The editor of the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society has written an article on child sexual abuse.
While there is much good in this article, there is also much bad.
And that bad, I believe, shows why rabbis cannot be trusted to deal with child sexual abuse and similar crimes.
Here is a summary of the article, courtesy of Rabbi Gil Student:
Responding Halakhically to Reports of Abuse
The latest issue of the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society (LX) has a very important article by the editor, R. Alfred Cohen, titled “Judging Transgression in the Absence of Witnesses.” R. Cohen surveys the sources and views regarding how to respond to reports of abuse that lack qualified witnesses, or any proof. This article is groundbreaking and sets the standard of discussion for this issue. Below are some highlights and notes:
1. “[W]hen the community is in danger, the rights of the individual to be considered innocent until proven guilty have to defer to the overarching necessity of safeguarding the community” (p. 7).
2. How do you respond to an unproven allegation? Essentially kabdeihu ve-chashdeihu, do not take action in case it is wrong but take precautions in case it is right. “Perhaps a solution would be to transfer the teacher to some non-teaching position, where there would be no more opportunity for any infraction” (p. 12).
3. How do we respond to the testimony of technically invalid witnesses? “[A] bet din may accept the testimony of witnesses who are technically not qualified if they find it credible” (p. 15).
4. What about the suspected perpetrator’s family? If we are uncertain whether he is guilty then we must balance the community’s welfare with the family’s.
5. Must an accused perpetrator respond to false allegations? It is the responsibility of every person to act in a way that prevents suspicion and to respond to allegations if they arise. “While it may be extremely uncomfortable to have to defend one’s honor and answer challenges to one’s uprightness, that is what is owed to the community” (pp. 19-20).
6. Should we take rumors seriously? Persistent rumors that do not originate with people who have an agenda should be taken seriously.
7. Can you fire someone over persistent rumors? This is a very difficult issue. The Magen Avraham seems to rule you may while the Rema rules you may not. All agree, however, that you may refrain from hiring someone over unsubstantiated rumors.
8. Can you fire a communal rabbi who has sinned? “[T]he course of action has to be determined by what will produce the most benefit (or the least trauma) to the Jewish community… [T]he Aruch Hashulchan concludes that if the rumors swell and persist, leading to disrespect for Judaism and the Torah, then he must surely be publicly censured” (p. 29).
9. We need to judge good people favorably but not people who have shown contempt for Jewish law.
10. Cases of immorality need to be handled discreetly to avoid Chillul Hashem, which includes creating the impression that rabbis are generally immoral or that rabbis can get away with crimes. This requires judgment.
11. Unproven accusations can be believed if they are devarim hanikkarim — “apparently there is no other plausible way to explain the circumstances other than the scenario envisioned by the lashon hara” (p. 41).
12. We need to allow room for rehabilitation, for the repentant sinner to return to the community. However, “the reality of social experience has shown that some aberrations are almost impossible to expunge from the personality” (p. 44).
13. Regarding the Takkanah Forum (unnamed in the article): “It strikes me that these rabbis handled the situation masterfully and honestly” (p. 46).
A close reading of the summary shows several key things:
1. According to Rabbi Student, Rabbi Cohen deals with how to "respond to reports of abuse that lack qualified witnesses" – i.e., the witnesses are minors – or where there is no proof, only rumors.
2. Until rabbis determine a person is guilty, no action should be taken against the alleged perpetrator. That means police should not be called and the alleged perpetrator should not be fired.
3. Rabbi Cohen says an alleged perpetrator in the above situation should "perhaps" be transferred to a job away from children "where there would be no more opportunity for any infraction.” But schools are not the only place pedophiles have access to children – they have mikvas, synagogues, parks, and other locations to ply their trade. Yet Rabbi Cohen implies we should not do anything to warn the community because clear proof of the pedophile's guilt is lacking.
4. Rabbi Cohen says it is unclear whether or not a teacher or a rabbi can be fired over persistent rumors. But he also makes it clear halakha is opposed to calling police unless there is clear proof of guilt.
5. In other words, if the evidence against a person is clear and overwhelming, police should be called. But if the evidence is not as clear as that or, presumably, if there is evidence but it is not overwhelming, police should not be called.
6. This means Rabbi Cohen has cast rabbis in the role of forensic child sexual abuse investigators and professionals trained to deal with victims of child sexual abuse. Yet rabbis are neither of these things.
7. Following Rabbi Cohen's logic, these rabbis would be judging the guilt of their colleagues and friends – a situation that frequently leads to judgments biased in their friends' favor.
I'm sure Rabbi Cohen means well.
That said, rabbis cannot honestly or effectively deal with child sexual abuse. They have neither the training or the motivation to do so.
Their behavior amounts to obstruction of justice and puts defenseless children at risk.
But notice that Rabbi Gil Student, the head of the OU's book publishing arm, does not raise any of these points. He issues no criticism of Rabbi Cohen. He does not challenge him on any of these points.
He sees only the good in Rabbi Cohen's article – like “[W]hen the community is in danger, the rights of the individual to be considered innocent until proven guilty have to defer to the overarching necessity of safeguarding the community” – but not the bad.
Because, I think, in the end what matters most to Orthodox community leaders is not the safety of the children in their midst. They may, like Rabbi Student, talk the talk. But few walk the walk. If the safety of children was the most important thing, rabbis would view themselves as mandatory reporters and would report suspicions of child abuse to police.
But they don't.
How many more dead or emotionally crippled children will it take to change their minds?
[Hat Tip: Chaim1.]