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December 19, 2012

“Victims Who Choose Silence When They Could Prosecute Have A Moral Obligation To Remain Silent When They Can No Longer Prosecute,” Leading Orthodox Rabbi Says

Rabbi steven pruzanskyIn response to the new Yeshiva University high school scandal, Rabbi Steven Pruzansky argues that if you're sexually abused as a child and didn't go to police soon enough to prosecute, you're now obligated to be silent about your abuse forever.

Rabbi steven pruzansky
Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky writes:

…But here’s my main problem with the lurid allegations that surfaced last week. Of course, we have sympathy for the alleged victims, and we must have sympathy for the alleged victims, both genuinely and because it is politically correct to have sympathy for alleged victims. But the limits of my sympathy are tested when victims do not come forward and prosecute in real time – when the events occur – and instead wait for 20, 30 or even 40 years to come forward and do nothing more than besmirch the reputations of their alleged abusers.

The flip side of coming forward and lodging a complaint with the police is that the accused then have the ability to defend themselves, to have their proverbial day in court. The victims inform the police, testify before the Grand Jury (if appropriate), and testify at trial. They are cross-examined. The victim’s credibility can be impeached.  The defendants can testify as well and mount a defense. A jury of their peers decides their fate.  At the end of the process, the accused are either convicted and punished, or exonerated and pray that they can recover their reputations. Either way, the system is set up to protect both the victims and the accused.

Today, we are operating in an absolutely reprehensible system in which victims choose not to prosecute, and then long after the Statute of Limitations has run and prosecution is impossible, they prosecute through the media – and anonymously to boot. In the judicial system, the accused have a presumption of innocence. In the media, the accused have a presumption of guilt. They cannot defend themselves. They are tarred and feathered, hung out to dry, losing friends, family and supporters. They lose their jobs, and no one wants to be seen with them publicly.  A lifetime of good deeds with a sterling reputation is erased in an instant, never to be regained and never to be recovered.

That is mob justice, and it is grossly unfair, not to mention an odious violation of Torah law. It is rank lashon hara, which Jewish law obligates us to disbelieve. It serves no one well, and serves no legitimate purpose.

Well, there could be a purpose, a to’elet (a benefit, in the language of Jewish law) that would permit such exposure: if future harm to others will thereby be prevented. I.e., if the accused – say, a teacher – is still in a position to harm children, then there is an interest and a justification in going public, exposing him and his misdeeds, and protecting children. (Was that a realisitic factor in this case? I don’t know, but from the information to date, it certainly doesn’t seem so.) One might then fairly ask: if that is the motivation of the victims, then why didn’t they seek to protect their peers 20, 30 and 40 years ago? Why didn’t they prosecute when they should have?

Pure vengeance is not a legitimate purpose, nor is catharsis a legitimate purpose. One who wants vengeance should confront the accused directly, and one who seeks catharsis should speak to a therapist, not the media. But civilized people do not address grievances by anonymously running to media decades after the event. It is outrageous and shameful conduct, notwithstanding the sympathy one feels for them, whatever happened.

Again, there are often cogent and plausible reasons why victims do not come forward, usually to avoid stigma, publicity, or other personal issues. To me, it is the most vexing aspect of these squalid stories. I reported some incidents to the local police last year – and the local prosecution – both of which investigated but were stymied because the victims refused to cooperate. Will those same victims come forward anonymously in 2040 and castigate their abuser? I would hope not, despite my revulsion toward the accused. NOW is the time.

Victims who choose silence when they could prosecute have a moral obligation to remain silent when they can no longer prosecute. The media grant the charges an aura of credibility that would necessarily be challenged in a courtroom. It is simply uncouth, these days, to even question the reliability of these anonymous complainants to the media. Their allegations are invested with an authority that they may or may not deserve. We have thus created a system that is inherently unjust, pat ourselves on the back for our imagined superiority, and then smirk at the accused – never imagining that some vengeful or disgruntled contemporary of ours might someday do the same thing to us. (Indeed, allegations of sexual abuse of children by one spouse are staples in custody/visitation litigation.)…

First of all, Pruzansky's stated position is to report child sexual abuse to police. He says rabbis can't investigate or punish such crimes, and the police and the courts must be allowed to do it. Not only that, he considers it to be pekuakh nefesh, meaning you must break Shabbat laws when necessary to make that report.

What bothers Pruzansky here is the tendency of many victims to wait years – even decades – before reporting the crimes against them, and their reliance on the media to publicize what happened because police and the courts no longer can play a role due the statue of limitations.

Pruzansky thinks media rely on "anonymous" allegations. But that is rarely, if ever, true.

I won't do a post on an alleged sex offender unless I have documentation. That might be court documents or an on-the-record victim combined with some other documentation corroboration. Newspapers and television stations have similar standards.

People close to the case of Rabbi Yehuda Kolko will tell you that I turned down the Kolko story and deleted comments about him before the New York Magazine piece ran in 2006, because no victims were willing to identify themselves. (They'll also tell you I urged them to find a NYC media outlet with the money and time to do an investigative piece and try to get that outlet to do the story, which they did.)

Victims of child sexual abuse suffer a type of trauma that makes coming forward very difficult. This is documented in criminal justice and medical literature.

Yet Pruzansky frames their decision to stay silent or delay reporting as some type of selfish vindictiveness, rather than what it really is – damage from a specific type of trauma.

A specific problem in New York State is that the Statute of Limitations is far too short, and Agudath israel of America, Satmar and the Catholic Church – the unholy troika of child sex abuse enablers – have long fought any attempt to lengthen it.

So to blame victims for not coming forward soon enough is at best disingenuous.

But this misses the logical failure of Pruzansky's main point.

If reporting child sexual abuse is pekuakh nefesh as Pruzansky claims, then child sexual abuse must be treated as similar crimes – murder, for example – would be treated.

There is no Statute of Limitations for murder, and there is a move to try to make that the case for child sexual abuse, as well.

Past that, there is no Statute of Limitations in halakha at all, as Pruzansky surely must know, further weakening his argument.

His claim that because neither Finkelstein or Gordon are currently teachers, the need to tell the public that they allegedly sexually abused children has been removed because their access to children ended with their teaching jobs is, quite frankly, insane. Their access to children may have changed, but it has not ended.

Pruzanky's claim that, "[v]ictims who choose silence when they could prosecute have a moral obligation to remain silent when they can no longer prosecute," is moral, legal and halakhic BS. It has no merit at all. It is typical Steven Pruzansky.

Pruzansky's post as a PDF file:

Download Dealing with Scandal | Rabbi Pruzansky's Blog


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Who needs morons when we have Rabbi Steven Pruzansky,this guy is a tottal imbacile.

Sounds like someone realizes they're finally in the clear because of the Statute of Limitations......

Crimes of every type. Cover ups, lies and non-stop scams. And my religious friends actually ask me with a straight face why I left 'orthodox' Judaism for good. HA!

instead wait for 20, 30 or even 40 years to come forward and do nothing more than besmirch the reputations of their alleged abusers.

That may not necessarily be the motivation. Sometimes it is the prospect of getting the big bucks in civil court.

Addressing this to current abuse victims would be bad enough but could be construed as a warning for them to act sooner than later, to be credible. Telling this to past victims, most if not all of whom were abused during a culture of silence at best and cover ups and enabling at worst - and a very pervasive culture at that- is beyond reprehensible. If someone finally has the courage (now that the environment has changed and they may actually get some sympathy and closure) to come forward, they should stay silent? Is he kidding?

"At the end of the process, the accused are either convicted and punished, or exonerated and pray that they can recover their reputations."

An acquittal is not an exoneration. Not guilty does not mean innocent; it means "not proven." I have read a lot of the blibber-blabber posted concerning the Rubashkin and Weberman cases, and I can say that very few people seem to have an inkling about how the criminal justice system works in the United States. For their own protection and well being, it seems to me that members of the Jewish community ought to get some understanding of a system to which they are subject, which in fact they are whether they like it or not.

Posted by: MM | December 19, 2012 at 06:54 PM

He's an attorney admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States.

Past that, there is no Statute of Limitations in halakha at all, as Pruzansky surely must know, further weakening his argument.

I don't think that this is relevant. Halachik standards are inadequate for the vast majority of sexual and other violent crimes, since one needs hasrah & kosher eidim. In addition, many activities may not even be technically prosecutable, or at the very least only considered civil and not criminal matters, e.g., the rape of an unmarried virgin.

Posted by: zibble | December 19, 2012 at 07:03 PM

As I've written many times previously, batei din punished without two kosher witnesses and without a kosher warning.

But the point I was making was that Pruzansky's clam that reporting after the SOL expired was somehow immoral was BS. I explained several reasons why that is so, one of them was the fact that the Torah does not recognize a SOL.

My biggest problem is the complete lack of logic in his issue. His problem is either that molesters are outed for their crimes after they can be punished, or that innocent people will be falsely accused and unable to clear their name. However, obviously someone who has no problem in falsely accusing someone of such a heinous action, would not cease to do so because of a Rabbi's declaration. Then, he is only practically telling victims not to expose molesters.

What a bunch of BS, I say, he has an obligation to come forward in order to protect other's.

Shmarya, then he's being deliberately disingenuous--which is perhaps not surprising.

No doubt you remember all the Lubavitchers proclaiming Rubashkin's innocence when he was acquitted of the child labor charges. No, he wasn't found innocent, as you know, of course. He was found not guilty because the prosecution was deemed not to have proven its case given that evidence they were planning to use was ruled inadmissable. Had that evidence been admitted in all likelihood the jury would have returned a verdict of guilty. All the crowing about Rubashkin's innocence of those charges was just nonsense.

So, since as you say, Pruzansky clearly must know better, then he is deliberately misleading his audience to make his point. And he is deliberately omitting the fact that oftentimes small children who are molested are not even sophisticated enough to know that what was done to them was a criminal act until years later. And further he neglects to acknowledge that pedophiles routinely threaten their victims with dire consequences should they report their abuse to parents or other responsible adults. Often it is not until adulthood that victims have the strength to speak up in the face of prior and ongoing threats and intimidation.

In the case of the accused Catholic priests, some who were wrongly accused did successfully defend themselves and their reputations even after many years, while others were clearly demonstrated to have been guilty as sin despite the passage of time.

BaltimoreYid: You are extreme, sound paranoid to me

Is there a statute of limitations in the Beis Din of Shamayim?

Not guilty does not mean innocent; it means "not proven."

So, you are saying hey are presumed innocent by our system until they are not convicted - at which point their status is amended from presumed innocent to not proven to be guilty?

Interesting constitutional read.

Posted by: Rebitzman | December 19, 2012 at 07:48 PM

He is saying that the not guilty decision doesn't mean that the jury thinks, or in reality, the person is innocent, just that they don't have enough evidence to reach the level of beyond a reasonable doubt. An irrelevant point because it is obviously easier to protect your reputation with a "not guilty" verdict, than with no trial.

The collective IQ demonstrated in the ignorant responses to the Pruzansky article, including Failed Messiah himself is in the single digits. Delaying the reporting of a supposed heinous crime - an erection while wrestling - Really? 30 years until blabbing to an Orthodox bashing "investigative reporter" is not by any stretch of the imagination a recognized and accepted symptom or consequence of being abused. The anonymous whiners making these claims are an embarrasement to our faith. So they just happened to grow the beitzim necessary to make these allegations after thirty years upon being contacted by a Forward Jew-bashing scum "reporter" Shame! these morons who so hated the Yeshiva experienced their parents sacrificed to provide should have just obeyed the rules and put on Tzitzis or transferred to Ramaz.

trying to post this as a response to this wonderful Rabbi...let's see if he lets it through (in the meantime, enjoy)

Hate to be the one to say this, but someone has to.
People don’t come forward right away because they are absolutely terrified. Kenneth Lanning’s Five Stages of Grooming provides a boat load of information, as does the APA guide to child sexual abuse (http://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/child-sexual-abuse.aspx)

As a Rabbi, you need to be aware of what occurs to people who have been abused, and I fear you lack the empathy to truly grasp the horrors of abuse. For someone to come forward at such a young age, after their entire world was ripped apart by a twisted individual. Judith Herman has an excellent book (Trauma and Recovery)that goes into the various coping mechanisms that describe why children don’t always come forward right away.

In our culture, we have a tendency not to believe children when they come forward with abuse – despite the overwhelming evidence that show that children do not lie. A victim of abuse can easily see this, and can be scared off.

The scars of abuse are ever-lasting. Don’t ignore the trauma of the event, and accuse the media of sensationalizing it. 1 in 6 boys, and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused as children (under 18, according to the CDC). Stop protecting the abusers, and start protecting the victims.

Posted by: gdg | December 19, 2012 at 08:16 PM

You're absolutely right. 12 year old children should come forward right away. So what if their parents are in denial and their community supports the abuser at the expense of every victim. So what if they are dealing with issues like dissociative disorders or PTSD. All those factors are irrelevant. Even if the legal mechanisms for them to speak out didn't exist 30 years ago, they should be quiet in the face of ongoing abuse committed by their molesters to later generations of innocent children. (sarcasm in case you're too stupid to realize).

i might agree with the rabbi if the crime being discussed was one that typically didnt involve emotional trauma, guilt,and shame. if somebody keyed your car 20 years ago and at the time you decided not to report it, then its probably best to remain silent.
However if the crime was the molestation , rape or sodomizing of a CHILD by an adult -ESPECIALLY A REBBE OR OTHER RELIGIOUS FIGURE- then the decision not to come forward at the time would have been influenced by the psychological and emotional trauma of the act, as well as by the guilt the child likely felt even up to the point of blaming themself. when the fear of being seen as a liar, a moiser, and being labeled gay is added, its amazing that ANY yeshiva bochur ever steps forward. under these circumstances, it is only as an adult that one can gather the strength and courage, and have enough self-confidence to make an adult decision whether or not to come forward and name their molester.
how dare pruzansky proclaim that they may not morally come forward. he is attempting to deny victims their right to a small modicum of justice; some cathartic release. and at the same time he would remove whatever extra deterrence there might be to a potential predator in knowing that his victim may be too shy and scared to name him now, but might come back to haunt him years later. in some cases the pedophile might still be victimizing others.
pruzansky got this wrong, and shamefully so.

Rebitzman, you are apparently a little unsteady on the meaning of "PRESUMED innocent." Presumed innocent means that the burden of proof lies on the prosecution to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. It does not mean that the defendant is in fact innocent. A person who is missing and presumed dead is not necessarily in fact deceased. An heir presumptive is not definitely the heir in the way that an heir apparent is.

Juries in our system do not have the option of returning a verdict of innocent. Guilty means culpability has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt to the jury's satisfaction. Not guilty means not proven beyond a reasonable doubt and thus preserves the presumption of innocence. It says nothing about the fact of innocence. The acquitted can in fact be as pure as driven snow, or the prosecution could have done a lousy job demonstrating the culpability of a defendant who was guilty as sin.

Now exoneration means proof of innocence. The accused (or usually the convicted) is demonstrated not to have committed the crime. That is why the legal group that strives to exonerate wrongly convicted (and condemned) prisoners is called the Innocence Project. The Innocence Project succeeds in exonerating the wrongly convicted usually by adducing new evidence (Say, previously untested DNA) or by forcing the prosecution to produce exculpatory evidence that it did not present to the defense during discovery at the original trial or by re-examining previously misanalyzed evidence (like blood spatter or fire debris). On occasion someone is exonerated when the true culprit confesses.

So if the Weberman jury had returned a verdict of not guilty, that would not have meant that Weberman was exonerated. It would only mean that the jury did not find the evidence sufficient to convict. The jury might have felt that he was completely innocent and would have exonerated him if they had had that option, or they might have felt that he was probably guilty but the prosecution put on a weak case. But our system does not give them the option of making that distinction.

In Scotland, however, since the early 18th century, juries have had two possible verdicts of acquittal: not guilty and not proven. Not guilty means that in the jury's view the accused didn't do it, and not proven means the jury thinks the accused probably was culpable, but the prosecution didn't make its case up to the standard of proof: beyond a reasonable doubt.

So given Pruzansky's legal education, he certainly knows that juries do not exonerate when they acquit, but he chose to blur that distinction in order to mislead his audience. Or he was just sloppy in his word choice, although I doubt that.

APC: Check out your gmail. I send you a message.

Dear rabbi,

Noyach Tochiach!
Hashem waited 120 years, and yet still wiped them off from the face of the earth. Ki moloh haaretz chummus, he therefore made tchinah out of them. Killing innocent children for their pleasure, anyone in enabling and protecting, aiding and abetting such, are themselves blood spillers, and this has been going on for far too long, and the smoke trails up all the way to the top!. Molesters, regardless of being teachers or not, never ever cease to fetch helpless children in hot PURSUIT. No amount of years will wipe away the trauma. Poor defenseless children, they never had a chance, not enough they were victimized once, come these blood spiller enablers to threaten them all over again to keep quiet or else. I can still hear the screams in my ears of this poor little child, " OBER ES SIZ AZOY GEVEIN!!! (see Amy Weinhouse)" So now you want to blame the victim why he didn't come forth earlier.
Many don't have the courage to come forth even in their entire lifetime, for so many various reasons, and for that, the PERPETRATORS should not be a "CHOTEH VENISKAR".
The toelet will be to encourage the law to be like in Canada, NO STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS TILL KINGDOM COME! To encourage others to come forth and they will get ALL OUR SUPPORT. The toelet will be that these perpetrators shall not have menucha for the rest of their lives. The toelet will be to stop others in their track. The devil has not invented such inhumane treatment for poor helpless innocent children. These are high crimes against HUMANITY! Let them rot away in jail forever.

He's an attorney admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States.

Posted by: Shmarya | December 19, 2012 at 07:01 PM

Just FYI, this is not a credential of any significance to lawyers. Every bar association has annual field trips to Washington where you can get sworn in to the Supreme Court and attend a few nice functions. If he had actually argued before the high court, or even better, won a case, that would be something.


i havent received your email yet.

And the award for douchebag of the day goes to....Rabbi Steven Pruzansky! Congratulations Rabbi, you are now a bonafide,certified douche.

Fine Rabbi, there's a legal statute of limitations.

But there is no halachic statute of limitation. There is no such concept in Jewish law.

So grow a pair of balls and constitute a Bet Din and investigate complaints against your predecessor Macy Gordon who was Rabbi of the shul you are now the mara d'atra of.

He has a write to defend himself?

Of course he does. Bring him in front of Bet Din and let his accusers speak and give him a chance to reply.

But to let this abuser retire in Israel and you claim he has no write to defend himself?

Grow a pair of balls rabbi.

B'Makom She'ain Ish - In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.

In the media, the accused have a presumption of guilt. They cannot defend themselves.

It's true that they have the presumption of guilt if the accusation is out there with nothing to counter it.

But it's NOT true that they can't defend themselves. The same media that can be used to put forth an accusation can also be used to speak out in one's own defense.

This is so disgusting and even evil.

I would be less horrified if he took some time in his rambling paragraphs to point out that what has to be changed is the statue of limitations. If he said that I would only be disgusted by what him advocating self-gagging by victims, as opposed to finding it reprehensible and evil.

Any reports on how Weberman is faring in jail? Any of his many defenders here been pen-palling with him? Did he make any friends behind bars? How does he like his mattress? Is his cellmate's name "Bubba"? Has he tried the showers? Or does he get special permission to go to the in-house mikvah? As we all know, it's very important to smell like chlorine every morning (NOT!). Did all the money collected for him make sure "influence" was used to land him in a nice cushy establishment? Or does he get the same GP treatment as everyone else who abuses children? And how's the lingerie, I mean gachkes, in prison? Is he in a high security facility that actually feels a little like prison? Or is it low security, with cholent and potato kugel on Fridays like in Ottisville? Does he have a Satmar minyan, or is he forced to daven with "Litvishe goyim"?

Perhaps if the rabbis stopped covering up for abusers, stopped convincing victims that it didn't happen, stopped intimidating victims and their families from coming forward more victim would speak out earlier. Ever think of that, Pruzansky??

Evrey one gets abused and evrey one abuses
So guys get a life and stop complaining

APC: I will resend.

Baruch Lanner's accusers immediately came forward with their accusations. They followed your advice. They were then vilified publicly and forced into a sort of shame that rivaled the actual physical abuse they endured. They went to the authorities, they convened a Beit Din. They came face to face with a well-reputed (and still employed) school psychologist who came to court/Beit Din with the accusers' private school records and proceeded to discredit the allegations based on irrelevant private records. Lanner was acquited and went on to abused many more children. Oh wait. Those subsequent victims decided not to speak up in light of the reality of the earlier accusations? Shocking! They waited a few years until Lanner was exposed by the press? Do you think THEY were insane for waiting to speak up? You are bordering on abetment and facilitation of abuse and while I do not pray at your shul, I will keep my children away from you - - just in case.

One should not walk into the MTA building.It's full of George's wasted seed. Dear Rabbi(that's a joke)Steve, you sound like you play with yourself ALOT! So legal and NUMB! The Vatican would like you to be their PR guy.


I think you missed the point here, it has nothing to do with SOL:
1) In the YU case, the abuse was reported to the administration at the time, but they didn't follow through. So then what do you do? RSP would say let the administration get away with it; however, I think the case should be pursued out of respect for the victims. Also, Finkelstein admitted to the Forward what his actions were.

2) Not that this should affect his argument, but RSP has a huge ax to grind, i.e. defending the reputation of his predecessor at CBY.

Has the concept of Statute of Limitations (or any limitation of time in which to bring an action) ever found its way into Jewish law or practice?

Would this (lack of) logic apply to Shoah victims in countries where the statute of limitations has run out?
(if there are any such nations)

How disturbing. Clearly, Rabbi Pruzansky has NO understanding of the shame and guilt felt by victims, a fear that they won't be believed, an allegation against a beloved authority figure - all of which prevent them from coming forward.

Just so the statute of limitations doesn't run out on me, I will tell you now, Rabbi Pruzansky,that your position is insensitive and abhorrent.

I actually enjoy Steve's writings - the kicker - he was a classmate of mine at MTA (75)! The irony!

I am from the UK but currently seeing friends and family in California. I posted a comment on Rabbi Pruzansky's blog criticizing his stance based on my 25+ years experience as a counselor, during which time I have spoken to and supported many victims of abuse. I have seen at first hand how difficult it is for these victims to talk and to begin to confront the evil that was visited on them. Let's not forget how difficult it has been for many Holocaust survivors to talk about what they went through.

My comment was up on his blog for a short time, but now it seems to have been removed. So much for free speech!

I also made a critical comment there which was taken down.

He's now trying to backtrack in his latest post, saying he never meant to criticize past victims, only to implore current ones to go through the court system. Yet it's clear from the original blogpost that he vilified the past YU victims who are now going to the media.

Herb D., it may not be irony. It may explain a lot.

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