Agudath Israel of America issued this statement today in an attempt to clarify its position on reporting child sexual abuse to police or child protective services.
If you compare it to Agudah's position clearly stated at its halakha, Jewish law, conference a couple months ago and first reported here, you'll see that there is no major difference.
Because the standard of raglayim l'davar, enough evidence to believe something is true, is something that rabbis need to determine, each case of suspected child sexual abuse, short of actually witnessing the abuse taking place or having clear physical evidence of that abuse, must be brought before a rabbi, not police.
This Agudath Israel of America conference granted CLE credits, and Agudath Israel of America clearly told mandated reporters at that conference that they must ask a rabbi for permission to report suspected child sexual abuse (or elder abuse and vulnerable adult abuse) to police. And that telling mandated reporters to break the law.
This should mean that Agudah is forbidden in the fututre from holding or participating in CLE credit-granting events.
As for Agudah's statement today that says a formal beit din is not necessary to do this, or that the rabbi the ase is brought to should be sensitive to the pain of abuse victims, the actual Agudah position clearly stated as halakha by them in a halakhic setting and captured on tape says that a beit din is preferable and that the rabbi or rabbis in any case should be senior.
Today's statement is Agudah's attempt to spin this in response to the audio posted here earlier this week and picked up by the Jewish Week and the JTA, in which senior Agudah leader Rabbi Shumel Kamenetsky says you must bring cases of suspected child sexual abuse to rabbis, not police.
Here is Agudah's statement:
Agudath Israel of America has received several inquiries in the wake of misleading claims that have recently been made about our stance on reporting suspected child abusers to law enforcement authorities. We take the opportunity to clarify our position.
As Torah Jews we live our live our lives in accordance with halacha. The question of whether and under what circumstances one is halachically permitted or required to report to the authorities suspicions of child abuse (including sexual molestation) has attracted the attention of a number of our generation’s most prominent rabbinic authorities. Many of their responsa have been collected in the respected Torah journal Yeshurun, Volumes 15 and 22.
As elaborated at a recent Halacha Conference sponsored by Agudath Israel of America, these responsa make clear that when certain standards have been met it is not only permitted but in fact obligatory to report suspicions of abuse or molestation. The general principles that emerge from these responsa are as follows:
1. Where there is “raglayim la’davar” (roughly, reason to believe) that a child has been abused or molested, the matter should be reported to the authorities. In such situations, considerations of “tikun ha’olam” (the halachic authority to take steps necessary to “repair the world”), as well as other halachic concepts, override all other considerations.
2. This halachic obligation to report where there is raglayim la’davar is not dependent upon any secular legal mandate to report. Thus, it is not limited to a designated class of “mandated reporters,” as is the law in many states (including New York); it is binding upon anyone and everyone. In this respect, the halachic mandate to report is more stringent than secular law.
3. However, where the circumstances of the case do not rise to the threshold level of raglayim la’davar, the matter should not be reported to the authorities. In the words of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, perhaps the most widely respected senior halachic authority in the world today, “I see no basis to permit” reporting “where there is no raglayim la’davar, but rather only ‘eizeh dimyon’ (roughly, some mere conjecture); if we were to permit it, not only would that not result in ‘tikun ha’olam’, it could lead to ‘heres haolam’ (destruction of the world).” [Yeshurun, Volume 7, page 641.]
4. Thus, the question of whether the threshold standard of raglayim la’davar has been met so as to justify (indeed, to require) reporting is critical for halachic purposes. (The secular law also typically establishes a threshold for mandated reporters; in New York, it is “reasonable cause to suspect.”) The issue is obviously fact sensitive and must be determined on a case-by-case basis.
5. There may be times when an individual may feel that a report or evidence he has seen rises to the level of raglayim la’davar; and times when he may feel otherwise. Because the question of reporting has serious implications for all parties, and raises sensitive halachic issues, the individual should not rely exclusively on his own judgment to determine the presence or absence of raglayim la’davar. Rather, he should present the facts of the case to a rabbi who is expert in halacha and who also has experience in the area of abuse and molestation - someone who is fully sensitive both to the gravity of the halachic considerations and the urgent need to protect children. (In addition, as Rabbi Yehuda Silman states in one of his responsa [Yeshurun, Volume 15, page 589], “of course it is assumed that the rabbi will seek the advice of professionals in the field as may be necessary.”) It is not necessary to convene a formal bais din (rabbinic tribunal) for this purpose, and the matter should be resolved as expeditiously as possible to minimize any chance of the suspect continuing his abusive conduct while the matter is being considered.
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