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Clearing the Air

'One should use common sense and consultations with experts' Photo: Meir Azoulay
'One should use common sense and consultations with experts' Photo: Meir Azoulay

Sexual abuse: Report to police or rabbi?

US Orthodox groups clarify stance after saying child's sexual abuse should be reported to rabbi, who would then decide if police should be notified

Sammy Hudes
Published: 08.01.11, 14:05 / Israel Jewish Scene

After claims last month that any child who has been sexually abused should report to a rabbi, rather than to police, two Orthodox groups have attempted to clear the air regarding their stance on the issue.


While searching for eight-year-old Leiby Kletzky on July 12 in Brooklyn, an Orthodox rabbi, Shmuel Kamenetsky made the claim that sexual abuse of a child should be reported to a rabbi, who would then be in charge of deciding if the police should be notified.


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Leiby’s dismembered body was found the next day in a dumpster and in the apartment of Orthodox man, Levi Aron, who has been indicted for murder.


Kamenetsky, the vice president of Agudath Israel’s Supreme Council of Rabbinic Sages, came under fire on July 17, after the Failed Messiah blog reported that Kamenetsky was repeating Agudah’s official policy of prohibiting Jews from reporting sexual abuse to police.


In a recording posted on the website, a man begins a question to the rabbi by saying, “As far as I know, your yeshiva is of the opinion that victims should report these crimes to the authorities.”


Kamenetsky responded, “Only after speaking to a rav.”


Agudath Israel of America and the Agudath Israel of America (RCA) defended Kamenetsky’s answer and clarified their official policy.


In a statement, Agudah said that there had been “misleading claims about our stance on reporting suspected child abusers to law enforcement agencies.”


It referred to rabbinic arguments that encouraged victims to notify the authorities only once a certain threshold of evidence is met, but “where the circumstances of the case do not rise to threshold level… the matter should not be reported to authorities.”


Agudah’s statement continued to say that it is often difficult for one to judge if the threshold has been met and thus “the individual shouldn’t rely exclusively on their own judgment … rather, he should present the facts to a rabbi.”


The RCA’s statement said that “consistent with Torah obligations, if one becomes aware of an instance of child abuse or endangerment, one is obligated to refer the matter to the secular authorities immediately, as the prohibition of mesirah (referring an allegation against a fellow Jew to government authority) does not apply in such a case.”


The statement continued, “As always where the facts are uncertain, one should use common sense and consultations with experts, both lay and rabbinic, to determine how and when to report such matters to the authorities.”


Reprinted with permission from Shalom Life



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