Clarification of R’ Aviner’s פסקי הלכה on abuse

R’ Aviner posted the following פסקי הלכה

Based on the recent discussions by Rabbinic organization in the US and Canada
regarding reporting child abuse, we saw fit to reprint this article:
One’s Duty to Immediately Report Child Abuse, at all Costs

When children are battered, whether sexually or “just” physically, anyone who knows about it has to report it to the authorities. The child, after all, is helpless and has no defenses. According to Jewish law, the primary loyalty of anyone who knows what is happening must be to the battered child, and this duty is absolute. Allow me to add that from a legal standpoint, if the person who knows about it is a professional in an associated field, for example a social worker or psychologist, and he does not report it, he is liable to go to prison for half a year.

Cruelly hitting children is alien to the world of Jewish law. Our halachic authorities viewed the matter so gravely that Ha-Rav Ha-Gaon Yosef Shalom Elyashiv ruled that outside of Israel in the case of a battered child, one must assist the authorities to remove him from his home – even if the child will be moved to a non-Jewish family. The reason is that such treatment could threaten the child’s life (see Shut Tzitz Eliezer 19:52 who discusses abused children in Israel and considers the abuser a “Rodef – pursuer” who must be stopped).

The desire not to report it in order to spare the perpetrator may derive from sincere motives, but one must first take pity on the helpless child. His fate comes before all else. In the Crisis Center for Religious Women, it is reported that there are more children who suffer from beatings and sexual abuse among the religious public than among the secular public. This is not because the religious are more violent, but because more often the religious public avoids reporting such incidents, and they make reports only when the matter go to extremes. Until then, the battered child suffers terrible harm.

It is important to note that there is only one situation in which one is exempt from reporting. If the perpetrator is aware of his problem, is willing to go for appropriate treatment, steadfastly shows up for treatment sessions, and the responsible authorities supervise this process, then the perpetrator is doing what he would be ordered to do anyway. In all other instances, without exception, there is an obligation to report abuse, and quickly. The child’s fate depends on us.

I recall a story in which I was personally involved. Someone saw his neighbor kick his small daughter in the head when she was lying on the floor. The man hesitated about whether or not to report what had occurred, when it was clear that he would pay for his deed with a fight with the neighbor. I ruled that he was obligated to report it, and immediately. During the talk it became clear to me that the person asking the question was a social worker. I had trouble believing this and I asked him, “How can it be that you, as a social worker, would ask me such a question?”

He did report what he had seen, and as he feared, he got into a fight with his neighbor, as well as with much of the neighborhood in which he lived, since the violent father incited them against him. I heard about that and I talked to him. I told him, “It will all be worth it. Think about the fact that you saved a Jewish life.”

Subsequent to that Psak, I asked him a number of questions. I reproduce the questions and answers below. Q is me, A is R’ Aviner.

Q: On what basis does one assume that the process outlined above, is indeed the process required by the law? Which law? In Australia there is a law of mandatory reporting which requires that professionals and para professionals, including teachers and Rabbis report alleged abuse to the police. Is R’ Aviner saying that in the case of someone who has previously committed a crime and is now under the care of a psychologist, as above, that one should ignore the law of the land and not report them to the authorities?
A: Good point.  This is according to the law in Israel.  One should follow the law if it is other wise.
Q: If we report someone to the authorities and they are convicted, and we know that there is every chance that the the abuser will be assaulted in the prison by fellow inmates (because inmates tend to target those who have abused children) is there a problem with doing so?
A: No.  We do not allow a child to be abused to save the abuser!
Q: Does a Rabbi have any more knowledge/authority on deciding whether a person is likely to abuse again, despite having treatment, given that all the research shows that offenders offend and re-offend, despite knowing that what they did was wrong?
A: Rabbis are generally in contact with specialists who guide them.
Q: Is it permissible for a community to effectively send away an offender to another country, and “warn” people in the other country that the person has offended, in order to protect the offender from a local prison sentence?
A: No.  Same as number 2.

Author: pitputim

I've enjoyed being a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia, as well as band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel and later in life at Machon L'Hora'ah, Yeshivas Halichos Olam.

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