Sexual abuse of a minor should be reported to the police without prior recourse to a rabbi, a senior ultra-orthodox figure has stated.
In a video posted to You-Tube, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, one of the most influential experts on Jewish law in Israel, was asked if the parents of a young boy who was molested were permitted to inform the secular authorities.
According to a translation of the Yiddish exchange provided by Jewish Community Watch, a Crown Heights based activist group, Kanievsky said that “it’s logical [to go to the police first] because one is saving others.”
“Rabbi Kanievsky’s psak (Rabbinic ruling) reflects a large positive step towards combating Child Sexual Abuse in our community and represents a turning point in the way abuse is being handled, even in the most religious sectors of the Frum [observant] community,” according to JCW.
The issue of reporting has become a hot topic of late following revelations during a government probe that senior Australian rabbis had covered up abuse and intimidated victims and their families for decades.
Over the past several weeks, rabbis affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch hassidic movement testified before Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, causing shock waves throughout the Jewish world.
“A culture of cover-up, often couched in religious terms, pervaded our thinking and our actions,” one senior rabbi told the commission, which heard testimony relating to the social ostracism that victims and their families faced after coming forward.
One of the rabbis who testified before the commission called for leniency towards pedophiles who had repented while another stated that he was unaware that he had a responsibility to tell police that an accused sex offender was planning on fleeing the country.
The affair caused a shakeup in the Australian rabbinate, prompting a split in the Organization of Rabbis of Australasia, with some members creating a competing organization called the New Organization of Rabbis of Australasia.
ORA President Rabbi Meir Kluwgant recently resigned after a text message he wrote lambasting the father of a prominent victim turned activist as a “lunatic on the fringe” who was out to destroy the ultra-Orthodox community.
While orthodox groups worldwide revised and reiterated policies relating to reporting in the wake of the scandal, a official of the Agudath Israel of America umbrella group told the Post that he was not sure that the organization’s rabbinic leadership was aware of what was happening down under.
According to the group’s 2011 policy, while it is “obligatory to report suspicions of abuse or molestation,” in many cases rabbinic sanction is necessary before such a move can be made.
In a copy of the policy posted on the Cross- Currents website by spokesman Rabbi Avi Shafran, where there is raglayim la’davar (roughly, reason to believe) that a child has been abused or molested, the matter should be reported to the authorities.”
Agudath Israel maintains, however, that because the question of whether evidence meets that standard “has serious implications for all parties, and raises sensitive halachic issues, the individual should not rely exclusively on his own judgment… [but] should present the facts of the case to a rabbi who is expert in halacha and who also has experience in the area of abuse and molestation.”
According to Australian newspaper The Age, a former employee of one of the yeshivas implicated in the probe had committed further “indecent assault offences” while incarcerated.
In response to the royal commission, Rabbi James Kennard, the principal of the Mount Scopus Memorial College in Melbourne sent a letter to students and parents urging them to report any past or present instances of abuse within the school to the police and, “if they so choose,” to the school leadership.
This, said child advocate Manny Waks, one of the driving forces behind the push for transparency among Australian Jews, is an “incredibly positive development.”