Top Agudath Israel of America staffers say they don't know if Agudah's top rabbis know about the Australian Chabad child sex abuse scandal and the haredi umbrella organization's policy, which is illegal, remains the same: almost every case of child sex abuse must be cleared by haredi rabbis before police are called.
The Jerusalem Post reports:
…In an email exchange with The Jerusalem Post, senior executives at Agudath Israel of America admitted that it is possible that the organization’s rabbinic leadership is not aware of developments in Australia and that their position remains unchanged.
According to the group’s 2011 policy, while it is “obligatory to report suspicions of abuse or molestation,” in many cases rabbinic sanction is necessary before such a move can be made.
According to the policy, which was posted on the Cross- Currents website by spokesman Rabbi Avi Shafran, 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.”
Agudath Israel maintains, however, that because the question of whether evidence meets that standard “has serious implications for all parties, and raises sensitive halachic issues, the individual should not rely exclusively on his own judgment...[but] 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.”
This remains the organization’s policy, according to Shafran.
“I’m not sure our rabbinic leadership is aware yet of these developments in Australia,” Agudath Israel executive vice-president rabbi David Zwiebel told the Post. “I don’t know that the Australian situation has been studied by our senior rabbinic authorities.”
Asked what circumstances would merit direct reporting without the need to seek rabbinic counsel, Zwiebel replied that the policy deals with suspicions of abuse, and that if someone “witnessed it personally – it is my understanding that the consensus of halachic authority is that he may report directly.”
Queried as to whether that would include a child telling his parent that he was molested or a report from a credible third party, Zwiebel said that “the statement sets forth certain general principles, not specific scenarios. It’s not for me to speculate how to apply those principles to specific cases.”
Manny Waks, the founder of Australian victim’s advocacy group Tzedek and one of the former victims who testified at the commission, said that he believes that the whole concept of raglayim la’daver is “misguided.”
“I’ve never heard this concept raised in the context of murder or other serious crimes. The reality is that false reporting by children of sexual abuse is extremely rare,” he asserted, calling on Agudath Israel to “urgently review its policy and amend it to reflect a position that would achieve a more appropriate outcome.”
Rabbi Yosef Blau, a senior rabbinic administrator at Yeshiva University’s rabbinical seminary and the president of the Religious Zionists of America, came out strongly against Agudath Israel’s position, stating that rabbis “who have no training should not be consulted beforehand.”
“If the rabbinical leadership of Aguda is unaware of the scandal in Australia, which seems unlikely, then they should be informed. Now that David Zwiebel and Avi Shafran are aware, they have a responsibility to give the information to any member of the rabbinical leadership uninformed and get a reaction.”
According to Zvi Gluck, the director of Amudim Community Resources, who recently chaired a symposium on the issue of abuse in the observant community, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, who was considered the greatest legal authority among non-hassidic haredim until his death in 2012, was in favor of reporting.
Gluck cited a report by Rabbi Zecharia Greenwald who asked Eliashiv to clarify the ruling that he had given to Agudath Israel.
In a YouTube video posted last year, Greenwald recalled the conversation, saying that the senior rabbi told him that a “circumstantial understanding that what is being said is true” is sufficient to justify turning to the authorities.
Read it all here.