"When children are battered, whether as part of sexual abuse or just being beaten, anyone aware of this must inform the authorities," Rabbi Shlomo Aviner of Beit El and one of Religious Zionism's prominent leaders says in an article on the weekend in the "B'Ahava Ub'Emuna" synagogue bulletin.
"A child is helpless and defenseless," the rabbi argues, noting that the law and the Halacha (Jewish law) see a person who fails to report of what he knows as bearing responsibility.
Under the headline "It's a duty to report, at all costs!", Rabbi Aviner says that "the desire not to report in order to have mercy on the beater or the abuser might be a desire frequently derived from sincere motives, but first of all we must have pity on the helpless child. The battered child's fate comes first."
In this context, the rabbi refers to data pointing to the fact that among the religious public, physical and sexual abuse is more severe than among seculars.
"It's not because the religious are more violent," he says, "but because it is more prevalent among the religious public to refrain from reporting and only do so when the situation becomes unbearable. By that time the child suffers greater damage."
'Child's fate is in our hands'According to Rabbi Aviner, Jewish law views child abuse as extremely severe, and Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, leader of Israel's Lithuanian non-Hasidic haredi Jews, has even ruled that a battered child should be removed from his home even if he is adopted by a non-Jewish family.
And who is responsible for reporting abuse cases? "According to Jewish law, the first and definite fidelity duty of anyone who knows is towards the battered child," Aviner wrote, adding that "from a legal point of view, if the person who knows is a professional in the field, for instance a social worker or a psychologist, and he fails to report – he may receive a jail sentence of half a year."
He admitted, however, that there were cases in which there is was obligation to inform the authorities.
"If the beater or the abuser is aware of his problem and is willing to receive the proper therapy, and in addition meets his commitment and goes to therapy, and is supervised by responsible elements, only in such a case there is no need to report… In all other incidents, with no exception, one must report and fast. The child's fate is in our hands!"