Raglayim LeDavar (i.e. prima facie case to answer)

In an amongst a previous post, I received the following comment (which I have slightly edited) … and no, there was nothing at all wrong with the comment, which is why I am not ignoring it (I’ve just been incredibly busy).

Rabbi Hershel Shachter provoked a storm of criticism for using the word shvartze. As far as I am concerned that is the least of it. The much bigger problem is that he propounded several insidious arguments for not dealing with sex abuse. He gave with one hand and took away with the other. He said there is no issue of mesirah (snitching) per se in reporting a known molester. Great. But then he said it is takah (actually) mesirah if the offender will be sent to state prisons where wardens could harm you by placing you in a cell with a member of Farakkan’s Nation of Islam. Yes I think that is racism. Why does he believe a Jew should fear a Black Muslim more than a member of the Aryan Nation? But never mind.

It’s important to note that R’ Schachter has given many Shiurim on this topic, and I’ve heard some of them well before the sound bite you refer to. In fact, the shiurim on mesirah were also well before the issue of child abuse became the grave topic of concern for all of us. His view, has not changed. He speaks Halacha, as he sees it. He is a Posek.

Whilst you acknowledge that R’ Schachter is strongly against those who hide behind Mesira and is in fact concerned with the safety of a community and ובערת הרע מקרבך, and yes, I have heard him say both of these things explicitly over and over, he is also concerned about safety in jails for those who are incarcerated. Halachically, R’ Schachter contends that nobody should be in a type of jail where they are beaten and/or gang raped (and all the horrible things that we hear). In a previous shiur, R’ Schachter described different types of prisons in the USA, and said he was concerned about one type as opposed to the other. If we are to be true to Halacha and indeed true to the country we live in, what we should also be doing is ensuring that those who are incarcerated go to a “normal” prison or a system where such things are very unlikely to happen. All over the world, we have read many times of the “mysterious” death of an inmate. Chazal most certainly would never approve of such a thing in their own prison systems.

R’ Schachter often interludes with urbane language. In a number of shiurim, he called the reasonable prisons “Glatt Kosher/Daf HaYomi style prisons”. People giggled when he said that. Perhaps Daf HaYomi learners or Glatt Kosher eaters might take umbrage; I doubt it. When R’ Schachter said a shvartze, he immediately expanded on that, and anyone listening knew he was giving an example, that is, of one of those Army of Farrakhan types who might be sharing a cell with a Yid (albeit a sinning Yid). Criticising him for this is unfair.

The real issue is that almost all sex abuse prosecutions are in the state courts. So he has now precluded virtually all prosecutions.

No he doesn’t. He actually says that (Frum) Lawyers and Law Makers should try to influence the powers that be to make sure that all those incarcerated are put in a situation where their rights are actually protected and they aren’t subject to jail abuse.

He also insists on vetting by a mental health professional who is also a talmid chacham (rabbinical scholar).

Knowing what he has said elsewhere, let me explain. He strongly encourages that any educational institution should not just have Rabbonim on staff, but also Rabbonim who are trained professionals. As opposed to a teacher/Rabbi who hasn’t lived in the real world, and is fresh-faced out of Yeshivah/Kollel and is confronted by an allegation, he would insist that the professionally trained Rabbi/teacher be one to hear the allegation and then pass it onto the authorities as the case almost always is (now). What you don’t know, is that R’ Schachter was very upset about a respected Rav/Teacher whose life was destroyed when it turned out that their pictures was published as a molester and in fact it was a complete case of mistaken identity. The teacher wasn’t even remotely connected to the allegation. Apologies were made, and the incorrect picture was removed, but, and I’ve heard R’ Schachter speak about it, that teacher’s life had been ruined. They are depressed, unable to work when in fact they had nothing what to do with the incident. They weren’t even in the same institution if I remember correctly. It was a case of “man with a beard who looks like this” but it was the wrong person whose picture was put up. I surmise that this also concerned R’ Schachter.

There definitely is such thing as a recidivist liar, who as a student has a reputation for lying on all manner of issues in the past (I’ve known such people and I suggest we all have) . It is best that a trained psychologist be on staff and ensure that a proper process is followed. That means, the person who makes the allegation makes it in front of someone who is skilled and trained, not someone who knows Shas and Poskim.

He obsesses about the terrible damage of a false allegation. I too find a false allegation a terrible thing. But the professionals most capable of such an evaluation are the ones inside the criminal justice system.

I’ve explained what worried him, based on cases he had known. I’m sure that the professionals in the criminal justice system will do a good job. Having a professional on staff to hear an allegation, is a good idea. Remember, this is not at all the Aguda proposal that a board of Rabonim examine each case and decide. R’ Schachter is not only part of the RCA, he is probably their venerated Posek, and as such, you really need to understand his point of view from the RCA stand point.

If I can make it a bit clearer. Where I work, and where many/most of us work, we have line managers. However, we also have HR (Human Resources). If a line manager or staff have issues with each other, HR (who have trained professionals) do get involved, before actions arising. Sometimes those actions are indeed a referral to the police! For example, if someone alleges they were sexually harassed or racially vilified. In the context of R’ Schachter, I believe he is suggesting that Schools and similar, davka need to have a quasi-HR through having professionals as he suggested and not just people with Yoreh Yoreh and a Yeshivah Teaching certificate.

Prior interrogations contaminate evidence and alert suspects who can then hoof it. More than that, most such prior screenings end up discouraging reporting.

Picture the scene. A student makes an allegation. They go the headmaster. The headmaster  immediately calls in Rabbi Dr So and So, who is a psychologist on staff. What’s wrong with that?

It is true that if the Headmaster is corrupt and/or the psychologist is a psycho then we are in trouble. But, we would have been in trouble anyway, in that situation. No system can help here, unless a kid goes directly to the police or tells their parents and the parents are not indoctrinated to keep shtum. On the contrary, there isn’t a culture of “run away from Mesira” with R’ Schachter. We need to also ensure that the kid is not fobbed off and the issue buried (as it has been tragically, and in some places still will be).

I recognize that false allegations do happen, usually in the context of divorce custody battles. Folks in the criminal justice system are quite adept at recognizing them and screening them out.In the end, the decision to support reporting involves balancing the danger to children versus the danger to someone falsely accused. In a situation of uncertainty I would rather leave an adult with the problem of undoing damage to his reputation then subject children to damaging abuse. It is much harder for children to recover. Children need more protection than adults. But that is me. Rabbi Shachter thinks in terms of adult and institutional interests.

He is talking to Rabbonim and this is a grab from a speech he gave. He cares greatly about children, and that is why he is advising the Rabbonim to change things so that they have staff who are also skilled and are professionally qualified to deal with abuse allegations and related matters that arise (eg bullying and harassment). This is my understanding based on more than the particular 10 minute sound bite I heard.

I could be wrong, of course, and will stand corrected if that is the case.

[ R’ Schachter is incredibly busy at the moment. I waited for 1 month before I could get an answer to some questions I asked repeatedly. I expect that he will make his views clearer in the near future, given the thoughts you expressed and which no doubt others have also expressed or thought. Let’s wait and see. ]

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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