Feb 10, 2009
Am I My Brother's Keeper?
Op-Ed: A horrific story broke earlier this month, which really made me question the good sense and intelligence that we Jews like to pride ourselves on, writes Rabbi Shea Hecht.
by Rabbi Shea Hecht
A horrific story broke earlier this month, which really made me question the good sense and intelligence that we Jews like to pride ourselves on. The Jerusalem Post reported that several neighbors of a Jerusalem family had been aware of the ongoing "physical" abuse in their household. Some of them had even been eyewitnesses to the abuse. But no one reported this crime to the authorities.
What's more, it seems that the parents of these children turned a blind eye to the abuse of their children by a male relative, who molested their children over the course of seven years.
When questioned, the hapless parents claimed to be unable to intervene, as the family's rabbi warned them that they would be violating Torah law.
While the investigation of this story is ongoing, and all of the details have yet to emerge, the fact remains that there are some very unhealthy misperceptions in our communities when it comes to reporting abuse.
Firstly, there is the notion that reporting abuse amounts to the Torah prohibition the grievous sin of mesira, betraying another Jew into the hands of the authorities. The fact is that numerous poskim have already affirmed what a cursory look into the Codes of Law would tell us: saving a child from an abuse situation is not mesira-to the contrary, the Torah obligates us to save a "pursued" person (i.e. the abuse victim) from the hands of the "pursuer" at any and all costs, and explicitly forbids us from sitting idly by.
Another concern which keeps us from reporting child abuse is the fear that the Police and Child Welfare agents will kick down the door in the dead of night, and whisk the child off into foster care. Yet, contrary to popular belief, a child is not immediately taken from his family at the first report of trouble. Government agencies are themselves reluctant to break a family apart.
The nature of the abuse and the possibility of impending danger would determine whether the child (or the abuser) must be taken from the home. In the event that child is taken from the home, the government works alongside various Jewish children's agencies in order to place the child in the care of Jewish homes.
Finally, because police and child welfare agencies will protect our anonymity, there is simply no excuse for closing our eyes to the physical and emotional torture that the child undergoes. Our unwavering obligation as parents, teachers, neighbors and even total strangers is to be as attentive to the wellbeing of our neighbors children as we would be to our own.
The relationship with their parents is one of the most essential building blocks of a child's life. The child looks to his parents for protection, guidance and unconditional love. When these basic needs are neglected or, worse still, violated the child loses his one and only G-d given entitlement.
When the parents breach their role, or when they fail to protect their child from others, they willingly, permanently change the course of their child's life. The process is sadly simple: Children who are abused are likely to become abusers as adults. In other words, the problem that we don't want to deal with today will likely come to visit us tomorrow.
True, it is very uncomfortable and embarrassing to involve ourselves in someone else's household problems. But reporting child abuse is a burden that was put upon us against our will-we abandon it at our own risk.
Now, let's talk. If you knew that your neighbor's child, or your child's classmate, or your student or nephew was being abused would you report it to the police? Would you report the crimes being done to this child? Would you step up to the plate and do what must be done? I wonder...