Sunday, May 20, 2012

New Focus on Agudath Israel's Child Sex Abuse Stance!

Criticism even from within of its ‘fox guarding henhouse’ approach!

For several years, at least, Agudath Israel of America, the organizational arm of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, has demanded that allegations of child abuse be vetted by rabbis rather than directly reported to police. Increasingly, that position is coming in for harsh criticism. Much of that criticism is coming from within the ultra-Orthodox community itself, where advocates of victims of child molestation accuse their own rabbinic leadership of covering up the crimes of molesters, many of whom continued to prey on children for decades.

Agudah’s position is at odds with laws in New York and New Jersey that mandate reporting of child abuse in many circumstances.

It also is a position that is rejected by the Modern Orthodox-leaning Rabbinic Council of America, which ruled unequivocally that “those with reasonable suspicion or first-hand knowledge of abuse or endangerment have a religious obligation to report that abuse to the secular legal authorities without delay.” Virtually all Orthodox synagogues in northern New Jersey are aligned with the RCA rather than Agudath Israel, whose New Jersey strongholds are in Passaic and Lakewood.

In recent months, two modern Orthodox educational institutions have dealt with allegations of illegal sexual behavior by faculty members.

In December, the Torah Academy of Bergen County (TABC) notified the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office after a student at the all-boys high school in Teaneck reported having had inappropriate sexual contact with a female teacher the previous year.

Earlier this month, a sixth-grade teacher at Yeshivat Noam in Paramus was arrested in his New York apartment by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and charged with possessing child pornography. The teacher, Even Zauder, previously served as youth director at Teaneck’s Congregation Bnai Yeshurun.

As for Chabad-Lubavitch institutions, the Crown Heights Rabbinical Board ruled some years ago “that in any case of suspected child abuse, one must go immediately to the police and not attempt to deal with it internally.”

The issue has come to the forefront following a pair of articles last week in The New York Times on pressures within the ultra-Orthodox community not to report child sexual abuse, and accusations that Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes has sided with politically powerful Brooklyn rabbis who wish to downplay reporting of child molestation.

The New York Times reporting built upon (although did not acknowledge) reporting on the topic by The New York Jewish Week, The Forward, and such blogs as Failed Messiah and Unorthodox Jew.

Agudath Israel declined to directly respond to questions on the topic submitted by The Jewish Standard.

Instead, its spokesman, Rabbi Avi Shafran, sent the organization’s July 2011 policy statement on reporting child abuse, as well as 40 pages of Hebrew-language halachic discussions of the topic by leading Israeli ultra-Orthodox rabbis.

In its policy statement, Agudah said that while reasonable suspicions of child abuse or molestation should be reported to the authorities, “the individual should not rely exclusively on his own judgment” to determine whether a suspicion is reasonable.

“Rather, he should present the facts of the case to a rabbi who is expert in halachah and who also has experience in the area of abuse and molestation — someone who is fully sensitive both to the gravity of the halachic considerations, and the urgent need to protect children,” said the Agudah statement.

Of course, this raises a question, say the statement’s critics: How does one reconcile the claim that rabbis are qualified to decide this, with the claims that rabbis had been informed of specific child molesters, and failed to stop them for decades?

That was one of the several questions Shafran failed to answer.

Avi Shafran - Agudath Israel's Pathetic Mouthpiece
At the same time, Agudah has not followed all of the advice of its sages.

Rabbi Yehuda Silman, a senior rabbinical court judge in the Israeli town of B’nei B’rak, ruled that those believed to have molested children should be reported to secular authorities if they would not otherwise stop their crimes.

He said the determination of whether to report should be made by rabbis, because “it is certainly impossible to give the matter [of determination] to each and every individual, because most people don’t have the Torah and/or professional knowledge to determine if in a given case there is even reasonable suspicion.”

Silman, however, also suggested that “a rabbinic judge or court be designated that would decide” on allegations of molestation.

Shafran said that while he has heard of such courts in some cities — he mentioned Chicago and Los Angeles — the variegated nature of New York’s ultra-Orthodox community precludes a central court from being set up there.

In none of the responsa reviewed by this newspaper was there any sense that the secular authorities — be they in Israel or America — could be trusted to investigate allegations on their own, or for that matter that the authorities had investigative powers at all.

The case which most responsa supplied to The Standard by Agudah concerned the second century Rabbi Eliezer ben Rabbi Shimon who, according to the Talmud, handed Jewish thieves over to the Roman authorities for execution.

When asked by a colleague “how long will you deliver people of the Lord for slaying?” he answered, “I weed the thorns of the vineyard.”

The halachic opinions also pointed to medieval rulings that thieves and other criminals could be handed to secular authorities for punishment for the good of the community.

In permitting the handing over of molesters to secular authorities, the ultra-Orthodox rabbis highlighted the fact that where the Romans executed their thieves — a disproportionate punishment by Torah standards — contemporary punishments are not similarly problematic.

They do not acknowledge that in America and Israel, however, ultra-Orthodox are equal citizens, and that the police represent them, too. Say the policy’s critics, it is this refusal to acknowledge that the Middle Ages have ended that constitutes one of the sharpest demarcations between the ultra-Orthodox and the modern Orthodox.

In online discussions, among the lay people supporting Agudah’s position are those who argue that police authorities in the United States are anti-Semitic and waiting for an excuse to start a pogrom.

Does Agudath Israel share this view, Rabbi Shafran was asked.

He did not answer that, either.


1 comment:

Boruch said...

Sadly the Agudah has to resort to this garbage in order to be relevant as they haven't got much else and their "Gedolim" aren't such Gadols anymore. Kotler wants to be annointed Melech, well he's salt on the wounds alright. Gottlieb sounds like a true winner in Torah, NOT. So today 40,000 people are going to be bittul zman and sit and listen to what?
Taiveh, is it mashpia on the Yid or is the Yid mashpia on the Taiveh? Would that we could fathom the depth of the kasha and then look into our depths discovering how low we've gone. Daily, the beraisa tells us that mei regalim can't be used in the Beis HaMikdosh because it's not bekovid - but Bovine Scatology is more than welcome there? Why is the taiveh of the internet greater than the taiveh of smoking; why an asifah for one and not the other? Why was a shuk set up at Citifield for filter vendors? Will the same be done for Gemorah publishers at the siyum HaShash? Of course Shafran can't answer these questions or any others that require thought and guts - a pagan looks to his pagan religious master who has the ear of the false gods to answer. An observant and practicing Yid who wastes his time today and doesn't come home with a bobble head doll or a pennant or something useful and related to baseball is a fraud.
Rav Aaron knows - he was hoping to get a game going between his Arylehs and the Zalmys to decisively settle the maklokes in Satmar. Best 2 out of 3 in stickball. No, instead they wanted to make another smoke and mirrors show so he'll stay home instead. I'm not going to the Asifa and it's not because the Internet isn't a trap for those whose taivehs overcome them. It's not because I don't think that there's a problem. I don't think that a Yid overcomes his personal nisayon in a public theater or circus.