Expressing Remorse Over Past Mishandling Of Sexual Abuse In Children, 300 Orthodox Rabbis Vow Better Protection For Victims

Vos Iz Neias
August 25, 2016

New York - In light of recent tragic suicides committed as a direct result of child sexual abuse, as well as other physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual consequences suffered by innocents in Jewish Orthodox communities and beyond, a proclamation signed by a large and diverse group of rabbis from the United States, Canada and Israel has taken a firm stand against abuse in children, acknowledging that the Jewish community has been slow to recognize incidents of molestation in the past and calls upon schools and synagogues to institute policies that will prevent sexual abuse.

The statement, signed by close to 300 Orthodox Jewish rabbis, admits that rabbis and community leaders have not always dealt effectively or appropriately with victims of child sexual abuse or their perpetrators.

Released today by David Nyer, a licensed clinical social worker, the proclamation condemns the practice of using Jewish law to prevent victims from reporting abuse and describes any attempts to ignore child sexual abuse as "harmful, contrary to Jewish law and immoral." Suggestions for greater safety in schools and synagogues included maximizing visibility so that children cannot be in unseen locations with adults, better screening of applicants including background checks and fingerprinting, and educating staff on recognizing and reporting possible incidents of child abuse.

Rabbi Yosef Blau, a senior mashgiach at Yeshiva University's Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, called the statement a turning point for the Jewish community.

"This petition is important because it is a statement by signed 300 different rabbonim acknowledging that sexual abuse is a crisis for our community and is one that we have not really dealt with effectively up until now," Rabbi Blau told VIN News. "Critical to this is that our leaders in the community are not experts in sexual abuse but they are leaders, and their words set a tone in our community. Up until now the tone has been denial and defensiveness and we want to change. We acknowledge the problem; we want to deal with problem and we want to protect the most vulnerable."

Ensuring that those who molest children are held accountable for their actions is of paramount importance, noted Rabbi Shalom Baum, president of the Rabbinical Council of America.

"Our community needs to keep stressing that we need to believe victims of abuse and we need to encourage them to report their claims immediately to the authorities," said Rabbi Baum.

"As rabbonim we need to support the victims, even drive them to the police if necessary and find them the professional help that they deserve. We simultaneously need to advocate for the prosecution of abusers and to impose communal sanctions on them. I hope that this recent statement, combined with previous statements made by the RCA and others, leads to more actions to protect the innocent."

Nyer spent several weeks over the summer collecting signatures for the statement, with leadership at the Orthodox Union, the Rabbinical Council of America and Yeshiva University encouraging their membership to sign on.

"We had very broad based and overwhelming support and rabbis were eager to sign this proclamation given the moral imperative to safeguard our children," said Nyer. "Rabbis who had suggestions regarding editing certain language may draft their own letters in the near future."

Zvi Gluck, director of Amudim which deals with crisis management, applauded the effort for addressing the sensitive issue of sexual abuse in children.

"It is refreshing to see that rabbonim, community leaders and community at large are finally starting to take these matters very seriously," said Gluck. "While we still have much work ahead of us, it gives those of us in the trenches the chizuk to continue fighting the good fight."

Some of the proclamation's prominent signers include: Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz, Av Beth Din, Beth Din of America, Rabbi Mark Dratch, Executive Vice President, RCA, Rabbi Shalom Baum, President, RCA, Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO, OU Kosher, Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Executive VP Emeritus, OU, Rabbi Marc Penner, Dean, RIETS, YU, Rabbi Zevulun Charlop, Dean Emeritus, RIETS, YU, Rabbi Yehuda Kelemer, Rabbi, Young Israel of West Hempstead, NY, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, Rabbi, Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, and Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, Rabbi Emeritus, Congregation Beth Jacob of Atlanta, GA.

The proclamation and the complete list of signatories can be viewed here.