By COLlive reporter
A group of Chabad rabbis signed a proclamation addressing abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community, alluding to its effects that have resulted in multiple deaths due to drug overdoses and suicides over the past year alone in Jewish communities.
“The existence of child sexual abuse and other forms of child abuse which occurs in some of our communities, resulting in a number of tragic suicides as well as other physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual consequences,” they wrote.
The rabbis admitted that not enough was done in the past to tackle the issue. “We recognize that in light of past experiences our communities could have responded in more responsible and sensitive ways to help victims and hold perpetrators accountable.”
The signatories are Rabbis Yehoram Ulman and Moshe Gutnick, Senior Dayanim, Sydney Beth Din, Australia; Rabbi Yosef Feigelstock, Senior Dayan, Beth Din, Argentina; Rabbi Baruch Hertz, Rabbi of Congregation Bnei Ruven in Chicago, Illinois; Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld, Dean, Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh, PA; Rabbi Yosef Shusterman, Senior Dayan and Director, Chabad of Beverly Hills, CA, Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick, Av Beth Din, Melbourne Beth Din, Australia, and Rabbi Sholom Shuchat, Dayan, Bais Din Agudas HaRabanim.
The Rabbis are clear in the requirement for allegations of abuse and neglect to be immediately and directly submitted to secular authorities without necessitating prior Rabbinic or professional consultation.
“The reporting of reasonable suspicions of all forms of child and adult abuse and neglect directly and immediately to the civil authorities is a requirement of Jewish law. There is no need to seek rabbinic approval prior to reporting,” they stated.
Dovid Nyer, a licensed clinical social worker in New City, NY, who coordinated the letter, points out that exclusive to this petition is the inclusion of abuse of adults, which includes but is not limited to domestic abuse, elder abuse, and abuse of the disabled.
Michael Salamon, PhD, a clinical psychologist and noted expert in this field, asserts, “The longer it takes to report the more time the abuser has to keep abusing and creating alibis.”
Salamon says that “Only trained investigators with proper professional team support (e.g. police, medical, etc.) can investigate. Asking anyone else about reporting just delays or confounds or completely derails a proper investigation. That is why so many abusers have been able to move to different communities and continue to abuse.”
In a recent email, Crown Heights Rabbis Yaacov Schwei and Yosef Braun indicated that they concur with the entirety of a similar kol koreh released in August of 2015 signed by over 100 charedi Rabbis. It calls on reporting all reasonable suspicions of child abuse and neglect promptly to the civil authorities with no requirement to obtain prior approval from rabbis.
This proclamation is another step the frum Jewish community is taking to tackle abuse and helping the victims. In some communities, there is still harassment and ostracizing of victims and their families who report abuse, serving as an additional trauma to the abuse itself.
This proclamation stresses, “Regardless of the standing of the abuser, accusers and their family members must be treated in an accepting, nonjudgmental manner so that they feel safe and can therefore speak frankly and fully. This is necessary for them to receive suitable therapeutic support and in order to facilitate proper investigation and pursuit of justice. Shunning or encouraging social ostracism of victims, their families, or reporters is strictly forbidden.”
The proclamation outlines policies that Lubavitch institutions, including schools and shuls, should adopt, including educating staff in identifying, responding, and reporting sexual abuse, and teaching body safety to students.
Proclamation Addressing Abuse in the Orthodox Jewish Community
Given the existence of child sexual abuse and other forms of child abuse which occurs in some of our communities, resulting in a number of tragic suicides as well as other physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual consequences; and
Given the occurrence of various forms of adult abuse, including but not limited to domestic abuse, elder abuse, and abuse of the disabled; and
In fulfillment of the Torah’s precept, לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל דַּם רֵעֶךָ (ויקרא פרק י”ט, ט”ז) (“Do not stand by while your fellow’s blood is spilled”); and,וְהוּא עֵד אוֹ רָאָה אוֹ יָדָע אִם לוֹא יַגִּיד וְנָשָׂא עֲוֹנוֹ (ויקרא פרק ה’, א’) (“…and he is a witness- either he saw or he knew- if he does not testify, he shall bear his iniquity”); and
As religious leaders responsible for our communities’ institutions and their policies, as well as for the physical and spiritual welfare of the members of our communities
We proclaim the following:
· We acknowledge that our communities are not immune to the problems of child sexual abuse, child abuse and abuse of adults. These forms of abuse may be committed by family members, acquaintances, rabbis, teachers, counselors, youth leaders, or other professionals. These forms of abuse have caused and continue to cause immeasurable harm to the victims, their families, and our entire community; it can destroy lives.
· We recognize in light of past experiences that our communities could have responded in more responsible and sensitive ways to help victims and to hold perpetrators accountable.
· We condemn attempts to ignore allegations of child sexual abuse, child abuse and abuse of adults. These efforts are harmful, contrary to Jewish law, and immoral. The reporting of reasonable suspicions of all forms of child and adult abuse and neglect directly and immediately to the civil authorities is a requirement of Jewish law. There is no need to seek rabbinic approval prior to reporting.
· We decry the use of Jewish law or the invocation of communal interests as a tool to silence victims or witnesses from reporting abuse. Regardless of the standing of the abuser, accusers and their family members must be treated in an accepting, nonjudgmental manner so that they feel safe and can therefore speak frankly and fully. This is necessary for them to receive suitable therapeutic support, and in order to facilitate proper investigation and pursuit of justice. Shunning or encouraging social ostracism of victims, their families, or reporters is strictly forbidden.
In regards to the issue of child sexual abuse, we call upon all synagogues and schools to adopt policies geared towards prevention, including but not limited to:
o Setting up a committee within each institution to oversee policy development and implementation. Members should include school or synagogue professionals, lay leaders, and experts in dealing with abuse.
o Maximizing visibility and physical access to every space in the building in order to prevent any one adult from being secluded with one or more children without the reasonable and immediate possibility of being seen.
o Having a secure policy for dropping off and picking up children at the school or synagogue.
o Establishing rules defining acceptable and unacceptable touching of children by teachers, youth leaders, and counselors.
o Educating current and incoming staff about how to identify, respond to, and report child sexual abuse. Similar sessions should be held for the community at large. Retraining should be conducted periodically.
o Raising awareness in the community of the existence, significance, and preventative policies regarding child sexual abuse.
o Members of the community must be made aware when a sex offender moves in to a community. Community members and leaders should monitor the person’s compliance with specially instituted safeguards that may be imposed.
o Remaining alert regarding adults who seem overly interested in interacting with children.
o Teaching children in age-appropriate ways about sexual development and sexual safety, about what constitutes of improper adult behavior, about being assertive in the face of such behavior, and about the need to tell a trusted adult if another adult tells them to keep a secret. In this way, children can become aware of, and alert to, dangers they many encounter even though no child is responsible for preventing sexual abuse; that is a responsibility of every adult and the entire community.
Ultimately, it is the halachic and moral obligation of the entire Jewish community, individually and collectively, to do all in our power to safeguard both children and adults by preventing abuse and responding appropriately once instances of abuse have occurred.