Judaism and called him a “devoted and selfless father” to his four children, all of whom are under age seven. Davis is the only person who can calm down his often-troubled son, according to the boy’s preschool teacher, Rachelle Frey.

But none of these people were aware of secrets made public during Davis’ courtroom testimony.

According to the judge, Davis testified he often visited massage parlors to satisfy his sex addiction. He solicited sex on the internet because he eventually found the masseurs “dirty.”

"He wanted someone younger,” according to court testimony.

Smith said Davis admitted he tried alcohol and drugs at age 13, was expelled from school and became addicted to alcohol, drugs, gambling and sex. He kept his debauchery on the road a secret from his wife and family and felt justified in living a double life, Smith said. His complete lack of remorse factored into the sentencing decision, Smith said.

“He demonstrated himself to be perhaps the most self-centered individual to ever testify in my courtroom,” Smith said.

Nine friends and family members came to court to support Davis. His wife came late to court because she needed time to arrange for child care. She is a native of Israel and went from being a stay-at-home mother to being the sole breadwinner and parent following Davis’ incarceration. Davis smiled at her as he left court.

“We are still talking all the time. She made it clear she wants to stick it out for me,” Davis told Smith.
Defense attorney Maranna J. Meehan asked for the judge to limit the sentence to the mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison. Guidelines called for a sentence anywhere between 10 years and one month to 12 years and seven months.

Meehan said Davis is already “humiliated, ashamed and disgraced” and shouldn’t be kept away from his family longer than absolutely necessary.

Smith said Davis only regrets getting caught, not committing the crime.

“You are the center of your own universe in a way you can’t even consider the interests of others,” the judge said.

This was this first-ever criminal conviction for Davis, although he discussed prior attempts to solicit sex from minors as authorities took him to prison after his arrest, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Josh Davison. Smith said Davis is extremely likely to reoffend.

Davis’ supporters disagree that prison was warranted.

Raphael Gruenebaum said Davis served as cantor and sexton at the synagogue, has devoted hours to Talmudic studies and has always “stepped up to the plate” to fill any role needed at the temple.

“Alexander and all of us beg for your mercy, fairness and understanding so that Alexander can seek true repentance, the necessary professional help needed and be restored to being a righteous and law-abiding citizen of our great American society once again,” his mother told the judge in her letter.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Josh Davison said Davis’ supporters either don’t see Davis’ dark side or willfully ignore it.

“What is the true test of someone’s character? It’s what you do when no one is looking,” Davison said.

Rudy Miller may be reached at rmiller@lehighvalleylive.com. Follow him on Twitter @RudyMillerLV. Find Easton area news on Facebook.


Tuesday, June 11, 2019

There had been a critical flaw in their wedding ceremony: one of the witnesses was a convicted, self-admitted pedophile, who had served jail time for molesting a child. According to Jewish law, someone who sins egregiously is unfit to serve as a kosher witness, and absent kosher witnesses, a marriage is halakhically null. There was no need for a religious divorce because the couple had never been married.

Suffocating under the Rabbinate’s chokehold

When rabbis wield the Torah as a political weapon, instead of the tool of justice it should be, the innocent suffer

A war is raging in Israel, and women are the battleground.

Jerusalem’s Rabbinic High Court demonstrated a true feat of halakhic dexterity and masterful legal creativity in a recent decision it issued concerning a long-time agunah — a young woman denied a get (religious bill of divorce) for nine years by her husband, the latter having fled the country and disappeared. To make matters even more urgent, the woman was now pregnant, and her baby could be branded a mamzer — a child born from an illicit relationship, who is restricted from marrying other Jews for all future generations — if the Rabbinic Court did not act quickly.

Longstanding Jewish tradition maintains that in cases like this one, regarding potential mamzerim and agunot, a rabbinic court will do everything in its power, including constructing sophisticated leaps of halakhic logic, in order to clear a mamzer’s status and free an agunah. And indeed, the Jerusalem Rabbinic High Court went to remarkably creative halakhic lengths in our case at hand.

There is one catch, though: their efforts went in the opposite direction, devising innovative ways to keep the agunah’s dead marriage intact and making sure that her child’s status would be cemented as a mamzer.

Wait, what?

The agunah’s lawyer discovered that years ago, when the couple married, there had been a critical flaw in their wedding ceremony: one of the witnesses was a convicted, self-admitted pedophile, who had served jail time for molesting a child. According to Jewish law, someone who sins egregiously is unfit to serve as a kosher witness, and absent kosher witnesses, a marriage is halakhically null. There was no need for a religious divorce because the couple had never been married.

Instead of seizing this opportunity to declare the woman free of her marriage and her baby clear of mamzer status, however, the Rabbinic Court doubled down and presented an exhaustive litany of creative reasons why, counterintuitively, the child molester should be accepted as a kosher witness and the marriage should remain intact.

The Rabbinic Court argued that the sexual abuse the former witness had committed wasn’t really so bad since he didn’t touch the child’s genitals directly, only through the child’s clothing; he had felt twinges of guilt about it on Yom Kippur, which consequently absolved him of his sins; he recites a prayer every night before bed asking general forgiveness from anyone he may have harmed, which counts as repentance; his plea bargain to commute his prison sentence — from five years to three-and-a-half years — included payment of NIS 50,000 ($13,888) to his victim, and that restitution proved that his victim had forgiven him; though he had confessed to the molestation, halakha rejects self-incriminating testimony; since no one in his current community knows that he is a pedophile, it must have been a one-time “slip up”; what he did to the boy didn’t count as forbidden homosexual relations, because hands touching genitals isn’t full-on mishkav zakhar — homosexual sex (note how these rabbis are suddenly eager to find halakhic grounds to tolerate sexual acts between males in the context of child sexual abuse, yet would never extend the same generosity to a consensual, adult gay relationship). The list went on and on.

Therefore, the Rabbinic Court concluded, the pedophile was a 100% kosher witness, and there was no room to declare the marriage null.

What a feat of halakhic creativity! What dedication and ingenuity! What an ambitious triumph of rabbinic rationalizing! All for the sake of making sure an agunah never goes free and to make sure her baby stays a mamzer.

Shkoyach. Bravo.

It gets curiouser, though. About a year ago, the state’s Rabbinic Court finally freed the agunah of infamous get-refuser Oded Guez via annulment, after their own mishandling of the case led him to flee the country. The grounds that they cited for annulling the marriage was that, among other factors, one of the witnesses was lax on the laws of negiyah — he failed to properly adhere to religious guidelines mandating against physical contact with the opposite sex. In the vernacular, he fooled around. That alone was sufficient to declare him “parutz ba’arayot”– in violation of sexual boundaries — and therefore an invalid witness.

This same institution has now classified child molestation as a “small slip-up” and not nearly as egregious a crime as being lax on shomer negiyah. They accept that sexual impropriety is grounds for retroactively disqualifying a witness and therefore annulling a marriage, but selectively define said impropriety, in bad faith.

The halakhic hoops that the Rabbinic Court jumped through in order to declare the pedophile kosher is more than just a twisted manifestation of Blu Greenberg’s famous dictum, “Where there’s a rabbinic will, there’s a halakhic way.” Her statement criticized the rabbinic institutions’ unwillingness to take action, their crimes of negligence. But our case at hand is a crime of deliberate malice, an active and intentional misconstruing of halakha in service of a political end.

The Jerusalem Rabbinic High Court isn’t acting out of malice toward the woman and her baby, per se; they’re just collateral damage. The real target is the private Orthodox rabbinic court headed by Rabbi Daniel Sperber, which had already freed this same woman, via annulment, last summer.

In their decision, the Rabbinic Court calls Rabbi Sperber and his court “little foxes spoiling the vineyard,” who are usurping the state’s rabbis’ authority. The Rabbinic Court presents its own claim to power as a direct and natural extension of Moshe Rabbenu, the biblical Moses himself, bolstered by an exclusivity conferred upon them by the state. They do not see Rabbi Sperber’s annulment as an agunah’s liberation and a mamzer’s redemption, or even as a divergent halakhic approach; it is wholly treated as an act of defiance, an affront to the state’s authority, and it cannot be abided — the ordinary people caught in the crossfire be damned.

What’s a woman’s freedom when the state’s monopoly on religious services is at stake?

In Israel, marriage and divorce are exclusively controlled by the State Rabbinate and state-run Rabbinic Courts. There is no such thing as civil marriage or divorce. Performing halakhic ceremonies like chuppot (Jewish marriages) outside the purview of the state’s institutions is illegal and even punishable with prison time. Ironically, Israel is the only country where Jewish ceremonies are penalized this way.

The state Rabbinic Courts’ notorious ineptitude and corruption have led to a proliferation of grassroots, private Orthodox religious services in recent years, bucking the state’s monopoly. As private kashrut certification, private wedding ceremonies, and private rabbinic courts have gained ground, so has the backlash against them.

Recall that just over a month ago, the Rabbinic Courts pulled out their biggest, most creative guns yet in order to punish the first beneficiary of Rabbi Sperber’s private Orthodox court, Tzviya Gorodetsky. Tzviya had been an agunah for over two decades and the state’s courts had given up on her, telling her that there was nothing more they could do and that she should simply wait for him to die. After Rabbi Sperber’s court found a way to annul Tzviya’s marriage, the Rabbinic Court moved to criminally convict her former husband as a get-refuser, as a way to reinstate her status as a married woman.

Imagine if all of the same motivation, urgency, halachic prowess and legal power demonstrated by the Rabbinic Court in these stories had been used to find solutions to free the women.

Imagine how much good they could do if they used a fraction of this energy to wield Torah as a tool of justice, instead of as a weapon.

Imagine if the Rabbinic Court demonstrated caring for the Jewish people as much as it does fear for their own power.

Imagine if the women who stepped into the state Rabbinic Courts were treated as valuable human beings, deserving of freedom and dignity, instead of as pawns in a larger political game of religion and state.

On behalf of women, on behalf of children, on behalf of victims of sexual abuse, on behalf of Torah, on behalf of democracy, on behalf of every Israeli in this country who is suffocating under the Rabbinate’s chokehold on our lives and our liberty, we say:


Friday, June 07, 2019

Rabbi Dov Linzer of YCT and the de facto head of the Open Orthodox movement concludes and agrees with Rav Moshe Feinstein - that a person who converts for the sake of marriage to a non-observant Jew is not a convert at all - l'chatchila!

Accepting the Mitzvot as a Convert: Does it Matter What You’re Really Thinking?


by Rabbi Dov Linzer  - (Head of the Open Orthodox movement in the U.S.A., the equivalent of the  "Radical Left" of Jewish political movements --- Yet, he concludes and agrees with Rav Moshe Feinstein - that a person who converts for the sake of marriage to a non-observant Jew is not a convert at all - l'chatchila. Please click on the link below the post to see his intriguing Halachic sources)

Rabbi Yitzchak Yehuda Shmelkes (1828-1904) was one of the leading rabbis in the latter part of the 19th century in Eastern Europe. He was the head of the rabbinical court in Lvov (Lemberg) from 1869-1893. His Beit Yiẓḥak (6 vols., 1875–1908), on the four parts of the Shulkḥan Arukh, was widely acclaimed. His opinion on halakhic questions was sought by many prominent contemporary scholars.

Rabbi Schmelkes made a number of particularly influential rulings in new areas of Jewish law. Regarding copyrights, he argued that an author’s exclusive right to publish their manuscript derived from the Jewish law of unfair competition and the author’s property right in controlling access to the physical manuscript, a position held by many contemporary authorities in halakhic copyright law.

 Rabbi Shmelkes also dealt with the question of the use of electricity, other than electric lights, on Shabbat.  He ruled that one could apply the category of molid, creating something new, to the generating of electric current.  This position was widely adopted for many years, although recently it has been challenged by a number of contemporary poskim.

In the current teshuvah, Rabbi Shmelkes deals with a case of conversion for the sake of marriage where it is highly questionable if the prospective convert really intends to live an observant life.  Rabbi Shmelkes first rules in line with the Talmud and against certain other poskim of his time, that conversion for the sake of marriage is prohibited li’chatchilah.

The part that we have excerpted below focuses on his analysis regarding whether such a conversion works post facto.  The Talmud states that it does, but Rabbi Shmelkes questions whether this would apply even in cases where we know that the person is not sincerely accepting upon him- or herself the obligation to observe the mitzvot.  This question – what level of commitment of observance is required, and whether we need to concern ourselves about the person’s intentions or not, especially if as far as we can tell the person is, or may be, sincere – is one that is highly relevant today.

We have chosen this teshuvah for Shavuot, because of its connection both to the book of Ruth and to receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai.  In the Talmud, Ruth is seen as a paradigm for the righteous convert, one who sincerely commits to all the mitzvot, and who is not doing it for any ulterior motive (although, interestingly, her conversion seems to be motivated more from a love of Naomi than from a connection to the faith itself).  And the acceptance of the Torah and mitzvot at Mt. Sinai serves, in the Talmud, as a model for the various rituals of conversion (immersion, circumcision, and acceptance of mitzvot).

Rabbi Shmelkes draws on the Mt. Sinai example and the various midrashim that deal with the idea that the Israelites were coerced to accept the Torah, and raises questions as to whether we can derive from these midrashim that a verbal acceptance suffices even if a person’s commitment is not fully sincere.  He goes back and forth on this question, and although he seems at times to conclude decisively that a verbal commitment is not sufficient if we know or suspect that the person is not sincere, in the end he is prepared to recognize the conversion under discussion, at least post facto. In the end, the question remains: Does it suffice to say, as our foremothers and forefathers did at Mt. Sinai, “We will do and we will hear,” even if their hearts were not fully in it, or must we all have the sincerity and depth of commitment as Ruth did when she said to Naomi, “You nation is my nation, and your God is my God”?

In conclusion – behold, were your honor to permit this Gentile woman, who had intercourse with a Jew, to convert, and to allow this Jew to marry her, this is something that is not possible for two reasons. One, that as a matter of halakha, even were she have to already converted, it would be forbidden to marry her, as is stated in the Mishna and Tosefta, And two, if this Gentile wishes to convert for the sake of some benefit, i.e., for the sake of marriage, one should not agree to convert her li’chatchilah. However, were she to convert in the presence of three non-scholars who did not know that she was doing this for the sake of marriage, then post facto the conversion would be valid, and were he (her lover) to marry her, he would not be obligated to divorce her.  Speaking more generally, when it comes to converts nowadays, one needs to see that accept upon themselves, sincerely, to observe the foundations of faith and the rest of the mitzvot.  And Shabbat is a major foundation, for one who violates Shabbat is like one who worships idols.  And if a person converts himself and does not accept upon himself the observance of Shabbat and the mitzvot, he is not a convert.
I have written what appears to me in my humble opinion. 


Thursday, June 06, 2019

An individual may not intentionally prevent or interfere with the making of a report of suspected abuse or neglect as required by law. A person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and, on conviction, is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 5 years or a fine not exceeding $10,000 or both....

Maryland Finally Enacts Penalties for Failure to Report Child Abuse

On April 18, 2019, Maryland took a big step towards protecting children when Governor Hogan signed a law creating criminal penalties for a mandated reporter who fails to report child sexual abuse. Mandatory reporting laws date back to the Child Abuse and Treatment Act (CAPTA) of 1974, and require certain people with knowledge of child abuse to report it to authorities. Until this 2019 legislation, Maryland was one of only two US states (the other being Wyoming) to have mandated reporting on the books, but have no criminal penalty failing to report child abuse. Imagine lowering the speed limit to save lives, but then having no tickets for speeding. A law with no penalty is no law at all. While past failure to report could result in civil liability for the person not reporting abuse immediately, Maryland House Bill 787 establishes criminal penalties. Versions of this bill have been proposed in Maryland for over 15 years, so the passage is a cause for celebration.

After my family was victimized in the state of Maryland by a member of the clergy, I learned that Maryland has some of the worst protections for sexual abuse survivors in the United States. Maryland police regularly ignore reports of rape, closing them as “unfounded” at nearly twice the rate in other states. When a victim pushes their case, police in Maryland force victims to sign waivers or recant entirely. And when a victim has the nerve to question the police, Maryland state attorneys are alleged to get aggressive not with sex abusers, but with abuse victims. Maryland also lacks strong anti-SLAPP laws to protect those who report abuse from being sued for defamation by their abusers. Even teachers indicated by CPS for abuse (but not prosecuted) get transferred from school to school, and only in 2018 did Maryland’s largest school system complete CPS background checks of teachers. If you like the beach, you move to Florida. If you like to ski, you move to Colorado. 

Maryland’s legal environment makes it a sandy beach (or a powdery ski slope) for those who like to sexually abuse children.  
In fact, Maryland Delegate C.T. Wilson noted that Catholic priests seeking to escape punishment for abuse in Pennsylvania have been relocating to Maryland. Wilson plainly stated, “Maryland was a repository for bad actors because we had soft laws.”

The first big recent change to Maryland’s hostile environment to victims came in 2017 when Wilson sponsored a bill to expand the civil statute of limitations window from 25 to 38, understanding that it can take decades for abuse survivors to come forward. With a criminal justice system easy on sexual abuse, expanding the civil window is the next best step for victims to obtain justice.

The next big change came in 2018 when I had the honor and privilege to provide testimony to Annapolis in support of the Repeat Sexual Predator Prevention Act, being championed by Baltimore City States Attorney Marilyn Mosby. Prior to this act, in the rare circumstance police investigated sex crimes, and in the rarer circumstance charges were filed, the rules of evidence in Maryland prevented prosecutors from introducing evidence of other sexual crimes. Maryland’s rules prevented the introduction of patterns of sexually abusive behavior as evidence (including multiple victims). The 2018 law had languished in committee for years, being opposed by Jewish leadership, Catholic leadership, and criminal defense attorneys. Once it got out of committee, it passed, and Maryland took another big step towards protecting children and other victims of sexual abuse. However, the accompanying bill to establish criminal penalties for not reporting child abuse did not make it to a vote in 2018.

In 2019 Maryland took the next big step in victim protection, when the criminal penalties not only got a vote, but were signed into law.  I cannot find another article celebrating Governor Hogan signing this bill, and it is quite important in the battle to improve the law and make sure no other family goes through what my family has endured.

Maryland’s failure to report law previously did not address penalties for violations, only penalties for interfering in a report.  Maryland Family Law § 5-705.2 stated:
An individual may not intentionally prevent or interfere with the making of a report of suspected abuse or neglect as required by law. A person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and, on conviction, is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 5 years or a fine not exceeding $10,000 or both.
No penalty was established for those who delayed reporting or failed to report altogether. Even Maryland legislators had no idea the gaping hole in their own law. Maryland Senator Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore) said,
I was shocked. I didn’t realize that we were only one of two [states without penalties for failure to report]
The new law faced opposition from those who thought the punishment was draconian, and that taking away professional licensing was punishment enough for failure to report. In fact, Del Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery) reportedly said that since the 2015 license revocation law hadn’t been used, they shouldn’t pass more laws. Arguments like these, combined with opposition from the Jewish and Catholic lobbies kept this bill languishing in committee.

The new law modifies Section 5-704 of the Maryland Code of Family law where mandated reporters are defined by adding the following language:
While this law alone does not solve the sexual assault investigation and prosecution gap in Maryland, it does provide a tool for more progressive prosecutors to begin unraveling this crime.
Unfortunately loopholes still exist. Maryland Code of Family Law Section 5-704 defines mandatory reporters as:
…health practitioner, police officer, educator, or human service worker, acting in a professional capacity
But Maryland Code of Family Law Section 5-705 provides an exemption from these laws from clergy if they are:
bound to maintain the confidentiality of that communication under canon law, church doctrine, or practice
Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky

Unfortunately, the clergy exemption is still too prevalent in many states. Maryland law does not clearly differentiate between a Rabbi operating within confidential canon law/rabbinic doctrine, and a Rabbi who is working as a teacher, a school principal, a camp director, or a medical doctor. The largest Jewish community in Maryland mostly follows the rulings of the Agudath Israel of America, who requires rabbinic approval prior to reporting abuse. One of the largest religious schools specifically brings questions to Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky who also requires Rabbinic screening of child abuse prior to reporting. Rabbis in Maryland trained at the local Ner Israel rabbinic college advise that when there is an indication of abuse, people should
Call CHANA [our religiously directed private community organization], and together with their guidance and support, they will help you navigate if and when to involve the police, CPS, or whatever may be most appropriate.
Should a school principal, teacher, or healthcare worker be charged under the new mandatory reporting law, the vague wording will put prosecutors and judges in the uncomfortable situation of litigating the intricacies of Jewish law (halacha). Will the rabbis who delay reporting abuse while they run internal investigations be able to claim their behavior is in keeping with canon Orthodox Jewish law? What makes a person a Rabbi? In the ultra-Orthodox world, often a formal ordination (smicha) process is not required, merely a letter from a school principal (Rosh Yeshiva) calling a student a Rabbi. Could a school teacher charged under the new law get a last minute smicha exempting him from the law?
Catholic opposition to clergy reporting is actually starting to abate, led by new initiatives. It certainly helps that prosecutors in Maryland have started to look through files of the archdiocese of Baltimore. As of today, the most vocal opponents of mandatory clergy reporting are not Catholic but Jewish. In response to mandatory clergy reporting laws being debated in neighboring Washington DC and Virginia, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld provided what I would term a strawman argument as he commented:
Turning clergy into policemen is very dangerous…….If we try to hurt how religious societies function, it will hurt children
Ron Halber of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington offered tepid support to clergy reporting, but then walked it back with the caveat:
In some traditions there are privileged communications that take place between religious authorities and parishioners. We want to make sure there’s nothing blocking free exercise
It is ironic that prosecutors in Maryland are investigating the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, but have made no public inquiries into the Jewish Archdiocese (known as the Vaad of Baltimore and Vaad of Greater Washington). A push for mandatory clergy reporting in Maryland as is currently under debate in DC and Virginia would be a great first step.
The problem is that Maryland Code Sections 5-704 and Sections 5-705 are in conflict due to the vague language. The legislature could fix this in at least two ways. First, narrow the legal definition of clergy-communicant privilege by defining who can claim the religious exemption and when. A Priest must have a church, and a Rabbi must have a synagogue. The disclosure must be in a recognized protected conversation. Right now the law fails to clearly differentiate abuse learned through spiritual privilege, and abuse heard through other means, such as while playing a game of basketball. The aforementioned Jewish community group that reportedly chooses which cases to report to police will sometimes refer abuse victims to a Rabbi for therapy. Is that Rabbi required to report child abuse he learns about because he is a therapist, or is he exempt from reporting because he is a Rabbi? The law does not make it clear.

Even better, the second way would be to just do away with this exemption and solve the problem as dozens of other states have already done (and has been largely upheld by the courts such as in California). There are limits to what you can do under the guise of religion. Freedom of religion doesn’t permit human sacrifice. Most states rule that freedom of religion does not permit child brides and polygamy. Even the religious exemption for vaccination is being reconsidered. Likewise, we should not allow child abuse or child abuse disclosure to be protected as a religious act.

Ultimately, the vague clergy exemption will need to be litigated by the first prosecutor who is courageous enough to challenge the Jewish and Catholic lobby in the state of Maryland. It is important that elected officials begin to ask difficult questions of those in law enforcement who seem more angered by vocal victims than by abusers. Abusive prosecutors and abusive sheriffs are nothing new, and despite operating under broad immunity, federal investigations and groups like the ACLU have worked to reform these practices. Ultimately, the citizenry has to demand accountability from those in charge. Prosecutorial tolerance for Orthodox Jewish abusers and those who fail to report abuse such as has been documented in Baltimore, Lakewood, and Brooklyn must end.

Publicize this new law. Call the editors at the Baltimore Sun, the Frederick News Post, and the Washington Post and ask them why they haven’t covered this legislation. It will soon be a criminal offense to fail to report child sexual abuse for mandatory reporters. It is time citizens of Maryland ask prosecutors running for States Attorney what they have done to enforce this new law and to ask legislators to stop allowing religious exemptions for mandatory reporting of child abuse. It is also time to build on the success of 2018 and 2019 by rallying for mandatory clergy reporting, police investigatory reform, removing the civil statute of limitations (which sadly failed in 2019), and anti-SLAPP free speech legislation for survivors of sexual assault.

Note: I am not a lawyer and this column is not meant as legal advice but merely opinion on public legislation. If you have questions on your own legal situation, consult a competent attorney. Always report child abuse to the proper authorities in your state.


Wednesday, June 05, 2019

When did our priorities become so warped? -- Almost 50 percent of participants shared that they knew of someone else abused in the same religious institution compared to 35 percent in non-religious spheres.

The recent IICSA report into child sexual abuse rings true

Upset child (Jewish News)

Last week the UK’s Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse issued an in depth report into victims’ and survivors’ experiences of sexual abuse in religious institutions. It provides valuable data that confirms what many of our clients at Migdal Emunah have shared with us, as well as my own experience. 

Some of the key findings are on par with what we see, including shame and embarrassment preventing victims from reporting the sexual abuse. However, what is specific to this survivor group is the reported level of power and authority bestowed upon religious institutions as well as those working within them. This often meant that perpetrators were not questioned when allegations were first raised, which left offenders with further opportunities to abuse others. 

Not surprisingly, almost 50 percent of participants shared that they knew of someone else abused in the same institution compared to 35 percent in non-religious spheres. This is a familiar phenomenon within our own community, where numerous known offenders went unquestioned or unreported to the authorities for a variety of reasons, but mostly because we do not offer victims and survivors support in order to report abuse. Furthermore, we don’t support those with abuse concerns, such as youth workers and educators.
We are proud that a high proportion of Jewish children now attend Jewish schools. Yet while this may be seen as a positive development, what happens when the school, synagogue and home life become too entwined? We have no infrastructure to handle safeguarding concerns, and more often than not they go unreported, leaving children at further risk.

Victims and survivors reported that the high level of involvement that religious institutions had over their communities’ daily lives provided perpetrators with the prospect of using the child’s spirituality and religious practices for manipulation. How easy this becomes when we have religious institutions providing all our cultural lifestyle needs.

Priority was always given to the protection of the religious institution and the perpetrator, often at all costs. This meant victims and survivors were unsupported at best, discredited at worst, whether they were children or adults. Communal leaders and institutions are more focused on the offender’s rights than safeguarding children and young people. Indeed, numerous synagogues and communal institutions are more focused on the reintegration of convicted sex offenders into communal life or on protecting the rights of alleged offenders (without conviction) than they are about safeguarding children and young people. When did our priorities become so warped?

There is a stark difference in who victims and survivors reported the sexual abuse to when abused in a religious institution compared to abuse that didn’t occur in a religious institution. Almost half – 48 percent – chose to report to a person of authority within the institution compared to 29 percent in non-religious institutions.

We must question this disparity, and stop pointing fingers at other sectors within our community, as this is prevalent across the Jewish community; research participants were from across the spectrum of the community and religions.

Victims and survivors reported barriers to recovery when abused in a religious setting, as the abuse was associated with their religious faith as well as their communal infrastructure. This was compounded with the obvious respect still received by perpetrators while victims were ostracised and discredited. This left vulnerable children and adults with a greater sense of loss than just the absence of support.

Everyone in the Jewish community who is in contact with children and young people needs better training that goes beyond tick boxes and safeguarding policies. Many victims reported that the adults around them failed to identify abuse, act appropriately, respond efficiently, and in some cases caused further harm by responding inappropriately. If institutions won’t take responsibility for this then responsibility lies with our grant-making bodies to ensure that standards are raised in how we respond to the sexual abuse of children and young people.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Children at Risk!

On YouTube’s Digital Playground, an Open Gate for Pedophiles



“I got scared by the number of views,” said a Brazilian woman, Christiane C., whose young daughter posted a video of herself

Christiane C. didn’t think anything of it when her 10-year-old daughter and a friend uploaded a video of themselves playing in a backyard pool.

“The video is innocent, it’s not a big deal,” said Christiane, who lives in a Rio de Janeiro suburb.

A few days later, her daughter shared exciting news: The video had thousands of views. Before long, it had ticked up to 400,000 — a staggering number for a video of a child in a two-piece bathing suit with her friend.

“I saw the video again and I got scared by the number of views,” Christiane said.

She had reason to be.

YouTube’s automated recommendation system — which drives most of the platform’s billions of views by suggesting what users should watch next — had begun showing the video to users who watched other videos of prepubescent, partially clothed children, a team of researchers has found.

YouTube had curated the videos from across its archives, at times plucking out the otherwise innocuous home movies of unwitting families, the researchers say. In many cases, its algorithm referred users to the videos after they watched sexually themed content.

The video of Christiane’s daughter was promoted by YouTube’s systems months after the company was alerted that it had a pedophile problem. In February, Wired and other news outlets reported that predators were using the comment section of YouTube videos with children to guide other pedophiles.