On the issue of child abuse, I recently read an excerpt from notes formally approved by Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch of the Eida Charedis in Jerusalem.
One frequently encountered problem is when there is clear evidence of child abuse and yet the rabbi consulted says not to go to the police. He might say that the molester promised never to do it again or that the molester’s family or community or yeshiva might suffer significant financial losses or embarrassment. In other words if the rabbi is saying to sacrifice children for the sake of money or embarrassment or the disgrace to the community, it is clear however that this view has no basis in Jewish law. We don’t sacrifice innocent people for the sake of negative consequences to others. Rav Moshe Sternbuch commented that any rav who would say such a thing is not practicing as a rav. A rabbi has an obligation to provide protection to the victim. By definition it seems it is an unjust ruling. Any rabbi who makes such a ruling may be ignorant of either the halacha or he doesn’t understand what the molesting or wife abuse causes. Therefore if there is time – another rabbi should be consulted.
However an alternative reason that a rabbi might say not to report the molester is that he feels he can guarantee protection for children against the molester. For example he might threaten the molester with a severe beating or provides supervision or he claims the molester has repented and won’t abuse again. He might also claim he can provide therapy equal or better to a psychologist. While these seem to be logically equivalent to the police, the likelihood that they will be effective is not very high. Therefore one should find a competent rabbi who agrees that the police should be informed in the case of actual abuse. Rav Sternbuch commented that only a known talmid chachom posek can posken these problems.
After reading these comments, (with which some Rabonim disagree and consider too lenient) my mind wandered back to the unresolved case of Malka Leifer
In short, there were strong allegations that Mrs Malka Leifer, a then principal of the Charedi Adass Israel School, sexually molested her female pupils. It was further alleged that two Charedi communal Rabbis knew about the allegations for some time.
Molestation and Pedophilia know no boundaries and are not restricted to Charedi circles, although it would appear that Charedim are more likely to cover up such incidents. In my opinion, the reason Charedim may be more likely to suppress such incidents has little to do with the laws of Mesira and Halacha. Rather, the process of washing one’s linen behind sealed doors is more likely to be a syndrome of a closed society, where everyone lives in each other’s proverbial pocket and nobody wants any remote smell of “a stain” (פגם) to waft from their house (even if they are an actual victim). There would be concerns that knowledge of any allegation will diminish the dignity of a family in the eyes of Shadchonim and the community.
We noted that in the Leifer case, strong indications are that two Melbourne Charedi Rabbis are alleged to have known about the allegations for quite some time. In the well-known YU Lanner case, the Beis Din that had protected Lanner initially, finally apologised and announced that they were wrong. Rabbi Blau, in particular, has been so profoundly affected by the Lanner error that he is now an active campaigner against Rabbinic cover-ups and a profound supporter of alleged victims.
Has anyone in Melbourne ever apologised in respect of the Leifer case? Is anyone seriously still pretending that “nothing happened?” Even if Leifer cannot be prosecuted, given that two well known Rabbis were allegedly privy to complaints for some time (almost a year according to some sources), and now know, in retrospect, that they ought to have acted promptly, why do they not admit their error of judgement in the same way that the Beth Din in the Lanner case did? Yes, Lanner was convicted and Leifer ran away, but whose fault is that?
Where is Leifer now? Do people around her know the allegations against her? I shudder to think if she is involved in Chinuch in any way.
Thankfully, the Rabbinic Council in Victoria and others, notably the Jewish Taskforce against Family Violence, have taken on the general issue in a serious and responsible way, liaising with the Melbourne Rabbinate including the Charedi Rabbinate, schools, victims and authorities respectively, with education being a critical focus.
One can only pray that any Rabbis who were allegedly “in the know” in respect of the Leifer case, have attained the wisdom to realise that they are decidedly not experts and that the authorities are the correct point of contact when an allegation of molestation arises and the victim, or their parent/s, come forth.
ה ‘ ירחם