Good News is Always Welcome
I’m probably not alone in feeling the need for some good news, so I'm happy to share this: In a welcome development, three groups of Orthodox Jewish Rabbis have issued a proclamation addressing child sexual abuse. Over 300 rabbis from the Orthodox Union, the Rabbinical Council of America and Yeshiva University have signed the proclamation which outlines in detail their response to the suicides of members of the Orthodox community who were victims of child sexual abuse.
I’m probably not alone in feeling the need for some good news, so I'm happy to share this:
In a welcome development, three groups of Orthodox Jewish Rabbis have issued a proclamation addressing child sexual abuse. Over 300 rabbis from the Orthodox Union, the Rabbinical Council of America and Yeshiva University have signed the proclamation which outlines in detail their response to the suicides of members of the Orthodox community who were victims of child sexual abuse. They cite the Torah passage “Do not stand by while your fellow’s blood is being spilled” (Leviticus 19:16) as the basis of their concern.[The proclamation and the complete list of signatories can be viewed here]
I found two aspects of the Proclamation most significant. The first is the clarity of the expectation of reporting suspected child abuse to civil authorities:
“We condemn attempts to ignore allegations of child sexual abuse. These efforts are harmful, contrary to Jewish law, and immoral. The reporting of reasonable suspicions of all forms of child abuse and neglect directly and promptly to the civil authorities is a requirement of Jewish law.”
This overrides past expectations that if someone suspected abuse, they should consult a rabbi first to receive permission to report it to civil law enforcement. It also places a clear mandate on rabbis regardless of what civil law requires in their state.
The other particularly significant provision clarifies that the laws of lashon hara (derogatory speech about another individual) do not apply when it comes to reporting abuse or notifying the community that a sex offender is in their midst. Rabbi Yosef Blau states, “Misuse of halachic concepts such as lashon hara and mesira have protected the abusers and increased the trauma of the victims.”
This Proclamation is strong and unequivocal and provides the foundation upon which policies and practices within a significant portion of the Orthodox community in the U.S. can be implemented. Our colleague (and former FaithTrust Institute board member), Rabbi Mark Dratch with the RCA was a primary supporter in getting this policy passed. It is a fine mitzvah.
In further good news, the Chief Rabbi in Israel, David Lau, published an open letter to educators urging them to "open their eyes" and address child sexual abuse. Responding to the disclosure of recent cases of sexual abuse of children, the Chief Rabbi called on educators to insure that schools are safe places for children. "We mustn't just stand by. Rather, we must raise awareness and continue educating our children in the ways of modesty, in the ways of the Torah, and in the deep-rooted values of Jewish tradition," the Chief Rabbi concluded.
This public statement by the Chief Rabbi of Israel is very significant and hopefully will lead to policies and practices in both schools and synagogues to better protect children.
These kinds of actions by national faith leaders to acknowledge child sexual abuse in our faith communities may seem long in coming, but they represent awareness raising and organizing behind the scenes that has the potential to bear real fruit. We will live in hope that the next steps will lead to concrete actions and lasting change within these segments of Jewish communities.
Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune