Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir offers some advice for potential whistleblowers. He explains how to blow the whistle, when to go to the police, etc. But then Rabbi Meir drifts off into
One of the most original and useful solutions to this problem was suggested to me by one of the leading Roshei Yeshiva (Yeshiva heads). The suggestion is to use the threat of a destructive formal complaint to obtain a more modest and constructive settlement. The truth is that in many cases going to the authorities is the worst outcome for all involved. The objective is to fix the problem, not the blame. Following are some examples of how I have proposed to readers to apply this advice:
In the case I consulted this rabbi on, a young lady was being sexually harassed by her employer, a prominent individual in the community. All the young lady wanted was an apology and to be able to work unhindered; she wasn't interested in creating a scandal. Certainly the employer was not interested in a scandal. The rabbi's advice was for the employee to demand an apology and that the abusive behavior cease; if this did not happen she would sue.
Another reader wrote me that he was forced to resign from his job because of religious harassment at his workplace. Prospective employers want to know why he left his job, but he is reluctant to give details because they are embarrassing to all concerned. The suggestion is to go to the previous employer and ask for a non-specific apologetic letter explaining that the employee was unfortunately compelled to leave because of inappropriate treatment by some co-workers. The letter is not really very incriminating but it provides an adequate explanation to other employers and doesn't make the person seem like a job-hopper or trouble-maker. Again, the leverage for obtaining the letter is the threat of legal action or other whistle-blowing which ultimately is against everyone's interest, but the threat is needed in order to obtain the fairer outcome.
Benign enough advice – if the problem is mild harassment of the individual receiving that advice. But what of future employees so harassed? Worse yet, the question Meir is responding to is about others who are being abused and what seems to be criminal wrongdoing:
My employer engages in scandalous exploitation and abuse of his clients. But I'm afraid that if I report him to appropriate authorities I'll be considered a troublemaker and will have trouble finding work.
And, here is Rabbi Meir's answer:
One possible application in your case is to approach your employer and explain that you have detailed evidence of his wrongdoing. Make clear that you are not interested in ruining his business, just in protecting his clients. Your ultimatum is that if the abusive behavior doesn't stop, then you will blow the whistle using one of the routes mentioned.
What Rabbi Meir does not consider is the following:
- How can this employee be sure the abuse really has stopped?
- How can this employee be sure the abuse was not transferred to others?
- Is the employee breaking a law by not contacting police, etc.?
- Is the employee exposing him/herself to actual risk by following Meir's advice, when going to police or other authorities may very well minimize that risk?
Think about the child sexual abuse cases where Rabbi Meir's advice (given, of course, by the haredi gedolim he follows) was followed. Think about the number of children who were abused because the police were not called. Now why listen to Asher Meir?
UPDATE 3-29-07: Asher Meir writes, in part:
…I generally identify myself as Modern Orthodox and that the Rosh Yeshiva I consulted
regarding the whistle-blowing case is also generally identified as a
Modern Orthodox rabbi. (What does that mean? Who knows. He advocates
going to college, secular liberal arts education, and getting a job.)
I think that there is a big difference between a grown woman who is
being pestered by annoying but harmless propositions and a teenager
who is being sexually abused. There is a world of legal and ethical
difference between sexual harassment (a tort) and sexual abuse (a
crime), and also between a grown-up and a minor.…